Pathways to History – parishes of few paths

Following on from earlier posts about the density of rights of way in Norfolk, the map below highlights those parishes with the least dense networks of rights of way and those with no footpaths, bridleways or byways.

PROW map
Parishes shown in white are those with no public rights of way (in terms of footpaths/bridleways/byways). Parishes shown in blue are those with the least dense networks of rights of way.

The parishes with no public rights of way are:

Beeston St Andrew
Little Snoring
Pudding Norton
Shouldham Thorpe

A typical characteristic of these parishes is the presence of single dominant landed estate, often with a large park that accounts for most of the area of the parish. Anmer, Beeston and Houghton, for example, are all parishes where landscape parks dominate the landscape. The movement and closure of rights of way in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to create such landscapes is well documented, although will be the subject of further research as part of this project in terms of chronology and distribution. Other factors such as settlement shrinkage/desertion and military requisitioning (Stanford and Sturston) also loom large in the history of these parishes.

The following parishes all contain some rights of way, but in terms of density account for the 10 least dense networks in the county (excluding those parishes with no rights of way).

No Parish/Area PROW(m) per HECTARE
1 Kilverstone 0.08
2 Necton 0.13
3 West Walton 0.15
4 Scoulton 0.16
5 Morton on the Hill 0.18
6 Litcham 0.27
7 Bradenham 0.29
8 Spixworth 0.32
9 Hilborough 0.32
10 Sandringham 0.39

These parishes continue the predominant east/west divide seen across the county and again the presence of large landed estates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seems to be the key factor in most cases (e.g. Hilborough, Kilverstone, Sandringham). However, the figures are also misleading in some ways. For example Sandringham today is, by Norfolk standards, a very large parish covering over 4,000 hectares (making it the fifth largest in the county) and contributing to its low density value. Furthermore this fails to take account of the land which is now accessible to those visiting the Sandringham estate; or the nature reserves at Dersingham Bog and Wolferton Fen.

Sandringham and surrounding parishes in the 1880s. A typical nineteenth-century estate landscape in west Norfolk - parkland, plantations and large enclosed fields (most of which tend not to go hand in hand with dense networks of footpaths...)
Sandringham and surrounding parishes in the 1880s. A typical nineteenth-century estate landscape in west Norfolk – parkland, plantations and large enclosed fields (most of which tend not to go hand in hand with dense networks of footpaths…)

Pathways to History – Mapping Density

Following on from yesterday’s post, these maps show patterns of density across the county, this time taking account of roads as well as public rights of way. In each case the density of routeways has been worked out in terms of metres per hectare.

Public Rights of Way (Footpaths, Bridleways, Byways)

PROW map 1
Density of public rights of way in Norfolk. Blues and greens = low density; oranges and reds = high density.

Highest = Wacton (59m per hectare)

Lowest = A number of parishes with no public rights of way (more on this to follow in another post)

Public Roads (excluding PROW)

Road density map
Density of roads in Norfolk  (blue = low; yellow = medium; red = high)

Highest = Norwich (102m of public road per hectare)

Lowest = Sturston (0m of public road per hectare)

Public Roads and Public Rights of Way

Roads and Prow Map
Combined density of Public rights of way and public roads.

Highest = Norwich (103m per hectare) Sheringham a close second with 101m

Lowest = Sturston (no public roads, no public rights of way)

As research and mapping progress we hope to be able to look in more depth at changing densities over time. It has already become clear from examining seventeenth and eighteenth-century maps of a number of places that processes such as parliamentary enclosure could dramatically reduce the number of paths and roads within a parish. However, in some cases similar processes are evident even in parishes which were untouched by enclosure acts.

Pathways to History – A question of density

When looking at patterns of rights of way across Norfolk some are unsurprising, such as the greater number of footpaths and lanes in the south east of the county and the relative sparseness of the north west. Examining the historic development of such contrasts will form a key part of our Pathways to History project, but as we sort through the results of fieldwork and documentary research we’ve started to explore and map a range of other patterns.

Firstly, we’ve been looking at the modern density of rights of way (footpaths, bridleways and byways), calculated in terms of metres of rights of way per hectare of each parish. On this basis the densest network of rights of way is to be found in the parish of Wacton, to the west of the A140 near Long Stratton. Anyone who has ever looked at an Ordnance Survey map of this area won’t be surprised by this – the mesh of paths and tracks across and around Wacton Common is striking even in an area with as many footpaths as south Norfolk. It might reasonably be expected that the other most densely ‘pathed’ parishes in Norfolk would be in this area, but the distribution of the top ten is rather more widespread.

The top ten parishes in Norfolk on the basis of density of rights of way (metres per hectare)
The top ten parishes in Norfolk on the basis of density of rights of way (metres per hectare)
No Parish/Area PROW(m) per HECTARE
1 Wacton 59.95
2 Thurne 54.57
3 Downham West 40.00
4 Beeston Regis 39.59
5 East Beckham 37.82
6 New Buckenham 36.56
7 Burston and Shimpling 33.25
8 Runton 31.07
9 Yelverton 30.75
10 Drayton 30.37

Looking at these in a little more detail they can be divided into a number of categories. Firstly, there are those parishes which have high densities due to their diminutive areas, such as New Buckenham and Yelverton. Secondly there is Downham West, which scores highly here by virtue of the long bridleways and byways which follow the course of fenland rivers and dykes. Thirdly there are those parishes, such as Wacton and Runton where areas of common land survived much later than elsewhere in Norfolk. Indeed, Runton is one of the few places in this region where open field strips survived late enough to be included on the first edition six inch and twenty five inch Ordnance Survey maps of the 1880s. Drayton is a somewhat surprising entry in the top ten, particularly as there appear to be very few rights of way on modern maps. However, the definitive map for Norfolk includes a cluster of footpaths around Drayton Wood and Canham’s Hill which help to explain the results above. You can see them on Norfolk County Council’s interactive map here –

Runton Map
Strip fields around Runton on the north Norfolk Coast as shown on the OS 6″ to 1 mile map of the 1880s.

