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

Friday, 6 December 2019

Nar Valley Way - Kings Lynn to Narborough

Brick remains from the bridge which carried the former Kings Lynn to Dereham railway

A 15 mile walk following the River Nar from its outlet to the River Ouse up to Narborough

The walk starts along the quayside at Kings Lynn with all its fascinating historic buildings. The path soon heads out into open countryside following the river across this open landscape. Big skies. Views for miles and little in the way of civilisation until Narborough is reached.

Nar Valley Way - Kings Lynn to Narborough - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

  • Start location: Kings Lynn Quay 
  • End location: Narborough 
  • Distance:   miles (  km)
  • Total Gain:   ft (  metre)
  • Total Descent:   ft (  metre)
  • Min Height:   ft (  metre)
  • Max Height:   ft (  metre)
  • Walk Time:  
  • Walk type: Linear
  • Walk Grade: Easy
  • Terrain: Footpaths throughout beyond Kings Lynn


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. There are links to printed maps and links to downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.



Pentney Park Camping and Caravan SiteView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Pleasant campsite set in a semi wooded area alongside the A47. Miniature railway runs through the site. Optional early arrival and late leaving rates. Unfortunately during late 2018 this site was taken over by holiday park operator Darwin Escapes and redeveloped as a luxury spa and resort with no touring pitches available.


Details of public transport that is required for the walk

First Group - Bus Service
Service Details
X1 - First Group X1 service Great Yarmouth to Peterborough linking Acle Norwich, Dereham, Kings Lynn

Route Verification Details

  • Date of Walk: 2013-05-31
  • Walk Time: 10:30 to 16:30
  • Walkers: Griffmonster, Kat
  • Weather Conditions: Sunny warm spring day

Walk Notes

The Nar Valley Way is a Norfolk Trail that has recently become part of the county wide Cross Norfolk Trail linking Kings Lynn with Great Yarmouth. The start of the Nar Valley trail is at the quay in Kings Lynn and this then follows the River Nar to its source then beyond to Gressinghall. The total distance of the Nar Valley Way is just 37 miles with the section to Narborough being 15 miles along the river bank virtually all the distance.

Kings Lynn quay is full of historic interest providing an opportunity to take a little time out before setting off on the path. Artefacts of interest include the Trinity Hall, the twin towered St Margaret's Church, the Hanseatic Warehouse and Whitefriars Gate, the remaining gateway to the Carmelite Friary. This relic now sits as an island of history amidst modern flats and roads and looking distinctly out of place and time. Much time could be spent on exploring this part of Kings Lynn, but this is probably best left as an appetizer for other walks around the various town trails which are documented on Visit West Norfolk website.

The quay area is well presented and a pleasure to walk through but as the route leaves this area it navigates through the less salubrious areas on the edge of town with a lot of semi developed areas and wasteland. This does not take long to pass through and eventually one is following the tranquil waters of the river Nar as it slowly winds its way across a flat landscape on the edge of the Fens. Wide open fields disappear into distant horizons. A wide spread of yellow rapeseed paints the landscape during springtime. Big blue skies seem never ending. The only signs of civilisation are Farm buildings, bee hives, the distant railway leading into Kings Lynn. There are points of interest along the shallow slow moving river. Weirs. Fishermen on Pentney lakes. Swans with young cygnets. An old waterwheel which marks the location of the old Narborough Bone mill, which is being restored and visitors are welcome. This provides an opportunity for refreshment for any walker heading along the Nar Valley Way - see for more details. It has to be said this is a most pleasant wander.

Wot no pubs

The only disappointment with the walk was a lack of pubs. In fact, on this occasion, there was no refreshment stops whatsoever once out of Kings Lynn. As mentioned above, since walking this route the Bone Mill does have tea and biscuits available and a visit is a worthy rest as part of the last stage to the walk. In this instance, and for anyone looking to walk this route, one should take ample water and a supply of food to keep one going throughout the day. Stops, rests and breaks are but grassy banks overlooking the river. Our rest breaks be a relief of the rucksack on the ground and laying out under the wide blue skies.

Over the first few miles through to the Setchey bridge we had caught regular sight of another walker several hundred yards ahead. At times it would appear we were gaining ground on him, then he seemed to saunter ahead at quick pace. At the Setchey bridge the path crosses from the southern side of the river to the northern side. This is a recent alteration to the trail with the new route following the course of the river whilst the old route diverted away from the river via the village of Wormegay before meeting back with the River Nar near Pentney lakes. The OS maps still depict this route but the confirmation of the re-routing is contained on the Norfolk council Trails website which I had consulted a few days prior to the walk.

