Snowdrops are special because they are the first flowers to bloom each year. When you find a lot of these pretty white flowers, it can actually look like the ground is covered in snow.
That is the case at Walsingham Abbey. It is one of the best places to see snowdrops in Norfolk and probably the country. Plus, it is one of the most holy places in England and a destination for many pilgrims.
Let me tell you more about visiting Walsingham Abbey to see the snowdrops.
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The History of Walsingham Abbey
Walsingham Abbey is a former Augustinian monastery located in the small village of Little Walsingham. It was founded in the 11th century and became a popular pilgrimage site in medieval times after Richeldis de Faverches had apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
In her visions in 1061, Mary took her to see the house in Nazareth where Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus and asked her to build an exact replica of that house in Walsingham. A Holy House was built in Walsingham and the village became known as England’s Nazareth.
King Henry III was the first monarch to make a pilgrimage to Walsingham around 1226. Nearly all the Kings and Queens of England, after him up to and including King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon, made a pilgrimage to the Holy House, until it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538.
The abbey had been one of the wealthiest and most influential monasteries in England, then the shrine was destroyed, the abbey ruins were left to deteriorate, and the tradition of pilgrimage to Walsingham was lost.
In the 19th century, interest in the pilgrimage returned and efforts were made to restore the site. Today, the priory ruins and surrounding grounds are a popular tourist attraction, especially during snowdrop season, and the village continues to be a place of pilgrimage.
While the attraction is called Walsingham Abbey, the ruins are actually of a priory. After the priory was dissolved, the former prior’s lodging was transformed into a stately home. The home became known locally as ‘The Abbey’, and now locals, the official website, and guidebooks refer to the medieval priory ruins and grounds around the home as Walsingham Abbey.
What are Snowdrops?
Snowdrops are white flowers that thrive in shaded wooded areas and usually grow in clusters. Since these are the first flowers of spring, blooming when it seems still to be winter, they are symbolic of new life and renewal.
The official scientific name for English Snowdrops is Galanthus and there are many varieties. They were brought to England from southern Europe and Turkey. You can buy your own to take home at Walsingham Abbey.
Snowdrop Walks at Walsingham Abbey
The best time to visit Walsingham Abbey is during snowdrop season. Not only can you see the ruins, but you can also enjoy countless snowdrops covering the grounds. It is something quite special during the Norfolk winter.
You enter the site through the gate on High Street. During this time of year, it can be busy especially on the weekends, so don’t be surprised if there is a queue.
After you pay admission or show your Historic Houses membership card, make your way to the snowdrop trail. It’s a small section to the left of the main path where you can see several different varieties of the flower.
Next, head towards the Packhorse Bridge. This picturesque stone bridge is surrounded with snowdrops and is one of the most scenic points at the site. If it bothers you to cross a bridge without railings, there is a wooden bridge to the left you can use.
Follow the path towards the Dell and go through the gate. I think this area has the most snowdrops, so you will want to take some time to walk around and see them. We also noticed the beginnings of daffodils.
After you’ve finished exploring the Dell go back through the gate and turn left towards the River Walk. As you make your way there, you have a nice view of the house which is privately occupied.
The River Walk gets its name because it goes by the River Stiffkey. Through the trees you can get a glimpse of the parish church, St. Mary’s.
You will also cross a footbridge and see a small waterfall along with many more snowdrops. As you head back towards the exit, you can stop to check out the priory ruins, crypt, and museum.
Other Things to See at Walsingham Abbey
Walsingham Abbey is more than just a place to see snowdrops. As explained above, it is a historic and holy site. When you visit, there are a few other features you should make sure to see.
East Window Arch
The East Window Arch dates back to the 14th century. Stand next to it and you can get a sense of the size and importance of the Priory Church.
Site of the Saxon Chapel and Holy House
Not too far from the East Window, you will see a stylised Greek cross in the ground with a small sign. This marks the spot of the 11th century Anglo-Saxon Shrine of the Holy House of Nazareth which was excavated in 1961.
Behind the East Window, you will find a much smaller 12th century arch which was moved in the 19th century to be the entrance to the Well Garden. The two wells inside the garden are believed to have been here since before Richeldis’ visions in 1061.
Next to the house, you will find the entrance to go inside the Crypt. It is thought to be a warming room which is one of the few rooms in a monastery with a fireplace. The door to the garden and the windows were added in the 1930s.
Inside you will find a detailed timeline showing the history of Walsingham Abbey. Also, be sure to take time to admire the vaulted ceiling.
Close to the Crypt, you can see the ruins of the Refectory which dates from around 1300. The west window has fine stone tracery that is mostly intact.
To exit Walsingham Abbey, you must go through this small local history museum. It was Walsingham’s courtroom from Georgian times until 1971. The building dates back to the 16th century and was originally used as a hostel for important pilgrims.
Visiting Walsingham Abbey FAQs
Adults are £6 and children ages 6-16 are £2.50. Those under 6 are free. Card payments are preferred.
No. You can pay when you arrive.
It’s best to allow 1-2 hours to see Walsingham Abbey. You have 20 acres to explore!
Yes. Kids will have fun exploring the grounds and climbing on some of the dead wood. If you are looking for more family-friendly activities, check out our list of things to do with kids in Norfolk.
If you are a Historic Houses member, you can visit Walsingham Abbey for free.
