Why are some cities so disconnected from their train stations? This is what I often think about in Diss in South Norfolk: the most direct walking route into its historic center is a tricky maneuver through 1960s cul-de-sacs that would be much more visitor-friendly if they were clearly signposted.
But upon arrival, especially if it’s your first time, it’s well worth the 18-minute trek to the hilltop historic center, with its 157 Tudor, Georgian and Victorian buildings. The wooden Saracen’s Head pub and historic Weaver’s restaurant both date back to the 16th century, while cobbled Diss Yards is a haven of independent shops and healthy cafes, and cavernous Designer Makers 21 is a maze of artists’ studios and galleries.
Travel through verdant countryside into the territory of the Iron Age British Celtic tribe
Another must-see is the elegant Grade II listed Corn Hall, now a multi-use arts center recently restored, like much of the old town, as part of a £3.4m initiative to create the Diss Heritage Triangle . At the heart of this regeneration is a floating walkway over Diss Mere, a large lake. At the top of Market Hill, there are great views into the peaceful new parkland before walking down the path to the water.
Today my boyfriend and I are here to walk an eight mile stretch of the Boudicca Way, a 36 mile walking route linking this market town with Norwich. Named after the warrior queen of the Iceni, it passes through verdant countryside in the territory of Britain’s Iron Age Celtic tribe, running roughly parallel to the old Pye Road (now the A140). We will conclude our afternoon excursion in the impossibly pretty village of Pulham Market where my mother still lives and where my father’s family have settled for many decades.
My father was a keen walker and introduced me to the route a few years ago; having recently died, the idea is to partially retrace those steps.
Leaving the station at Gilray Road, we turn right onto the inauspicious looking Vince’s Road (if you wish to explore the old town first, take the next left into Fisher Road). We pass through a modern housing estate to rejoin the Boudicca Way at the corner of Frenze Hall Lane and Walcot Green where the well marked rural footpath begins just over the railway bridge. In fact, for the entire duration of the walk we are struck by the impeccable signage; and for good measure, I’m also clutching a hand-drawn map my dad helped put together many years ago.
In bright sunshine and blue skies, we follow the straight path up the Frenze Beck, a tributary of the Waveney, and on a farm we spot our first ancient monument, St Andrew’s Church, built in the 13th century. Like many on this route it is now disused but kept open by the Churches Conservation Trust. Its sparse interior is tranquil, the sun streaming over its many artefacts: particularly noteworthy are the 15th-century carved monkeys on the arms of the prayer desk.
Then it’s back along the river, with the hoary oaks protruding from its low banks. Dog walkers greet us at regular intervals and we pass farmhouses and sporadic Georgian houses as we wind down sun-dappled lanes.
The church’s stark interior is peaceful, sunshine bathes its artifacts, including 15th-century carved monkeys
The next church we come across, at Thelveton, is also in the middle of farmland. Also called St Andrew’s, it’s not as satisfyingly minimalist inside as its namesake, but, after an hour, we enjoy a quick rest on a moss-covered bench in its graveyard. We watch as a hare runs past the gravestones.
Resuming the path, I spy a herd of deer in a nearby field before turning right onto the Broad Way, an attractive country lane with wide grass borders, before reaching a farmable field from which we can catch a glimpse of the eye- capturing the round tower of the Grade I listed St George’s Church in Shimpling. We cross the wooden bridge over the stream and we are pleased to find it open again, even though it is also abandoned. Its 12th-century tower, with its octagonal upper box and Victorian spire, excites my boyfriend, who has studied historic conservation and can become lyrical about the differences between a nave and a chancel.
We follow the hedge-lined lane to the village of Shimpling, where a heritage map is filled with stories about this settlement and nearby Burston, most notable for a notable incident in 1914: when the local school headmaster and his wife were sacked unfairly, children went on strike to show support, even attending a “strike school,” which continued until 1939.
Pheasants flap into view as we cross a vast featureless field towards Tivetshall St Mary. At the junction with Patten Lane, we follow the Boudicca Way up Primrose Hill towards the village. As we turn right into Ram Lane, two horses watch us from a field, while a muntjac crosses the road, quite at ease. It’s a three-hour walk and only now do we come upon our first pub: the Old Ram coaching inn, which dates back to the 17th century. We eagerly order pints and settle back on comfy sofas in front of the fire.
Related: A stroll along the River Ribble to a great pub – the Lower Buck, Lancashire
But we are not yet at our goal. With the gentle descent, we set off to cross the busy A140 and rejoin the path for the last mile through farmland; at a cattle grid, we turn left onto gently sloping Station Road (its former station, closed since 1953, can be seen on the left). Pulham Market dates back to the 12th century, its thatched cottages set around a lawn. With restored medieval painting and stained glass windows, the functioning 14th-century St. Mary Magdalene Church is grander and more extravagant than the others, its tower gilded in the setting sun. Inside we are surprised to learn that Norfolk has 659 medieval churches, one of the highest concentrations in the world.
Darkness is now falling, but luckily the Crown is beside, ablaze with invitation. Feeling a sudden sense of peace, I remember my father’s favorite line: ambulando solvency. Everything is solved by walking.
Google map of the route
Start Diss. Station
Distance 8 miles (9.5 if you walk into downtown Diss first) Time: 3-4 hours
Total climb 71 meters
GPX map of the route at Ordnance Survey
The Crown is a 15th-century inn built to house the workmen who built the church. A double-sided fireplace warms both the pub area and the adjoining dining room, with its low beamed ceiling and cleverly mismatched furniture. Over the years I’ve nibbled on the menu, from rosy ribeye to chicken supreme, but right now we’re craving a pint and some of his gigantic sausage rolls. After eight miles in a three-degree cold, we’re delirious with such a simple pleasure. thecrowninnpulham.co.uk
Across the green is the Old Bakery, a B&B with four spacious bedrooms, run since 2018 by Theresa and Jim Miller. An historic building, with wattle and daub walls and a timber frame, it was a bakery from 1580 until the last baker retired in 1951. The exposed-beam rooms are furnished with antiques and comfortable beds and the attic with en-suite has sunset views over the village green and church beyond. It is available for bed and breakfast or self-catering.
Double from £95 bed and breakfasttheoldbakery.net