Castle Rising has a magnificent Norman castle, complete with narrow corridors, unexpected little chambers and a small chapel embedded in its ramparts. There is also a sturdy 12th-century village church with a peaceful graveyard and a picturesque former post office (now a tea room). And there is a pleasant pub, pretty traditional carrstone (red sandstone) cottages, delightful almshouses and a fascinating history. Who could want more?
Castle Rising's best known incumbent was Isabella, wife of the unfortunate Edward II. Not for nothing was she known as the 'She-Wolf of France'. She was intelligent and power-hungry and soon tired of her ineffectual (and probably homosexual) husband. She joined forces with her lover, Roger Mortimer, to depose and eventually murder Edward, and enjoyed several years effectively ruling the country while her son Edward III was in his minority. However, no man wants his mother looking over his shoulder while he tries to rule a kingdom, and Isabella was gently prised from the court and sent to live in her various castles and palaces once Edward III came of age. One of these was Rising.
The real story about Isabella and Castle Rising has been badly distorted and many tales have Isabella banished from Edward III's court to languish as a prisoner here for 27 years, before her death in 1358. The truth is rather different. The monarchy could not afford to acknowledge that the King's mother was instrumental in murdering his father and so the incident was covered up. After 1331, Isabella did spend more time in her role as Dowager Queen and less time trying to influence affairs of state, but she was never a prisoner. She lived in great luxury, moving with her vast army of servants from one place to another, like any wealthy lady of her age. The King even visited her here, and there are records mentioning the hiring of eight carpenters to make the castle impressive enough to receive them. Isabella seems to have enjoyed life at Castle Rising and records also show that she was often in residence. Archaeological evidence indicates that new buildings were raised during her ownership, including a rather handsome residential suite with its own chapel.
The castle has a great deal to offer, starting with its awesome banks and ditches, its half-buried Norman chapel and its two wells. But the most impressive feature is the keep, a squat, rectangular tower that stands some 50ft (15m) high. The blind arcading (a series of arches on a wall) that decorates its front would not be out of place on a grand cathedral, and helps to make this one of the best castles in England.
Leave the car park, turn left to walk downhill and go straight ahead at the crossroads, passing cottages built of carrstone. After the road bends left, take the lane to your right between Trinity Hospital and the church. Continue through a set of gates and follow the road around a bend, Onion Corner, named after the aroma of wild garlic in spring. Continue to a bridge with white railings.
Take the path to the right through a grassy meadow, with Babingley River to your left. Cross the A149 to the stile opposite. Climb a second stile and follow the path across a meadow. Cross another stile, then turn right to emerge on a gravel lane near the entrance to Mill House. Keep straight ahead and stay on this lane, ignoring footpath signs to the right, as it bends left to Mill House Cottage. Take the wide grassy track signposted to the right opposite the cottage, passing a ruined barn. The track passes through the woods, then crosses a bright orange stream, stained by dissolved iron-rich rocks.
Bear left across the open meadow in front of you, heading for the opposite corner. Turn right here and follow the footpath signs along the banks of the Babingley River. Nettles can be a problem, as can boggy ground underfoot. Cross one stile and then a second by a wooden footbridge and continue along the river bank, then follow the path round to the right and cross another stile before turning left along a wide field-edge track with a stream on the left. Turn right when you reach a paved lane and follow this to the A148.
Turn right at the A148, then walk along the verge on the opposite side until you reach the first lane on your left. Turn left and follow the road uphill to enter Roydon. Turn right at the village sign into Church Lane. The church has a marvellous Romanesque south door. Continue out of the village until Church Lane bends to the right, to a green-gated lane.
Turn left onto the green-gated lane, following signs for Sunnyside Veterinary Clinic. After a few yards turn right onto a track signposted as a public footpath. Follow this for about 700yds (640m) until you meet another public footpath found on the right.
Turn right and follow this sandy track until you reach the A148. Take the minor road opposite, which has oak trees that grow progressively larger as you walk further from the main road. By the time you reach Fowler's Plantation, they tower above you.
Cross the A149 and walk down the lane opposite to return to Castle Rising. Turn left up the lane marked towards the castle, then right, to the car park.
Some country lanes, but mostly footpaths
Woodland, farmland, heath and meadow
Dogs are restricted in nature reserves
AA Leisure Map 6 North West Norfolk
English Heritage Castle Rising car park (check opening times at www.english-heritage.org.uk) or on lane outside church
At car park
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
The North Norfolk Coast is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and probably the finest of its kind in Europe. Here you’ll find a string of quaint villages and small towns – Holkham, Wells-next-the-Sea and Cley next the Sea are 21st-century favourites, while Sheringham and Cromer are classic examples of a good old-fashioned seaside resort where grand Victorian hotels look out to sea. Further round the coast you'll find Great Yarmouth, one of the most popular resorts in the UK and packed full of amusements, shops and seashore entertainment. And let's not forget Norwich, the region's only city.
Norfolk prides itself on its wealth of historic houses, the most famous being Sandringham, where Her Majesty the Queen and her family spend Christmas. Many of Norfolk’s towns have a particular charm and a strong sense of community. The quiet market towns of Fakenham and Swaffham are prime examples, as well as Thetford, with its popular museum focusing on the TV comedy series Dad’s Army which was filmed in the area.