Yes, there are toilets by the exit. There are also public accessible toilets outside the entrance by the High Street Gate.
The site is partially accessible to wheelchairs and they have a free wheelchair available.
Yes, dogs are welcome at Walsingham Abbey but must be kept on a lead.
No. You can find a complete list of English Heritage sites in Norfolk here.
No. You can get food and drinks at the Bull Inn, Walsingham Farm Shop, or the Read and Digest Tearoom which are all close by.
It was Sunday when we last visited so we enjoyed a roast dinner at the Bull.
Walsingham Abbey is located in the centre of the village of Little Walsingham about halfway between Fakenham and Wells-Next-the-Sea.
While the closest train station is around 25 miles away at King’s Lynn, Walsingham is on the Coastliner 36 Bus line.
You can use the Old Mill a pay and display car park which is just a short walk away. If that is full, there is an overflow car park on Station Road.
Other Things to Do and See in Walsingham
Walsingham makes a fantastic day trip from Norwich because there is a lot to see just in the village. Here are the things that you must do when you visit Walsingham.
Our Lady of Walsingham (Anglican Chapel)
Under the leadership of the Anglican Vicar of Walsingham, Fr Hope Patten, the Walsingham Anglican Chapel was rebuilt in the early 20th century. The Walsingham Anglican Shrine contains a replica of the Holy House and also the Holy Well, where you can get Holy Water.
Inside the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, there are also several small chapels for prayer and they have daily services in the main part of the church. The courtyard has some religious sculptures and access to facilities for pilgrims, including dorm rooms and a dining hall.
Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady (aka The Slipper Chapel)
The Slipper Chapel was the final “station” on the Walsingham pilgrimage route. It gets its name because it was the place where pilgrims would take off their shoes to walk the final “Holy Mile” barefoot to the Holy House in Walsingham.
The official name is the Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady and is located about a mile outside of Walsingham in the hamlet of Houghton St Giles. The chapel was restored and gifted to the Catholic Church in the early 20th century by Charlotte Boyd.
The Walsingham Slipper Chapel is quite small and can probably hold a maximum of 20 people, but it is part of a larger complex with plenty of free parking. You can find the Slipper Chapel at the far end of the complex from the car park.
Walsingham Farm Shop
We always stop by Walsingham Farm Shop when we are in the area because they have a great selection of local products. Last time we bought a lot of cheese and sausage rolls. Be sure to also check out their clearance section.
Wells & Walsingham Light Railway
You can ride on the smallest public railway in the world. The famous Wells & Walsingham Light Railway goes between Wells-next-the-Sea and Walsingham.
There is no need to book in advance as they operate on a first come first served basis via a queuing system. As long as they are not too busy, dogs can come along too.
Choose an enclosed ‘all weather’, covered or open carriage. Climb aboard, sit back and enjoy a half-hour trip through beautiful countryside passing by a hill-fort and a real ghost platform.
You might also like to read about other steam railways in Norfolk.
Things to do Near Walsingham Abbey
If you have more time after exploring Walsingham Abbey, there are several other places worth visiting close by.
Wells is a charming seaside town, best known for its long row of beach huts on stilts on its huge sandy beach. The town of Wells-Next-the-Sea is actually about a mile from the beach by the harbour. The quayside area has several historic buildings including the iconic granary building.
Wells-Next-the-Sea is also a hotspot for the arts in North Norfolk. The town has several art galleries and the relatively new Wells Maltings, an arts, heritage and community centre inside a Grade-II listed Maltings building.
Read about more things to do in Wells-Next-The-Sea.
Holkham Beach & Holkham Park
Just a few miles from Wells, you will find Holkham. Like Wells, it is one of the best beaches in Norfolk. The sand seems never ending and it’s also a good spot for wildlife. Read about more things to do at Holkham Beach.
Holkham Park is also worth exploring. In addition to Holkham Hall, you can also see the walled garden, playground, lake, temple, and more. There are several waymarked walks.
The earthworks that make up Warham Camp Iron Age Hill Fort were built over 2000 years ago by the Iceni Tribe. There were two huge circular banks and ditches encompassing 1.5 hectares by a bend in the River Stiffkey (pronounced Stewkey).
Today, the earthworks are no longer quite a full circle. Still, you can walk on what is left and take in some breathtaking views of the countryside.
It is free to visit. Get more information about going to Warham Camp.
Binham Priory is another important religious site as it has been a continuous place of worship for more than 800 years. It may have been closed and partially dismantled during the dissolution of the monasteries, but the nave continued on as the Binham parish church.
You’ll want to explore the ruins of the priory and go inside the parish church. It’s also a lovely spot for a picnic.
Learn more about visiting here.
Where to Stay in (and around) Walsingham
With all there is to do in the area, you might want to stay longer than a day. In the village of Walsingham, they have some charming holiday homes. You can find options using the map below.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind staying a little further away. We love the newly refurbished Globe Inn overlooking a pretty Georgian square in Wells-Next-the-Sea. The hotel has 19 rooms and a sun-filled courtyard for alfresco dining.
It has been accredited with 4 stars, earned a silver award from Enjoy England, and approved by the Visit England Cyclists Welcome, Walkers Welcome and Welcome Pets schemes.
Walsingham is a picturesque village filled with history and charm, making it a worthwhile destination even without the stunning snowdrops. The Walsingham snowdrops just enhance the overall experience and add to the village’s allure.
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