The 12-mile Wensum Way passes through some beautiful central Norfolk landscape, much of it alongside or close to the river that gives the trail its name. The Wensum Way links the Nar Valley Way at Gressenhall with the Marriott’s Way at Lenwade. It passes through rural landscape between Gressenhall and Swanton Morley, then following the river valley, abundant with wildlife, through to Lenwade.
The River Wensum, which takes its name from Old English word for ‘winding’, is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. This walk passes near 26 county wildlife areas and four Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Along the way, take in outstanding views, picturesque villages and historic sites.
The formidable building is a former workhouse that now serves as a museum depicting workhouse life and Norfolk’s rich social history.
The farm here once used to grow food for the workhouse inmates. Now it is farmed using traditional techniques and uses Suffolk Punch horses to plant, harvest and plough.
Hoe Rough at the edge of the adjacent village of Beetley is a 12 hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest and County Wildlife Site managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.
The wet unimproved grassland here is home to 300 year-old oak trees and flora that includes green-winged orchid and bird’s foot trefoil.
Otters, water vole and great crested newt are found along the river and in the ponds, and 25 species of butterfly and 24 different types of dragonfly have been recorded.
The Wensum Way crosses over the old Mid Norfolk Railway by a bridge.
The line linked Fakenham and Wymondham but was closed in the 1960s.
Work by the Mid Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust volunteers has seen the track restored.
At Swanton Morley the route heads north to reach the River Wensum.
The very large, 14th Century All Saint’s Church, which this route passes, holds a prominent position on a hill to the north of the village.
In the village itself, The Angel, one of the village’s 2 pubs, was once home to Richard Lincoln, an ancestor of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States.
Darby’s pub is also interesting historically, having been converted from a pair of 18th century farm cottages.
Bylaugh’s St Mary’s Church can be seen on the opposite bank of the river a little further on, just before the route turns south away from the River Wensum along Penny Spot Beck.
The picturesque village of Elsing, named after ‘Elesa’, a Danish chieftain who appears on the village sign, is notable for its 14th Century St Mary’s Church, Rectory and Guildhall. The church has a pillar-less nave, the widest of any parish church in the region, and is noted for its fine brass memorial commemorating the life of Sir Hugh Hastings, the Lord of the Manor and church’s patron.
One of the church’s most famous visitors was T E Lawrence (‘of Arabia’ fame) who came here on a cycling tour in 1905. Opposite the church stands the Mermaid Inn, a historic pub that dates back to the 16th Century.
Castle Farm, just beyond Swanton Morley in a meander of the river, has the remains of a medieval moat.
This may have once surrounded a castle or fortified manor house that previously stood here, although there is little hard evidence to support this.
Elsing Hall, a moated 15th Century hall that once belonged to the Hastings family, can be found a little way off the route to the southwest of the village.
Its gardens are open to groups of visitors of 20 or more by prior arrangement.
Elsing Mill is just a short detour from the trail, a little way north of the village by the river. Although no longer working, this was one of several mills that used to operate along the course of the River Wensum.
Originally built as a paper mill in the early 19th Century, it was later used to make animal feed before conversion into a private dwelling in the late 20th Century.
Another surviving mill house can be found a little further on at Lyng. Here the Wensum Way crosses the River Wensum at a bridge and weir where the remains of World War II anti-tank blocks can also be seen.
Sparham Pools are flooded former gravel pits just north of the River Wensum that are leased to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and now used for nature conservation.
This is an excellent place to see wading birds and waterfowl.
The reserve’s pools and islands also provide ideal habitat for breeding birds like sand martins, kingfishers and common terns.
Dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies such as purple hairstreak and green hairstreak thrive here too, while the reserve’s woodland and scrub support plants like evening primrose and hound’s tongue.
The market town of Dereham dates back to the 7th Century when it is believed that Withburga, youngest daughter of Anna, King of East Angles, founded a nunnery here.
Bishop Bonner’s Cottage (next to St Nicholas church) was constructed in early 17th Century and is now a museum celebrating the history of Dereham.
The town also boasts areas rich in wildlife including Scarning Fen, Potters Fen and Rush Meadow, all with public access.
The 12 mile Wensum Way that links Gressenhall on the Nar Valley Way with Lenwade on the Marriott’s Way passes through some beautiful central Norfolk landscape, much of it alongside or close to the river that gives the trail its name.
The River Wensum, which takes its name from Old English word for ‘winding’, is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation and this walk passes near 26 county wildlife areas and 4 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.