A 4 mile walk between East Runton and Cromer searching out old folklore
Using country lanes and tracks, this circular trail navigates around a East Runton to visit the various locations in Runtons history and folklore. Woodhill House is the location of an unidentified skeleton found during road widening. Thains Lane has the village's old smithy. The old Windmill sets the scene for the emanation of ghostly lights that crossed over to a copse. With a pub stop at Cromer and return via the redefined course of the Norfolk Coast Path, this makes for an excellent short walk on a spooky Autumn evening.
East Runton to Cromer Folklore Trail - Essential Information
- Start point
- East RuntonView in OS Map | View in Google Map
- End Point
- CromerView in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Total Walk distance
- 4 miles
- Walk difficulty
- Easy walking
- Lanes and tracks with some road walking to the pub in Cromer
- No specific hazards on this route other than the coast road to which there is a pavement.
- Date of Walk
- Walk Time
- 15:30 to 18:30
- Griffmonster, Kat
- Weather Conditions
- Overcast with later rain
There is nothing better than a spooky tale to spice up a walk and East Runton has just that. It is a typical Norfolk coastal village full of flint walled buildings set around an old common with a duck pond and divided into two halves by the Cromer to Sheringham railway line. There are probably plenty of stories behind these buildings. Not just bits of history, but tales of the folk who used to live here in generations gone by. Tales that have been handed down through generations by word of mouth, no doubt embellished and added to with each retelling. The landscape can give hints of its history but it is the folklore and the tales that give such a landscape its soul, its identity and personality.
The scene was set for this particular walk, with an apt day appropriate for such an occasion. Autumn was beckoning. The leaves were falling from the trees, littering the tracks with their remains. The sky was darkened by heavy clouds with threatening rain and not too distant showers could be seen as they headed northwards and out to sea. The wind was blowing. Howling round corners and carrying indistinct sounds of life carrying on regardless. It was easy to conjure up the ghosts of days gone by, wandering up the track known as Thains Lane. Maybe whispers on the winds were speaking of the secrets that lurked on this track. One side was Woodhill House, with the Coast Road in front where some poor unfortunate soul had met their fate many years ago. No-one knows exactly when. No-one remembers who. There is no marker. No headstone. Not even a simple cross. Just a skeleton, buried anonymously and only found when the road was widened in the early 1900's. A smuggler? A thief? Either way the tale makes out it was some reprobate who deserved such an end. Someone who wasn't worthy of a rightful burial, someone to be cast aside beyond the boundary of the village, and forgotten about.
On the opposite side of the lane is the old Smithy. Maybe this old cottage holds the secrets of yesteryear. Maybe, in days gone by, this cottage witnessed what happened just across the way in front of Woodhill House. Maybe the old smithy, Benjamin Thain, knew what happened. He probably heard the rumours and stories as he was also the landlord of the White Horse. The tales would surely have been told in there. Even if it was from a previous age, them old stories would have been told and told again with each generation, filtering down through the ages. These days story telling doesn't happen. These days the inns and taverns are full of distractions of modern day to allow for storytelling. But maybe there is an old-timer with a memory who would welcome a listening ear for the price of a pint.
The trail wanders through the village, under the tall railway bridges that date back to 1902 when a lot of the farm hands joined the workforce to create these dominating constructions. The first one is now disused but the far one carries the Cromer to Sheringham railway line. Just beyond these is the lane that leads up to the old mill. Mill Lane. Obvious really. Even a village idiot could get that. This is not insinuating the Runton ever had a village idiot. Census records show they had a Bible Reader, a Sick Nurse, a Matron of an Orphan Asylum and, of course, many fishermen and farmers but not a village idiot.
The Mill stands in all its glory at the top of Mill Lane. Now renovated and proudly standing in the landscape. From all around one can see this landmark nestled in the low hills, vying for space amidst the trees. One could bet there are old stories that could be told by the walls of this monument. It certainly holds one ghostly secret. They say it was the source of ghostly lights. They say ghostly lights emanated from this location and then would dance across the field and go to ground in the copse beyond where there was another unmarked grave. One shouldn't hang about when these lights show and one certainly should not mock them least they follow you home. These spirits of the long departed. These Will-o-the-Wisps. These Jack o Lanterns. They should not be tangled with for they are of another realm. So, with this, it is best to hasten ones pace, afore darkness starts to fall, across the heathland beyond Muckle hill and down into Cromer where sanctuary can be sought in the Old Red Lion and where one can drink a drop of dutch courage and watch the waves crash and the sea roar from the safety of the old inn.
