St Benet’s Abbey: ways to explore the site

Centuries ago, the main destination for people  walking  through the parish of Horning was probably St Benet’s Abbey. The Norfolk Archaeological Trust now owns the site and the recent Conservation, Community and Access project has just launched a new website with plenty of information to tempt you to visit this extraordinary landscape.

Efforts are being made to reconnect the abbey site to the main part of Horning , as there is currently no safe walking route.  More information can be found on the Three Rivers Way Association website

A final flourish

Lots of questions from our interested visitors

The Exploring Horning’s Footpaths exhibition was held last weekend on Saturday 12th April. Appropriately, St Benet’s Hall Horning is located on a footpath, one of three footpaths on Horning’s riverside St Benet’s Green. Over sixty-five people trod the short stretch of Footpath 4a and visited the exhibition and everyone who came learned something new. One long-established resident discovered a path she didn’t know existed, others joked about Horning’s only Right to Roam area, now carr woodland and so marshy that it was renamed Right to Float! The project’s film Linking Two Sacred Sites provided a gentle reminder of the peace and beauty of rural paths and the audio evoked the local stories in a true Norfolk voice. Most who came to the exhibition were locals but one or two were visiting from further afield, including Germany. The predominant feeling was that the work should live on and there was much encouragement for a book or leaflets, and certainly a map of walks with historic details. ‘What next?’ was the question Annie and I asked ourselves! More walking, certainly.

Pathways and progress

Despite the windy, wet weather Annie has walked the Horning footpaths diligently already this year: all eighteen of them. Using the Definitive Map, loaned by Horning Parish Council, all the paths have been identified and photographed. The paths are numbered 1 to 19 but strangely FP5 is not featured on the map and we have not been able to find out if, or when, it was expunged. The footpaths with low numbers are mainly within the present village of Horning, so perhaps FP5 was lost when more housing development took place.  Included in the list of footpaths are two which are now Restricted Byways (RB) and one which is a Byway Open to All Traffic (BOAT). There is little understanding of the difference in status of the routes and therefore it is difficult to implement respect for their correct use.

We have divided our time between research, mainly at the Norfolk Records Office, and walking the routes, concentrating on those which seem to have the longest history. We hope that our planned exhibition on Saturday 12th April 2014 in St Benet’s Hall will help more stories to emerge and stimulate an interest in further researching of Horning’s footpaths and their place in the recent history of the parish.

All are welcome to come to Connecting Threads: Exploring Horning’s Footpaths on Sat 12th April 10.00 – 4.00 in St Benet’s Hall, beside the riverside green. If you arrive by car please use the free car park at Horning Village Hall NR12 8LQ (signposted separately off the A1062) and walk down towards the river. If you arrive by boat there are free 24 hour moorings at Horning Staithe. There are many local eateries and historic St Benedict’s Church is a 20 minute walk away.

A winter walk

The church of St Benedict at Horning

The church of St Benedict at Horning

A sunny January 14th and a walk along Footpaths 15 and 18 towards St Benet’s, St James’ Hospital with St Benet’s Abbey in the distance. The weather proved too good to miss today. I was exploring Footpath 15 to try and see the linear earthwork which stretches from St Benedict’s Church to the back of the houses along the A1062.

It was all ploughed out probably over a century ago, but there is a slight raised area where
the telegraph poles are positioned within the field nearest the church.

It is tempting to think that this earthwork, possibly late Saxon and
thought to have been a defensive barrier, could at sometime been used as
an early pathway across from the marshy River Ant area to the marshy
River Bure the other side. Could there have been an earlier church on
the site of the present one and the earthwork used as access?

Footpath 15 was known as the Bearers’ walk, for sometimes coffins were
carried this way to the church in the past, from the boat-builder and coffin-maker at Upper Street.

The muddy start of RB 18 from the junction with Waterworks Lane, Horning

The muddy start of RB 18 from the junction with Waterworks Lane, Horning

Crossing over to Footpath 18 and I think I can safely say this was one
of the muddier walks I’ve taken this year. The terrain becomes,
according to a much missed local “old boy” from Potter Heigham, full
of slub. (Mud to you and me). The farmer has been busy ploughing and there
is a lot of activity this western end of the path.


