Car-free inThetfordNorfolk

East Anglia’s ancient capital has many layers of history, from the iron age castle mound to the filming of Dad’s Army. Among the famous former Thetfordians are Maharaja Duleep Singh, last Sikh ruler of the Punjab, and Thomas Paine, who wrote The Rights of Man. Duleep Singh’s son, Prince Frederick founded Thetford’s Ancient House Museum, which explores the town’s history. Thetford’s heaths and forests, among the expanses of the sandy, pine-fringed “Brecklands”, are also worth exploring. Ride the train along the Little Ouse Valley or take a minibus to wild Knettishall Heath, where three long distance paths meet.

  1. 4. Walk to Thetford Warren Lodge

    There’s one other intriguing English Heritage site in the neighbourhood. It’s only visible from the outside, but its location is wonderfully atmospheric. Thetford Warren Lodge was built around 1400 by the Prior of Thetford; this mini castle defended medieval hunting parties from armed poachers. Local “warreners” later lived here and managed the nearby rabbit warrens until about a hundred years ago. When Shakespeare’s Benedick says his lovelorn friend Claudio is “melancholy as a lodge in a warren”, he could be thinking of somewhere like this.

    • The hourly bus 86 (Coach Services) stops about a mile away on the way from Thetford to Brandon, but for those who’d like to see more of the area on foot, there is a great way to walk there. It’s about three miles.
    • Follow the riverside path, past Thetford Priory and keep going, out of town, passing underneath the A11.
    • Keep going until you reach the little gauge house at Abbey Heath weir and cross the river on a footbridge.
    • Turn back along the far side of the Little Ouse and follow the arrow right. At the junction, turn left and follow this woodland track right. Take the first turn left and keep going to the road, where you can see Thetford Warren Lodge, on the far side, ahead of you.
    • You are now on the edge of Thetford Forest, Britain’s largest lowland pine forest. Trails marked with pink and yellow-backed arrows lead through the woods to High Lodge activity centre, another three miles away. (If you’re heading straight for High Lodge, it’s closer to Brandon).
    • You can wander through the beech, pine and rhododendron, looking out for deer, as well as butterflies and birds: from goshawks overhead to tiny wrens in the undergrowth.
    • If you don’t want to walk all the way back, a taxi to the railway station is less than £10 and Perry’s is highly recommended.
  1. 5. Minibus to Knettishall Heath

    Wild Knettishall Heath marks one end of the ancient Icknield Way, from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, and one end of its sister path, the Peddar’s Way, which runs to the North Norfolk Coast Path through the sandy, pine-fringed countryside. Exmoor ponies graze on Knettishall Heath, keeping the grass short so that rare species can continue to thrive. Although it’s a relatively remote destination, Suffolk County Council currently run a helpful service to enable people travel more easily around the county.

    • The Connecting Communities minibus service can provide an excellent shuttle to Knettishall Heath from Thetford railway station, Mon-Sat, but you do need to book in advance on 01638 664304. It costs just £4 return.
    • Three trails, signed in yellow, red and green lead across the ancient expanses of the heath. Look out for Bronze Age burial mound just off the green trail.
    • You can also follow the riverside Angles Way nearby past Riddlesworth Hall, the school where Lady Di was once a student.
    • Near the river, blue and black arrows lead to a footbridge over the Little Ouse River onto the Peddar’s Way. A further three miles along the way, you reach Thorpe Forest resort, with the Forest Retreat shop and café away to your right. It serves snacks all day and is open to the public.

Look out for the Good Journey Mark – where car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount