Eye and Eye Castle

An easy walk exploring the surroundings of one of England's smallest towns.

NEAREST LOCATION

Eye

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

4 miles (6.4kms)

ASCENT
98ft (30m)
TIME
1hr 30min
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Easy
STARTING POINT
TM144738

About the walk

Eye was once surrounded by marshland, hence its name which derives from the Saxon word for an island. Although it is officially a town, Eye feels more like a village and this short walk will reveal some of its delights.  

Eye Castle

A stronghold that is a curious mixture of medieval and Victorian, the motte and bailey Eye Castle is no Bamburgh, Leeds or Bodiam but it does have a certain charm of its own and its motte is impressively steep and well preserved. The castle was constructed shortly after the Norman Conquest by William Malet who was to die fighting the renegade and folk hero Hereward the Wake in 1071. The bailey had its own market which competed with one presided over by the Bishop of Norwich at Hoxne.

The castle was confiscated from the Malet family by Henry I who gave it to Stephen of Blois, his favourite nephew. A grandson of William the Conqueror, Stephen was later crowned king, an event that unleashed a terrible civil war between his supporters and those of his cousin Matilda. Much of the violence that broke out during this conflict occurred in East Anglia but Eye escaped the worst of it, merely witnessing a few skirmishes.

The castle was confiscated a second time, on this occasion by Henry II who took it from William, Stephen's son, whom he feared might attempt to claim the throne. This led to the castle being attacked in 1173 by a force conducted by local powerbroker Hugh Bigod who had joined the rebellion of Henry's sons against their father. The assault was repulsed but was badly damaged and had to be rebuilt. However, it proved a temporary reprieve, for in 1265 Eye Castle was captured and sacked during the Second Barons' War and left to crumble away.  

Over succeeding years, the castle and its bailey played host to a windmill, a workhouse and a school. Finally, in 1844, Sir Edward Kerrison had a house built inside the remnants of the keep and presented it as a gift to his batman to thank him for having saved his life at the Battle of Waterloo nearly thirty years beforehand. This rather cramped dwelling - which later became known as Kerrison's Folly - was largely destroyed in a storm in 1965, though the outline of the rooms can still be made out.  

Eye Priory

Sadly, little remains of the Benedictine Priory founded by Robert Malet around 1080. Dedicated to St Peter, it was never very large. Even when it became independent of its mother priory at Bernay, it still only housed three or four monks. It was inevitably dissolved by Henry VIII in 1537. However, one building - a sort of gatehouse - still survives though not it is used as a barn.   

Walk directions

Turn right out of the car park along Cross Street and right again along Magdalen Street. Turn left opposite the entrance to 2 sisters' Food Group on a footpath that leads to the playing fields and bear right around the community centre to reach a car park. Cross the car park and go over a footbridge to enter the Town Moors and Storm Memorial woodlands, a lovely area of meadows, ponds, islands, woods and sculptures created out of the ruins of the great storm of 1987 that destroyed many trees. Turn left and keep to the left-hand side of the woods, passing a pond with a somewhat dilapidated carved wooden lovers' seat for two people to share. Shortly afterwards, bear left over a bridge to leave the woods and join a field-edge path.

Turn right at a lane and walk uphill towards a farm. When you reach an old barn, pass through a kissing gate to your left and follow the line of the hedge on your right. When the field narrows, turn left to cross a footbridge with a gate on each end and walk across the meadows. Cross a concrete bridge over the River Dove and continue across one more meadow to arrive at a green lane. Turn left here to walk between a hedge on your left and fields on your right. The great tower of the church at Eye soon comes into view and as the path opens out you will see a group of Norman fish ponds to your left, probably attracting waterfowl such as moorhens, ducks and geese. Pass around a metal barrier and follow the track to the B1077. 

Cross the road and keep straight ahead on a grassy path. When you reach a lane at the side of a house, cross the stile and take a look at the notice on the wall that threatens a fine of 40 shillings for anyone failing to shut the gate. Turn left and stay on this lane past The Pennings picnic site and nature reserve, in a tranquil setting beside the River Dove. Turn right at the end of the road and in 60yds (55m), turn left along the entrance drive to Abbey Farm, passing the remains of an 11thcentury priory, half-hidden in the gardens of the farmhouse. Follow this track past the farm buildings and bear left across a bridge. Continue straight on through a gate to join a field-edge path with hedge to your left. Stay on this track as it bends round to the left, then opens out to reveal good views of Eye across a field. Cross this field diagonally, heading for the nearest houses. Bear left at the end and pass through a gap at the end of the field onto the road. Descend Ash Drive and follow the road sharp right then left over a footbridge.

 

Turn right, then left on to the main road. Continue as far as the war memorial and the Victorian red-brick town hall. You could fork right here to return to the car park, but it would be a pity not to explore the town. Turn left along Church Street to follow the course of the old outer bailey of the Norman motte-and-bailey castle that once stood on the castle mound. Pass the school and the timber-framed Guildhall to reach the Church of St Peter and St Paul with its 100ft (30m) tower. Turn right along Castle Street and you will see Castle Hill on your right. In summer you can climb from here to the ruined castle at the top of the mound for views stretching across the border into Norfolk. The keep on the summit is actually a 19th-century folly that was destroyed in a storm in the 1960s. Go back down to Castle Street and turn right to complete your circuit of the town. At the end of this street, turn right into The Cross, where the town's markets once took place, and left before the town hall to return to the start of the walk.

Additional information

Town streets, farm tracks, woodland paths, 1 stile

Farmland, woodland, meadows, town

Off lead at Town Moor and The Pennings picnic site

OS Explorer 230 Diss & Harleston

Cross Street car park (free), Eye.

At car park

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WALKING IN SAFETY

Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.

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About the area

Discover Suffolk

Suffolk is Constable country, where the county’s crumbling, time-ravaged coastline spreads itself under wide skies to convey a wonderful sense of remoteness and solitude. Highly evocative and atmospheric, this is where rivers wind lazily to the sea and notorious 18th-century smugglers hid from the excise men. John Constable immortalised these expansive flatlands in his paintings in the 18th century, and his artwork raises the region’s profile to this day.

Walking is one of Suffolk’s most popular recreational activities. It may be flat but the county has much to discover on foot – not least the isolated Heritage Coast, which can be accessed via the Suffolk Coast Path. Southwold, with its distinctive, white-walled lighthouse standing sentinel above the town and its colourful beach huts and attractive pier features on many a promotional brochure. Much of Suffolk’s coastal heathland is protected as a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and shelters several rare creatures including the adder, the heath butterfly and the nightjar. In addition to walking, there is a good choice of cycling routes but for something less demanding, visit some of Suffolk’s charming old towns, with streets of handsome, period buildings and picturesque, timber-framed houses.

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