Marham and Shouldham

PUBLISHED: 11:52 17 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:02 22 October 2010

Marham and Shouldham walk map.

Marham and Shouldham walk map.

Charles and Joy Boldero follow in footsteps of an abbess who preyed on rich merchants

Charles Boldero strides out into a countryside once notorious for the thieving ways of Sister Barbara.

We parked in the designated Forest car park at Shouldham Warren which is situated at the end of the track going north from the end of Warren Road, Shouldham. Shouldham is on a minor road two miles east off the A134, six miles south of King's Lynn. The paths on this easy eight-mile walk were in good order and there were no stiles on route.

From the car park we took the signed Nar Valley Path, a wide track going northeast, we turned right further along it, as the marked path was closed due to logging. Just before the gate and house we turned left with water course on right. At cross tracks we turned right over the bridge and continued along the Nar Valley Way.

This was a long path. Where the ruined abbey came into view across the Nar, at junction of paths, we turned right along a wide grass path with the Nar on left.

Just before the gate we turned right down the bank and kept along this track between ditches. It was along here that we spotted the buzzard, plus peewits calling as they flew above us.

We crossed a track and continued along the main track, we went through the gate and continued along the lane. We turned right along the pavement in Marham.

Just outside the village we turned right along Spring Lane, a long quiet country lane. At the end we kept left along Warren Road, then New Road, then Eastgate Road.

By the village hall we turned left through the kissing gate with the marker sign and climbed the meadow path to the church entering the churchyard through fivebar gate with sign on it.

Turning right we sat on the seat taking in the panoramic views of the countryside. We left by the church gate and walked down the lane turning right along the road. In the village of Shouldham we kept straight ahead to the King's Arms. After pausing a while we crossed The Green and continued along the lane to the left of Storom Cottage.

This path went sharp right, we ignored two paths left then at the road continued ahead along New Street, then Warren Road. At the right hand bend we walked up the road to the Forest car park and the start of the walk.


t 1 The ruined priory and the farmhouse are listed buildings and lie in the parish of Pentney. It was an Augustinian priory founded in the 12th century. Only the gate house remains, a two storey building with battlements.

t 2 Marham was 'well known' before the RAF 'took it over'! The name Marham in the entry for the Hundred of Clackclose in the Domesday Book was the place referred to as 'Mereham', the hamlet by the mere. A number of historic sites have been found here, as the Nar provided water and peat for fires. A few flint axe and arrow heads have been unearthed in scattered places. There were two churches in Marham. St Andrew's was ruinous by 1500 while All Saints church has a Norman doorway and a 15th century tower which once was crowned with a spire. Some of the 15th century benches are still in the church. At the west end is an Elizabethan altar over 7ft long with six bulbous legs and carved rails. Sister Barbara, the Abbess of Marham Abbey, is carved on the village sign. Notorious is not a word normally associated with an abbess but, it seems, Sister Barbara liked her 'home comforts' and to be able to buy these she devised a way of making money.

In Sister Barbara's time, Vinegar Hill was a narrow, rutted road with high hedges that was the main route from Swaffham to King's Lynn. She paid men of ill repute to lie on the road and pretend to be sick. When a rich merchant came along and stopped to help the 'poor' man, he was attacked and robbed, the spoils being given to the abbess. When the merchant came round, he would see the 'kindly' face of the abbess, who would have the man taken back to the abbey for treatment. The victim would then shower the abbey with gifts to thank them for their help! However the monks from Pentney Abbey put an end to her crimes. They lay in wait and, when they spotted Sister Barbara paying off the robbers, they reported her. Her punishment was to be bricked up alive behind a wall.

t 3 Along the path to the church in Shouldham is the site of a medieval settlement, although only earthworks remain. All Saints Church has a 14th century tower. Inside the nave roof is a rather fine hammer-beam with carved figures.

The King's Arms is a popular venue for food. It is open seven days a week. A friendly welcome awaits and Charles enjoyed a pint of Black Sheep bitter.

Map References OS Landranger 143 Explorer 236

679104, 684110, 685110, 685113, 694114, 700119, 703118, 706108, 709100, 707096, 703100, 678099, 678090, 681089, 681087, 677088, 677091, 679104. Distance 8 miles.

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