Castle Acre Priory is one of the most impressive examples of a medieval monastic site nestled in the heart of Mid Norfolk. It’s one of the castle ruins that you’ll walk right past on the historic Peddars Way National Trail.
As you approach Castle Acre along the quiet back lanes, you suddenly see these huge ruins. They really are spectacular.
Founded in 1090 by William de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey, Castle Acre Priory was once a large and imposing complex of monastic buildings, including a church, cloister, dormitory, chapter house, and refectory, as well as a brewery!
In fact, it was the largest monastic site in England so it’s no wonder it holds great importance as part of Norfolk’s historic stories.
Over the centuries, the site has survived the ravages of time. It is a vivid reminder of the past for both England and Norfolk, and when you stroll through the ruins, you really can get a sense of the life that existed at this monastic site.
When you walk the Peddars Way, you will probably end up for the night in the pretty village of Castle Acre. You may even like to take the time to pay the entrance fee to visit the site, or if you don’t want to do that, you can always walk around the outside, and still get a good view of the impressive ruins and grounds.
As you walk towards the priory from the middle of the village, you’ll come across its impressive gatehouse.
You’ll also find a wealth of educational information about the history of the priory and its inhabitants in the shop and small museum.
Castle Acre Priory really is a remarkable site, and if you’re interested in medieval history, this is a great place to visit. It is one of the UK's best kept Priories and oozes grandeur and history.
It was initially situated within the castle (which you can also see in the village of Castle Acre), but it was moved to its current location a year later because of the inconvenience.
The Nave of Castle Acre Priory is the oldest surviving part of this ancient ruin, which, like all other priories, was dissolved in 1537 under the rule of Henry VIII.
Subsequently, the Priory and Castle were passed to the Coke family of Holkham Hall and are still owned by the current Earl of Leicester, but the site is managed by English Heritage.
The west front of the priory is almost entirely intact, and in order to get a real sense of size of this priory, I highly recommend going inside and paying to visit.
For years I had just admired it from the outside, but I was totally awe-struck when I did eventually buy a ticket and wander around the inside of the ruins. The ruins are amazing.
You can just admire the wonderful gable of this west front of the church, the structures around the cloister, and the Prior's Lodging which is the most stable building inside the priory walls.
And then if you go inside the Prior’s Lodgings, some of the details that you can see are wonderful. The architecture of the ruin is beautiful, and I always find it staggering to think that these huge buildings were all built by hand!
This Norman style of this architecture is very obviously characterized by its round arches, round towers, and decorative stonework, and there’s lots of it to see here.
The Peddars Way National Trail goes from Knettishall Heath which is just outside Thetford, and takes you all the way up to the Norfolk Coast at Holme. Following in the footsteps of the Romans dating back to 64AD, you then reach this Norman Priory, founded in 1090.
One of the most impressive sites along the route is Castle Acre Priory, and here is your chance to step back in time and just appreciate the intricate detail and immense craftsmanship of the Normans (and all worked and built without mechanical machinery!).
Visiting the priory is a great way to explore a bit of history and beauty of Norfolk.
The Priory is managed by English Heritage and you can find the opening times and prices here on the English Heritage website.
The village itself is very attractive, with some pretty flint stone buildings, a pub and tea rooms, and the most impressive Bailey Gate, which formed part of the castle walls.
It’s also possible to explore the Castle while you’re in the village.
It’s a very short walk from the centre, and is a motte and bailey castle. The castle mounds are still very evident as are parts of the keep and walls.
As the Peddars Way trail takes you right into the middle of Castle Acre, it makes sense to enjoy this historic ruin as well as the castle.
If it’s a nice evening, you could just wander down the hill (I know you will have walked a few miles in the day and may not want to walk any more!), but it’s definitely worth a little look! Or if you feel you won’t have the energy, just pop over and have a look before you reach the comfort and warmth of the pub!