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

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Horstead to Heggatt Circular Walk

Horstead millpond and mill

A stroll along the southern side of the River Bure to the ancient hamlet of Heggatt

This short walk takes one through country lanes and along old tracks and footpaths on the southern side of the River Bure. Highlights include the ruins of Horstead Mill and views across the valley to Coltishall and Belaugh. Plus a walk would not be complete without a little piece of folklore, and this one is all about a prophesy centred around a tree on Heggatt Common

A short circular walk from Horstead to Heggatt - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Horstead View in OS Mapnew window | View in Google Mapnew window
End Point
Heggatt View in OS Mapnew window | View in Google Mapnew window
Total Walk distance
3 miles
Walk difficulty
Footpaths, tracks and country lanes
The riverside areas are liable to flooding


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)

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
13:30 to 15:00
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Bright autumn day

Walk Notes

This is a short walk for a lazy afternoon, where one can take ones time, explore and while away the hours. Starting and ending at the Recruiting Sergeant pub, the route uses country lanes and footpaths roughly following the course of the River Bure as it winds its way to Belaugh. Now for the benefit of those from further afield, it is best to get some Norfolk pronunciations correct before we continue. Belaugh is pronounced Beelar, not Be-laugh or even Bleughhhh as is the want of the foreign tongue to these parts. It is no good wandering round proudly pronouncing one is off to Be-larfff because no-one will have the slightest idea what you are on about. So Beelar. Got it, then we shall continue.

Within minutes of starting the walk one encounters the remains of the Horstead corn mill. Up until 1963 this was one of the largest watermills in the county, being an impressive four storey building that straddled the river with two waterwheels driving a pair of mill stones. This mill was said to date from the 18th century although it is thought that a mill of some description had stood on this location since Saxon times. This all changed on 23rd January 1963 when a fire broke out within the premises which devastated the building leaving just the ruins that can be seen to this day.

The mill pond that is in front of the ruins, now the domain of anglers and canoeists, is said to be haunted by a girl who drowned herself in its waters. It is said she can be seen standing in the water although one may think that if she could stand in the water then she probably would not have drowned, just got a little wet. This is the scantiest of information and comes from a reference made on the Norfolk Broads users forum. Another forum, now long gone but still available through the Web Archive enlarges upon what may be the same story, stating that a ghostly figure originating from the 19th century can on occasion be seen standing in the mill pool bearing the figure of a servant girl who, after being abandoned by her lover, drowned herself in the pool.

The only reference to an actual drowning at this location during the 19th century, thus far been uncovered, is to be found on the Norfolk Mills Website which refers to the 17th September 1814 when an old couple by the names of Joseph Mitchell and his wife Mary, both aged 73, drowned. It is recorded in the Coroners Warrant that they were paupers and had came to their death casually and by misfortune.

The walk continues up away from the river, past the drive to Horstead House and then taking a track down to Horstead Heath. From this vantage point one can catch glimpses of the river as it winds its course away from the Rising Sun pub at Coltishall and on towards the hamlet of Belaugh. The track drops down to a sharp turn to the left which is a private driveway that leads to Dove House Farm. And here, in the middle of nowhere is a red post box mounted on a poll. Well how about that, a personal post box just for the farm.

A path now leads up through the woods towards what was presumably Heggatt Common although it is marked as The Heath on modern maps. The woodland on the left is thought to be the site of a medieval manor house that has long since gone, records showing it decayed before 1586. This area was forested around 1847 and is the old Horstead Heath although some have alluded to this being Belaugh Heath which is kind of strange since the village of Belaugh is on the opposite side of the river (source Norfolk Heritage. At the top end of the woods there is a gate on the left with a private track leading down to the river which I have been told once led to a pub although I can find no reference to such a building. There is also a reference to a Belaugh bridge in the legend Thomas Boleyn (see Bure River Walk although I can find no reference of such a bridge apart from in this legend. Mysteries, mysteries. Maybe there was a bridge over to a pub. Who knows. Lots of confusion here but maybe one day we can put some meat onto these bones of folklore.

As stated above, the area at the top of the path, beyond the track that leads into the tiny ancient hamlet of Heggatt is probably the location of Heggatt Common which is the setting of the legend of the Three Thumbed Miller which is dealt with in the main feature to this walk - see below. Heggatt has a 17th century manor house known as Heggatt Hall, a few houses and little else. One of the few references to the hamlet is contained in a 1836 publication, History, gazetteer, and directory, of Norfolk which states that it is also known as Haggard Street but even searching for this name results in no information. Heggatt, by all accounts, is an illusive place but even so, well worth visiting just for the walk. After all, this is a place one would never discover unless one took the trouble to wander down here.

This is far as we go, for now we take the quiet and picturesque country lane back down to Horstead Mill. However, rather than returning directly to the village, one can cross the mill stream and walk around to the lock and return back across Coltishall bridge.

Coltishall bridge
Coltishall bridge


A simple circular route to the south of Horstead

From the Recruiting Sergeant pub, cross the road and proceed down Mill road, a country lane with the river on the left hand side. Horstead is soon encountered where there are information boards both within the ruins and on the river bank.

Continue along Mill Road as it veers to the right and up a hill. At the top as the road straightens, there is a track on the left with a public footpath sign. Take this and follow this through a double bend and down to a point where it turns sharp left into a private driveway with a post box on the left.