Egyptian Geese

The ubiquitous, noisy Egyptian Geese were grazing on the new growth in the field and all around I could hear the sound of farm machinery. Plenty of rooks were
combing the fields in small flocks, settling and then shifting across the landscape playing a dappled leapfrog game.   Down the far end of
Footpath 18 across in the marsh a digger was clearing a field dyke.

Digger at work on the marshes near Ludham Bridge

Digger at work on the marshes near Ludham Bridge

Walking along this footpath especially at this time of year I could
appreciate that it would have been high and dry, away from marshland.
The views now with the trees and hedges bare afforded a splendid panorama  towards Ludham marshes, across to Ranworth, along to the River Bure and St Benet’s Gatehouse.  I imagined the awe inspiring image of  the Abbey which would have loomed so much larger than the remains on site today.  It would have completely dominated the landscape.


The route to St Benet's: RB 18 with ivy-clad oaks

The route to St Benet’s: RB 18 with ivy-clad oaks

It is with that thought in mind that I realised the duration of time this piece of track must have been used by wayfarers and pilgrims so long ago and has continued to be enjoyed to the present day by walkers and  ramblers.  It has an ancient pedigree.

Ann Jepson



Horning History Walk:St Benedict’s Church to the Chapel of St James’ Hospital

On Wednesday 6th November 2013 Annie and I were joined by the Horning Walkers and others to walk between two historic sites . Dr Sarah Spooner and Dr John Gregory joined us as well as  Caroline Davidson  and Penny Wrout from the St Benet’s project. We met at the car park of St Benedict’s Church Horning  to walk some of the paths which would have been used by visitors to St Benet’s Abbey.
The weather was drizzly and grey but did not mar the views too much as we set off along footpath 15  noting the area of a former dyke aligned southwest-northeast with the ditch on the northwest side. This runs from a small cliff-like slope leading down towards marshy land near to the River Ant to another slope  that marks the northern edge of the River Bure floodplain. At one time the Ant flowed into the River Thurne and this would have made the Horning peninsula twice the size it is today (Pestell 2008). In Carrodus’ book “Life in a Norfolk Village”(1949) it states that the line of the dyke used to be quite clear when viewed from the top of St Benedict’s Church tower, and a gravedigger stated that he had to dig through a layer of ashes when digging graves there. Aerial photographs taken in 1996 and 2007 have accurately shown the full extent of this dyke. It is not contiguous with the parish boundary and it is now impossible to assess its height due to ploughing.  In fact the church graveyard section might be the best preserved area. The dyke may have been a defence of an early a royal site, possibly granted to the Abbey by an earlier monarch or it could be a much older earthwork which was incorporated into the Abbey’s defences.
Looking to the south across the valley towards Ranworth, there is beneath the soil a probable Bronze Age ring ditch and burial pit which can be seen on aerial photographs.  A bronze age metalworker’s hoard has also been found (Megan Davis and Dave Gurney, 2006, 2008 respectively).
We then walked along a Byway Open to All Traffic: Waterworks Lane to Horning Old Staithe. Many trees down this lane create a tunnel effect and it appears sunken. It has recently had tarmac laid on the wheel track area of the route. Many of the trees have been coppiced, including ash and field maple, and the banks are six feet high either side in places, woven with rabbit tunnels. The waterworks pumping station is no longer in use, but the building will have reached its hundredth anniversary next year. The path traverses an area which widens out into a reeded expanse, beside Horning Old Staithe, possibly one of the oldest landing areas along this stretch of the River Bure. An elderly resident of Upper Street remembers a small beach area here where families would come to picnic on special local holidays so that the children could enjoy the water.No mooring or disembarkation is allowed here now, but the staithe remains an important access to the views across the river, and anglers enjoy the spot for fishing. The 1822 Map: Land of Parish of Horning shows this area listed as two parcels of land, one as Surveyors Staithe and one as Charles Grymes’ Staithe. The Horning enclosure notice for Mr Charles Grimes refers to public staithes ’ …. and access ‘ for ever here after’. Mr Grymes owned considerable areas of land in and around Horning and occupied the old farmhouse now known as “Cedar Lodge” on Lower Street, Horning.
Returning along the Old Staithe track, we then progressed along Restricted Byway 18 towards Hall Farm Cottages and St James’ Hospital in the grounds of Horning Hall. This path gives good views along its length as it travels along the spine of the “Horn of Horning”.  This must surely have been the start of the final leg of the journey for pilgrims all those centuries ago and they would have seen the vast structure of the Abbey in the midst of the marshes below them.  Most of the hedging and trees along this stretch do not seem to be of a great age. Both Annie and I thought we had come across an oak tree that we thought might register as being older and more significant.  While Dr Spooner looked on, we measured the trunk, which was nearly five metres in circumference, but our hopes were dashed when she informed us that its date was probably not much earlier than Enclosure, possibly 1750. some trees appear to grow faster than others! As the path has probably been in existence for nearly 1000 years it was obvious that very old trees would have died and been replaced over time. Most looked to have been planted later than the Enclosure date of around 1818. Suffice to say, unlike our walks along this path in the summer, there was not so much wildlife to see, although the rooks were flocking together near the oaks and I did hear a pheasant! And someone noticed a solitary Speckled Wood butterfly – a late summer treat.

