In 1915 the name Pulham was known to every schoolchild interested in aircraft, because it was the home of the great airships that were used to attack German shipping in World War I.
Competing with the huge German Zeppelins that were terrorising the North Sea coast, some of the ships were over 600ft (183m) long, with gondolas slung precariously underneath them. The gondolas bristled with guns and bombs, and brave crews flew these machines over the North Sea and harassed enemy U-boats. Because of their shape, they were known as Pulham Pigs. You will see one of them depicted on the Pulham St Mary village sign. The Pigs were stabled at a large site to the south of the village.
When the war ended, some of the airships were retained and one, the R34, completed the first ever there-and-back-again transatlantic air journey in 1919. The gigantic R33 broke away from its mooring in 1925, carrying some of its crew with it. The hapless men were carried out across the North Sea before they could complete enough emergency repairs to begin a homeward journey. Fortunately, 29 hours after the disaster, the ship limped back to Pulham, where it was safely secured and its crew were given a heroes' welcome.
An older history
However, Pulham has a far more ancient history than the Pulham Pigs. The Romans decided this fertile valley was a good place to farm and there has been almost continuous settlement here ever since. Pulham St Mary Magdalene was granted a charter to hold a weekly market in 1249 and the villagers must have been relieved to change the name to Pulham Market, to avoid confusion with nearby Pulham St Mary the Virgin.A market has not been held here for about 300 years, but the village still keeps its name.
The grandeur of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, with its handsome arch-braced roof, indicates that the village was wealthy in the 15th century, with plenty of benefactors who were prepared to spend their money on fine buildings. In the 17th century the Puritan cloth merchant William Pennoyer bequeathed money to the village school, which continued in use until it closed in 1988 – it is now the Pennoyer Centre, celebrating local history. The school bell was given to a descendent of Pennoyer, who passed it to Harvard University in the USA, which had also received Pennoyer funding.
Turn left out of Falcon Road and walk a few paces up the main street, then turn right into Barnes Road and look for the waymarked footpath on your left. Pass apple orchards and Pulham Market Bowls Club, then continue straight ahead on a narrow path between the bowling green and a house. Cross a footbridge to enter a field, and turn right at a junction of paths. After 200yds (183m), the path divides; leave the main trail and fork right on a narrow path which runs downhill. Stay on this path as it crosses fields and a footbridge, then passes through woods and climbs some steps to return to Barnes Road. Alternatively, you could just stay on Barnes Road to this point from the start of the walk. Turn left and walk along Barnes Road to the junction with Poppy's Lane and Duck's Foot Road.
Turn right on Poppy's Lane, and after a few paces look for the wooden public footpath sign to your left. The path runs along the side of a ditch, with wide, open fields on either side. Here in this immense space you can see, and be seen, for miles. The path bears right and you head to the outbuildings of North Farm.
At North Farm, walk down the lane to your right on North Green Road, a meandering road that offers great views of the stocky tower of St Mary Magdalene across the fields. Pass thatched cottages and barn conversions before taking the first turning to your left, Kemps Road. Just before Oak Acre cottage, where the road bends, take the footpath to the right, which hugs a hedge for a short distance then forks half-right through the centre of a field. Go through a hedge and across a stile, keeping to the right-hand side of a meadow. Cross another stile and make your way along the backs of houses until you come out by the side of the Church of St Mary the Virgin.
Emerging from the church, turn right to enter Pulham St Mary and fork left by the Pennoyer Centre and village sign. At the end of the road, fork left along Station Road. Continue straight on past Dirty Lane – so named because the sewage works were once housed here. Cross a bridge over the brook and continue along Station Road for about 700yds (640m).
At Semere Lane, turn right and follow this narrow lane for 1.25 miles (2km) until it meets Station Road (a different one from that in Pulham St Mary).
At Station Road, turn right, crossing the disused railway and passing the old station. You are now back in Pulham Market, where you will see the handsome 15th-century tower of St Mary Magdalene. From here, return to the car park.
Country lanes and paths
Farmland and meadows
Dogs should be kept on lead across farmland
OS Explorer 230 Diss & Harleston
Pulham Market, at car park on Falcon Road
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.