A pilgrimage to Walsingham and north Norfolk churches

Yesterday began in a little bit of a strange way. As I always do, I laid my clothes out the previous night so that when I awoke early, I could dress in the dark without anyone waking up. This time I had my only white top which I put on. After a while my shoulder itched so I rubbed it a few times over 5 minutes only to realise there was a lump there, presumably of some wool. I put my hand down my collar and pulled it out. To my surprise there was a dead spider and when I took it outdoors I saw that my beautiful white top was covered in spiders blood! What a way to start a day!

The word holiday derives from the term holy day and this part of Norfolk is full of churches. In centuries past the county became incredibly rich from the wool trade and so wealthy merchants would try to ease their conscience and further the glory of God by building the most incredible churches in very small villages. What really put Norfolk on the map religion wise occurred in a small village of Walshingham when in 1061, according to the Walsingham legend, a Saxon noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, had a vision of the Virgin Mary in which she was instructed to build a replica of the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth in honour of the Annunciation. Her family name does not appear in the Domesday Book. A number of further miracles occurred and soon Walsingham became not only a place of pilgrimage but the fourth most important in Christianity after Jerusalem, Rome and Canterbury.

Slipper Chapel

Slipper Chapel, so called as it is traditional for pilgrims to take off their shoes here and walk the final mile barefoot

Despite being a pious man for his early reign, King Henry VIII when he turned away from Rome, destroyed much of Walsingham despite his frequently visiting in the past. For a couple of centuries Walsingham remained quiet but about 150 years ago it enjoyed a revival and there are now both a Roman Catholic shrine and a Protestant/Anglican shrine as well as numerous churches in the village including an Orthodox one too.

A candle to remember the departed

There were dozens of candles all ready lit, my candle for my Mama is the one on the left.

We first visited the Catholic chapel of Slippers, we were lucky as it was very quiet and though not Catholic myself, I lit a candle in memory of my Mama who died nearly 6 months ago as I know she would have liked that. We then went up through the incredibly picturesque high street full of old timbered and Georgian buildings as well as tea rooms, pubs and religious orientated shops. Even by the standards of the area, Walsingham is an extremely beautiful and quiet village

Walsingham High Street

Walsingham High Street

.Next up we went to the Protestant Shrine which features the re-built shrine of the house of the family of Jesus. There was a packed out church service in the church so we had to return later to have a look around. There were lots of little shrines from a wide number if different churches from places such as Greece and Russia.

Shrine To Our Lady

Shrine To Our Lady

Before we left Walsingham, we went to an Orthodox Church, modelled on a Russian or Eastern European church but actually the building used to be a train station.

Walsingham Beacon

Beacons such as this cover the countryside and were lit at times of potential invasion or celebrations like the royal wedding between William and Kate

Walsingham also has a great farm shop with all sorts of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish and also a chocolate boutique which we visited too!

Church of St. Giles

Anglo Saxon church

Following a cup of tea and a biscuit in the car we then drove to an old Anglo-Saxon church nearby. This was to be the third of about ten churches we visited yesterday.


The puritans at the reformation scratched out the faces on these frescos and whit washed the walls to cover Catholic imagery.

Some of them were in great condition and full of treasures inside. Others were lonely and isolated and on the edge of ruin and looked like they had been for centuries. In one church we found some painting for sale of the local countryside. Seeing they were rather good and the church definitely needed the funds, we put some money in the box which we thought was fair for 2 paintings which we will take back to our home.

Poor church

This poor church is where we bought thr oil paintings, compare it to the magnificent church below

We went on the coastal road visiting churches for about 6 hours and of course all of the little villages we explored. Many of them still had little harbours and fishing boats with the nearby by shops selling freshly caught crabs, lobsters and fish. Sadly, I don’t really like any sort of fish, I just don’t like the taste. I know, it is my loss!

Blakeney Church

The glorious church at Blakeney

Towards the end of the day we found a unique and characterful gallery which as well as paintings sold second hand books and had a small cafe. I treated myself to a well-deserved pastry. Even though we were in a car, visiting so many churches is tiring especially as we don’t just visit them but explore the graveyard, read all the memorials inside and study the architecture and stained glass windows.

Windmill at Cley

This windmill sits next to a marsh. The sea here is retreating and now a mile or two out from the old harbour in the village

I lost count of the number of pretty villages that I would be quite happy living in just from todays tour alone, though I think it is around 35. The whole place is just so quiet and those few locals you meet are all friendly and happy and genuinely nice to interact with.

If anyone is interested in visiting Pilgrimage, then do contact me or send me an email through my tours company, Ye Olde England Tours which is linked to my blog.

Red village telephone box

Red village telephone box

Orthodox Church

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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9 Responses to A pilgrimage to Walsingham and north Norfolk churches

  1. Very interesting! Great pictures, too.


  2. Theresa says:

    I enjoyed this post and its pictures. Such a lovely thing to do – lighting a candle for your Mama; blessings to you and her soul…


  3. Dale says:

    Beautiful churches!


  4. gn0mel0ver says:

    First, what a way to start the day! Ugh! Shivers!

    Second, how can you not like fish? So, no tuna pie for you, eh? Just kidding. I know many people do not like fish. I used to be one of them (except tuna), but now I love it! Of course, I will not eat lobster or crab. And I despise shrimp. So, maybe I am not so into as I may think. ; )

    Thank you for sharing the lovely photos and history. Your trip is just magical!



  5. Beautiful photos, Stephen. So much history there to see and experience. Thanks for taking me there with your post.


  6. john dearsley says:

    Hi, my family all came from Norfolk, Hilgay, Ten mile bank area, church & chapel & shops on station rd! I was born towards the end of the war, when we had moved to Coventry – I later emigrated to Aust. On visiting relatives (sadly only a few) I realize how much is being lost to “progress” even allowing for modernisation and the land grab for housing. I digress great memories & photos.
    cheers John

    Liked by 1 person

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