From David Attenborough to Bear Grylls, Britain has given us some pretty inspirational wildlife warriors over the years. While John Henniker-Major isn’t quite as well-known as some of his peers, he’s considered a local hero in Suffolk for his role in spearheading the famous Thornham Walks. Featuring more than 12 miles of waymarked footpaths, the walks meander across Thornham Estate and take in some of Suffolk’s most beautiful parklands, woodlands, farmlands and villages. Read on for our definitive list of Thornham Walks for 2021.
“I had always felt that because I was lucky enough to come into ownership of a lovely place like this, I owed a duty to other people. I felt as far as I could, I ought to try and share it with people.” – John Henniker-Major, founder of Thornham Walks
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Getting to Know Thornham Estate
Nestled in the valley of the River Dove, Thornham Estate sprawls across 2000 acres and has been owned by the Henniker-Major family for more than 250 years. The estate’s vast footprint features a variety of different habitats, ranging from ancient woodlands to rolling farmland.
The Henniker-Majors continue to reside at Thornham Hall, though unlike many other estate owners they take a keen interest not only in running the estate, but in sharing it with the local community. Nothing captures the spirit of the estate better than Thornham Walks, the 12-mile network of trails that criss-crosses the parklands. Thanks to John, Thornham Estate is open for all to enjoy. The UK is by no means a huge country so it’s great to see landowners making such an effort to stay inclusive and ensure Suffolk stays open to everyone.
Heading to Thornham Estate? We’ve put together a quick-reference guide covering all the best Thornham Walks routes, as well as some hidden (and not so hidden) gems in and around the local area. Lace up your boots, because as well as the 12 miles of Thornham Walks trails we’ve thrown in some wildcards like the legendary Suffolk Coast Path and some great little rambles in nearby Thetford Forest Park.
The Folly at Thornham Estate
Restored by the 8th Lord Henniker in 2000, The Folly recalls the estate’s Victorian heyday. The building is one of the last remaining features of the formal Victorian gardens and served as a genteel summerhouse where aristocrats could sit, gossip and enjoy the gardens. Want to know more about the rich history and heritage of Thornham Estate? The Centre is the first point of call for most visitors and features some great permanent displays on the estate, as well as information on walking trails.
The Pets’ Cemetery at Thornham Estate
From hunting horses to beloved dogs, the Pets’ Cemetery is the final resting place for animals owned by the Henniker-Major family. The stroll is short but enjoyable, taking you under the branches of ancient oak trees. As you wander around the cemetery look for some of the more noticeable tombstones, like Mahuta the might warhorse who served in the Egyptian Campaign in the 1800s and a black Alsatian named Dracula.
The Walled Garden at Thornham Estate
Once maintained by a team of nine gardeners, the Walled Garden was the pride and joy of Thornham Estate in the 19th century. While it fell into disrepair in the 1900s, it’s recently undergone a transformation and is now an enchanting oasis filled with herbs and flowers.
This walk is particularly special as the Walled Garden moonlights as headquarters for Beyond the Wall, a charity initiative founded to support disadvantaged youth with behavioural problems and disabilities. There’s even a small seasonal produce and plant stall where you can pick up goodies for your kitchen and your garden. Profits are channelled back into Beyond the Wall, a great excuse to make a purchase if you’re on the fence.
Memory Wood at Thornham Estate
Whether you’re visiting a tree that was planted to commemorate the life of a loved one or are simply enjoying a walk through the woodlands, Memory Wood is definitely worth a visit. As well as towering giants, you’ll also see plenty of young trees and saplings planted as part of the estate’s memorial program. Wondering what the woodlands look like after dark? The Visitor Centre runs some excellent guided walks, including a woodland night safari. Armed with a torch, you’ll prowl the woodlands in search of owls and other nocturnal creatures.
The Nuttery at Thornham Estate
A popular addition to country estates, The Nuttery was once filled with trees laden with chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts. Today many of the trees remain and offer a glimpse of what life was like when you couldn’t simply pop into Tesco to pick up a packet of trail mix.
The Nuttery isn’t the only source of food on the estate, with guided foraging walks unlocking a new perspective on wild-grown grub. From nuts and berries to herbs and mushrooms, it really is incredible how many edible plants you’ll find in the UK. We love these walks as they not only offer insight into what’s edible on Thornham Estate but also what you can forage across Suffolk. Trust us, once you get into wild foraging you’ll be hooked!
The Pinetum at Thornham Estate
Planted by the 8th Lord Henniker himself, The Pinetum showcases a variety of conifer species – pines, junipers, cypresses, firs and spruce to name a few. The grass that grows under the conifers is also important, serving as a habitat for native wildflowers. In spring the ground is carpeted in colourful buttercups, thistles and spotted orchids.
The Bird Hide at Thornham Estate
Thornham’s 2000-acre footprint is a sanctuary for native birds and this walk is one of your best chances to spot species like the great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, sparrowhawk and chaffinch. Tucked away in the bird hide, you could also see a variety of tits, as well as robins and pheasants.
