Strolling through the story of a stunning coastal setting
Set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the gorgeous village of Blakeney is the perfect place for a meander. A marvellous new trail details its medieval past, port and buildings for all to admire...
Boasting charming flint cottages, captivating coastal vistas, and an astounding array of wildlife, Blakeney is one of North Norfolk’s most magical destinations. The picturesque village is adored by residents and greatly admired by visitors, with its incredible sunsets and sparkling expanse of saltmarsh drawing in holidaymakers, artists and writers throughout the seasons.
Famed for being home to England’s largest grey seal colony, Blakeney is best known for its natural beauty and tranquility. However, although now largely a tourist village, it also holds a remarkably rich history. With everything from fascinating folklore and striking buildings to tales of trade, piracy and smuggling, there’s more to Blakeney than meets the eye. It’s an enchanting location with a story to tell and, with a new heritage trail launched by the Glaven Valley Arts Society earlier this year, there couldn’t be a better time to explore the village’s extraordinary past.
Set up in 1989, the Glaven Valley Arts Society aims to enrich people’s lives and unite those with similar interests. They are affiliated with the national arts education charity the Arts Society and have around 220 members, who enjoy a wealth of engaging talks and events throughout the year.
As well as organising functions to benefit members, the society takes pride in providing volunteer activities to benefit a wider audience. “We’re excited to have created our third route in a series of ‘Trails of Discovery’, which are walking trails designed to uncover facts about North Norfolk and bring the colourful history of the area to life,” says treasurer Maggie Williams. “Since forming in 2019, our six-strong trails team has detailed the wonders of the fascinating parish churches of Cley and Glandford. There are many more amazing churches in North Norfolk, but we welcomed the challenge of devising a new walking route for our next project and began to research Blakeney.”
Suitable for all ages, the trail has been carefully designed to showcase the history and delights of the pretty coastal village through 14 significant locations.
Blakeney was an important fishing centre in medieval times and one of England’s most prosperous commercial ports, hosting an annual fair and even supplying produce to the tables of royalty.
“Boats sailed from Blakeney to the waters of Iceland as long ago as the 1400s to catch and salt fish, using salt from nearby Salthouse, to be brought back in the autumn and sold,” says Maggie. “The port declined with the coming of the railways and silting on the estuary, but it’s left a lasting mark on the local landscape. Blakeney sailors had to contend with piracy and warfare as well as the hazards of the sea, and much evidence of this can be seen in the village today.”
One example is an intriguing earthwork known as Mariners Hill, a key point of interest on the trail. The large mound is thought to have been man-made to provide a good vantage point for boats (and possibly pirates) sailing in and out of the port. It’s likely the hill was also used for defence due to its prime position overlooking the channel, and cannon balls found during excavations of the site support this theory.
Situated just below Mariners Hill, Blakeney Guildhall is another notable reminder of the village’s prosperous past. Owned by English Heritage, this enthralling Scheduled Monument features a fine brick-vaulted undercroft and is thought to be the remains of the house of a wealthy local merchant. Dating from the 14th century, the building became home to Blakeney’s Guild of Fish Merchants around 1516 and subsequently served a surprising variety of purposes. A 1682 map depicts the Guildhall with a castellated upper storey, which may have been used as an inn before it fell into disrepair. The surviving undercroft was mainly used for storage over the years, holding cargo, grain, coal, fishing bait and even the bodies of shipwrecked sailors during the First World War.
Other highlights of the Blakeney trail include the atmospheric harbour and quay, a delightful conservation duck pond, a historic pub containing a hidden ‘smuggler’s tunnel’ and the mysterious legend surrounding the village sign.
“The route may be less than a mile long, but it enables you to explore centuries of history,” says Maggie. “Our trails have been carefully crafted to provide people with an opportunity to learn about the heritage, art, architecture, culture and character of their area. They are great fun for individuals and families, young and old. It’s amazing what we’ve managed to discover and we’re thrilled to be sharing our research with others in such a special way.”
You can download a copy of the walk from the Arts Society website or by scanning the QR code on the dedicated notice board in the car park at Blakeney Village Hall. For more information on trails or joining the society please visit www.theartssocietyglavenvalley.org.uk