At this point a footpath leads off to the right through the woodland. Follow this for 600 yards to where it meets another track at a T junction. Turn right onto this and follow the track through the private dwellings of Heggatt.

At the T junction turn right and follow the road past Heggatt Hall on the left, continuing all the way back down to where the route first took the track off the road. Continue down the hill to Horstead Mill and walk along the path through the ruins, turning sharp left at the end.

Keep straight ahead to the locks. Walk over the walkway and keep going straight ahead. The footpath soon brings one out onto the main road by the side of the bridge. Cross the road and use the footbridge to return to the start of the walk

Horstead Mill
Horstead Mill


Recruiting Sergeant, Horstead View in OS Mapnew window | View in Google Mapnew window

Image of pub
Norwich Road, Horstead

The pub dates from the 18th century although the present building is built around an earlier 16th century core. It is uncertain where the unusual name of the Recruiting Sergeant came from or indeed whether the pub has used this name throughout its history. These days this popular and award winning eatery is under the ownership of the Colchester Inns group. The pub keeps a regular list of cask ales from Adnams, Woodfordes and Greene King as well as offering a couple of guest ales.


A large pub that is tailored to eating but has a range of several ales to choose from. In this instance we tried a pint of Redwells ales. Now I thought these were craft brewers from Norwich but apparently not completely, as this 4.6 light ale attests. An enjoyable pint by all means

Horstead Heath
Horstead Heath


The Legend of the Three Thumbed MillerView in OS Mapnew window | View in Google Mapnew window

The Hidden East Anglia website draws attention to Christopher Marlowes 1927 publication entitled People and Places in Marshland where it recounts a local piece of folklore concerning Heggatt common. Marlowe states that on this common is an old tree with an attached legend that states a miller with three thumbs shall hold three kings' horses during the progress of a great battle - in the course of this fight nearly every man in the county will be killed

The web site goes on to place the location of the tree to a point on what is known as The Heath. Today this area is wooded so there is little chance of finding the specific tree mentioned. However the legend itself is of interest for it is a common tale that pops up in numerous locations throughout the country ranging from here in Norfolk to such diverse places as Warwick, Cheshire and even Scotland. The legend is said to have originated with a witch and prophetess by the name of Mother Shipton. A publication titled Mother Shipton Investigated by William Harrison includes a verbatim reprint of the prophesies which have been taken from the earliest existing record relating to Mother Shipton, namely a pamphlet that is dated 1641 and held by the British Museum. This includes the following lines (spelling as per the original):

There shall be a childe born in Pomfret with three thumbes, and those three Knights will give him three Horses to hold, while they win England, and all the Noble bloud shall be gone but one, and they shall carry him to Sheriffe Nutton's Castle, six miles from Yorke, and he shall dye there, and they shall choose there an Earle in the field, and hanging their Horses on a thorne,

Mother Shipton was said to have lived the early Tudor times, some stating her lifetime to be c. 1488–1561, although there is little evidence to deduce that she actually existed. Her real name was said to have been Ursula Southill, Sowthiel or Southiel and most accounts place her birth in Knaresborough, Yorkshire, which is location referred to in the one of the oldest references, from 1684, and titled The Life and Death of Mother Shipton.

The mention in the above extract of Pomfret, which is the Elizabethan name for Pontefract, and of York clearly puts the setting of the legend in Yorkshire. More modern accounts of the tale, particularly dealing with East Anglian folklore, appear to place her birth in Norfolk although there is little to deduce where these conclusions are drawn from other than the tale being retold in the locality.

It is interesting to note, that writing in 1849, Charles Muskett in his Norfolk Archaeology has a chapter referencing the tales given by Rev John Gunn, the vicar of Irstead parish. The chapter is titled Proverbs, Adages and Popular Superstitions and details many of these tales related by an old washerwoman from Irstead named Mrs Lubbock who herself had been told them as a child by her father. These tales include some alleged prophesies that Mrs Lubbock attested to have come from Mother Shipton and her sister Mother Bunch. Mother Bunch is another somewhat mythical character who was said to have lived in the west country but whose tales also appear to take on a local account.

This specific chapter does admit that, in reference to Mother Shiptons prophecies, there's scarcely a place in which her vaticinations are not known; and generally they have reference... to the immediate locality in which they are current.

As for this particular prophesy relating to the miller with three thumbs, the publication also notes that the tale may be a corruption from the prophesy of another prophet from Chester named Robert Nixon. It is unclear when Robert Nixon lived with various accounts placing his birth from the mid 1400's through to the 1600's. So, once again, we have another prophet who is somewhat mythical. Nixon's version of the prophecy states

A boy shall be born with three thumbs, and shall hold three kings' hoi'ses, while England shall three times be won and lost in one day

So what can we conclude from this. Certainly the tale, prophecy or whatever it may be, appears to have been attributed to multiple authors and to have attained a geographic reference particular to the locality in which it is being told. The oldest account thus far found is attributed to Mother Shipton, but as this woman, as well as Mother Bunch and Robert Nixon, have little evidence of their actual existence, we may conclude that this is ancient folklore that was passed down through the ages by word of mouth, its geographic extent also extending through the passage of time. Exactly what the legend is supposed to prophesy is unclear but there is no recorded account of a great battle in Norfolk where all the counties men have been slain. Maybe this is yet to come. Watch your backs, men of Norfolk!

Autumn colours
Autumn colours


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: 2019-11-26

2016-12-01 : Initial publication
2019-01-09 : General website updates
2019-11-26 : New responsive format


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