Lord Nelson and The Burnhams

Tread in the footsteps of Admiral Lord Nelson around the Burnham villages and marshes.


Burnham Overy


4 miles (6.4kms)

49ft (15m)

About the walk

In 1758 Edmund Nelson, rector of Burnham Thorpe, and his wife Catherine had the fifth of their 11 children and named him Horatio. The rectory where Horatio Nelson spent the first years of his life was demolished in 1802 and a new one built. However, when you visit Burnham Thorpe you will see a plaque set in a wall where the old rectory once stood.

Young sailor

Nelson was just 12 when he entered the Royal Navy. He quickly gained experience, travelling as far afield as the Caribbean and the Arctic by the time he was 16. He went to India, but was sent home after contracting malaria. Throughout his travels he was plagued by seasickness, a fact in which many novice seamen find comfort. Nelson became a captain at the tender age of 20 and spent some years in the West Indies, where he enforced British law a little too vigorously for the Admiralty, who refused to give him another command until war broke out with France in 1792. During this frustrating time, Nelson lived in Burnham Thorpe with his wife Frances (Fanny). Once back in service he was sent to the Mediterranean, but was blinded in his right eye by splinters from a parapet struck by enemy fire. Undaunted, he returned to duty the following day.

When he left the Mediterranean in 1797, Nelson's small fleet encountered a much larger French one. Due largely to his unusual tactics, the British inflicted an embarrassing defeat on the French, leading to a knighthood for Nelson. He lost his arm in the Canary Islands when trying to capture Spanish treasure and was wounded yet again in the Battle of the Nile – from which he emerged victorious. He was then nursed by Emma, Lady Hamilton, who later become his lover. Elevation to the peerage as Baron Nelson of the Nile followed.

His brazen affair with Lady Hamilton (who became pregnant with their daughter Horatia) led to an estrangement from his wife, and lack of money forced him to apply for active service again. His fleet engaged a hostile force near Copenhagen, where he refused to obey the order of a senior officer to disengage. The battle was won, along with further honours. Four years later, in 1805, he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Although Nelson was buried in St Paul's Cathedral, there are plenty of reminders of him in the Burnhams. There is a bust of him above his father's tomb in 13th-century All Saints' Church, along with flags from his battles. Also on display in the church are the flags and ensigns from the World War II battleship HMS 'Nelson'. The Lord Nelson pub at Burnham Thorpe has a collection of memorabilia.

Walk directions

From The Hero, turn right, then immediately left down East Harbour Way until you reach Overy Creek. Turn right next to the black-painted house, go through a gate and then bear left along the waterfront. The bank you are on was raised to protect the adjacent land from sudden incursions by the sea and is part of the long distance Norfolk Coast Path National Trail.

Where the path along the embankment goes 90 degrees left, turn right, through the gate, into a marshy meadow of long grass. This area is a Natural England reserve (part of Holkham National Nature Reserve) and the sand dunes, salt marshes and mudflats are home to a wide variety of birds and plants, including plovers and sea asters. Go through a second gate, cross a stile, then continue along the track until you reach the A149. Cross to the lane opposite, and follow this until you have passed two fields on your right.

Go through the gap at the entrance to the third field, which is marked as a footpath. Keep to the right of the hedge until you reach a waymarker pointing left, across the middle of the field. Keep going in a straight line, through gaps in hedges, following the circular markers with yellow arrows until you reach a dirt lane. Cross this and go down the track opposite, with hedges on either side, towards the Norman tower of Burnham Overy's Church of St Clement, topped by a 17th-century bell turret.

Turn left at the end of the track onto Mill Road, then take the grass track to the right, called Marsh Lane. Go through the gate and into a field, so that the River Burn is off to your left, with the round Saxon tower of Burnham Norton in the distance to your left and Burnham Overy windmill straight ahead. Go through the gate by Mill House, complete with mill pond and mill race (1820).

Cross the A149, with the pond on your left, then take the public footpath into the next field. Cross the stile and keep the hedge to your right. In the distance you will see the sails of Burnham Overy windmill, which is privately owned and not usually open to the public.

Cross a stile and turn right onto the Norfolk Coast Path, then continue to the A149. Turn left and follow the path beside the road to East Harbour Way on the left and The Hero pub on the right.

Additional information

Waymarked paths and some paved lanes

Wild salt marshes and mudflats, fields and meadows

On lead in nature reserves and under strict control on farmland

AA Walker's Map 21 North Norfolk Coast

On-street parking on main road in Burnham Overy Staithe, or off-road at the harbour

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.