Sheep have had a great influence on Suffolk’s landscape and Knettishall Heath Country Park is no exception.
Now a 350-acre park, the area took shape around 4,000 years ago after forest that was dominated by birch, lime and oak was cleared for grazing. Now this extensive heath is a unique habitat with riverside meadows and woodland.
Knettishall is a confluence of several old trails. The park’s Heathland Trail is the southern end of the 95-mile Peddars Way, a Roman road to North Norfolk. The park is also the start of the Icknield Way, claimed to be the oldest route in Britain, and is also a jumping off point for the Angles Way, which winds 77 miles to the Broads.
Within the park itself is a network of short, circular, waymarked trails to choose from. From Knettishall Heath, paths lead in all directions.
1. The Brecklands
The breckland or ‘brecks’ is the word for the type of landscape found at Knettishall Heath Country Park: a fascinating terrain of dry heaths and chalky and sandy flatlands punctuated by Scots pines.
This sandy heathland habitat is characteristic of the local Norfolk-Suffolk borders. Much breckland has been lost but it is now subject to a UK bio-diversity action plan. If you visit at this time of year, you will find magnificent autumn colours.
2. The Little Ouse
The Little Ouse river runs along the northern edge of the park, and the park has a popular waymarket Riverside Trail, taking you down to the banks of the river, which traces the county border. In summer, the river is popular with local children and there’s a section where they can splash around.
Watch out for dragonflies and damselflies above the water and pike and perch below the surface. With luck, you may see an otter or catch a glimpse of kingfishers. From here, the 77-mile Angles Way leads to Great Yarmouth on the coast.
3. Bronze age burial mound
Hut Hill, a Bronze Age burial mound around 4,000 years old, is easily identified by a single Scots pine. The mound is a reminder that the park has harboured successive civilisations all the way back to the Neolithic period, when inhabitants practised early animal husbandry and mined for flint – much in demand for making axes.
4. Breckland flora
Throughout its mixture of grassy meadows, heath and woodland, Knettishall supports an extremely varied flora. Look out for wildflowers including red campion, rock rose and honeysuckle, and trees such as silver birch, oak and Scots pines.
On the open heathland, you’ll find purple heather, and on the chalk grassland, dropwort and purple milk vetch. Much of the area is defined as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) noted for its wildlife.
5. The warrens
In the past, rabbits were farmed on the heath for their meat and fur, and special warrens were built in the 18th century to house them. The remains of a warren can be seen and an information board tells the story of the warreners who looked after them. Today you’ll see many rabbits, helping to keep the grass down.
Their post-war decline caused by myxomatosis has abated, and population numbers have crept back up. On the heath, birders can find nightjars, skylarks and yellowhammers (below). Look out for moths, including the grey carpet moth, primarily a Breckland species.
6. Wildlife on the heath
The semi-wild Exmoor ponies on Knettishall Heath are hardy animals descended from Britain’s native wild ponies. The Breckland flora requires special management measures including grazing, and the ponies prevent the incursion of bracken.
Look out too for Hebridean sheep, Muntjac deer and, in summer, lizards and butterflies. In spring, small craters that originated in the ice age become flooded, nurturing colonies of great crested newts.
How to get there: -
Knettishall Heath Country Park is 12 miles north east of Bury St Edmunds, 6 miles east of Thetford. Follow the brown signs for Knettishall Heath Country Park. There are car parks at the Park. Nearest rail station Thetford, 6 miles.
FIND OUT MORE
Knettishall Heath Country Park
Knettishall, Thetford, Suffolk IP4 1LZ
Elveden shopping courtyard and café restaurant
Elveden, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 3TQ
Food shop with locally sourced products and restaurant with home-cooked food, just off the A11.
Brandon IP27 0YZ
08448 267 723
The family-friendly company opened its second UK site here in Brandon’s woodland in 1989 and offers holidays and short breaks.
High Street, Tuddenham, Suffolk IP28 6SQ
A converted historic watermill, Tuddenham boutique hotel is located close to Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds. It is set in a picturesque location on a mill pond and surrounded by Suffolk countryside.