Never been to Fakenham? Here are 10 reasons to visit

Scenes from Fakenham Christmas Lights switch on 2015. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Scenes from Fakenham Christmas Lights switch on 2015. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

It's the gateway to north Norfolk, known by the Anglo-Saxons as 'a fair place on the River Wensum' and for many children, the chocolate capital.

Pretty flamingo: One of the attractions at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve. Picture: Ian Burt

Pretty flamingo: One of the attractions at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Stacia Briggs lists 10 reasons to visit Fakenham, in the first of an occasional series spotlighting local towns.

•1: Catch it before it ends:

At Fakenham Christmas Tree Festival, running until tomorrow, tinsel fairy lights, baubles and a whole lot of love make for a glittering and festive atmosphere as almost 75 charities and good causes adorn their trees for the town's annual festival which draws thousands to the town every year and has raised more than £250,000 for charity since 2001. All the trees are donated by Fakenham Garden Centre and while entry is free, visitors are encouraged to bring bags of change to distribute among their favourite causes or favourite trees. Founded by former rector of Fakenham the Rev Adrian Bell 15 years ago, the church also has stalls selling bric-a-brac, books, jams and chutneys and Christmas cakes and there are refreshments available.

Fakenham town sign.

Fakenham town sign. - Credit: Archant

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• 2 Meet and greet wildlife:

Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, created and managed by The Hawk and Owl Trust, is a 45-acre reserve which provides visitors with a chance to get involved in their natural environment.

Just outside Fakenham, the Wensum Valley reserve is a peaceful place with a rich variety of wildlife in its woodland, fen and reed bed habitats and is a wonderful place to walk off any extra Christmas calories.

Boardwalks mean easy access for everyone and you are guided through the reserve where you can spot tawny and barn owls, kingfishers, buzzards, bullfinches, willow and marsh tits, great-spotted woodpeckers, tree creepers, water and bank voles, stoats and weasels.

• 3 It's a gas:

A regular entrant in national round-ups of quirkiest museums in the UK, The Fakenham Museum of Gas and Local History is the only surviving town gasworks in England and Wales which is complete with all the equipment used for the manufacture of gas from coal.

The gasworks ceased production of gas from the heating of coal in 1965 following the discovery of natural gas in the North Sea.

A Scheduled Ancient Monument, the museum is a true national and local treasure, providing an insight into our cultural, social and industrial heritage with displays of lighting, heating, cooking and domestic equipment and shines a beacon on one man, William Murdoch, who changed everyday living and brought light into the darkest corners of our country.

Open from May to October on Thursdays and Fridays, outside the summer season the museum is open on Thursdays from 10.30am to 1pm and admission is free, although donations are very welcome.

• 4 Set your heart racing:

A day out at Fakenham Races is a rite-of-passage for Norfolk dwellers and the Christmas Meeting on Sunday December 20 is the perfect way to introduce yourself to one of the county's sporting highlights. Join the team at the racecourse for a great day of sport with plenty of mulled wine, Christmas music and great food from local suppliers (or bring your own winter picnic!). Under 17-year-olds attend for free and dogs are welcome on race day – younger children can even meet Father Christmas and his elves. First race time is 12.50pm, last race at 3.20pm, gates open at 11am, book tickets at Racing first took place at Fakenham on Easter Monday in 1905, when it attracted 37 runners. The Queen Mother visited in her 100th year, making the short trip from Sandringham. The Prince of Wales is the racecourse's patron and has a stand named after him.

• 5 Keep your eyes peeled for printing history:

Fakenham's major industry in the 19th and 20th centuries was printing and the town's sign reminds visitors of this, showing a man operating a printing press.

You can also find a substantial number of printing blocks in the pavements around the market place. The major printworks, Cox and Wyman, closed in the 1970s but there are still nearly a dozen small printing firms in industrial premises around and near the town.

Fakenham's historical link with the printing industry goes back to as early as 1803 when Norwich Freeman Chadley Stewardson moved to the town to begin a printing firm.

• 6 Go to market:

Thursday is Market Day in Fakenham where you can bag a bargain at an institution which has seen the town fill with traders since 1250. Centuries ago, the stalls were around the parish church of Ss Peter and Paul and today's market is very close to its original position but now extends around the town square near the Corn Exchange and into the large car park towards Cattlemarket Street. You'll be able to pick up all manner of goods, from clothing to fruit and vegetables, household supplies to toys, plants to local food and the market is a lively backdrop to the weekly auction at James Beck Auctions at 11am every Thursday. The equally popular Fakenham Farmers' Market is held on the fourth Saturday of every month from 8.30am to noon with around 25 to 35 stalls on offer, selling a wide range of seasonal, local produce, plants, flowers and quality handmade goods.

• 7 Go back to nature:

Set in the heart of the Norfolk countryside in the beautiful and tranquil Wensum Valley, Pensthorpe Natural Park just outside Fakenham is an award-winning mix of meandering nature trails, wonderful woodland walks and an abundance of British wildlife. A brilliant place to visit all-year round, there are outdoor and indoor play areas for the younger members of the family, a great courtyard café, a spectacular shop and beautiful wildlife walks where you can wander round the lakes and trails to spot wildlife.

• 8 Indulge in a musical interlude:

Fakenham Town Band was founded in 1881 by six men in a pub and has survived two World Wars. The brass band is as popular as it ever was and gives up to 40 performances every year, mostly in the local community, and the group is now in the Championship sector for the East Anglian Brass Band Association. New members, both experienced and novices, are always welcome at the weekly practice sessions (see for details). Watch the band perform Wells Christmastide on December 12 at 2pm, Fakenham Academy's Grand Christmas Concert on December 13 at 2pm, Wells' Carol Service at Lifeboat House on December 13 at 6pm, Binham's Carols on the Village Green at 7.15pm on December 21 and at Fakenham Market Place on Christmas Eve at 7pm.

• 9 Give in to sweet temptation:

The Kinnerton Chocolate Factory in Fakenham is the biggest employer in the town where it has been based since 1988 and produces a vast variety of products including Easter eggs, character confectionery and Disney sweets. And if you buy a character advent calendar, the likelihood is that it was produced here in Fakenham. Visitors to the town can indulge their sweet tooth at the Kinnerton Chocolate Factory Shop in Miller's Walk shopping arcade.

• 10 Explore the River Wensum:

Take a walk from the Market Place to the war memorial, turn left on to Tunn Street at the National Cycle Way waymark and follow the road until it becomes a pedestrian and cycle way down to old Fakenham Mill. With the mill on the right, continue to Hempton Road and follow the fingerposts to Fakenham Riverside Walk. You'll walk under the arch of a three-arch railway bridge, cross a stream via a wooden bridge, and enjoy the wonderful wildlife habitat of the River Wensum for free. If you're lucky, you might spot water voles, otters, barn owls, bats and the distinctive whorl snail with its distinctive spiral shell.

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