These articles on Three Walks around Framingham Earl were written by my late sister Margaret Mason in 2006. She was secretary of Framingham Earl Parish Council for ten years following her retirement from teaching at Hethersett Old Hall School. She lived just opposite Poringland wood for over 60 years, so she knew the area very well.
THREE SHORT WALKS.
Many years ago, before there was a parish of Framingham Earl; when the celtic tribe the Iceni resided in the area; when the tribal capital of Venta Icenorum a mile or so away in Caistor was occupied and the Roman Road of Pye Street ran eastwards from there, someone lost his thumb ring. Dated between 300 and 350 AD it is inscribed “FIES CNSTANI” which has been translated as “LOYALTY TO THE EMPEROR” This was found on heathland later to be identified as Poringland Heath next to our area in 1820; “near windmill and Stone Street” so probably where the roundabout now stands. This ring is kept in the Norwich Castle Museum in the Boudica Gallery.
PART ONE PORINGLAND WOOD
This walk starts in Pigot Lane. Notice, as you leave the car park, the mistletoe growing on the hawthorn tree. You may be able to see why it was called the ‘golden bough’ in celtic times.
Walking towards the roundabout you pass the only public house in the village, The Railway Tavern. It is probable that the railway referred to was a small works railway used when the ground on the hill-top was used for gravel extraction. In the 1940s Mr Blanchflower, the licensee, had a trotting pony which lived in a field there, which is now the car park.
Going down the hill to the north you pass the shop and Post Office. On the village green is the village sign. This shows the ‘EARL’ after whom the village is named and refers to the Earl of Roseberry who was the principal landowner. The post of the village sign has a plaque on the south side to Christopher Alston who served on the parish council for 52 years. On the opposite side you will find another plaque which commemorates the visit of the Bishop of Thetford in February 1976 for the unveiling of the sign. There is also a small rose garden, underplanted with crocuses in memory of Mildred Davies and a seat provided by the parish council to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
Further down hill, to the same side of the road is the campus of Framingham Earl High School, built in 1958. The school has had several extensions and changes. In 2002 it was awarded the status of Specialist Sport College. In 2005 the Sports Hall, the new building closest to the road, was built with facilities to be shared with the community.
Poringland Wood is the next place of interest. Although named for the adjoining parish of Poringland it stands in the parishes of Framingham Earl and Framingham Pigot. Entering the car park of the 10 hectares of wood and grassland you will find a map showing the pathways and some of the wildlife to be seen. This woodland belongs to the Crown Point Estate but is open for public enjoyment and is managed by South Norfolk District Council. There is wheelchair access as far as the meadow known as Sleepers Corner where two benches have been placed. Other pathways can be muddy.
Among the trees you will see oak, sycamore, beech, ash, Spanish chestnut, rowan, birch, Scots pine and larch. There are also some rhododendrons which are being carefully managed to prevent them crowding out native trees. Look at the ragwort in the meadow; as a poisonous herb to grazing animals it counts as a noxious weed, but in summer you will see hoards of stripy cinnabar moth caterpillars feasting on it. You may find the pretty little common centaury flower in the meadow. There is ‘fox and cubs’ (another flower) and you may also see an orchid in season.
PART TWO THE DELL
From the car park opposite the Methodist church walk down Pigot Lane; you will see on the left (the north side) a tree protected by railings. This is a black walnut planted by the Parish Council to commemorate the Queen’s coronation. It is an historic but not a very healthy tree. [The black walnut is a native tree of North America.]
You will enter the adjoining parish of Framingham Pigot (originally both parishes were one, known by the same name as the Earl’s Suffolk property in ‘Framlingham’). You are now in the area planted with trees by Dr Rigb who was resident in the parish from 1786 until his death in 1821, although many suffered in the 1987 gale and replanting since then has not taken place.
Turning right into Spur Lane you have a woodland arboretum to you left and uncultivated former woodland to your right. There is a wealth of natural history on all sides. After walking 200 yards or so in Framingham Pigot you cross back into Framingham Earl. At the roadside there are violets in the spring, some soaring Scots pines, mature oaks and beech trees and some ash saplings planted there by Christopher Alston.* Muntjac deer are often seen here, and I have found a stoat and a grass snake (both run over). Woodpeckers drumming and the distinctive call of the jay may be heard and with quiet attention these birds can also be seen.
