Welcome to the Brecks Earth Heritage Trail - 90 million years of geological history
These links take you to an abridged version of the Norfolk Historic Environment Record database online.
The Norfolk HER is the definitive database of the county’s archaeological sites and historic buildings. It contains over 60,000 records describing the archaeology of Norfolk from the earliest evidence for human occupation from 750,000 BC up to the present day.
These links take you to the online Historic Environment Record for Suffolk where you can discover more about Suffolk’s rich archaeological heritage, with over 40,000 sites recorded across the county, from palaeolithic flint tools to medieval manors to Cold War military and much more.
Rebellion! The Celtic tribe of the Iceni had their homeland in the Brecks 2,000 years ago. Gallows Hill in Thetford was a very important Iceni ceremonial site. It is believed that Queen Boudicca rode out in her chariot from here, to challenge Roman rule.
The Brecks was the flint capital of Britain. Look almost anywhere on the ground surface, or at the buildings, especially churches and older houses – and you will see flint. It has played a major part in the history and landscape of the area.
Flint has been dug out for centuries at sites such as Grimes Graves for prehistoric tools, and Brandon for flintlock guns and decorative building stone.
The mines at Grimes Graves appear as shallow depressions in an area of heathland covering about 91 acres / 37 ha. There are over seven hundred pits, dating from 2,800 to 2,000 BC.
Rabbits seem to have always been part of the landscape, but they were introduced by the Normans in the twelfth century. Farmed for their meat and fur, they had to be carefully nurtured in special enclosures called warrens. The largest concentration of warrens in Britain was in the Brecks, where the dry, sandy soil was easy for making burrows.
During the 16th and 17th Century over 26 warrens covered the high ground from Mildenhall through to Thetford. Fur processing factories were established in Brandon and annual output from some warrens exceeded 20,000 animals with meat going to London, Cambridge colleges and local markets.
The warrener was one of the highest paid manorial officials, reflecting the value placed on the skilled management of the warren. The high value of rabbit meat and fur necessitated fortified warrens on the highest ground where the warrener (and his family) lived and protected his rabbits (even helped them dig burrows). The ruins of Thetford and Mildenhall Warren Lodges survive as evocative examples.
The evocative ruins of Thetford priory and Castle Acre priory are worthy of an explore. Both were built by Cluniac (from Cluny, France) monks shortly after the Battle of Hastings.
Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense and The American Crisis and Rights of Man was born in Thetford and attended the Grammar School. He went on to write The Age of Reason and introduced the concept of a minimum wage.
Thetford forest is the largest lowland pine forest in Britain. It was started in the 1920s as a strategic timber reserve. It is now home to endangered wildlife such as red squirrel, woodlark and nightjar.
Belts of twisted Scots pines can be seen crossing the Brecks. They were once windbreaks hedges planted to stop the precious topsoil blowing away.