Thornham sits in the quintessential north-west Norfolk landscape of saltmarsh and sand flats. This route offers rich history and a vast, natural remoteness without straying too far from the comforts of cafés and pubs that offer the very best in local produce.
'Timber, Iron and Coal'
Two characters from Thornham’s past represent the resourceful and resilient coastal communities of north-west Norfolk. One was a coal merchant, Nathaniel Woods, the other was Mrs Edith Ames Lyde, the Lady of the Manor.
Nathaniel Woods was trading in the area at the end of the nineteenth and the start of the twentieth century. He was among the last in a long line of traders to use the port at Thornham. Documents from the 1500s for example record three ships making regular journeys between Thornham and Newcastle, arriving laden with coal and leaving with cargoes of grain. Woods and his ship, the Jessie Mary, made their final voyage in 1914.
Thornham Circular walk takes a route past the Orange Tree and alongside All Saints’ Church, where a lych-gate is dedicated to Nathaniel Woods and his ship. It also passes the original coal barn used by Woods, which still stands as an iconic landmark.
A spur from the main route leads to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Holme-next-the-Sea. Here the excavation of Seahenge, a Bronze Age timber circle, gained nationwide attention in the late 1990s. There are no remains of the monument on the beach. Timbers from the original structure can be seen at Lynn Museum in King’s Lynn.
'Seahenge and its Sisiter'
In 2049 BC people living in west Norfolk decided to build two timber circles. They felled more than thirty oak trees, then carried and dragged them to locations they had chosen in the saltmarshes. The stump of the largest tree was placed upside down in a large pit, with its roots pointing upwards to the sky, sun and moon. A trench was dug to take 56 timbers, creating a surrounding palisade that stood about two metres tall. At the same time, about one hundred metres to the east, two logs were laid on the ground, surrounded by a fence of wicker, then enclosed by a second palisade. These are the two monuments we now know as Seahenge and its sister. They are two of the most important archaeological sites in East Anglia.
Seahenge was discovered by John Lorimer in 1998, after he found a Bronze Age axehead while shrimping. It was fully excavated by the Norfolk Archaeological Unit the next year. Their work revealed perfectly preserved toolmarks from the fifty or so axes used to fell, split and shape the timbers. Analysis of tree rings showed the trees were felled in the spring or summer of 2049 BC. The central stump and half of Seahenge’s palisade are on display in Lynn Museum, with the other timbers held in safe storage.
A recently deceased person could have been placed on the stump’s upturned roots, offering them to the heavens and allowing birds to remove their flesh. Its trunk pointed downwards, possibly providing a route for their spirit to enter an underworld of the dead. The dished tops of the two oak logs in the centre of the sister circle suggest an object was laid across them, perhaps the coffin of the same person. Both circles may have seen ceremonies of celebration and commemoration. The number of people, time and effort it took to build them would have been considerable, suggesting a person of some importance, possibly a local leader or religious figure.
David Robertson M.A. MCIfA (Archaeology East Anglia)
(OS Explorer 250)