December 10 2013 Latest news:
Friday, August 16, 2013
When you think Norfolk tourism, the Brecks isn’t always the first place that springs to mind.
But while the spotlight usually falls on the Broads, north Norfolk coast and Norwich, the south west Norfolk area can easily hold its own against anything the county has to offer.
Tucked away on either side of the A11, the area has often found itself to be a thoroughfare rather than a stopping point.
But those who never venture off the dual carriageway are missing a diverse range of activities, natural and man-made, and a unique history spread over 1,000 sq km.
The area’s most obvious asset is Thetford Forest, a 22,000 hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest which pulls in more than 1.5 million visitors a year.
Thrill-seekers pour into the High Lodge visitor centre all year round to take on mountain bike trails or the high-wire adrenaline rush of Go Ape!
There is also more sedate fun to be had in an environment made for nature walks and long lazy picnics.
Indeed, the natural environment is where the Brecks comes into its own.
While always renowned for exceptional bird-watching and heathland wild flowers, a 2010 landmark study showed the area to be a biodiversity hotspot of national importance.
Joining the stone curlew on the wildlife list were 28% of the UK’s rarest species living in the pines and on the sandy soil.
Spurred on by that study, the lottery-funded Brecks Partnership has been doing its best to sell one of Norfolk’s ‘hidden treasures’.
The latest initiative saw the launch of the ‘Brecks Train’, a liveried locomotive on the Norwich to Cambridge route branded with images from the area.
Neil Featherstone, Brecks Partnership manager, said the train would expose the region to more than 14 million rail users by the end of 2015.
“The Brecks has an amazing story to tell to both residents and visitors.
“Whether you fancy an exciting swing in the trees, exploring some beautiful gardens or enjoying great food and drink, followed by a quiet walk across a wide open heath, there is always something for you here,” he said.
While the present is alive and active, the statues of Thomas Paine and Maharajah Duleep Singh in Thetford, and the Anglo-Saxon village at West Stow, hint at the Brecks’ rich history.
Flint mines at Grimes Graves and Brandon and the Pingo ponds at Thompson Common serve up an outdoors look at the past.
When the sun isn’t shining, the Ancient House Museum in Thetford is a surefire hit with families and has seen its visitor numbers soar.
Karen Emma-White, learning assistant, said: “We’ve got artefacts ranging from fossils dating back 60,000 years to photographs from the area’s recent past.
“The exhibitions we’ve been holding over the summer have been a massive hit and our figures should be very good.”
The more recent past has seen the area became a Mecca for sitcom fans, with the Dad’s Army Museum in Thetford enjoying the benefits of being the show’s filming location.
The recent purchase of Jones’s Butchers van, a prop from the show, has boosted visitor numbers further while regular visits from the show’s cast and crew have kept fans happy.
This entrepreneurial spirit is something the Brecks Partnership wants to support as it tries to put Norfolk’s hidden gem in the spotlight.
• GREAT PLACES TO VISIT
More than just Center Parcs, the Estate and village offers local produce, wine, good food and hotels.
Heraldry events at this National Trust, moated manor house are a treat, with examples of needlework by Mary, Queen of Scots inside.
West Acre Theatre
Another untapped gem, this theatre runs summer drama schools and plays all year round.
Combined with a walk along the Little Ouse, a visit to this medieval monastery offers an impressive sight.
Run by the Forestry Commission and volunteers, this is a dream picnic site with its collection of rare trees and open water.
Pingo Trail walk (above)
A weird and wonderful trail through landscapes created in the Ice Age.
Brecks Food and Drink Festival
This burgeoning September festival celebrates the best of the area’s cuisine.
Gooderstone Water Gardens
On the area’s northern fringes, these gardens offer a unique spot for nature lovers and budding photographers.
The Dad’s Army Museum
Now getting national attention, the museum has expanded this year with the acquisition of Jones’s Butchers van.
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