Little Dunham Heritage Trail

A map of the Little Dunham Heritage Trail.

A map of the Little Dunham Heritage Trail. 

Take a walk around this beautiful Breckland village and discover a deserted medieval settlement, the highest mansion in Norfolk, a Napoleonic monument and the course of an old railway line. The walk is around 4 miles long and is fairly level with some muddy tracks and one short steep slope to negotiate.

Park on the gravel drive outside the church.

Walk back down the gravel drive towards the road. On your right and left hand side you will see fields of sheep cropping the earthworks of a possible early medieval manor:

1. Possible medieval manor - NHER 11351

Earthworks of enclosures, pits, raised areas, early roadside banks and an early drive can be seen in parkland surrounding St Margaret's Church (NHER 4207). The enclosure banks and ditches probably include a road or park boundary partially enclosing an earlier manorial site. The site is called Manor Close on the 1838 tithe map. If this is the site of an early manor it suggests the church may originally have been a manorial chapel. The causeway of an earlier drive to the Old Rectory (NHER 44328) passes to the east of the church.

When you reach the main road turn left and continue along this quiet country lane into the village. You will pass the Black Swan, the village pub, on your right hand side and to the right of it the Old Forge. Opposite the pub is the Old Bakery. Continue up the road past the Old Post Office to the main road. Opposite the bus shelter you will see a long drive and the gatehouse for Dunham Lodge. The walk continues up the drive on a permissive path. The fields either side of the drive have been fieldwalked and metal detected. 

Iron Age bridle bit in the figure of a horse.

An Iron Age bridle bit in the shape of a horse from Little Dunham. (© NCC)

2. Multi-period finds - NHER 30403 and 30404

Finds include Roman coins and a lead weight, medieval buckles and undated metal working waste. Pieces of Roman, medieval and post medieval pot were also recovered.

Continue up the driveway through the landscape park that surrounds Dunham Lodge. You should be able to see Dunham Lodge to the left of the path.

3. Dunham Lodge - NHER 4202

This Georgian red brick great house was built in the early 1780s. The building has five bays and three storeys with an outer staircase with two flights of stairs curving up to the entrance. The Lodge is claimed to be the highest situated mansion in Norfolk at 96m above sea level. William Cowper the famous 18th century poet and letter writer stayed here in 1795.

The path curves around to the right of the house. The track crosses a small field and then follows a sometimes muddy track along a hedge. At the end of field, the track turns left into a small copse. Ignore the track and continue to follow the field boundary. This is muddiest part of the walk! Continue to follow the field boundary around the corner and along a hedge and ditch. Just before the field boundary turns another right angle is the Dunham Obelisk which is featured on the village sign.

4. Dunham obelisk - NHER 4208

This gault brick obelisk with stone dressings was erected in 1814 by John and Mary Drostier (or Drozier) to celebrate peace at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Mary Drostier was an aunt of Nelson. The obelisk has an inscribed pedestal and a plaque on the shaft in memory of Nelson. It was originally erected in order to be visible from Curd's Hall (NHER 4203) where the Drostiers lived.

Retrace your steps to the track and follow it back to the main road. Turn right and walk up the road until you cross the railway bridge.

5. Lynn and Dereham Railway (later Great Eastern) - NHER 13600

This railway line operated between King's Lynn and Dereham. There were stations at King's Lynn, Middleton (called Middleton Towers), East Winch, Narborough and Pentney (one station served both villages), Swaffham, Sporle, Dunham, Fransham, Wendling, West Bilney and Dereham. The railway opened to Narborough in 1846, Sporle in 1847 and finally reached Dereham in 1848. It closed in 1968 except for sand trains to Middleton quarries. Most of the line has been removed but many of the stations remain now converted into houses. There are several good examples of under and over bridges.

Follow the track along the cutting and then turn left and go a short way before meeting the road. Turn right and cross the railway bridge noting the old station, goods shed and pub (now a residential care home). After the bridge turn left onto a sandy track and then immediately left again to follow the hedge along the road and then the boundary to the station buildings. Follow the footpath along the railway cutting on your left. In front of you is a small area of scrubland where there was once a small medieval settlement.

6. Post medieval cottages - NHER 43278

Overgrown foundations of a number of post medieval cottages can be seen in scrubland. These cottages can be seen on old maps where they are set around a funnel-shaped green. It is said they were built with materials from Castle Acre Priory (NHER 4096).

At the end of the field turn left down the steep slope of the railway cutting. Continue to follow the footpath between fields on your left and the old railway and golf course on your right. As you come down a gradual slope with a small stream and a field of horse jumping equipment on your left you will see another railway bridge on your right. Turn left at the railway bridge and follow School Lane back to the road. The house at the end of School Lane used to be the village school.

Once you reach the road turn right and make your way back to the church. You might like to take the opportunity to take a look inside this beautiful medieval building. If it is shut the keys are available at the Old Rectory at the end of the church drive.

7. St Margaret’s Church - NHER 4207

This medieval flint church has an Early English nave, chancel, north aisle and demolished chapel. The tower is in Perpendicular style as is the south porch. Inside is a remarkable head corbel of a horned head on the chapel arcade. Some medieval wall paintings remain on two arches in the chancel north arcade. The church may originally have been a manorial chapel within a medieval enclosure now visible as earthworks (NHER 11351).

Megan Dennis (NLA), 29 September 2006.

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