We then had the privilege of viewing the interior of the chapel of St James’ Hospital thanks to the kind permission of Mr Ted Brewster of Horning Hall.  This site has been sympathetically restored with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Mr Brewster. Some of the original fire damage it suffered circa 1400 can still be seen at the base of  the flint walls. There was evidence of overwintering Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies in significant numbers. Earlier access for barn owls has been closed off  but the provision of owl boxes nearby has led to the successful rearing of two offspring this year.
We had our tea break at Hall Farm Cottages Thanks to Hannah for the excellent hospitality. We had organised a display of the significant maps that we had been researching at the Norfolk Records Office, which enhanced the walkers’ knowledge of the history of the footpaths and surrounding landscape.
We had hoped to walk the footpaths to the Poors’ Allotments, but we had run out of time, so that will be a walk for another time! We would like to thank Dr Sarah Spooner and Dr John Gregory for taking the time to walk the paths with us and help us with interpretation of what we saw. Thanks also to Caroline Davidson and Penny Wrout from the St Benet’s project for helping us understand more about the Chapel of St James’s Hospital.

The weather for walking?

Exposed – the actual cause!

The swallows and house-martins were frantically feeding in preparation for their departure as we went on a late summer walk today to observe a different view of the landscape now that much of the harvest has been gathered in. The footpath from Horning Church (FP15) had been cleared by the farmer, so it was easier to walk than it had been  in July when we surveyed the trees. On that occasion we had noticed a overgrowth of brambles just where there appeared to be a tree missing at the end of a line of oaks along the field margin. At the time we  suspected that the brambles concealed the ancient stump. How wrong we were! The footpath trimming had exposed an old Electricity Company marker!

We are busy planning another historic walk similar to the Horning walk from St Benedict’s to St Benet’s, which we undertook just as the project was starting. On Saturday 18th May thirty people gathered to walk the route that would have been used when the abbey of St Benet was a thriving community. The weather had been very wet and cold at that time as you can see!

A group of walkers retrace the steps of the monks of St Benet's Abbey, walking the route from Horning Church in May 2013

A group of walkers retrace the steps of the monks of St Benet’s Abbey, walking the route from Horning Church in May 2013

The group of walkers in the photo are standing at the junction of three important rights of way: the footpath from St Benedict’s Church (FP15), the Byway Open to All Traffic leading to Horning Old Staithe (known as Waterworks Lane) and the Restricted Byway (RB18) to Horning Hall.

A (not so quick) recce!

Signpost for FP 17

Signpost for FP 17

Last week I walked along footpaths 15, 17 and 18 in the blistering  heat with my husband Dick.  We took Bella our dog who thoroughly enjoyed herself on new territory. Footpath 15 is getting overgrown with tall grasses so Bella was tunnelling through happily and investigating all the resting places and pathways made by various animals muntjac especially.The small tortoiseshell butterflies were fluttering in clouds.  They are so numerous this year.