The Butterfly Ride at Thornham Estate
Open in the summer months, The Butterfly Ride takes you through one of the estate’s most insect-friendly pockets. There are plenty of species to identify, including the Peacock with its bright orange wings and shimmering blue eyespots, the Purple Hairstreak with dark wings and a bold splash of colour, and the humble but beautiful Meadow Brown.
The Water Meadows at Thornham Estate
Submerged for much of the year, The Water Meadows are an important habitat for wading birds and wildfowl. Keep an eye out for kingfishers nesting on the banks of the river. If you’re lucky you might also spot an otter or two.
What we really like about the Thornham Walks is how easy it is to tailor your experience at the estate. If you’re walking with young kids or elderly grandparents, keep things simple with a short stroll. Similarly, if you’re looking to work up a sweat and get your heart rate up, pack a water bottle and complete all 12 miles. Even if you’re training for a long-distance backpacking trip or a marathon, the Thornham Walks can tick your boxes.
Staying at Thornham Estate
It’s not everyday you find a property as special as Thornham Hall. The boutique B&B occupies a beautifully restored manor house and treats you to comfortable rooms that are perfect for unwinding after a day on the trails. All rooms command sweeping views over the formal gardens and parkland, making it a dream getaway for nature lovers. Waking up to views of those 600-year-old oak trees is really quite a treat. Best of all, you’re literally steps from the Thornham Walks. Start your day right with a homecooked breakfast of smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and fresh fruit.
Thetford Forest Park
Looking for something a little different? Thetford Forest Park is a 30-minute drive north-west of Thornham Estate and is a great opportunity to explore one of the largest lowland pine forests in the UK. The park straddles the Suffolk/Norfolk border and immerses you in a wonderland of pines, broadleaves and heathland. With some 18,700 hectares to explore, the park is a great place to stretch your legs.
The 1.5-mile Green Walk at Great Hockham is a family favourite, taking you under a canopy of towering Corsican and Scots pines, with a few mature oaks thrown in for good measure. At 2.6 miles the Heritage Trail is slightly longer and takes you on a circular loop of the recreational site. If you’re looking to escape the crowds the three-mile Fir Trail is a good bet, taking you into some of the quieter and more peaceful areas of the park. The three-mile-long Beech Trail branches off the Fir Trail and winds through Risbeth Woods before passing by centuries-old Thetford Warren Lodge built in the 1400s. Linking the Fir and the Beech Trails together takes your total distance up to six miles, a good little jaunt if you’re looking to burn calories or tire out a frisky pup.
Suffolk Coast Path
Stretching for 60 miles from Lowestoft to Felixstowe, the Suffolk Coast Path is one of Britain’s iconic long-distance trails. It takes in some of the most stunning scenery in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB, ranging from deserted beaches and windswept heathland to postcard-perfect villages and lively seaside towns. Don’t miss the adorable village of Snape, which has recently enjoyed a revival as a cultural hot spot. The Snape Maltings arts complex features a constellation of Victorian-era buildings that have been reimagined as trendy shops and cafes. If you’re looking to refuel with a good cup of coffee and a fresh-baked pastry, this is the place to be.
Crossing the Butley Ferry is another highlight, with the service punting people across the river since the 16th century. A couple of pounds buys you a crossing on the Butley Ferry, with the boat reserved exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists. When you see how tiny it is you’ll understand why. Whether you’re competing the entire path or walking the Suffolk Coast Path in sections, be sure to follow the Countryside Code while you walk – protecting our landscapes should always be a top priority! If you’re not familiar with the code, read up on the guidelines here.
At just under 60 miles long, the Sandlings Walk takes you through forests, flatlands andsfen wetlands. The trail starts just east of Ipswich, meandering across the county and up to Southwold on the Suffolk Coast. It’s another signature British walk and can be completed at any time of the year, though of course summer offers your best chances of sunshine.
The Ipswich to Melton section is a great introduction to the trail, taking you across Rushmere Heath before descending down to Martlesham Creek. From here, you’ll follow the riverside path to the historic market town of Woodbridge. Down by the quay there’s a great little pub called The Anchor. Take your pick from the impressive ale list, then head outside to the courtyard garden to enjoy the sunshine before setting off for Melton. Low ceilings, wooden furniture and a cosy open fireplace give The Coach and Horses a real country feel. They do a pretty darn good steak and ale pudding if you’re hoping to refuel after a long day on the trails.
AONB Pub Walks
Brits love their pubs and Suffolk is no exception. If you like to combine business with pleasure, the AONB Pub Walks near Thornham will be right up your alley. The Inn-to-Inn Trail between The Ship at Dunwich and the Westleton Crown in Westleton. Not only is this 8.5-mile trail a great chance to enjoy the wild and rugged natural beauty of the Suffolk Coast, it also earns you a guilt-free pint or two. Thirsty? The Adnams iFootpath walk takes in no less than 15 pubs, so you might want to pick a few of your favourites before setting off. You can make this route as long or short as you like, with scenery ranging from dramatic clifftops and sandy beaches to flower-filled country lanes and emerald green meadows. Discover Suffolk has also put together a cheeky pub-hopping trail spotlighting some of the best watering holes along the Suffolk Coast.
Still unsatiated and want to explore further? Our walking guides cover all areas of the UK and are essential for the beginner and veteran walker alike. Check out the full list here.