Fakenham is a pretty market town on the river Wensum with roots going deep into the past of the rich agricultural area near the north coast of Norfolk.
Sitting at the cross roads of routes to Cromer, Kings Lynn, Swaffham (another Cycling UK experience hub) and the county city of Norwich (40km, 25 miles) to the south east, it’s always been an important trading and transport hub.
While the name dates from the Saxon period, Neolithic and Bronze Age remains have been found at Fakenham and there’s a large early Christian cemetery a few miles south of the town at Great Ryburgh. At the time of the Norman conquest Fakenham manor was actually held by the ill-fated King Harold himself. The 14th-century Saint Peter and Saint Paul Parish Church sits on a Saxon church site too. During the medieval period it became particularly famous for its corn, barley and wheat markets and large mills still straddle the river. It became a centre for printing in the 19th century and the race course regularly brings in many visitors, including its patron, Prince Charles.
Like most places in rural Norfolk, Fakenham has a comparatively quiet character and while some historical buildings have been lost to fire over time it’s still a very interesting, storied and welcoming town. There are plenty of local shops, places to eat and stay, as well as several supermarkets, doctors, pharmacies and two bike shops (one an electric bike specialist). Be aware that some of the key town centre routes use a one-way system though and the pavements are narrow and often heavily populated, so pushing your bike ‘upstream’ may not be a short cut after all. Be careful of the main road crossings on the Wells and Holt routes too as we couldn’t avoid them entirely so use the broad grass verges and cross on foot if you’re nervous.
Fakenham also sits on a rise in the more rolling coastal landscape that typifies North Norfolk. While you won’t climb over 85m above sea level at any point on these rides there’s definitely more rise and fall than areas like the Broads.
The three Fakenham Experience hub routes are designed to easily bridge into routes from the Experience hubs at Hunstanton, Swaffham and Cromer making it a great start or staging post for longer rides in the area. Fakenham is also on National Cycle Network Route 1 which runs from Dover to Scotland.
There are no direct train services to Fakenham but you can get a bus from the stations at Cromer, Norwich or Kings Lynn which are all less than two hours journey from London.
By road Fakenham is just off the A148 from Kings Lynn and the A1067 Norwich leads directly into the town centre.
Wells-next-the-Sea: Seaside Pilgrimage (Length: 29 miles / 47km)
At under 30 miles in, our Pilgrimage from Fakenham to the north Norfolk coast isn’t a long route but it’s absolutely packed with fascinating religious and natural history - with the scenery and landmarks to match. This gem of a route is almost entirely on very quiet lanes (there are short B road sections near Fakenham) and there are also a couple of gravel sections at the northern end. These can either be bypassed or ridden carefully on a road bike though so it’s suitable for any bike or level of riding experience.
Heading north from Fakenham you wind up a quiet valley where the pilgrimage route starts at the Slipper Chapel. Then it’s on past Great Walshingham, before following the heritage steam railway along the gently rolling road north to Wells-next-the-Sea before the route enters a very different second half.
Curving round the back of the wooded dunes of Holkham Bay on a gravel road takes you to a viewpoint before heading inland in true Downton Abbey style as you head through the gates of Holkham Hall. From here you pick up the alignment of the Roman Road south before the final wriggle back into Fakenham.
Medieval meandering (Length: 38 miles / 62km)
This route is on very quiet rural roads so any bike is suitable. Joining the dots between timeless medieval villages, stately homes and farmsteads it heads briefly south from Fakenham then east before turning north to the highest point, 85m, at Melton Constable. From here it’s a zig zag down towards the lovely, lively town of Holt which is just this side of halfway and an ideal spot to refuel. The route also overlaps the Cromer Roamer gravel route from the Cromer Experience hub so you can double the distance with an extra loop of woodland and seaside exploring if you want.
From Holt you avoid the main road by heading north and then across the picture perfect ford at Glandford. Then it’s a proper meander through a maze of deserted lanes joining quiet villages with National Trust properties, ancient churches a steam fair and organ museum, a library in a phone box and the ultimate ‘sleepy village’ Great Snoring. Then it’s south back to Fakenham past Thorpland Hall.
Mileham: Rural Riches (Length: 22 miles / 36km)
The shortest route out of Fakenham doesn’t have any headline locations, a halfway town full of cafes or a trip to the seaside. Even the big castle on the route is now primarily just a set of grassy mounds that’s a nature reserve not a brooding reminder of past conflicts. What it does have though is a wonderful sense of just how rich the agricultural past of this area was as you wind along deserted lanes between villages nobody has ever heard of but still have churches that are big enough for a decent sized town. There are even more ruined churches peeking over skylines and through gaps in hedgerows as well as some completely hidden history at the end of the route.
The loop also connects to National Cycle Network Route 1 and the Dereham route from the Cycling UK Experience Hub at Swaffham
More cycling experiences in Kent, Cornwall and Norfolk
Fakenham is just one of our highlighted locations that's perfect for cycling. Here's Cycling UK's full set of cycle-friendly hubs, with accredited facilities and promoted routes
EXPERIENCE is a €23.3 million project co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF, €16 million) through the Interreg VA France (Channel) England Programme 2014-2020, boosting visitor numbers in six pilot regions across England and France. This project will harness the experiential tourism trend to extend the season (October – March), generating 20 million new off-season visitors spending €1 billion across the Channel region by June 2023.