You know an area is something special when the Royals decide to create a holiday home there. Sandringham has been the winter retreat of the Royals since the Victorian era. Our meandering route shows that Prehistoric, Roman, Saxon and medieval peoples have all left their marks on this rich and surprisingly varied coastal and gently rolling inland landscape too. To make the most of the history and local nature reserves this route includes some off-road sections that are best tackled on a gravel or mountain bike. They’re only short and easily avoided though if you’ve only got a road bike. Alternatively, you could hire a gravel bike from Keith at Open Sky Cycles near the route at Snettisham who also helped us to put this route together
Staring from the amusement centre on the site of the old pier below the main green at Hunstanton, you roll south out of town between the seafront and the main car park, passing the sea life sanctuary and some public toilets. You then follow the access road behind seafront properties that range from boutique project homes to traditional rows of beach huts as it turns from tarmac to broad gravel track. Don’t worry though it’s fine on a road bike as long as you mind the bigger potholes.
Turning left inland at the cafe you head past the holiday park into the older heart of Heacham village, which has a continuous archaeological record from the Neolithic 6000 years ago, Bronze and Iron ages, a Romano British settlement and was really prosperous in the Saxon period under the local lord Tok before the Normans took it off him. Trade with Scandinavia and the low countries continued to grow through the medieval period and Heacham ale and bread market was particularly renowned for the number of female traders. The famous Native American bride/hostage Pocahontas also visited here as her husband John Rolfe was a local aristocrat.
Then it’s across the main road at the traffic light managed junction and along the gently rolling road past the Norfolk Lavender Experience that’s a particularly sweet smelling early stop option at 7km in. Following the road east leads you into the edge of Sedgeford. Again, this pretty village has been a busy site since early farmers left their Neolithic flint tools. The rich soils of the rolling hills mean treasure grade finds such as a gold Iron Age tore armband and several Roman villas in an area that’s also crossed by the ancient Icknield Way and the Roman period Peddars Way roads. If you take a short detour east of the village you’ll also find what’s very probably the prettiest ammunition store in the world at Magazine Cottage. This charming building was built in the 17th century by the Le Strange family during the civil war as a gunpowder store and legend has it that a secret tunnel ran from the old armoury to the church in the heart of the village.
Back on the route we head south past Snettisham which has a history dating back to the Mesolithic 10,000 years ago, a spectacular treasure hoard of 180 gold torc bracelets from the Iron Age and a Roman jewellers stash containing finished jewellery and raw materials. By the medieval period it was one of the largest towns in Norfolk with multiple mills, fisheries and guildhalls for various businesses and a 14th century church with a tall spire that was a key navigation marker for ships on the Wash. It’s still a centre for local crafts and arts today and has two pubs as well so definitely worth a visit if you fancy a short detour.
Otherwise, we’re sticking to the near deserted, winding back roads between tall, flower rich hedgerows with the church towers of Ingoldisthorpe and Dersingham peeping over them. As Mill Road becomes Admiral’s Drive it’s clear that you’re getting close to Sandringham and a short shallow rise pulls you up past the Royal Sawmill before you roll into rich woodland behind the estate farm and Royal Stud. If you don’t fancy tea with the Royals, then you can hang a hard left and then another at this point, but Royal fans will roll right past the ornate gates gifted to Queen Victoria by the locals and into the estate itself. You’ll have to park your bike up and take a short walk to see the house itself but we can certainly recommend the Royal tearooms. Retracing your wheel tracks for a few hundred metres you turn onto the majestic tree lined King’s Avenue out past the Royal Stud where the successful royal horse racing fleet is kept.
Then it’s through Amner where William and Kate the Prince and Princess of Wales have their country home. The ancient history ramps up again here too, with several prehistoric burial mounds flanking the Roman Road of Peddars Way. You can jump onto the track and head north here, but we head a bit further east to take in the Great Bircham with its rare surviving windmill. Here you can not only buy the bread made with Norfolk grain and breezes but even make your own to get a real taste of how important these mills where when there were over 300 of them in the area.
Floured up we head west again. More adventurous and/or fatter tyred riders can take the Roman Road double track diversion up Peddars Way past Fring and then back into Sedgeford. Road riders should just retrace the route back into Heacham from here but if you’ve enjoyed the short gravel sections so far then head north to Ringstead. Here you can leave the road and roll through a few km of beautiful wooded nature reserve at Ringstead Downs before crossing the main road back into Heacham. From here both routes head back to the coast and take the gravel road return behind the beach houses north into Hunstanton.
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