In the middle of the 12th century, the powerful Norman baron William d'Albini decided that he did not much care for his castle at Old Buckenham, so he gave it to Augustinian canons and set about building himself a better one. The result was the handsome cylindrical tower at New Buckenham, about 1.5 miles (2.4km) away.
At first sight, you may not be impressed by the remnants of the great circular building that stands among trees on private land. It looks a bit like a giant well. But this was the first of its kind to be built in Britain and was the forerunner of such famous keeps as Pembroke, Conisbrough and Orford. Since we know from historical records that New Buckenham was built in the 1140s, we can use it to disprove the theory that round towers were a sequential advancement on square ones: New Buckenham proves that both types of fortification were apparently being built at the same time.
Grassy bumps and ditches
If you stand a while and look around you, you will begin to see more of this ancient castle in the form of grassy bumps and ditches. The site was a figure of eight, with ditches all around it; parts of a 13th-century gatehouse also remain. The inner bailey – the most secure part – comprised about 2 acres (0.8ha), which was a large area to defend. It would have been protected by stone ramparts reaching 20–30ft (6–9m) high. The great tower, or keep, is in the middle of this and you will appreciate the defences would have posed a formidable obstacle to would-be attackers.
The keep itself is about 65ft (20m) across and may well once have stood about 65–70ft (20–22m) tall. It probably had four floors and was surmounted by a parapet that allowed lookouts to watch the surrounding countryside for hostile visitors. It was built with considerable care and skill. D'Albini intended his tower to be something that would last for a long time and that would protect him and his household from the enemies any powerful lord automatically acquired in medieval England.
D'Albini was never obliged to put his fine castle to the test and it decayed slowly over time due to neglect. The large barn on the road near the castle is all that remains of the chapel. This was used as New Buckenham's parish church until the 15th century, after which it was replaced by handsome St Martin's, with its lovely timber roof and effigies of the 12 Apostles. As you walk around the village, look at the way the streets are laid out – a marvel of 12th-century planning, although few medieval buildings survive.
Start by the King's Head on the village green in New Buckenham. The timber structure opposite you is the Market House, or Market Cross, which dates back to the 16th century and was raised on columnar legs in 1754. William d'Albini established a market here to attract local traders and farmers, and the tolls they paid were used to finance his new castle. Walk along Queen Street, then turn right along King Street, which becomes Castle Hill Road. When the road bends left, take the footpath to your right beside the old castle chapel, once used as a barn and now a dwelling.
Keep left to follow the path around the edge of the castle moat. Access to the ruins may be possible on a grassy bridge across the moat, but the gate is usually kept locked. After making a half-circuit, take the straight path that joins from the left and follow this towards the tower of St Martin’s Church ahead. This soon switches fields to follow a hedgerow to the right before emerging on Cuffer Lane.
Cross the road to enter the long, narrow cemetery in front of you and walk through it, keeping the lane on your left-hand side. When you reach the last of the graves, pass through the gap in the hedgerow to emerge back onto Cuffer Lane. Turn right, past the village allotments, and continue walking in the same direction until you reach a sign for Harlingwood Lane.
Stay on this road as it bends right, becoming Folly Lane, for just over 0.75 miles (1.2km).
At the T-junction, turn right, then take the next right-hand turn down a surfaced track. Continue through a metal gate to enter New Buckenham Common nature reserve, an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Go through another gate to continue along a narrow lane. You can sometimes see waterfowl on Spittle Mere in the scrubby meadow to your left. The water table is often high here, making the land very boggy and unsuitable for arable farming. However, it is an ideal habitat for water-loving bog plants and you will see marsh mallows, rushes and many other wetland wild flowers in season.
When you see a cricket pitch on your right-hand side, you are nearing the village again. Pass a children's playground, also on your right, and an information board on your left, to reach another T-junction. Turn right on the street, signed 'Norwich Road', and enter the village. After a few paces, the road forks. Take the right-hand lane, past Crawford's and Corner Cottage, until you reach the green where the walk began.
Mostly country lanes
Rolling agricultural land
Dogs should be kept on a lead from March to July on New Buckenham Common nature reserve
OS Explorer 237 Norwich
On village green opposite Market House
None on route
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.