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New River Trails Launched

On the launch day for three new river trails exploring the heritage of Thetford, we joined the Mayor of Thetford for a guided walk.

The sun was shining and the grass was dotted with daisies and bluebells as we walked down to the river in Thetford. We were meeting at the Kiosk café in the centre of town, reluctantly resisting the urge to buy ice creams. This is the starting point for the Gold River Trail, the shortest of three new trails created in May. Thetford was looking its best in the sunshine for the launch and we were meeting the Mayor for a guided tour of the Gold Route. Councillor Stuart Wright, is not just Mayor of Thetford but was born and raised here. With his wealth of local knowledge and family stories about the town, he was the perfect person to lead the first group of walkers around this trail. So, Mayoral chains glinting in the sunshine and freshly printed maps in hand, we set off.

The first stop was the library, a valuable feature for the town today but also, housing a painting and small exhibition about one of the town’s most famous sons: Thomas Paine. Born and educated in Thetford in 1737, Paine went on to be an extremely influential political writer and, ultimately, created the initial draft of the US constitution.

Next, we made our way up to the market square in the town centre, next to the Guildhall. This used to be the major court house for the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, with all assizes taking place here for centuries before the building of a large gaol in Norwich prompted a change of location for East Anglian justice.

A wander down Kings Street brought us to St Cuthbert’s Church, a medieval church still in use today, and the ruins of St Giles’ Church which was a church as early as the 9th Century. At the end of this road is a gold statue of Thomas Paine just round the corner from the street he was born and, behind the statue, the grand façade of King’s House. The beautiful gardens of King’s House are open to the public and well worth a short diversion, as is the birthplace of Thomas Paine (now the Thomas Paine Hotel) and Ancient House Museum, just round the corner.

Nearby King’s House is the ancient St Peter’s church and Bell Inn – a site of historic scandal, famous visits and ghostly tales and, on from there we walked down to Town Bridge, crossing the Little Ouse river. As we turned back onto the riverside path to head back to the start, we passed the excellently life-like statue of Captain Mainwaring sitting on the bench. A celebration of Thetford’s more recent history as the filming location for the much-loved Dad’s Army television series. After a quick stop for a selfie with the Captain, we carried on to the most elaborate bridge in Thetford: the tri-bridge. This is a three-pronged bridge where the Thet and the Little Ouse meet and also the natural boundary between Norfolk and Suffolk.

Over the bridge, we head on to Thetford’s central island: Butten Island. Other than being a beautiful and unusual feature in the town, this island also hosts another impressive figure from Thetford’s past: a statue of the last Maharajah of the Punjab, Duleep Singh, who lived nearby after the Punjab was annexed.

The Singh family were hugely influential in the town and their legacy remains today in Ancient House museum and the Guildhall.

We crossed back over the river on the other side of the island and past the coffee mill with the water churning through the sluice beneath. This mill has had a multitude of uses over the years and is one of the five mills mentioned in the Domesday Book.

And there we were, back at the start. No matter how well we feel we know the history of Thetford, we always learn more when we take the time to look again at the details and are always fascinated by the utter wealth and variety of the town’s past.

Explore the River Trails

You can explore this walk too, or try one of the longer routes around the town. Each downloadable map also has a handy QR code you can scan which will tell you if there’s anything extra you can look out for on your route. See the maps on the Thetford Town Council website here: Thetford River Trails. Or, download each map below:

The Gold Route – Town Centre (1km/0.6 miles – 15 minute walk)

The Purple Route – West (1.4km/0.9 miles – 20 minute walk)

The Red Route – East (2.8km/1.7 miles – 45 minute walk)

These walking trails were designed and developed by Thetford Town Council, Breckland Council and the Brecks, Fen Edge and Rivers Landscape Partnership with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.