16 July 2013 – Reconnaissance walk through Witchingham and Whitwell

Six of us assembled at Tony and Rosie Footitt’s home on Whitwell Street to do a circular walk of 5 miles through the countryside to the south of Reepham.

Remarkably enough, their house lies directly upon the probable line of a vanished Roman road which once passed to the south of the town. Surely an auspicious start for a project which will get all of us looking more closely at subtle remains and traces in our familiar countryside.

Setting out towards Witchingham on our first walk!

Setting out towards Witchingham on our first walk!

In starting the project with a series of walks like this, our aim is start appreciating the great variety of the countryside in the Reepham area. In many ways the town lies on a topographical boundary, between the river valleys and sandy/gravelly soils to the south and the open clay plateau to the north. Different history and prehistory – different soils and drainage – different farming methods – different flora and trees? Our next reconnaissance will be to the north-west of Reepham, towards Kerdiston. It will be very interesting to compare what we see with what we have seen today.

The paths we trod were very contrasting. Some were mown strips across arable field, some were broad unmetalled bridleways. At least one path had once been metalled but clearly had never been adopted as a public road. Our route also took us a little distance along the Marriott’s Way to the south of Whitwell Station. Along two sections of path we enjoyed old trees and hedgebanks – especially along one length of footpath north of Eade’s Mill, where an authentic ‘hollow way’ had developed along a steeply sloping section.

Trees on a hollow way bank at Whitwell

Trees on a hollow way bank at Whitwell

Tony helped identify wild flowers at many points. We enjoyed the subtly changing views as we walked across the high land on the fringes of the Wensum valley. We passed several archaeological sites – two deserted medieval villages, medieval moats, the site of a windmill and the probable location of a prehistoric burial mound. We crossed and re-crossed the line of the Roman road. This was once one of Norfolk’s Roman ‘trunk roads’ but no trace is now visible. It is clear that this landscape is not going to give up its secrets without research and a bit of persistence.