Exploring the Massinghams

These charming rural villages have medieval churches, a pretty duck pond and a friendly country pub.


The Massinghams


4.75 miles (7.7kms)

115ft (35m)

About the walk

In medieval times Norfolk and Suffolk were among the most densely populated and important regions in England. Today, Norfolk is one of the least populated counties and rural depopulation in particular has been a problem, with people moving out of the villages to work elsewhere.

Evidence of a more prosperous era in Norfolk's history can be seen in the huge number of ruined priories and abbeys that are scattered across it. One of these was the Augustinian priory that was founded at Great Massingham in the early 1200s. The canons evidently saw the fertile land, conveniently located on an ancient line of communication, the Peddars Way, and decided it was a good place for a small community to live. Today very little survives of what was probably a set of handsome buildings and a small forest called Hartswood. There are some fragments of masonry in and around Abbey Farm and a few woodland plants have survived the clearing of the forest.

St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s Church, which stands on the green at Great Massingham, has a splendid 15th-century tower and a 13th-century porch, and its interior depicts a menagerie of carved animals standing guard over the south aisle. The great stone tower of this church, which is visible for many miles across the local country, was once an important landmark for pilgrims navigating their way on foot or horseback to the shrine at nearby Walsingham. In medieval times, when the shrine was at the height of its popularity, Great Massingham did rather well out of weary travellers who wanted a bed for the night and a hot meal. Sir Robert Walpole, who went on to become Britain’s first Prime Minister, received part of his early education in St Mary’s Church – its porch was once used as the village school room.

Ponds and pubs

The large village ponds that make Great Massingham so distinctive probably have their origins as the fish ponds for the former Augustinian abbey that stood nearby. The ponds serve a less practical purpose these days but continue to provide a haven for a variety of waterfowl. The Dabbling Duck on the green celebrates this with its name, but this pub, formerly the Rose & Crown, is the sole survivor of as many as five that use to serve the village but which in later years have been converted to residential use.

Walk directions

From St Andrew's Church in Little Massingham walk towards the post box. Go to the end of the lane and turn left at the T-junction. After a few steps you reach a farm, The Paddocks, on your right. Turn right along the driveway and follow the track that winds round farm buildings. You will know you are on the public footpath when you pass the pond on your left. The track soon reaches a junction at Rudham Road, where you turn right towards Great Massingham. Go up a small hill between hedgerows, and stay on this road as it bends right, passing a telephone exchange and allotments to arrive at a fire station and junction.

Cross over and turn left to walk on the footpath. This is Great Massingham. One of its inhabitants in the 16th century was Stephen Perse, who later studied medicine at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge. He founded a school there, called The Perse, which still thrives. The road eventually reaches a charming village green complete with duck pond. St Mary's Church stands on the green nearby.

Walk across the green towards the sign for Abbey Road. Next to this is a signposted track leading up the side of the quaintly named Hoss-Chestnut House. This will bring you out on to the rather wild common, where the foundations of the priory (it was never an abbey, despite its name) are supposed to be, although they are almost impossible to find. Follow the path alongside the common, aiming for the tall radio mast ahead of you. The path turns right alongside a field to arrive at a paved track. Turn left here, passing the radio mast and water tower. Once you have reached the mast the track becomes pleasantly rural and the verges are full of red campion and delicate violets in early spring.

This track meets the Peddars Way, which is well signposted. Turn right, and continue walking along this straight track for about a mile (1.6km). This bisects a huge field landscape and climbs to reach about 300ft (91m) above sea level, while mature oak trees rustle their leaves in the breeze. Cross a road and keep straight ahead on the Peddars Way. Ignore a private track and the public bridleway to your left and continue until you reach a bridleway on the right, just after a Norfolk Songlines sculpture evoking images of an ancient land and the walkers who have used this path before.

Turn right with the trees of Nut Wood to your right and rolling fields to your left. Keep right when you reach another track and follow it between tall hedgerows and through Middle Farm to reach a quiet lane.

Turn left here. A lake, perhaps with squabbling moorhens, lies to your right. The lane ascends a hill and you will find yourself back at St Andrew's Church in Little Massingham again.

Additional information

Country lanes, tracks and footpaths

Gently rolling farmland and common

Lead required along roads and in village centre

AA Leisure Map 6 North West Norfolk

On road outside church in Little Massingham

None on route

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About the area

Discover Norfolk

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.

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