First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
We kept a good eye out for silver-washed fritillaries as we puzzled our way along the tangled path and sunny glades of Holt Country Park. But the elusive butterflies, leopard-spotted swoopers that love oak and conifer woods like these, were deep in their midday snooze, and not to be seen.
No matter – the woodland ponds and puddles were buzzing with insect life drawn out and about by the strong Norfolk sunlight. Soon Jane’s sharp eyes had picked out a beautiful dragonfly, a keeled skimmer, a great rarity in East Anglia. Somehow this spot suits them, a marginal place where woodland meets the heath and mire of Holt Lowes. Our skimmer, a large male, perched still long enough for us to admire his ice-blue dagger of an abdomen before he darted away after a midge or perhaps a female skimmer.
We followed a path of flint and pale sun-baked clay among ling and bell heather along the edge of Holt Lowes. Thick clumps of gorse grew as tall as the silver birch of the heath. The fresh lime green of young bracken relieved the sombre colour scheme, along with the occasional shard of brilliant yellow from solitary gorse blooms.
Our way led through a belt of pines and showy pink rhododendrons to Hempstead Road. The quiet country lane descended between sandy banks to pass an abandoned old mill, its flint walls sturdy, its cast-iron flywheel still in position.
In hot afternoon sun we trod a field-edge path, a former green lane now shorn of its hedges, that curved round ponds and lanes to reach the tall farmhouse of Hempstead Hall. A bulbous old Spanish chestnut stood beside the road, who knows how old? – spiral-twisted, battered by storms, pollarded by lightning,
At Hempstead the Church of All Saints was a cut-and-shut affair, a stumpy brick tower, a flint-built body and a 20th-century apse with a perky little thatched roof. A gravestone inscription commemorated Bob Mack (1919-1999), ‘whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe.’
A lovely quote, and a beautiful place for a handy man to lie at rest, and for two weary walkers to eat their picnic on the churchyard bench before the homeward stroll.
How hard is it? 5 miles; easy; woodland and field paths
Start: Holt Country Park car park, Holt, Norfolk NR25 6SP (OS ref TG 082375)
Getting there: Bus 45 (Holt-Norwich)
Road – Signed off B1149, just south of Holt (A148, Cromer-King’s Lynn)
Walk (OS Explorer 251): Pass wooden bird totem. Right; in 50m, left (green arrow). In 200m, left past pond (084374), through gate; left up side of Holt Lowes heath, parallel with trees. In ½ mile, left through gate (089380); in 100m, at purple arrow post, right to cross car park to Hempstead Road (089383). Right; in ⅔ mile, right (097378, footpath fingerpost). In 400m bear left past pond (095374), between barns to road. Past pond on right; fork left (yellow arrow/YA) past Hempstead Hall (097373); on for 300m. Opposite bungalow on left, right (099373, footbridge, YAs); field path to road at Hempstead Church (105370). Right; in 300m, right at Church Farm (105367, fingerpost) on field path. In ⅔ mile dogleg left/right past barn (096368) and on. In 700m descend; cross River Glaven (087367); on (YAs) to road (084368). Right, following paths parallel to road. In 500m, at pond, left through gate (084373); retrace steps to car park.
Lunch: Hetty’s House Tearoom, Holt Country Park
Accommodation: Byfords Hotel, Shirehall Plain, Holt NR25 6BG (01263-711400, byfords.org.uk)
Info: Holt TIC (01263-713100)