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.
Steep for Norfolk
Rolling down the hill out of Fakenham takes you past one of the mills over the river Wensum. This highlights the fertility of the region that was doubtless such an important part of the reason there has been occupation here since the early farmers of the neolithic 6000-4000 years ago. Moving past the entrance to the racecourse with its Prince of Wales patronage also highlights the Royal links of this area, with the royal horse racing stables not far to the west at Sandringham. We suggest you try to move swiftly along the B road through Pudding Norton too as it’s the busiest part of the route. Make sure you don’t miss the narrow, almost unused looking turning right just after the old Pudding Norton Hall farm though as that’s your escape route to a far quieter, more relaxed ridescape. It’s not entirely relaxing though as the road to the ancient church site (Colkirk is an Anglo-Saxon or Danish word, meaning "the church of Cola", from "kirk" meaning church and "Cola" being the name of the builder or first owner of a church) is a positive Alp in local terms rising over 30m in only a km for a gentle average gradient of 3%.
5000 years of village life
Judging from the cross head found buried in the graveyard, Whissonsett is another village of at least Anglo-Saxon date with yet another beautiful dressed flint church. The next church you pass at Godwick is a small ruin which is all that remains of the village it’s named after. The small square moat, hidden under trees near the road, is all that remains of the fortified manor too, but you might catch a glimpse through the weather sheltering hedgerows that help keep winter winds and summer dust storms at bay.
The next village on the route - Tittleshall - has a known history that starts with 5000 year-old burial pits and surrounding ring ditches which are part of a multi feature prehistoric landscape overlooking the valley of the River Nar. Heading straight on south towards Litcham with its priory farmhouse and nature reserve links you up with the Dereham route heading out from the Cycling UK Experience Hub at Swaffham around 10km away.
Posh in the past
We turn at the memorial cross to our mid ride point at the conservation village of Mileham. This picturesque linear settlement straddles the old coach road from Kings Lynn to Great Yarmouth and begins its known story with a Roman camp of local folklore and the Mileham Dish (a stunning silver plate from the 4th century that’s now in the British Museum in London). There’s no disputing it’s Norman significance either as the massive earthworks of the motte and double bailey caste. These lie on both sides of the road, covering an area big enough to encompass Burwood Hall to the north and a nature reserve to the south. Its position across the road suggests it served as a toll collecting point on this busy trade route and several large houses show the prosperity that Mileham’s several mills generated in the past. The village store and Post Office make it an ideal spot to grab a snack for the second half of the ride.
Possibly the most dramatic and unexpected indication of how rich this countryside has made its population at times comes at Stanfield just to the east though. Here you’ll dog leg off the B road up a short climb towards a scatter of a few houses then suddenly find a large, luxuriously built church around the next corner, opposite a moated manor farm.
Burials and Beer
Crossing the B roads you swing south of Brisley village and over the line of the old Roman Road on a gradually narrowing, gravel centred lane between wild flower rich hedgerows. This is north Norfolk riding at its quintessential, easy going, minimum traffic best and hopefully you’ll find the next few km as blissfully relaxing as we did.
Picking up National Cycle Network Route 1 as it heads north from distant Dover on the south coast, our loop drops down into the Wensum valley. Even the most heavily loaded cargo bike should be fine over the weight restricted iron bridge over the old railway, but the restrictions mean you’re unlikely to meet much traffic as you head north west to Great Ryburgh.
This small village has major significance for several reasons too. While there’s no sign of them above ground, the recent discovery of remarkably well-preserved Anglo-Saxon burials in 81 log coffins and 6 plank coffins have the potential to shed light on not just the local area but the whole early Christian phase of British history. There’s even a wooden building associated with the cemetery that may be an early chapel. Above ground the round towered church is a delightfully distinctive site but it’s the towers and silos of Crisp Maltings that dominate the recent history and pervading aroma of Great Ryburgh. Set up over 150 years ago to make exceptional malting from the local barley, their produce is still sought after by craft brewers and distillers all over the world. If you can’t wait to get back to Fakenham you can try a range of local beers at the Blue Boar Inn in the village itself too.
With or without a pint to propel you the final furlongs it’s not far back to Fakenham racecourse now though, but keep an eye out for an ambush from a WWII defensive blockhouse as you head along the back road past Testerton Hall. Then it’s back onto the B road through Pudding Norton and into town ready for a rest or to try either of the longer routes north from the Experience Hub.
All routes are followed at a rider’s own risk. These routes are intended to be general guides: please observe all road signs, waymarks and other specific on-route instructions. Neither Cycling UK nor individual route authors can be held responsible for any errors or consequences that arise from using this route information. Essentially: go out, be sensible, have fun. If you believe there is an important issue with this route then please report it using the button below.