The medium length route of the three Fakenham Experience Hub excursions might well take you the longest time, simply because there are so many amazing sites and experiences packed into it.
Typically for north Norfolk it's a gently rolling route but nothing to really trouble the legs whether you’re young, old or just new to riding. The couple of km of gravel bike path at the top of the route are smooth enough for a carefully ridden road bike to cope with too. Plenty of excellent food stops - particularly on the way out - mean you won’t go hungry. There’s also the opportunity to extend the route west to the foodie paradise of Burnham Market where this route meets another looping heading out from the Cycling UK Experience Hub at Hunstanton. But whatever options you take it’s the deep history and breathtaking natural sites that are the real feast on this ride.
You’ll have to wait a few km for the wonderment to start, but we promise the ride north through suburban Fakenham and the dog leg right and left across the bypass are well worth the patience.
In fact, you’ll have just settled into the signature, grass up the centre rural lane bliss as you loop south of West Barsham. With its brewery, church and modern but beautifully gardened hall, it might be worth an early detour. Regardless of your religious affiliations or lack thereof, the small but beautiful ‘Slipper Chapel’ or Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham, is a surprising spot. This restored building is the centre of the self-proclaimed ‘Nazareth of the UK’ and was first built in 1340 when it was the last chapel on the pilgrim route to Walsingham. At that point Walsingham was second only to Canterbury in the ranks of importance in English pilgrimage, with devotees coming to visit on account of the vision of Mary that the lady of the manor had in 1061. It’s also the point where some pilgrims take off their shoes for the final mile to the shrine, Abbey and Priory in Little Walshingham.
Little Walshingham also has some gorgeous medieval half-timbered jettied buildings and Georgian facades, an 18th century model prison, a Russian Orthodox church in an old railway station and even the only Grade I listed public toilets in England. From a refuelling/relaxing point of view there are two pubs, a restaurant, several cafés and an award-winning farm shop. It’s also the start point of the Wells & Walsingham Light Railway, a heritage narrow gauge line that huffs and puffs to the seaside and back.
To the beach
Heading out of Wighton you’ve got a choice of routes. You can turn right and follow the normal road north or carry on straight on the gravel double track up to the pretty brick cottage in the copse at Gallow Hill. Either way be careful of the main road crossing into Wells itself which can be busy but is at least speed limited to 30mph.
Roll past the Youth Hostel and you’ll be at the waterside very soon with the large granary at the eastern end of the front and various cafes and amusement arcades at the west end. Named for its natural springs, Wells only became a seaport in the 14th century but grew rapidly on a trade of cereals and malting as well as its own fishing fleet. It’s also the home of three different lifeboats ready to head right out into the North Sea on rescue missions or just keeping the endless beaches and salt marshes of this part of the coast safe.
While you head on the final 1500m towards the coast following the signs to the “Beach Café", it doesn’t actually have a beach view, so you might want to fuel up in town instead. That leaves you free to curve round past the Beach Cafe and follow the broad gravel cycle path along the backside of the wooded dunes of Holkham Bay. This is doable on any sort of bike but you want to be careful on skinny tyres and you need to be aware that this route can be busy with dogwalkers, birdwatchers and general holidaymakers. While there’s no view point over the bay from the path, it’s only a short push along boardwalk to open up the amazing vista of the rapidly flooding tidal beach. Once you’ve had your fill of coastal horizons and whichever birds are calling the nature reserve home for a while, then it’s time to turn inland for a truly premium riding experience.
Cycle back in time
You’ll need to be careful as you cross the A149, but on the far side the step change into aristocratic life is immediate as you pedal past the ornate brick buildings of the estate village. Unlike a lot of stately homes that you just have to scurry through on the shortest route possible, Holkham Hall is amazingly welcoming for riders too. Not only is there a lovely courtyard cafe to refuel but there are 7 different dedicated shared use walking and cycling routes around the estate. These loop out round spots you wouldn’t otherwise see, like St Withburga’s church, the boating lake, the walled garden and vinery and the great barn – which is where the rich harvests of the estate were stored on a mix of tarmac, gravel and woodland surfaces. We’d definitely recommend adding some of the blue and red routes into your Holkham Hall experience. If you’re riding with kids there’s a great play areas and ropes course too.
Obviously, the Hall itself is very much worth a visit too as it’s regarded as a perfect example of Palladian architecture with its austere exterior and rich but restrained interior featuring alabaster and velvet lined walls. Don’t forget to pause on the steady climb out towards the obelisk to appreciate the true majesty of the Hall itself either, as the southern facade with its ornamental fountain is definitely the most beautiful. The rolling progress south through immaculate park land feels gloriously privileged as you pass the towering obelisk and then roll through the south gates and triumphal arch to finally leave the estate.
Don’t worry though, you’re not suddenly going to be plunged into the frantic pace of modern life. When you see the road straighten up and arrow almost due south, you’re right, you are on the old Roman Road to the coast.
The threat from overseas that triggered the Roman’s creation of the ‘Saxon Shore’ forts in Brancaster, was the prime mover behind the building of two airfields that lie either side of the route some 2000 years later. They have an interesting relationship too as North Creake airfield was largely a decoy that was left slightly lit when German bombers were inbound. This encouraged them to attack what was mostly a deserted emergency runway rather than the much larger and important airfield at Sculthorpe 4 miles to the south west. While North Creake is now a solar farm, Sculthorpe is still a Ministry of Defence site, albeit scaled back massively since the 1950s when it was the largest US Air Force base in Europe with over 10,000 personnel on site. To put that into perspective that’s 25% more than the current population of Fakenham, which is where you’re heading back into now after what’s hopefully been a fascinating and enjoyable ‘seaside and back’ adventure through North Norfolk.
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.