Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Saturday, 29 December 2018

A Norfolk Broads Walk from Neatishead to Horning

Cormorants on Barton Broad

An easy 6 mile walk following the River Ant down to the Bure at Horning.

The Norfolk Broads are full of ghostly stories and this walk brings a few to life. From the spooky lights of Hoards Hole, encounters with Black Shuck and the curious transformation of Horning's riverside houses to Saxon days when it was just a grassy bank, there is plenty to reflect upon as one wanders the footpaths and quiet country lanes that make up this route. And maybe, who may tell, given the right conditions, you may even glimpse a spectral view from another dimension.

A Norfolk Broads Walk from Neatishead to Horning - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Neatishead View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Horning View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
6 miles
Walk difficulty


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. The links include published hard copy as well as online plots and downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.

Ordnance Survey Explorer Map
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Online Ordnance Survey Route
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Online OpenStreetMap Route
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Online Google Route
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ViewRanger App Route
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GPX data for route (download)


Woodhill Park CampsiteView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Located on the clifftops at East Runton, half way between Sheringham and Cromer, this highly recommended touring site is ideal for exploring North Norfolk with public transport available to many destinations from the entrance to the site.


Details of public transport that is required for the walk

Sanders Coaches - Bus Service
Service Details
X11 - X11 route from Norwich to Stalham via Wroxham run by Sanders Coaches
Greater Anglia Trains - Train Service
Service Details
4/5 - The Bittern Line - Railway line linking Norwich, Wroxham, Cromer and Sheringham

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
15:00 to 18:00
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Warm and sunny Autumn day

Walk Notes

This walk is limited by the available bus services to get to the start at Neatishead and for those who want to return to Wroxham it will also entail an additional mile or two walking along the Three River Way which follows the road from Horning to Wroxham. When this walk was undertaken Neaves Coaches operated a service from Wroxham to Neatishead which would drop passengers down at their request. Unfortunately Sanders Coaches have taken over Neaves and although the replacement X11 service originally followed the same route it is uncertain whether this is still the case. The requested point to alight is the White Horse pub at Neatishead, failing this one should request to be dropped off at the Neatishead turn on the main road. This would be a good place to take a refreshing pint before the walk but unfortunately it closes in the afternoon and we missed out.

On this particular occasion we were staying at East Runton. From here there is a regular train service to/from Wroxham and Cromer which enables this walk to be undertaken.

The walk is a pleasant ramble of discovery and few encounters with civilisation. There is some road walking but these sections are all quiet country lanes with little if any traffic encountered. Highlights include the Barton Broad boardwalk which leads out to an observation platform overlooking the broad. Further on there are panoramic views across the marshes and pastures with the windmills depicting the course of the River Ant. The walk ends with a causal stroll through the riverside village of Horning. On this particular occasion the sun was low in the sky for the final couple of miles and presented some exquisite golden hues across the Horning marshes.


The only obstacle encountered was a footpath that had been obliterated by crops and access partially blocked by overgrown hedgerow. This path links the A1069, at the point where the track down from Brows Hill cottages emerges, to School Road in Horning and diagonally cuts across the field and was completely impassable. 2012 appeared to be a particularly bad year for footpaths being obliterated by land owners ignoring the right of way and not reinstating the path after planting the crop. These should be reported to the council using Norfolk County Council online reporting tool. An alternative route was to walk up the main road and down the lane by the side of the field..

Ghost Stories

The broads have many ghost stories and legends, many popularised by the author and Harley Street surgeon Dr Chas Sampson who was a regular visitor to the broads during the early 20th century and whose book 'Ghosts of the Broads' is still a popular read. Although the authenticity of some of characters and references in the stories are dubious, the book nonetheless make intriguing reading even if the stories take some stretch of the imagination to believe.

Turf Fen Drainage Mill
Turf Fen Drainage Mill


A simple walk using quiet country lanes and footpaths to roughly follow the course of the River Ant

Neatishead to Horning

The bus stops by The White Horse pub which can be disorientating as to which road to take. Follow Irstead road straight ahead from the pub ignoring the left turn and proceeding down the side of the Old Saddlery restaurant. Proceed along this country lane, around a double bend and past a junction on the right. Opposite a hotel on the right is a track which leads down to Gay's Staithe which is worth taking time out to explore. Proceed along the road, which bends around to the right, then further along takes a sharp left before slowly curving right again. At this point is the entrance to the boardwalks on the banks of Barton Broad which leads out to a viewing platform which, once again, is worth taking time out to explore.

