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New heritage app lets you explore west Norfolk's historic churches

Walsingham Abbey Exlpore West Norfolk Photo: Tim Baldwin

Walsingham Abbey Exlpore West Norfolk Photo: Tim Baldwin

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We've had some fantastic weather recently, Spring has most definitely sprung. Now is the perfect time to explore what our county has to offer, writes Tim Baldwin. Two new apps and a website are helping him do so.

Heacham Church Exlpore West Norfolk Photo: Tim BaldwinHeacham Church Exlpore West Norfolk Photo: Tim Baldwin

There are three themes to Explore West Norfolk, the first is Churches and Religion. This is perfect for discovering the history, architecture and stories of the communities and groups who have built and worshipped in them for more than 1,000 years.

The app categorizes the churches into the various types including angel roof, great marshland, historic, monastic, pilgrimage and round tower churches.

There are many named after the Virgin Mary, the first one I visited was in Snettisham. Sitting high above the village, with a 175ft tower and spire, this was often a landmark for mariners navigating The Wash.

The stone spire is a rarity in Norfolk, only the cathedral and three other churches have one, which was described as God's rocket to heaven. This 14th century church has been described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as: “The most exciting C14th Decorated church in Norfolk.”

Northcreake St Marys Exlpore West Norfolk Photo: Tim BaldwinNorthcreake St Marys Exlpore West Norfolk Photo: Tim Baldwin

Nice to see the badge of Snettisham Grammar School on the alter too.

Heading up the A149, St Mary's in Heacham is known for its connection to Pocahontas, the American Indian Princess of the Algonquin's, living in what is now Virginia, North America. In 1614, Norfolk boy John Rolfe married her.

Another St Mary's Church can be found further along the coast in Burnham Deepdale. This has a great example of a 950 year old Saxon round tower, a Norman font and collection of medieval glass.

Round towers are unique to East Anglia, 175 remain in the area from the Saxon and Norman periods. There were nearly 1000 of them originally.

Burnham Norton Friary Exlpore West Norfolk Photo: Tim BaldwinBurnham Norton Friary Exlpore West Norfolk Photo: Tim Baldwin

In Burnham Norton you can discover, what is thought to be, the first Carmelite Friary established in Norfolk. Also named after St Mary, of course, its gatehouse can still be seen, with its fine 14th century decoration.

Heading further inland, North Creake and South Creake both boast of St Mary's Churches. Trade merchants, wealthy from the wool trade, poured money into their local parish churches.

Although fire gutted the Church of St Mary and All Saints in Little Walsingham in 1961, the church has been renewed, sheeted with copper and new window frames and glazing. Only the extreme west end was spared, that is the tower, the south porch and the font. Such extreme heat causes the limestone to turn pink. This discolouring can be seen on the font and the rood loft stairs.

Although not a Mary, just up the road and worth a visit, is Walsingham Abbey. A place of pilgrimage since the 11th century. Visitors can enjoy the tranquil gardens and, over the ancient packhorse bridge, the river and woodland walks lead into unspoilt woods and parkland famous for spectacular snowdrops in early spring.

Syderstone church  Heritage Explore West Norfolk Photo: Tim BaldwinSyderstone church Heritage Explore West Norfolk Photo: Tim Baldwin

Popping back through Syderstone I spot another round tower church, another St Mary. Although this used to have a central tower that collapsed, time and history have left their mark on this church. There are elements of the Normans, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular that have impacted the look of this Church.

This is where my Mary visits end. Not finding time to head to other Marys on the map that can be found in West Walton, Islington near King's Lynn, Wiggenhall, Pentney and many more.

All of these Churches are waiting to be discovered on the new Explore West Norfolk apps and website.

For more information visit explorewestnorfolk.co.uk or download the apps available on IOS, Android and Google.

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