Landscape walks: Gaywood Valley
The Gaywood itself is a short river, just 13km (8 miles) in length, that rises from springs near Derby Fen before flowing westwards into the historic port of King’s Lynn, where it discharges into the Great Ouse (and subsequently into The Wash). Much of the river today has been channelled into a series of deep, straight drains, with some underground sections in urban King’s Lynn. As a result, the river is not familiar to many locals; at times it is rather cryptic, its course hard to follow. However, its influence and place in the landscape is much greater, bringing together an area that is rich in both wildlife and human history.
Gaywood River by Robin Stevenson
Red Mount by Robin Stevenson
King’s Lynn itself has been an important local centre for centuries. In the early medieval period, the town was already a bustling port, growing in stature as it traded with European merchants from the Hanseatic League (a Hanseatic warehouse still stands near the dockside today). The town’s prosperity grew again, on the back of grain exports, from the 17th century, but declined thereafter until a renaissance after the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century. After World War II it was designated a London Expansion Town and its population virtually doubled. Today, all of this rich history can be seen in the town’s impressive architecture including remnants of medieval walls, an impressive historical dockside area, and various important buildings.
Among this built environment are a surprising number of areas where wildlife connects with the town: these include The Walks, a 17-hectare green space in the heart of the town; Harding’s Pits, a wonderful wild space bordering the Great Ouse; and Reffley Wood, a remnant of ancient woodland on the eastern edge of the town complete with bluebells, primroses and veteran oak trees.
The Gaywood Valley is largely dominated by arable farming (around 2,900 hectares), though around 800 hectares are given over to grazing. Historically, farming would have been the main provider of employment for local villagers, and even today, it is an important source of jobs. Although a large proportion of the area’s traditional, mixed arable and livestock farms declined during the 20th century, with more intensive farming methods coming to the fore, many farmers in the valley today take advantage of grants that reward wildlife-friendly practices. As a result, in places farm wildlife like brown hares, skylarks and yellowhammers are commoner sights than in many arable areas of East Anglia.
The landscape of the Gaywood Valley is not, as many people like to think, flat. It is a gently rolling terrain, dotted with hedgerows, small copses and some larger areas of woodland. Its beating natural heart, however, is undoubtedly the heather-covered expanse of NWT Roydon Common and the adjacent NWT Grimston Warren. At the latter are reminders of the site’s Second World War history, with two strange quadrant towers (used for bombing practice) now uncovered, as the former conifer plantations have been cleared to allow the enlargement and restoration of the rare heathland habitat. From near the towers a fantastic panorama can be had across the whole Living Landscape towards King’s Lynn and The Wash and inland to Massingham Heath and beyond. The enigmatic ruins of St James’ Church can also be seen at nearby Bawsey, close to where NWT has recently acquired more land to enlarge this magical heathland wilderness.
There are countless quiet corners of the Gaywood Valley Living Landscape to explore, each of which offers different habitats and a range of wild plants and animals to look for. To get you started on your journey through your local landscape, here are four easy walks through some of the valley’s special places. We hope you enjoy them. Remember: stay safe and keep a look out for the area’s wonderful wildlife.
These walks were produced by Norfolk Wildlife Trust. A great deal of care has gone into the production of these walk routes, but the people involved in the design of these walks cannot accept any responsibility for the misinterpretation of the walk description or route condition, nor for any accidents resulting from this walk.
Show more +
Show less -