It was at this point, having just crossed the bridge, we took a few minutes out to have a deserved drink of water and 10 minutes relaxation to take in the surroundings. The road was fairly busy and there were some distant building which we assumed marked the start of the village of Setchey. Our gaze soon caught sight of another walker ambling down the pavement from Setchey towards us. It soon became apparent that this was the same chap we had been following from Kings Lynn. We could now see the detail of what had been just a figure in the distance. He was a skinny small framed man; a floppy hat shielding his head from the sun; cotton beige trousers; a small rucksack perched on his back. He offered a friendly hello as he approached, soon adding 'The pub has closed down'. This was no surprise. In fact on my map there was no indication of a pub in the village of Setchey. He thrust his OS map in front of our eyes. It was an old map. An icon distinctly indicated a pub in Setchey. He looked disappointed. He was not one to frequent pubs but on this occasion had took exception because of the lack of other refreshment stops on the walk. He was not counting on the pub being open but certainly had not bargained that it had closed down. He had water and snacks but wanted something a little more substantial. Lesson learnt - always have up-to-date maps.

He could have been excused about the route change though - noting that he had expected to continue on the south side of the river as this has not been updated on even the latest OS maps. He had a series of leaflets about the trail which he had obtained from Norwich. They mentioned the trail alterations. Even so he was not totally assured by this. I asserted that the route had indeed been altered and this boosted his confidence that he was heading along the correct route. We set about to depart expecting him to accompany us but he paused then then sat down stating it was time for a rest break. I think he liked his own company and there is nothing wrong with that.

It is worth noting that this section of the Nar Valley Way does have a distinct lack of pubs. There are none on the actual route and one would have to go well off the route to find any sign of hostelry. The latest OS Map does indicate that there is a pub at Narborough, but even this has closed down, having been converted into a Chinese restaurant. This reflects the sad demise of the traditional English pub. This also highlight the need for taking ample water as there are no other kind of refreshment stop along the route. So its water bottles for drink, pasties for sustenance and trees for natures calling.

Happy Camping for Train Spotters

The Pentney Park camp site is nicely placed for this section of the Nar Valley Way with a frequent bus service between Narborough at Kings Lynn. The camp site boasts its own miniature railway and, so we were informed, they have regular meets of miniature railway enthusiasts who bring there own engines to steam around the site railway that encompasses the semi wooded grounds. Unfortunately the weekend we had chosen for the walk was the same weekend as the railway man had gone away so we did not get to see the engines in action.

Unfortunately the site has been taken over and touring is no longer available.

Weir at Marham Fen on River Nar
Weir at Marham Fen on River Nar


The Nar Valley Way is a long distance trail linking Kings Lynn and Dereham. This forms part of the new Cross Norfolk Trail. The route is well marked out although it is not much more than following the river

Kings Lynn Bus Station to Quay

Head eastwards along Market Street which is where the buses enter the bus station. Keep straight ahead as this meets Paradise Street which curves around to the left. This will meet with a pedestrianised area along New Conduit Street. Continue straight ahead at the crossroads into Purfleet Street. This junctions with King Street opposite the old customs house. Turn left and then right into Purfleet Place along side Pur Fleet. This then follow Kings Lynn Quay which is the official start to the Nar Valley Way.

Nar Valley Way

The path starts at Kings Lynn Quay where there are marker posts for both the Nar Valley Way and the Fen Rivers Way. Follow the Quay south west wards until the two trails divert by a creek at the mouth of the River Nar. The path crosses the river and follows a new road alongside Hardings Pits Doorstep Green up to the main road. Cross the road and the bridge to follow the river along its northern side. Continue along this path until just past the underpass for the A47. The path meets an old railway bridge and crosses this to continue along the opposite side of the river. Note that this is different to what is marked on the OS map which depicts the path continuing to a footbridge further along the river. From this point the path continues along the riverside through to the Setchey Road bridge.

The path starts at Kings Lynn Quay where there are marker posts for both the Nar Valley Way and the Fen Rivers Way. Follow the Quay south west wards until the two trails divert by a creek at the mouth of the River Nar. The path crosses the river and follows a new road alongside Hardings Pits Doorstep Green up to the main road. Cross the road and the bridge to follow the river along its northern side. Continue along this path until just past the underpass for the A47. The path meets an old railway bridge and crosses this to continue along the opposite side of the river. Note that this is different to what is marked on the OS map which depicts the path continuing to a footbridge further along the river. From this point the path continues along the riverside through to the Setchey Road bridge.

