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A day out in . . . the Fens

PUBLISHED: 09:15 20 November 2013 | UPDATED: 09:15 20 November 2013

Downham clock in the town square. Picture; Matthew Usher.

Downham clock in the town square. Picture; Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2012

Enjoy history

Walpole St Peters church. Picture; Matthew Usher.Walpole St Peters church. Picture; Matthew Usher.

If you love history and grandeur, head to Oxburgh Hall - a breathtaking 600-year-old moated manor house surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Built by the Bedingfields in the 15th century and still their family home today, the house has a strong Catholic history including a secret priests’ hole which you can climb inside. See the needlework of Mary, Queen of Scots, which is exhibited at the house and head to the roof of the striking Tudor gatehouse for glorious views across the countryside.

There are also walks around the gardens and woodland, including a woodcarving trail, the kitchen gardens and Victorian parterre; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/oxburgh-hall.

Feeding time for the swans at sunset on the WWT Welney Nature Reserve - some ducks fly off.Feeding time for the swans at sunset on the WWT Welney Nature Reserve - some ducks fly off.

Up close and personal

Explore the waterways of the Fens by boat or on foot to get a real sense of the wild beauty of the landscape. The Fen Rivers Way runs for 50 miles between King’s Lynn and Cambridge following the River Great Ouse through dramatic open countryside, past flood banks and taking in lots of history and wildlife along the way. Alternatively, Kingfisher Canoe Trails, based near Upwell, take you meandering through pretty Fenland villages giving you the chance to spot wildlife and soak up the tranquility; www.kingfishercanoetrails.co.uk

Gardener’s delight

A quiet corner of Gooderstone Water Gardens  with four of the linking bridges in sight.
City:Gooderstone,Norfolk
Photo:John HocknellA quiet corner of Gooderstone Water Gardens with four of the linking bridges in sight. City:Gooderstone,Norfolk Photo:John Hocknell

When farmer Billy Knights’ meadowland became too wet for grazing cattle, his son joked is would make a perfect water garden. So Billy set about drawing up plans on the back of a piece of wallpaper - and he continued working on his beloved gardens until he died aged 93. Now 20 years on from his death, the magical Gooderstone Water Gardens have become a haven for wildlife and nature lovers.

As well as ponds and waterways, including a natural trout stream, there are many pathways and nature trails to explore, a kingfisher hide, stunning gardens and many bridges and benches from where you can enjoy the peace and nature all around you; Gooderstone Water Gardens, The Street, Gooderstone, PE33 9BP; www.gooderstonewatergardens.co.uk.

Go wild

A view of King's Lynn looking down the River Ouse from the bridge at West Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt.A view of King's Lynn looking down the River Ouse from the bridge at West Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt.

From October to March every year, thousands of ducks and swans migrate to the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust at Welney creating one of the most amazing spectacles on Britain’s nature calendar.

Welney takes in 1000 acres of the Ouse Washes, Britain’s’largest area of seasonally flooded land. It is home to the UK’s largest roost of whooper and Bewick’s swans, with around 8000 returning each year after migrating from their breeding grounds in Iceland and arctic Russia with their latest brood of cygnets in tow.

The famous winter swan feeds at the Welney Wetland Centre begin on Saturday, October 26. Watch the warden feed the swans and other wildfowl from the comfort of the main observatory and learn more about the birds and their migration. WWT Welney Wetland Centre, Hundred Foot Bank, Welney, PE14 9TN; www.wwt.org.uk/visit/welney

A spot of shopping

Down Market is an ancient Anglo Saxon town and is full of historic buildings and interesting landmarks. The iconic Victorian clock tower overlooks the market place and the town still has popular weekly markets. Every Friday and Saturday there is a traditional market by the Town Hall selling everything from fresh meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and bread to various household items. Also on a Friday and Saturday is the craft and collectables market in the town square where you can pick up some fantastic bargains and unusual pieces. Spend some time shopping or have lunch in one of the town’s many cafes and restaurants. Then visit the Downham Market Heritage Centre which explores the history of the town and its surrounding villages.

Ecclesiastical wonder

The churches in the Fens are captivating - at Terrington St Clement the parish church has the longest nave of any in the country, and the fascinating churches at Wiggenhall St Germans and Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen are both well worth visiting. But it is Walpole St Peter’s church, known as the Cathedral of the Fens, which is one of the most famous parish churches in England.

It is recognised as a masterpiece of 14th century architecture and its sheer size and sense of grandeur is stunning. Inside, the furnishings reveal a great deal about the work of local craftsmen, such as the rood screen dado saints, the candelabras and the medieval lecterns. The church also holds an annual flower festival which attracts visitors from all over the country.

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