To return, with the failing light, it is best to either keep to the road or follow the Coast Path along the cliffs. It should be noted that this part of the coast is one of the haunts of Black Shuck. The ghostly devil dog with fiery red eyes. One doesn't want to encounter this hound of doom for his appearance bodes ill to the beholder. Everyone knows that rounds these parts. Or they jolly well should do if they are out on a cold, wet and windy autumn evening.
As the trail heads back towards Runton, there on the left is Muckle Hill, and beyond is the Windmill once again, just visible. And the copse of trees down by the road. It should be safe from this vantage point should those ghostly lights show. They wont cross the road. They always go to ground in the copse of trees. But no-one in their right mind would stick around to watch, lest of all to mock them. Even from this distance. Don't tangle with what you don't know. Best to carry on. Hasten back to the the confines of East Runton. Hasten back to the Fishing Boat Inn before complete darkness envelopes the coast. And maybe. Just maybe. There will be an old timer sat at the bar. And for the price of a pint, just maybe, he will furnish you with more tales of days gone by.
Tracks and lanes provide an alternative method to get to Cromer with a return along the realigned Norfolk Coast Path
Starting at The Fishing Boat in East Runton, proceed westward towards Sheringham. As the road departs the village with a slight bend up to Woodhill, there is a cart track overhung by trees on the left just past the Methodist Chapel. This is Thains Lane. Take the track which leads past Woodhill House on the right, the coast road side of which was the site of the discovery of the human remains in 1906, then past the old smithy on the left and up to the railway bridge with views of Incleborough Hill.
Go over the bridge and turn left along the track above the railway cutting. Keep to this track, past the caravan site and into East Runton village where it emerges on the Top Common. Turn left and proceed under the two tall railway bridges. Immediately after the second bridge, turn right into Mill lane. Keep to this lane and at the top of the hill, on the left is the restored windmill. It is difficult to see at first but continue past it and there is a track on the left down which there are some fine views of this historic building. This track leads down to Broomhill Plantation where the ghostly lights were said to have gone to ground.
Continue along Mill Lane, which soon turns into a track, then into a footpath across some heath land. Keep to the path that leads towards the railway on the right. This will meet with a bridge across the railway. This is the edge of the Runton parish. Do not cross the bridge, but take the footpath that leads through a wooded area ahead. This will emerge on a residential street named Fulcher Avenue. Walk along this until the road bends to the left and there is access into the Morrisons Superstore on the right. Walk down the steps and then left through the car park and out onto Beach Road. Turn left, then right into Cadogan Road. At the bottom of the road, go straight across into the main shopping area of town. At the church, turn left and follow the road around the back of the church. At the very end of this, overlooking the seafront, is the Red Lion pub.
From the Red lion, descend down the steps to the promenade and follow this, past the pier and on to the slope up to West Cliff. At the top of the slope take the path along the cliff edge. Keep to this as it rounds a putting green and then emerges onto a car park and a large grassed cliff top field. Keep to the cliff edge and follow this down to the far end where the path then turns and heads up to the road. At the main road, turn right past the caravan site and terrace of cottages and just beyond the allotments is a footpath with the Norfolk Coast path waymarkers. Follow this through to the track at the end, turn left and follow the track out to the main road as it descends into East Runton. The Fishing Boat is on the right midway through the village.
Red Lion, Cromer View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Brook Street, Cromer
The hotel is situated on the cliff top above the fisherman’s beach with views across the sea and the towns Victorian Pier. The Red Lion dates from the 18th century and is one of the oldest pubs in Cromer. The current building dates from 1887 and replaced the original building extending the site with the acquisition of several fisherman's cottages on which the Assembly Rooms were built.
Accommodation, local food including Norfolk Sausages, Venison, Cromer Crab, Morston Mussels and a good ever changing range of local Norfolk ales makes this pub well worth a visit.
The day was windy and wet with overcast and grey skies and a rough looking sea full of white horses and crashing waves. What could be better than a pint of Green Jacks Lurcher Stout to lift flagging spirits. The barman affirmed that it was a great drink and indeed it was. A drink like this is a perfect fit for a wet afternoon watching the sea and supping on this warming and delicious ale!
Fishing Boat, East Runton View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- High Street, East Runton
Flint faced local pub at the heart of the village. Known as The Boat Inn during the mid 19th century and then as the Runton Boat in 1861, although it is unknown when it eventually adopted its present moniker.
