This peaceful route passes between the sleepy villages of Leziate and Ashwicken, where a history of industrial sand extraction has left the area with a series of artificial lakes. What it may lack in facilities the walk more than makes up for in rural charm.
'Vestiges of Villages'
Medieval villages in north-west Norfolk were vibrant places. People relied on land and livestock for their everyday needs, and they were busy all year round, sowing seeds, harvesting produce, rearing animals and rejoicing during festivals. However, major changes in farming practices during the Tudor period had a dramatic and detrimental effect on this landscape of agriculture, with many communities disappearing completely around this time.
Holt House is the only reminder that the village of Holt, near Leziate, ever existed. Holt became depopulated after Thomas Thursby, a local landowner, enclosed the traditional open field system to create pasture for his sheep. Enclosure involved fencing off areas previously used as common land, meaning that villagers could no longer use these areas to graze their own livestock.
Wool production was very profitable in the medieval period and many arable fields were also converted to provide grazing areas for flocks. Conversion of arable land to pasture drastically reduced the workforce needed on farms. Faced with the twin pressures of lack of land and livelihood, the villagers of Holt had little choice but to leave their homes and search for employment elsewhere.
Thomas Thursby was also a major landowner around Glosthorpe. A search for Glosthorpe on modern maps would be in vain; all that remains are cropmarks outline the layout of the erstwhile village in nearby fields to the south-west of All Saints’ Church.
Once the original core of the community of Ashwicken, All Saints’ Church now stands alone among fields. It is home to several ancient memorial slabs. Commemorated here, for example, is John Drury, a gentleman who resided at Holt House until his death in 1653.
The Leziate Circular Walk passes from a landscape pock-marked by modern sand quarries around Leziate – some of which have become lakes – into countryside still dominated by farmland. The populations of both Leziate and Ashwicken since the medieval period, but unlike some of their neighbours, they have not vanished entirely. They are now united into a single parish. All Saint’s Church is on the route and is usually open to visitors during the day.