Further research, both fieldwork and documentary, will undoubtedly shed more light on these patterns; and on the more detailed history of rights of way within individual parishes.

Pathways near Blickling

A selection of photographs of footpaths and bridleways, taken while walking from Blickling Park to Moorgate, Fring Wood, Blickling Mill and back to the park.

Pathways to History – July update

Throughout June and July our Pathways to History project has been making steady progress, with the results of fieldwork surveys coming in from all over the county. We’ve also been invited to visit a number of parishes to take part in walks with local groups, making the most of an unusually hot and dry summer. Back in June we went to Felmingham and Beachamwell, parishes at opposite ends of the county but with some similarities in landscape terms due to their sandy soils and heaths. Until the nineteenth century many of Norfolk’s heathlands were criss-crossed by dense networks of tracks, many of which disappeared as parishes were enclosed. Walking from Felmingham church to Bryant’s Heath we followed one such track (now a public footpath) which has survived, crossing the heath and then leading on towards North Walsham. A number of other tracks can also be seen on the heath, some of them significantly sunken.

Felmingham Footpath
Footpath between Felmingham church and Bryant’s Heath, NE Norfolk.

The landscape around Beachamwell, as with many parts of Breckland, is today dominated by large scale agriculture. However, it is also covered by an extensive network of footpaths, the history of which is currently being researched by a group of local people working with the CPRE. We enjoyed an atmospheric late evening walk around some of these paths and lanes via Shingham and what was once Beachamwell rabbit warren. Once again we were struck by the richness of some of the lanes in terms of ancient trees and boundary earthworks, in a landscape more readily associated with the hawthorn hedges and conifers of modern fields and plantations. Beachamwell contains numerous important archaeological sites and it will therefore be interesting to see how the routeways within the parish have both influenced and been shaped by past activity.

Beachamwell Track
Looking back towards Shingham and Beachamwell from a track leading to Langwade Green.
Boundary marker
An eighteenth-century boundary stone (marked ‘PB’), now lying in a hedge near Beachamwell.

At the start of July we spent a morning exploring paths and lanes in Reepham, along with 30 eager assistants from Reepham Primary School’s year 3 class, the Avocets. Our walk included a very impressive holloway between Mill Road and Whitwell Road (see below) and an oak pollard on Back Lane with a circumference of 7 metres. The class provided plenty of thoughtful observations and more than a few challenging questions!

In addition to working on the Pathways to History project Reepham and Beachamwell (along with Thompson and Horning) are also taking part in the CPRE’s Connecting Threads: Exploring Our Footpaths project, which aims to “raise awareness and enrich knowledge of public rights of way so that local communities value them and (literally) explore them more, and are encouraged to engage in monitoring and protecting them”. You can find out more on the project website.

CPRE Project Page

Our most recent visit was to the parish of Carbrooke, one of many splendid examples in Norfolk of a small village with an enormous parish church. In the field to the south of the church are the earthwork remains of the commandry or preceptory of the Knights of St John. As with Beachamwell, it will be interesting to see what connections can be made between such a significant site and the current pattern of roads, lanes and paths in the parish.

Looking north towards Carbrooke from the end of a short footpath running between Summer Lane and Mill Lane.

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 –

Pathways to History

We are excited to be able to post about a new landscape history project that we will be running over the course of the year.

Public Footpath

Pathways to History aims to investigate the history of public rights of way in Norfolk. The antiquity of the footpath network has never been fully researched and we are interested in a number of questions:

• How old are footpaths and green lanes in Norfolk?

• How has the number of public rights of way changed in the past?

• Do footpaths and green lanes have a distinct archaeological character?

• What were footpaths and green lanes used for in the past?

• Are there any local names or traditions associated with them?

• How do footpaths and green lanes relate to the wider landscape?

Green Lane

We are looking for volunteers from across the county to take part in the project – to help us carry out surveys of footpaths and green lanes and to carry out archival research into their history. We will be able to provide help, advice and training on fieldwork and research to both individuals and community groups.

We hope that surveying the physical character of footpaths and green lanes will help us to understand more about their history and development. Very old lanes and paths are often characterised as being deeply sunken or eroded, with species rich hedges and distinctive flora like bluebells, primroses and dogs mercury. On the other hand, unbounded footpaths are not always so clearly physically defined. How does this relate to the history and development of green lanes and footpaths? We are also interested in trying to trace the changing number of footpaths and lanes in Norfolk – many parishes were affected by processes like Parliamentary enclosure, so what impact did this have on the footpath network?

We will be running a series of introductory training sessions towards the end of May, and can also run training sessions with community groups who are interested in taking part.

More details are on the project website –

If you are interested in getting involved then please contact Dr Sarah Spooner by email or telephone –

01603 592663