Crossing from FP 15 to FP 18 between two dwellings either side there was a little shade afforded by some oak trees.  None of these looked of any great age but this was a cursory visit just to get the feel of the pathways. We can’t afford to assume on a first quick  recce!  This restricted byway would have been the final part of the journey to St James’ Hospital (remnants now in the grounds of Horning Hall) where the St Benet’s pilgrims and some of the visitors would have been welcomed and accommodated after their travels.  Today, in beautiful strong sunshine, we could see across to Ranworth Church and Woodbastwick  while the Bure thronged with small sailing craft and leisure boats  below us to our right across the fields as we walked eastwards.

The lane had several medium sized oak trees  (about 2-2.5 metres in girth) and some mature ash.  Much hedge planting seems to have occurred along the southern side of the path-  field maple, a mix of common and midland hawthorn, possibly some dogwood, and a few small hollies as well as a large holly tree..  Occasionally stretches were  interwoven with dog rose,  plenty of bracken and convolvulus. Also growing  was ribwort, great plantain, cow parsley, tufted vetch and some tansy.  There was one oak which we measured that was 5 metres in girth  which is of a size that the CPRE project would like to be recorded (anything over 4 metres girth ) and there are probably some stumps that are so well covered with bramble and foliage at this time of year that we will have to not only record the path in detail during the summer, but come back when the plants have died down in late autumn and see what lurks beneath.

Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly

Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly

We saw a pair of mating broad bodied chaser dragonflies  looking like a chinook helicopter ducking and diving along the hedgerows and a green eyed hawker!  Anita and I saw one earlier in the month along footpath 17. Butterflies included many small tortoiseshells, small white cabbage and both male and female orange tips.



High bank along FP 17 leading to Horning Old Staithe

High bank along FP 17 leading to Horning Old Staithe

Returning up the same footpath (as no 18 terminates at the junction with the private road to Horning Hall) and turning left, we then went along footpath 17 down to Horning Old Staithe. This is, for a small stretch, a tree-tunnelled lane, and appears sunken as it descends to the flatter area near the River Bure.  In places the banks came as high as our heads on the eastern side. There were several oaks probably with a girth of over 2.5 metres and what appeared to be a couple of coppiced ash. Plenty of field maple and hawthorn and a beech.

In the verge adjacent to the Waterworks building  was  a decent crop of ripening raspberries which gave us some unexpected refreshment. Elder and sloe and a self seeded buddleia lined the west side of the path. We will probably be having a good look at the grasses growing on the flattened area around the staithe when we come to survey this patch.  From here directly opposite across the marsh stands Ranworth  Church. If you walk to the southern side of Horning church, the view over the Bure to Ranworth Church is beautiful across the river valley especially at sunset.

Words and pictures by Annie Jepson
19th July 2013






Surveying on a Summer Sunday

The beautiful summer weather on Sunday 7th July was ideal for a survey of FP15, the path leading from Horning Church to the top of Waterworks Lane, which leads down to Horning Old Staithe. We started from the Church Car Park and noted the field to our right where once a Bronze  Age barrow stood proudly on the high ground. We noted the course of the path and how it differed from the route on the 1840 Tithe Map of Horning (NRO DN TA 368). We noted the position of the trees, Annie pacing the distance between them and noting bramble patches where we suspected missing trees once stood. Later when Annie compared our record to early maps our suspicions were confirmed that two trees had been felled. Measuring the girth of oaks trees was no mean feat with the challenges of differing heights between the field side and the path side, and the clouds of pollen from the grasses – not to mention the myriad tiny flies, always on the west flank in the sunshine. Our trees fell short of four metres circumference but nevertheless we recorded them. Insects were gloriously arrayed on umbillifer blossoms and bees buzzed in the brambles. We took our time watching and photographing any that stayed still long enough. Here is the most intriguing one — a moth. But can you identify it?



Our changing landscape

Visualising the changing landscape of Horning over the period of time since the founding of  St Benet’s Abbey is quite a challenge. Today I was sent a link to a new video which explains how changes in the coastal area at the mouth of the River Yare affected a wide area of land surrounding the rivers in what is now the Norfolk Broads.  From the video we gain an understanding of the reason for the watery and marshy landscape which existed in the early days of St Benet’s Abbey. If you pause the video at 58 seconds and look at the northern rivers, you can see that the site of the abbey is depicted clearly as an island.
Boats were the main means of travel until comparatively recent times and footpaths to staithes, or quays, are a key feature of Horning to this day.
The video can also be viewed on the Broads Authority’s website