The Walsingham Way: Step Into a One Thousand Year Old Pilgrimage Tradition
Established in 1061, following a series of visions, the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is believed to be the oldest in the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary. A replica of the house where the Annunciation occurred, as revealed in the visions, contained a statue of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child and a priory of great renown was soon established. A victim of the Reformation, the tradition of pilgrimage was revived here in the late 19th century and Walsingham is now England’s leading pilgrimage centre.
The Walsingham Way is centred on the historical route from Norwich and takes about three days to finish, starting at Norwich Cathedral or the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist. Norwich Cathedral is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe and boasts the second tallest spire in England. The Roman Catholic Cathedral was constructed between 1882 and 1910 and designed by George Gilbert Scott Jr.
If you don’t want to walk the whole route why not do a shorter section or incorporate it into a circular walk? Look out for the Walsingham Way logo which consists of two linked ‘W’s that merge to form a letter ‘M’ representing the Virgin Mary. Christian pilgrimage is at the very heart of the Walsingham Way but the route offers something for everyone. It immerses walkers in the beautiful rural landscapes of the Stiffkey and Wensum river valleys, encouraging a connection to the natural environment and a heightened sense of physical and mental well-being.
There is no shortage of quaint villages and historic churches along the way. Look out for the highlights listed below. For a description of each church, along with photos and details about access, click ‘more information.’
Mile 10. St Peter’s Church has two remarkable features. The first is its 15th century nave roof with wooden vaulting, hidden hammerbeams, and flights of angels. The second is the expanse of late medieval clerestory glass, one of the best collections of undisturbed full-length figures in the county. Bring your binoculars!
St Peter’s, Ringland
Mile 16. St Mary’s Church has the widest pillarless nave in East Anglia and houses the famous 14th century brass depicting Sir Hugh Hastings, angels and his military comrades.
St Mary’s, Elsing
Mile 18. All Saints is an imposing church with splendid tracery, positioned above the Wensum valley. The Commonwealth War Graves enclosure contains the graves of those who flew from RAF Swanton Morley in WWII. A stained glass window commemorates the aircraft squadrons stationed here.
All Saints, Swanton Morley
Mile 22.5. In St Mary’s Church seventeen figures gaze out from the 15th century rood screen. The church is adjacent to the site of the See’s first cathedral, a Saxon timber structure. The nearby ruins of a Norman bishop’s chapel-turned-manor house are in the care of English Heritage.
St Mary’s, North Elmham
Mile 27.5. St Andrew’s Church has a Saxo-Norman round tower. Look out for the carved figures on the alabaster reredos of St Hugh of Lincoln with a swan, St Edmund with a wolf and St George with a dragon.
The William Martin Building in the churchyard provides a space for camping, a kitchen, hot water, and a toilet – perfect for campers stopping off for the night on their journey to Walsingham. To book camping here please contact Anne Prentice on email@example.com or 01328 829413. Larger groups can also book the village hall.
St Andrew’s, Great Ryburgh
Mile 29. All Saints’ Church is a lovely Norfolk church set in a quiet hamlet. A permanent exhibition of Stibbard wartime and local history, church records and old photographs are on display.
All Saints, Stibbard
Mile 33. Marvel at the unusual detached round tower of St Andrew’s Church, which dates from the Saxon period, and the range of window styles from Norman to Tudor. A plaque in the nave marks the church’s use by the RAF, and boards from the Officers’ Mess record the sorties and awards of men who flew from Little Snoring Airfield during WWII.
St Andrew’s, Little Snoring
Mile 34.5. Several gems await you in St Mary’s Church. Spot the rare 1688 Coat of Arms of James II and the 15th century rood screen whose figures were recently uncovered under whitewash. There is also a fine 17th century alabaster memorial.
St Mary’s, Great Snoring
Mile 37. Little Walsingham, ‘England’s Nazareth’
Passing through the gatehouse off the high street, walkers are greeted by the spectacular 14th century ruined east end of the priory church with its vast window. Excavations suggest the church was 244ft long and had massive central and west towers. Parts of the refectory, dormitory and chapter house also remain. Enter the Well Garden through the Romanesque doorway to see the twin wells, associated with healing from the beginning of the priory’s history. The river Stiffkey meanders through the grounds and in February the area is carpeted with snowdrops.
The village of Little Walsingham is home to an Anglican and a Roman Catholic shrine. In the former, established in 1931, the Holy House contains an ornate replica of the original statue and the space is lit up by numerous candles burning brightly with prayer intentions. Surrounding the Holy House is an abundance of chapels with a variety of dedications. A mile to the southwest of Little Walsingham, in the village of Houghton St Giles, lies the Roman Catholic Shrine and the historic Slipper Chapel where pilgrims once removed their shoes to walk the Holy Mile to the priory. A three mile detour can be made from Great Snoring via Houghton St Giles.
More to do in Walsingham:
-The Shirehall Museum & Bridewell
The Shirehall is Walsingham’s original Georgian courtroom and now houses a fascinating local history museum. Ask at the desk for the key to the Bridewell, Walsingham’s Georgian prison.
For a guided tour of the main sights of Walsingham contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Walking map leaflets of five circular routes through the beautiful surrounding countryside are available from local shops.
-Wells to Walsingham Light Railway
Enjoy a ride on the world’s longest 10¼ inch narrow-gauge railway which runs from April to October and February half term.
-Food, Drink & Shopping
Enjoy the best local Norfolk produce at the Walsingham Farms Shop and the Norfolk Riddle Restaurant. Explore the village for an eclectic mix of gifts, decorative antiques, handmade chocolate and much more.
A 38-mile eastern extension of the Walsingham way runs from Great Yarmouth to Norwich traversing the beautiful Broads National Park on the Wherryman’s Way. The King’s Lynn to Walsingham route, following in the footsteps of pilgrims who crossed The Wash into the ports of North Norfolk, is making good progress.