Cross the bridge to continue along the northern side of the river. This is a recent change and not marked on the OS map. Follow the river through to Pentney Lakes. Just beyond these gravel workings is a farmhouse which is also the site of the gatehouse to the old Pentney Priory. The river zig zags sharply and there's a footbridge just before the first turn. This is the site of the former Pentney Mill. Cross the bridge and continue along the southern side of the river all the way through to Narborough. Turn left at the road. The trail continues on the right by the Mill.

The campsite is located just off the A47. Continue beyond the mill following the path on the right hand side of the road. This leads through some woodland and returns to the roadside prior to the junction with the A47. Cross the road and go through the woodland on the opposite side which leads out onto the A47. Cross this road - this is a busy trunk road so take caution. A pavement on the opposite side leads to the next junction on the right and the camp site is just off this road.

Waterwheel to the former Narborough Bone Mill
Waterwheel to the former Narborough Bone Mill


Pentney AbbeyView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Close to the Pentney lakes and at the point where the Nar Valley Way crosses the River Nar as it's course zig zags around two tight bends there is a noticeable Farmhouse. This is Abbey farm and the location of the former medieval Augustinian priory. The bridge at this point is made from local white brick and its structure its the last remaining evidence that this was the location of the Pentney watermill. IT is uncertain when the mill was built but is thought to have belonged to the priory. There are depictions of the mill on Faden's map of 1797 but by the time the next map was produced in 1826 it is marked as The Windmill Inn which indicates a change of use.

The priory was founded in 1135 and lasted through to the Reformation in 1537 when it was dissolved by Henry VIII. As with a lot of dissolved monastic buildings of the time, with Norfolk having little in the way of natural stone, the Priory was dismantled to provide building material for Abbey Farm and surrounding buildings.

As with most large Priorys and Abbeys Pentney also had a gatehouse which dates from the 14th century. This formed the main entrance to the site and also provided living accommodation. The ruins of the gatehouse still remain and during 2013 the farm had commissioned Ruth Brennan Architects to restore this historic structure with the assistance of grants from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.


Narborough Bone MillView in OS Map | View in Google Map

As the Nar Valley Way approaches Narborough, an isolated 16-foot-diameter waterwheel perches on the river bank, overgrown with vegetation and against a decaying brick wall. This marks the site of the former Narborough Bone Mill, built in the early 19th century for the production of agricultural fertilizer from the rendering of bones supplied by local slaughterhouses. Whalebones were also transported to the mill by barge along the River Nar after processing at Kings Lynn. The remote site of the watermill, located some 1-2 miles downstream from Narborough was possibly due to the obnoxious odours produced by the processing.

The process involve boiling the bones to make them brittle and to remove any fat residue. The bones would then be chopped down to a manageable size and then ground into a powder with millstones driven by the watermill.

At one time human remains were used, these being the bones exhumed from cemeteries and burial grounds around the German city of Hamburg. These were exported by ship to Kings Lynn and then taken on to the mill. The ethics of this practice were not questioned as it was said that 'One ton of German bone-dust saves the importation of ten tons of German corn' and economics outweighed any other consideration.

When a sluice was built downstream of the mill by the Nar Valley Drainage Board, who bought the navigation rights in 1884, this essentially spelt the closure of the mill. With the sluice in place river traffic could not get to the mill an with no road access the mill fell into disuse. The building was slowly demolished during the teen years of the 20th century but the waterwheel was left in situ and still stands there to this day.

A lottery grant has assisted in restoring the water wheel and surroundings. There is a swing footbridge from the path across to the bonemill and walkers are very welcome to visit. A restored railway wagon acts as both a volunteer room and visitor centre and there are refreshment facilities available. Large parties intending to visit should contact the bonemill in advance.


Narborough WatermillView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Standing on the River Nar at the village of Narborough is the impressive three storied building of Narborough Watermill. Built around 1780 with further extensions over the years the mill originally had a 14 foot diameter cast iron waterwheel which drove 4 sets of stones which was then extended to accommodate a further two sets of stones.

The mill lasted up until the 1950's, being used to grind up animal fodder. There were plans in the 1970s to turn the mill into a tourist attraction which never came to fruition. In 1980 the owner of Narborough Hall, Nicolas Carter funded the renovation of the mill and he retained ownership up until 2007 when it was put onto the market. There have been ideas of turning this grade II listed building which still retains much of its old machinery into a museum for so far little has come of this.

Narborough Watermill
Narborough Watermill


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: 2021-12-07

2013-09-01 : Initial publication
2013-09-08 : add in directions from Kings Lynn bus station to quay
2017-02-05 : General website updates
2019-01-08 : General website updates + updates to bone mill and camps site
2019-12-06 : New responsive format + link fixes
2021-03-17 : Update website improvements and removal of ViewRanger reliance
2021-12-01 : Removal of ViewRanger links due to its imminent demise


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