Today it operates as a family run free house that focuses on families and caters for the many holiday sites in the vicinity. It is a traditional old pub in every sense, welcoming and friendly and offering very reasonably priced food and drinks. There is a garden at the rear and regular bingo, quizes and free pool are on offer as well as regular live music. Ales include a regular Green King and Woodfordes Wherry with a guest ale that includes offerings from Humpty Dumpty and Wolf breweries.
The Fishing Boat always has decent ale on offer at a very reasonable price. In this instance it was Wolfs Silver Fox. A great pint and very drinkable.
Ghostly Lights and SkeletonsView in OS Map | View in Google Map
There is an old East Runton tale that harkens back to when the coast road was widened just west of the village at the start of the 20th century. It was here, during the undertaking of the works, that a gruesome discovery of human remains was made. A human skeleton was uncovered 4ft below the surface, of a man some 5ft 10in tall and whose teeth were in good condition. Several stories as to the identity of this man were put forward by the locals of the time. Some say he was a smuggler who met his end at the hands of the excise men. Another story tells that he was a watch pedlar who had robbed the local inn and had met an untimely end for his endeavours. There was no conclusive evidence for either story and his remains were transported to the church and interred in the churchyard. The story is then compounded by ghostly lights that are said to have haunted the area. These anomalous lights were said to travel from the old Windmill, across the fields and then disappear into the earth at a copse where the bones had been found.
The location of the skeleton discovery is thought to have been at the point where the road heads out of East Runton, climbing up to where Woodhill House now stands. There is no clear indication on old maps as to the exact location of the road widening and thus far no records of the works have been located, but the Norfolk Heritage website places the location just beyond Woodhill House.
There is also no reference as to the specific churchyard where the remains were interred. Although present day East Runton boasts the small church of Saint Andrew, at the time of the discovery it only had a Methodist Chapel, located close to the skeleton find at the junction of Thains Lane, but there is no indication that it ever had a churchyard. Therefore we may presume that the remains were taken to Holy Trinity church in West Runton although this is pure speculation. To add weight to this speculation is the fact that the parish as a whole is commonly known as Runton with East and West villages being two communities within the parish. Therefore it is logical to assume that the parish church of Holy Trinity would have served both villages at the time. This view is strengthened by an historic reference to Oxwell Cross, which today is a small hamlet halfway between the two villages and is still marked as such on OS maps. Traditionally it was a location of a spring and was a resting point for pall bearers taking coffins from East Runton to the church.
There are a also a few questions that can be raised about this story which may show that this is in fact two stories merged into one. The main story is of the discovery of the human remains. The second story of the ghostly light, which over time, has somehow been connected to the discovery of bones, can be found in a book entitled 'A History of Norfolk' by the author Walter Rye, who attests on page 227:
There is a ghostly light seen at intervals to cross a field near Runton Mill and bury itself in a copse where once human bones were found.
This is difficult to resolve as the bones were discovered during the road widening which occurred in 1906, whereas the book was published in 1885, 11 years before the find. Therefore this may be a reference to another unmarked burial and the linking of the two stories is from the casual connection of two different finds of skeletal remains. This now implies that the ghostly light may not even have appeared at the location close to Woodhill House and is just another casual link and supposition.
Mr Rye revisits the ghostly light later on in the book when he mentions on page 290:
...a light which has been showing lately at Runton, near Cromer. It is said to issue from a hedgerow, cross a field, and disappear in a fir-spinney. Many credible people have seen it, and a superstitious glamour is cast over the matter by a statement that it goes into the ground just where some human bones were once found. I believe myself that it may be the reflection of Cromer revolving light, cast on a bank of fog or vapour, which may appear under certain atmospheric conditions. But this theory, and that of " Will-o'-the-wisps," is scouted, because the ground is high and dry, and well drained.
An inspection of the 1886 OS Map of the area reveals that there are other more feasible routes that the ghostly light could take based upon the description of its path. The mill is located south of the village and it is plain to see that to get to the road widening discovery it would need to cross several fields and two roads which is contradictory to the extract from the book. In addition, there is no marked woodland on this route. A more suitable path would be the field to the north of the mill, across which can be found several wooded areas, namely Home Plantation, Broomhill Plantation and Sandpit Plantation which would fit in with the description of the light burying itself in a copse or fir-spinney. Broomhill Plantation looks a likely candidate as the map depicts this as mixed woodland and is directly across the field from the old Mill. Broomhill Plantation still exists today and there is now a track, which is not depicted on older maps, that leads along its eastern edge and up to the windmill. So maybe this is the location and path of the phantom lights.
