Weeting Castle to Grimes Graves

Travel in time from a 12th-century moated house to a prehistoric flint mine.

NEAREST LOCATION

Weeting

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

7.5 miles (12.1kms)

ASCENT
148ft (45m)
TIME
3hrs
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Hard
STARTING POINT
TL776891

About the walk

All that remains of Weeting Castle are a few teetering, rugged grey stone walls standing amid mature trees and long grass. However, in the 12th century this was a comfortable and relatively secure house. It comprised two floors: the lower one was used for storage and the upper one provided the main accommodation. The order to build it was probably given by William de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey, who enjoyed the friendship of William the Conqueror. The man who did all the building work was Hugh de Plais, de Warenne's tenant at Weeting.

Weeting Castle was never intended to be a defensive structure, like de Warenne's sturdy motte and bailey at nearby Castle Acre, but was a manor house surrounded by a wet moat. While this would not have hindered a serious attack, it was considered sufficient to repel the casual robber. The moat was rectangular and still exists, albeit in a rather more shallow form.

Grimes Graves

At the other end of the walk lie the mysterious humps and bumps in the grass that represent Europe's largest prehistoric flint mine. These were dug by folk in the Stone Age some 4,000 years ago, and were a large and prosperous enterprise. High-quality Grimes Graves flint has been identified for miles around, suggesting that it was prized for making sharp tools (like axe- and arrowheads) and that it was in demand over much of southern England.

For many years, no one could work out how the peculiar pitted surface of this area had been formed. Various explanations emerged. Some proposed that the pits were actually graves, while the Saxons believed they were devil's holes, perhaps made by the pagan god Grim – hence the name Grimes Graves. It was not until 1870 that they were properly excavated, and then it was discovered that the 400 or so circular depressions are actually filled-in mine shafts. The rock in the shafts is very dense and it was hacked out by men using picks made from the antlers of red deer. Their objective was to locate nodes of hard, black flint with no flaws. This was roughly knapped on a site near by, then sent off to be traded for other goods. The pits therefore had a perfectly rational and practical explanation, dispelling the aura of mystery that had hung over the site for centuries.

However, if you visit very early in the morning, when mist swirls over the hollows and only birds break the silence, you will understand very well how legends of pagan sacrifices and sculpting by the devil originated.

Walk directions

Park in the sandy lay-by at the sign for Weeting Castle. Go through a kissing gate and walk across the meadow to look at the remains of this fortified manor house, then follow the farm track past St Mary's Church, with its round tower, originally 12th century, but rebuilt by the Victorians in 1868. Go through Home Farm, past farm buildings to the right, and then follow the track as it bends left past pig units in a field to the left. After walking past the pig enclosures, turn right by an isolated farmhouse and head towards the trees, turning right again on reaching a T-junction.

At the junction by Sunnyside Cottage, take the left-hand turn, following the track with woodland on the left and a huge open field on the right. After about 0.6 miles (965m) you pass through woodland on both sides before finally reaching the A1065 after about a mile (1.6km). Turn right and walk for about 350yds (320m) along the verge.

Cross the A1065 and then follow the paved lane signposted to Grimes Graves and West Tofts. Stay on this road past Snakewood Cottage on the left and a bridleway on the right, until you see a sign on your right for Grimes Graves after about 1.25 miles (2km). Pass through the gate and walk down the approach road to enter the site. You will need to pay an entrance fee, even to walk here. From the car park, follow the path to your right leading across the heath to an area of tall trees beside a Ministry of Defence firing area. Cross the stile over the perimeter fence, then turn left to walk along the outside of the fence to the corner of the site.

Turn right at a junction of paths. After 200yds (183m) you will see a sunken water butt with a corrugated-iron roof, looking like a house that has half-disappeared into the ground. Go straight across this junction and walk along the broad gravel track to the A1065 again. Despite the proximity of the main road, you are in the depths of prime forest here, where you can stand and hear nothing more than the trill of birdsong.

Cross the A1065 and take the sandy track directly opposite. After a short walk, the woods give way to farmland again as the oak-lined track continues through fields. Pass Brickkiln Farm and ignore the track going off to the right. When you reach the end of the field, turn right and walk along the side of Shadwell's Plantation, a wood that was planted in memory of the poet Thomas Shadwell, a resident of Weeting who died in 1691. Keep straight ahead when the track divides at the end of the plantation, and stay on this track until it rejoins the outward path by Sunnyside Cottage. Retrace your steps past the pig farm and then back to reach the car park again.

Additional information

Farm and forest tracks, some roads

Farmland and commercial forest

Dogs must be kept on lead in forest and near farms

OS Explorer 229 Thetford Forest in The Brecks

Lay-by at Weeting Castle, next to church

Temporary toilets at Grimes Graves

This walk can only be done between April and early November, when Grimes Graves (English Heritage) is open. At other times, the entrance gate is locked and access is not permitted. Entrance fee is payable to enter Grimes Graves.

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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.