Pathways to History – Little Walsingham

Last week we made the most of the good weather and joined a group who were looking at the paths and lanes in and around Little Walsingham. We started off on an unclassified road to the south of the Abbey, leading to Great Snoring. Nineteenth-century maps show it as part of the wider road network but, unlike the roads which join it at either end, it has never been surfaced. It is clearly a well-established landscape feature: there are a number of large oak pollards along its length, as well as some significant field maple coppice stools. It is also notable that the first section of the lane forms part of the parish boundary between Little Walsingham and Houghton St Giles.

Walsingham Lane.
Lane between Little Walsingham and Great Snoring. The start of the lane is followed by a parish boundary and contains a number of large oak trees in its hedgerows.

Lanes such as this provide a good illustration of the way in which elements of earlier landscapes can be preserved, even where there has been intensive agricultural use in the surrounding area.

Walsingham Lane
Walking towards Great Snoring. This is the same lane as in the photograph above, though narrower and more overgrown at this point.

From Great Snoring we followed a path running along the edges of fields from Top Farm to Hill House Farm. Great Snoring was subject to a parliamentary enclosure act in 1811, which presumably shaped the landscape of this part of the parish – the paths follow straight hawthorn hedges around neatly rectangular fields. The paths are shown on late 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps, but appear only in part on the Tithe Award map of 1840 (leading to a gravel pit in one of the adjoining fields).

Great Snoring footpaths
Following field-edge footpaths in the north west corner of the parish of Great Snoring.

Returning to Little Walsingham via Abbey Farm we came across our first significantly sunken path, dropping down the hill towards the farm and parish church. The cows in the photo below show some indication of the variation in ground level. The distribution and depth of sunken paths and lanes is one of the factors we’ll be exploring as part of the Pathways project, in an attempt to understand how it relates to patterns of soil, slope and usage.

Little Walsingham footpath
Sunken path in Little Walsingham, leading to Abbey Farm

Thanks to all those who helped on the day, clearly showing the benefits of several pairs of eyes!

You can look at these paths on a range of historic maps and aerial photographs on the Norfolk Historic Map Explorer website (starting at grid reference 593142, 335924), and find out more about the Pathways to History project on our website – www.uea.ac.uk/history/pathways

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Author: UEA Landscape History

Landscape historians based in the School of History at the University of East Anglia.

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