Continue on the road until it junctions with the road into Irstead. Turn right and then the next left. Keep to this lane. Eventually it takes a sharp right by some buildings then turns sharp left. Straight ahead is Alderfen Broad. Continue along the road looking out for an entrance on the left marked for Browns Hill. This has signs marking the track as 'Private' although this only applies to traffic and on the left hand side is a footpath waymarker indicating that it is a public right of way. Continue down this track to the cottages then take the footpath down the side of of the buildings. This enters into some woodland known as Baxter's Carr. Where the path crosses a ditch there are alternative footpaths either side of the ditch. Take the path on the near side which is easier to navigate, and follow this around to a pipeline where the two paths either side of the ditch rejoin. The footpath now follows a straight line through to a lane that leads onto the A1062 road to Ludham. Directly opposite is a footpath that diagonally crosses a field. IF this is impassable there is an alternative route along a lane just up the road leading down the side of the field.

The path emerges at a cross roads, take the left hand turn onto school Road and follow this into Horning village. There is a footpath on the right hand side for part of the way.

Horning sunsetView across Horning Marshes
On the left Horning sunset; On the right View across Horning Marshes


The New Inn, Horning View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Lower Street, Horning

Situated in the centre of Horning overlooking the River Bure with moorings alongside the pub garden. This, despite its name, is the oldest pub in Horning. Family friendly with a games and amusement area for children. Local produce is used for their extensive menu and ales include offerings from Adnams, Woodfordes and Green King. Open all day.


It was early evening when we visited this pub and the inn was very quiet apart from two rather dodgy looking gentlemen who occupied one of the tables. The Adnams bitter was refreshing and well kept and the specials food menu looked inviting but unfortunately we had other plans for the evening and we had to rush off.

The Swan, Horning View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub

The Swan Inn is an impressive building standing on the waterfront of the River Bure. Originally built as a cottage in 1696 the building was extended in the early 19th century and is famed for being the setting for Arthur Ransoms children's books 'Coot Club' and 'The Big Six'. The pub is part of the Vintage Inns group. An extensive food menu is accompanied by a good selection of guest ales along with regular ales from Adnams


Although not visited on this occasion, I have always been impressed with the range of guest ales available at the Swan.

The Ferry Inn, Horning View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Ferry Road, Horning

Off the main road through the village, this pub is a little harder to find for those passing through. Take Ferry Road to the end and the Ferry Inn is located on the riverside. Food is centred around their popular carvery which features three different roasts and a variety of steamed vegetables. Other food is available on the menu. Ales include offerings from Adnams and Woodfordes.

Though the present building is from recent times, the pub originally dates from 1840 and occupies the site of a former Mead House which belonged to the nearby St Benets Abbey. It is from these distant times that the ghostly apparition of a young girl is said to be from. The local legend states that in the 1500's a group of monks from the Mead House saw the young girl walking along the riverside. They waited as she approached the Mead house, cowering in the shadows. As she passed they they jumped out and dragged the screaming unsuspecting victim into the building where they brutally raped and then murdered her. To destroy the evidence of their misdemeanours they then dragged her body across to the river where she was unceremoniously tossed into the waters. Ever since that time her ghost is said to appear every 20 years. Wearing a green dress, she is said to float through the Ferry Inn and then disappear into the river.


Not visited on this occasion, though we did pay a visit earlier in the year and had a pleasant hour watching the the ducks play, the river flow and the trees on the opposite bank sluggishly move their leaves in the breezes. Woodfordes Wherry was a very pleasurable lunchtime pint.

Neaves Drainage Mill
Neaves Drainage Mill


The Ghostly Tale of Barton BroadView in OS Map | View in Google Map

This ghostly story is purported to have been told by a local chap from the vicinity of Barton Broad during the early 20th century. Joe Barnes was the name of the story teller and he attested that it had been handed down through the generations, and the tale was reiterated by another local from that time named Willum Storer.

