A CIRCULAR WALK TO & FROM BAWDESWELL HEATH

Approx distance:  6 miles                                                                 Approx time:  2 hours

Highlights:   Fine rural views, attractive bridleway across part of the old common, Bawdeswell Heath with its heather, bracken and fine trees for climbing and swinging on. A short but invigorating walk.

Head for Foxley past the school and along the pavement past the Old Rectory on your left, and old police house on your right.  Cross over  the by-pass at the traffic island with care and turn left into Foxley West. A couple of hundred yards on at the crossroads turn left down Mill Lane.  The house on the corner was once the Dog  Inn and the main road to Fakenham passed this way.   

Going down Mill Lane you can see a grand Georgian house over to your right.  This is Foxley Lodge, built originally as the Rectory. After a while  there is a large modern house on the right with a big pond.           . 
Foxley’s plane crash.  At 11.30am on 5th July 1944 two B-24 Liberators collided over Foxley.  A total of 11 crewmen died.  Four managed to bale out from  the first aircraft. There were three survivors from the second aircraft and it crashed and burnt up on the outskirts of Foxley. 

The road suddenly turns left through ninety degrees. The first plane is thought to have come down 50yds North of this bend.  Old maps indicate this was once a crossroads.  If you look to the right towards the distant water tower, the hedgerow and tree line certainly looks like an old boundary.  It is in a straight line with the Foulsham Road.
Straight on across the fields is Beck Hall, a very old moated house. It once gave help to exhausted and sick  Walsingham pilgrims.

Continuing left towards the Billingford Road you pass Mill House which is built on to a former windmill.

The busy main road is on the line of  the Roman Road. It ran from Durobrivae  near Peterborough, across the Fen Causeway to Denver, followed Fincham Drove and crossed Peddar's Way between Castle Acre and Swaffham, thence towards North Elmham and Billingford, to Bawdeswell and Jordans Green, and on to Smallburgh.         It was a major East-West route and possibly continued to Caister or an important port since eroded by the sea. 


ROMAN ROADS IN EASTERN ENGLAND

Crossing over this road to the lay-by you enter a delightful bridleway leading to Bawdeswell Heath.  This area was part of Bawdeswell Common before the Enclosure Act of 1808. An old strip-field system lay either side of the lane. Occasional crop marks indicate an earlier branch off the Roman Road heading south-eastwards in the direction of the Wensum valley.
Suggestion is it followed the northern boundary of Bawdeswell Heath and Bylaugh Wood and continued via Sparham Hole,

The entrance to the Heath at the bottom of the bridleway is very pretty.  Once through the gate you can turn left or right and follow numerous paths round the perimeter through the bracken and trees, or carry straight on and cross over the middle to the Dereham Road.The centre section is very undulating, the result of small scale gravel extraction in earlier times.  There is abundant heather, small oak trees, bracken and larger trees ideal for climbing and swinging on.  It is in fact a very fine picnic spot, but you are more likely to find dog walkers and horse riders, or just find you have the place to yourselves. 

BMX and motorcycle riders have caused consternation by damaging some of the paths and creating jumps, but they are discouraged.Bawdeswell Heath 

Up to two hundred years ago the village lay in the middle of a large Common stretching from Billingford in the West and nearly half-way to Reepham in the East.  The old Roman Road, known as Common Lane, ran right down the middle of it.  In the year 1808 a private Act of Parliament caused the enclosure of the Common Land around Bawdeswell, resulting in the gathering up of arable land into very few hands. 
This had been happening everywhere for some years as farming methods were changing from strip-farming to field farming - due to the modern methods being introduced by people like Thomas Coke of Holkham and Townsend of Raynham, and the urgent need to grow more food  for the rising population. 
In 1808 provision was made to set aside two acres for gravel and 35 acres of woodland 'for the poor' - this is the Bawdeswell Heath we know.  Inevitably the poor suffered from the loss of their grazing rights and land, which they were compensated for - enough for a month-long binge at the Bell Inn, cynics  say! 

Today Bawdeswell Heath Trust , a local group of volunteers, look after the Heath.  They  carry out conservation work to maintain it and restore parts of it that have become overgrown.  This involves, amongst other measures, clearing bracken and small trees and replanting heather.
An aerial photograph taken in 1947 indicates an open Heath with very few trees indeed.  It is amazing that in the space of a generation it has become so overgrown.

The route back to Bawdeswell unfortunately is on the main road – so walk in single file.  There is a way across Bylaugh Wood to the much quieter Elsing Lane but this is private land.  Due to the fact that it is leased out to a third party, it is not possible for the moment to create a Permissive Path that way.

The long brick wall along the main road, broken in places,  was built around the Bylaugh Estate to use up the money that had been left for the sole purpose of building the Hall.

You pass the remnants of three or four earlier tracks off to your right.  Shortly after the Bawdeswell Lodge and the Shooting Box, there is a gated shady pathway.  Was this the route of the lost Roman Road said to run along the border of the Heath and Bylaugh Estate, to Sparham Hole and beyond?    Next there is The Drift with quite a collection of secluded dwellings of some age.   On your left you pass a sewerage pumping station, taking all the fouls drainage of Bawdeswell and Foxley to the sewerage works next to Bylaugh church.  The next track, Leed’s Drift,  went right through to Elsing Lane but has been ploughed up in recent times.  The last lane on your right, just before the by-pass is Jott’s Lane.  There is a footpath here leading on to Elsing Lane, but it is too late to be of any use to us. 

Cross the main road and proceed through the gap to the Old Dereham Road and Adam's Pit Nature Reserve and you are nearly home.
 
 

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