As you approach the end of Spur Lane you will see the driveway to Framingham Chase. The neo-Georgian house was built just before the Great War in 1912. The house was demolished in the 1970s, but the grounds are cared for as an arboretum, carrying on Dr Rigby’s good work of turning bleak heathland into woodland.
As you turn back to Long Lane you pass dense rhododendrons to the right. These cover the site of the huts where the RAF personnel were housed while stationed at the Radar Station about a mile further along in Stoke. The picture shows RAF personnel posing for a picture at the gateway to the Framingham Earl camp. Some of the airmen were asked by Mrs Colman who lived at the Chase to help with the harvest. As a thank-you they were invited to tea at her house in Spur Lane.
At the top of the hill is the old school on the main road through Poringland. It was always known as Poringland School although in fact it stands in Framingham Earl. It was built in 1840 and extended several times, with some accommodation for meals being built by the water tower in Long Lane after the war. This changed its name from Elementary to County Primary School before being abandoned an a new school being built in Poringland in the 1960s. Since then the old school has had a chequered history but is enjoying some success as a conference centre (the Nightingale Centre).
Finally you come back to the Methodist church but first let us examine The Dell. Originally dug out for gravel it used to cover a larger area before the B 1332 was re-profiles and the roundabout was built. It was formerly known as the pit and there was another pit on the other side of road next to the garage. When the Council took over this, the largest of the pits it was renamed The Dell. An interpretive board was put up. Eight bird boxes were erected and the area is maintained as local amenity by the Norwich Fringe Project and the Parish Council.
The magnificent oak with exposed roots (known to the young as the Spider Tree) stands centrally, with a path above accessible by steps. There are some spindle trees by the top railings. Can you see all the bird boxes? They have all been used by nesting birds; one which fell down was taken over by a colony of hornets, and these had to be dealt with before the box was re-sited. The board which was illustrated by High School pupils shows the flora and fauna, but you must seek out the bird boxes for yourselves!
*Note of autumn 2012. These ash saplings are now at risk from Ash die back fungal disease.
PART THREE PRIMROSE WOOD
FRAMINGHAM EARL CHURCH. From the Methodist car park access Long Road which is across the Dell. Pass the old school and continue down Long Road. The site of the old RAF camp was to the left before reaching Spur Lane (see walk two). Past Spur Lane on the left an behind the hedge is Framinghan Earl Old Hall and park. This is an 18th century house with porch added mid-19th century. This was the country home of much respected Dr Rigby who died in 1821. He was a great benefactor as by planting many trees he turned the bleak heath into a pleasant wood. The artist John Crome was employed by Dr Rigby as an errand boy in his youth. His painting of the Poringland Oak was the inspiration behind the Poringland village sign. We know that Crome lodged at Dr Rigby’s town house at St Giles Street in Norwich. Both the parkland and house are mostly hidden by those trees, although in the winter glimpses may be seen through the hedge.
Turn left into Hall Road at the T junction, then right into Yelverton Road, and you will see St Andrew’s church to your right. Should you visit on a Saturday morning you will find the church open (ten till noon in summer, eleven till noon winter). It is a small church but well cared for and interesting. The chancel is the only remaining part of the Saxon church. There are two 15th century stained glass figures of St Catherine and St Margaret. In the churchyard to the east of the church in Dr Rigby’s rectangular tomb, with this poem to his memory etched on top: “A monument to Rigby do you seek? On every side the whispering woodlands speak.”
Continuing past the church lych gate down Yelverton Road you will soon see a footpath on you left. This goes by a field with a typical hedgerow on you right. This contains an oak, ash and thorn much as is mentioned by Kipling in Puck of Pook’s Hill. There is a seat placed here by the Parish Council in honour of Christopher Alston, a long serving councillor and Chairman for many years. A good footbridge takes you into Gull Lane. Turning left you will see on the wide grass verges a variety of wild flowers in season. Amongst the fauna along here I have seen a holly blue butterfly; jays and grey squirrels are also present. The hedge contains wild rose (eglantine), hawthorn, rowan and plenty of blackberry brambles of course.
A short distance along this lane and approached from the field’s edge you will find the entrance to Primrose Wood. A small but clear map on a sign shows the extent of the public’s access to this wood. At most times of the year you will need robust footwear, as the terrain is very damp. As the name suggests there is a wealth of primroses in the spring, followed by marsh orchids. The path rejoins Gull Lane; from there you retrace your steps and Long Road will take you back to the Methodist church and the car park.