13 curious places to visit in Norfolk - from shipwrecks to hidden crypts
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
Do you prefer your days out to be a little bit different? Are you a fan of the strange and unusual?
From domes where fighter pilots learned to shoot down the enemy to forgotten streets and crypts, pyramids to shipwrecks, incredible shells to priest holes, marshmens’ cottages to underground crypts, secret gardens to tiny trains, there’s an unusual day out for everyone.
Langham Dome: a tiny, magical museum
It’s definitely one of Norfolk’s most unusual scheduled monuments: Langham Dome stands on the edge of a ghost airfield close to the coast and looks very much like a tiny planetarium, or as Nick Stone says on www.invisibleworks.co.uk like “…a bit like a chocolate bombe or a steamed pudding, but about 18 feet high, made of reinforced concrete.” Built in 1942 to train anti-aircraft gunners, inside the dome was painted white and formed a screen on to which moving pictures of aircraft were projected. A mock gun with a yellow beam and realistic sound effects was used by trainees to aim and shoot at targets – the trainer could see the beam, the trainee (who wore yellow goggles) cold not. Now a wonderful little museum, it reopens on May 27. Find out more at www.langhamdome.org.
Langham Dome, between Langham and Cockthorpe, NR25 7BP.
St Mary’s Church, Burgh St Peter: like a wedding cake made of brick
Just like the famous student blocks at the University of East Anglia, St Mary’s boasts a ziggurat tower which is thought to have been inspired by buildings seen in Mesopotamia by William Boycott, son of Rector Samual Boycott, who commissioned the creation in 1795. In the early 20th century, wily locals in the south Norfolk village would claim to visitors their church tower was telescopic and was wound up at the start of each sailing season and then wound down again to mark the onset of winter. It is also said that on May 2 each year the devil appears in the porch to reclaim a debt he is owed by one of the church’s founders. Disguised as an old man, anyone foolish enough to look beyond his cloak will see a skeleton breathing fire. St Mary, Burgh St Peter, NR34 0DD
Discover the forgotten street underneath Norwich city centre
Buried beneath the Missing Kind's headquarters and KindaKafe in Norwich lies a hidden underground street lined with abandoned houses and secrets to the past. Hidden below Castle Meadow, between the market and the Norman Keep of Norwich Castle, there is a an echo of the past with cells, hidden streets and curious tunnels. Regular tours are held and prices start from £7 for under-12s. KindaKafe, 21-23 Castle Meadow, Norwich, NR1 3DH, www.kindakafe.org/hidden-history-tours
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Visit the wreck of the Sheraton at Hunstanton
Built in 1907 by Cook, Welton and Gemmell of Beverley, the Steam Trawler Sheraton was initially used as a fishing vessel, but was later used for boom defence work during the First World War and as a patrol vessel in the Second World War when it was fitted with a six pounder gun. Following this, The Sheraton was moored off Brest Sand and used for target practice. However a gale on April, 23, 1947 caused the Steam Trawler to break free and drift onto Hunstanton beach. Much of the boat was salvaged, but today the bottom of the hull still remains on the beach and can be seen at low tide. The wreck can be found at St Edmund’s Point in Old Hunstanton.