Walter Rye's proposed explanation for the cause of the ghostly light is also worthy of debate. Walter Rye, the author of the book in which the extract has been taken, is described as an athlete and antiquarian. He was born in 1843 in Chelsea, and after qualifying as a solicitor, joined his fathers practice in Westminster where he remained for the rest of his working life. Upon his retirement in 1900 he moved to Norwich, where he became mayor during the years 1908-9. Although not a native of Norfolk, he must have made regular visits as he published over eighty works dedicated to Norfolk local history and topography. So he was certainly not a stranger to the county but equally he could not be classified as a local until after his retirement.
With the book being published in 1885, which was prior to his retirement, we can assume that he was only a casual visitor to the area and the story of the ghostly lights was therefore probably picked up from conversation with locals, rather than first hand experience. In fact he clarifies this in a footnote which states
I went to see it specially last year, but could not. Consequently, the explanation of the lighthouse being the cause of the lights was from the view-point of visitor rather than someone who had witnessed the lights and could form a reasonable opinion on their cause. Such theories from outsiders no doubt antagonised locals who had actually witnessed the lights and were well aware of the Cromer lighthouse which still shines its light to this day. Such a theory bears a remarkable resemblance to the infamous lighthouse theory offered to explain the Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident. This also attempts to explain exotic events and lights that occurred during the winter of 1980 as the result of both locals and military personnel being fooled by the local lighthouse. This case demonstrates the antagonisation of those involved and does not help to solve the mystery of the experienced phenomenon.
There has been no recent reports to suggest this light phenomenon still exists. There is also no record of the exact period during which the lights were seen at the time. The Griffmonster walk between East Runton and Cromer takes in Thains Lane, Mill Lane and the old mill itself together with Broomhill plantation. The track from the woodland to the mill can also be walked. The return route along the coast Road gives a clear view across the field next to the woodland. If this is the correct location of the lights, then despite walking along this road many times and at all times of day and night, I can firmly testify that I have never seen any wandering lights, nor have any phantom lights been witnessed at the Woodhill location. However I have witnessed the lighthouse in all conditions and it can never be thought of as anything other than a lighthouse light.
The old SmithyView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Old maps from the 19th century depict a smithy in East Runton located on what is now known as Thains Lane. This name is probably derived from a former smithy, Benjamin Thain who lived here during the mid 19th century. Records show that as well as being a blacksmith he was also the landlord of the White Horse pub (now the Dozy Doormouse) between 1861 and 1864. It is also interesting to note that prior to this date, during the period 1845 and 1856, the landlord Joseph Bird was also described as being a blacksmith. It was during his tenure that the pub was sold to Trunch Brewery.
Little is known of the history of the building where the smithy was located. Today it is a modernized residential cottage bearing the name of The Forge. This typical flinted building does bear the marks of its previous use. An external chimney has a small metal door at is base marked with the lettering 'Removable Oven'. To the left of the chimney is a ceramic plaque depicting a hammer and tongs and to the right a similar plaque depicting an anvil. It is a delightful little place but I bet few passers by realise its history.
East Runton WindmillView in OS Map | View in Google Map
It is uncertain when the four storey windmill in East Runton was first constructed. The earliest date that references the mill is Bryant's map of Norfolk published in 1826. The first miller reference is in 1836 in Whites Directory where it states the owner as Joseph Baker, miller and brickmaker. The reference to him being a brickmaker may come from the fact that he married Susan Dawson whose family owned the Runton brickworks.
The brick built windmill consisted of a four sails which drove three pairs of stones used to grind flour. The grounds also consisted of a Messuage, an archaic name for a dwelling house, and Garden, a Granary, a Stable, a Gighouse, used for storing carts, a Drying Kiln and an Oven house etc.
A serious accident occurred in 1861 when a girl named Martha Holman who had rode up to the mill in a donkey and cart was caught about the head by the moving sails as she alighted the cart. Although first thought to have been killed, she was returned to her family where she eventually recovered.
The mill lasted until 1908 and when the then owner, James Kemp died in 1912 the building became derelict. The millhouse was sold and renovated in 1976. The mill, which was no more than a shell, was eventually renovated in the mid 2000's and today is a grade ii listed building.
Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information
Summary of Document Changes
Last Updated: ... 2016-01-15