The tale dates back to the days of the Crusades when a beautiful baby girl was born to the wife of a knight who was away in the Holy lands. When the Knight returned he refused to accept that the baby was his own and had her fostered out to be bought up by a nurse whilst he himself returned to the crusades. She soon grew up to be a beautiful woman and was locally known as Lady Edyth and attracted many admirers.

Eventually, many years later, the knight returned to Norfolk and soon met the beautiful Edyth, not realising that she was his own daughter. Such was her beauty that he immediately fell in love with her. However, she was already betrothed to a soldier and refused the knights advances to which he flew into a rage declaring that no other would have her. There are two differing accounts here, once which states that her lover arrived and she ran into his arms just as the Knight drew and fired his crossbow which pierced the girls breast and killed her. The second account states that the crossbow was fired at the boat which they were in, sinking the craft and drowning Edyth. Either way, the Knight returned to the Holy Land never to set foot back in Norfolk. Each year since that time, on 4th August the face of the young Edyth is said to appear on the surface of the broad.

The book 'Ghosts of the Broads' by Chas Sampson from which the tale is taken attests that in 1916 a young pilot named Flight Lieutenant Ronald Jacoby, was returning to base at Pulham, and witnessed the face of Lady Edyth as he flew over the broad. So taken aback by the sight he returned the next night and saw the vision again. On the third night he took his unsuspecting squadron leader across the broad and he too bore witness to the face. Quite how this annual event could take place over three consecutive nights is not explained.

The Legend of the Morphing Horning VillageView in OS Map | View in Google Map

In his 1932 book 'Ghosts of the Broads' Dr Charles Sampson includes a tale he learnt from a local in the Swan Inn at Horning. The story relates back to ancient times after the Romans had left Britain and the Danes, Jutes, Saxons and Norsemen fought to secure the land as their own. The Saxons eventually drove out their enemies and claimed the settlement that was to become known as Horning, as their own. They replaced the ramshackle collection of huts with solid built houses facing the river and a lawn was laid out along the river bank in front of the houses along the full length of what is now known as Lower Street. The village was completed with the construction of a church and to mark its inauguration a royal visit was planed from King Elle, the king of East Anglia. When the day arrived, the entire village was bedecked with flags and bunting and a decorated arch created from trees was placed at each end of lower street. Eventually the King arrived with his grand procession of horses and attending entourage. The procession walked through to the centre of the village where he was greeted by the Abbot of Norwich and St Benets, who pronounced the King to be saviour and protector of the village people. It is said that the Bishop endowed the King with the name of The Swan of Peace and from that time there has always been a Swan in Horning.

Such was the significance of this occasion that the event has never been forgotten, and never will be if this tale is true. For legend states that each fifth year on the 21st July, as soon as it gets dark, a ghostly reenactment of the event takes place on Lower Street in Horning. Those who have witnessed this ghostly show, tell of how the present buildings on the river bank fade away to be replaced by a grass lawn and on the other side of the road the houses change their form to Saxon constructions and duly the whole re-enactment of King Elle's visiting procession takes place. After meeting with the bishop, the kings men mount their horses and return from whence they came and the village slowly fades back to how it is today.

This would indeed by a sight to see. However there are a few interesting points to note about the story which have been discovered in a critical investigation by M W Burgess, published in the Lantern publication in the 1970's. This draws doubt on the central characters within the stories in the book including King Elle who it claims was not King of East Anglia but of Sussex and never stepped foot in Norfolk. However the report does state that one local person, John Holmes, who is mentioned in the tale as being the local who had witnessed the event on multiple occasions, was the name of the local butcher from that period.