Steam along on the world’s smallest public railway
The famous Wells & Walsingham Light Railway steams between the Norfolk seaside town of Wells-next-the-Sea and the beautiful Abbey village of Walsingham. Climb aboard, sit back and enjoy a half-hour trip through beautiful countryside while taking in the evocative sights, sounds and smells of steam travel. The trip back in time clanks over and under bridges, chuffs past a hill-fort and through a real ghost platform. Find out more www.wwlr.co.uk
Crawl inside a Priest Hole hidden under a toilet at Oxburgh Hall
Oxburgh Hall hosts a treasure trove of secrets, not least a priest hole hidden beneath a toilet seat. The Bedingfield family have lived at Oxburgh since 1482 and during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, their faith was under fire with Catholic priests persecuted and hunted. The Bedingfields installed a priest hole to hide priests from anti-Catholic search parties – to access it you must climb down a narrow passage built below the toilet seat where there is a low chamber which is just big enough for two people to be seated. There are also seven concealed doors at Oxburgh that once allowed servants to move around the hall without disturbing the family and their guests: including one hidden within a bookcase. Oxburgh Hall, Oxborough, King’s Lynn, PE33 9PS www.nationaltrust.org.uk/oxburgh-hall
Visit a lunar landscape…and go underground at Grime’s Graves
This is a mysterious landscape looks almost lunar thanks to the legacy of years of activity by Neolithic flint miners. This ancient 90-acre site with its strange, undulating mounds and depressions in a woodland clearing is Grime’s Graves, one of the UK’s earliest known industrial sites. In operation from 3000BC to 1900BC, each dip in the land represents a collapsed mine shaft. A ladder and lighting has been installed in one of the best-preserved shafts and visitors can make their way into a chamber from the past to see where miners worked by candlelight. Grime’s Graves is near Thetford, IP26 5DE www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/grimes-graves-prehistoric-flint-mine
A hidden garden in Norwich (no, not that one)
At Earlham Hall there are magical open spaces to enjoy including a garden where silence is celebrated. Look out for the rockery, wooded paths, stunning wisteria clinging to a wall in early summer and The Dutch Garden, and the south east of the hall, where there is a formal box parterre surrounded by gravel paths and walls which was first laid out in the 1880s. This is The Silent Space, an oasis of calm in which to sit and enjoy nature in an historic setting. Also, look out for the dovecote on the park close to the river, and the hollow way that leads from the hall to the church over the road and which was once an avenue lined with trees. The garden is close to the hall and car park.
Enchanting seashells next to a church that plays carols all year round
The Shell Museum in Glandford is the oldest purpose-built museum in Norfolk and houses the finest seashell collection in the UK. As well as thousands of exquisite seashells, the Museum also contains fossils, birds' eggs, pottery, local archaeological finds and much more. Glandford Church and the river Glaven, with a picturesque ford, wild ducks and foot bridge, are located close by. Tiny but perfectly-formed, the museum is absolutely charming. As an early guide to Norfolk described it: “Nature could hardly stage a more delightful scene. Its church is a jewel set in a garden on the hill, looking over the wooded valley where the River Glaven flows to the sea. Below it is a rare little museum for all who love beautiful things...” And as we mention the church, St Martin’s on the hill above the museum chimes the hour and as it does so, it rings out a hymn or Christmas carol. Find out more here: www.shellmuseum.org.uk
The Blickling Pyramid
It appears in a clearing, a triangular surprise for those who have never seen it before – here, next to the woods, is a mausoleum in the shape of a pyramid. Built in the 1790s, it contains the mortal remains of John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire and his two wives. Made of porous limestone, when it rains, the pyramid looks as if it turns black. The pyramid is to the North East of Blickling Hall at the end of a drive or can be reached through the woods. Find out more www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling-estate
Secret gardens and Toad Hole Cottage
The Secret Gardens at How Hill House are open every day to the public and entry is free, although donations are welcomed by the How Hill Trust Charity. These beautiful hidden woodland gardens were established by the original owner of the House, Edward Thomas Boardman in the early 1920s and in May and June, the azaleas and rhododendrons are spectacular. You can also see the walled, long border and square gardens, the white garden and rose garden (some gardens close when schools or other groups visit, you can call in advance to check on 01692 678555). While at How Hill, make sure you visit the charming Toad Hole, a tiny cottage once lived in by marshmen – a whole Victorian family lived here at one point. Find out more https://howhilltrust.org.uk/visitor-information/
Underneath the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell lies a secret…the largest vaulted undercroft in the city. These rooms were part of the original medieval house and were used for storage. The undercroft was also used to hold inmates when the building was a Bridewell (a house of correction and prison) and an inventory of 1813, lists ‘posts and chains’. The undercroft is open to the public for guided tours which usually run three times a day on the last Saturday of each month. The tours are free with museum admission, and last around 45 minutes. Call 01603 629127 to find out more or visit www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/museum-of-norwich
Buried tanks at Titchwell
You may know Titchwell best for its RSPB nature reserve. But if you venture through the reserve across the reedbeds and the marshland, you will reach one of Norfolk’s less well-known beaches. Titchwell beach is beautiful: golden sand, dunes and a distinct dearth of people. It was used as a military firing range during the Second World War and remnants of its past can be seen on the beach today, with crumbling pillboxes and the occasional sight at low tide of the remains of two Covenanter tanks. The ruins of the war bunker as you emerge from the path onto the beach are often home to an amazing number of starfish, fascinating for young explorers. Walk for miles along the sand, spend a few hours wildlife spotting or have a picnic in the dunes.