So is the story real? Is there a local legend of this ghostly event? Is this an ancient tale handed down through the generations who names have been distorted with the passage of time? This is difficult to say as there is no record of the tale from any other source other than Dr Chas Simpson's book. Maybe on another visit I may meet an old timer with a little more knowledge. It is interesting to note that a Wherry, the distinctive Broads cargo ship, was also named Elle. This particular Wherry dates from 1912 and after a little investigation it was found to have been named after the owners daughter with the comment of 'A Wherryman would never have anything to do with a ghost story'. So maybe the tale was just a little ribbing of Chas Simpson by the locals when he paid a visit to the village and he fell for the story. I guess the only real way to know if this tale has any truth is to await the next occurrence of the ghostly event, on July 21st 2016. When the time arrives, one should follow the instruction from the book carefully, do not eat or drink after 8pm and refrain completely from strong liquor. Then at 10pm sit quietly and calmly and await the exhibition as darkness draws in.

Heard's HoldeView in OS Map | View in Google Map

This piece of folklore dates from the early 19th century and was recorded by the rector of Irstead, Rev John Gunn who published the accounts and memories of a Mrs Lubbock, much of which had been passed to her by her father. The account was published in the second edition of Norfolk Archeology in 1849 under a section headed as 'Proverbs, adages and popular superstitions still preserved in the parish of Irstead'.

In a subsection entitled Jack o Lantern and Evil Spirits, the account states that

Before the Irstead Enclosure in 1810, Jack o' Lantern was frequently seen here on a roky night, and almost always at a place called Heard's Holde, in Alder Carr Fen Broad, on the Neatishead side, where a man of that name, who was guilty of some unmentionable crimes, was drowned.

The word roky, pronounced 'roke' has the meaning of misty or smokey and a Jack o Lantern is a phosphorescent light that hovers about particularly over swampy ground. The term is generally associated with East Anglia and dates from the 1600's and is commonly attributed to the spirit of someone who has passed away. In this account Mrs Lubbock attests that she had often seen the light, commonly just named 'Jack' rising up and falling and twisting about like a candle in a lantern. The light was said to be the old man Heards spirit and local superstition stated that if one was out walking along the road with a lantern when the light appeared they should extinguish their own light immediately otherwise Jack would come over and dash it to pieces. To back this up there was a story of a man from Horning who was out riding his horse and had mocked the light, calling it a Will of the Wisp. In response Jack came up to him and knocked him off his horse. In another account Mrs Lubbock relates that her own father had an encounter which she alleges

he was returning home from a large money-spending at the finishing of harvest (the word used here is 'largess' which is old English for 'liberally bestowing gifts' so this may point to something more like a harvest donation festival), in company with an old man, who whistled and jeered at Jack; but Jack followed them all the way home, and when they entered the house he torched up at the windows

The infamy of Heards spirit was so notorious at the time, seemingly cropping up at the places he frequented when he was alive, that the folk of Neatishead planned to lay it to rest. Three learned gentlemen attempted to lay the spirit to rest by reading verses from the Bible. This was a sort of exorcism that was also known as 'reading a ghost down'. The concept was to read a scripture and the ghost would reduce down in size until it was small enough to fit into a bottle at which point it could be captured. This was attempted by the three unnamed gentlemen but the plucky Heard outwitted them by keeping one verse ahead of them. The day was saved by a young lad who bought a couple of pigeons which he lay down before the perplexed Heard. The ghost looked them and in doing so lost his verse and the gentlemen were then able to finally bind his spirit.

Following on from this revelation is another curious story concerning Black Shuck, the East Anglia devil dog. This tale involves a character called Finch who hailed from Neatishead. He was out walking along the road one night when he caught sight of a dog which he assumed to be Dick Allard's dog though there is no mention of who Dick Allard was so we must assume he was another local resident. The dog was snarling and snapping and came out into the middle of the road towards Finch. Finch responded by taking a kick at the beast and his foot went straight through the dog as if it was a sheet of paper. His kick was done with such force that he nearly fell over backwards.

Neatishead village staithe
Neatishead village staithe


Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on an image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2018-12-29

2013-04-14 : Initial Publication
2018-01-06 : General site maintenance
2018-12-29 : General website updates


  1. The photograph labelled as Gay's Staithe is in fact that of Neatishead village staithe, which is situated at the west end of Limekiln Dyke. Gay's Staithe is situated at the east end of Limekiln Dyke, where it meets the southern end of Barton Broad.

    1. thanks for pointing that out Garyth - i will get that rectified


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