Little Walsingham is one of the holiest places in England. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit this small village in Norfolk each year. For us, it wasn’t a religious reason that led us to Walsingham. I wanted to see the snowdrops at Walsingham Abbey, but I was also inspired by visiting the Walsingham pilgrimage sites.
On my travels, I have stumbled upon a few pilgrimage sites – Fatima, Portugal and the Camino de Santiago. I had no idea there was one so close to home (I am currently based in Norwich, England). At one point, the Walsingham village was one of the most important places in Norfolk. Henry III visited several times as did every monarch up to and including Henry VIII.
Let me tell you more about the history of Walsingham and what there is to see. It is definitely worth a visit especially when the snowdrops are in bloom.
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What are Snowdrops?
The official scientific name for English Snowdrops is Galanthus. They were brought to England from southern Europe and Turkey. The snowdrop flowers thrive in shaded wooded areas and usually grow in clusters.
These white flowers bloom January until mid-March. 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 snowdrop and primrose our woodlands adorn, And violets bathe in the wet o' the morn. - Robert Burns
Walsingham Abbey is now just ruins, but I could imagine how impressive it must have been in its heyday. You can see the East Window, which is all that remains of the Priory, from outside the grounds because it is so tall.
We almost missed the Crypt, which had a nice timeline exhibit inside it and heating! Look out for the signs pointing you to the Crypt by the ruins of the Refectory on the south end of the property.
The Shirehall Museum serves as the entry to the Abbey grounds and is included in your admission. Inside the small museum, you can learn more about Walsingham history and both the original and modern pilgrimage traditions. Around the corner from the Abbey on High Street, you will find the Walsingham Pilgrim Shop which has a nice selection of religious souvenirs.
Snowdrop Walk Walsingham
The Walsingham Abbey is one of the best places in England to see snowdrops. For £5 per person, you gain access to the Abbey grounds (18 acres!) that are covered in snowdrops. This price also includes a cup of coffee or tea from the nearby Walsingham Farm Shop.
There are several paths that you can follow. Even though it was a bright sunny day when we were there, the paths were muddy, so be sure to wear suitable footwear if you visit. There is also a stream that runs through the property with several picturesque bridges going across it. We spent about an hour walking around and taking pictures of snowdrops.
Walsingham Farm Shop
We saw the pop-up shop inside the Abbey, but unfortunately, you cannot redeem your free coffee or tea there. It’s a pretty clever way to get you inside their store which is just a short walk away.
I hadn’t planned on buying anything else but they had so many tempting products. We couldn’t pass up the real black pudding, which we cooked up as soon as we got home. (If you are curious about black pudding, you can find more information about it in my post about a few of my favorite British Foods).
We also bought a package of cookies that was 50% off of the regular price. We loved both the black pudding and the cookies. Additionally, we sampled some of their Stilton cheese which was fabulous. Next time I am in the area, I will definitely stop by the Walsingham Farm Shop. They do also have a small stall at Norwich Market.
Walsingham became a pilgrimage site because of the apparitions that took place In 1061. Lady Richeldis, the widow of the lord of the manor of Walsingham Parva, had a vision of the Virgin Mary. In the apparition, Mary took her to Nazareth to show her the place where the Angel Gabriel had appeared to her. Mary told Richeldis to take note of the measurements of the Holy House and build a copy of it in Walsingham.
She did as she was told and built the Holy House. Inside it, they kept a wooden statue of an enthroned Virgin Mary with the Jesus seated on her lap. Years later, the Priory was built around the Holy House.
Walsingham became known as “England’s Nazareth”, due to the Holy House replica built by Lady Richeldis. The main route pilgrims would take from London to Walsingham, Norfolk, took them via Waltham Abbey, Newmarket, Brandon, Swaffham, Castle Acre Priory, and East Barsham. Pilgrims from Europe and the north of England would travel by boat arriving into King’s Lynn or other smaller ports along the North Norfolk coast, like Wells, Blakeney or Cley.
It was an important pilgrimage site for many years before the Reformation. Pilgrims would wear badges on their cloaks or hats to show the pilgrimage they did. Walsingham pilgrim badges varied in shape and size but would have some reference to the Annunciation.
The Reformation in Walsingham
The Reformation played a large role in the history of Walsingham, England. In order to get a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII named himself head of the new Church of England. The crown was also in financial trouble, so many religious buildings were shut down (Dissolution of the Monasteries) and the assets were seized.
In 1538, the Walsingham Priory and the Friary were dissolved and all property handed over to the King’s Commissioners. They took the Our Lady of Walsingham statue to London to be publicly burnt.
Unfortunately, now nothing remains of the original shrine but there is a sign on the lawn in the Abbey grounds to mark the site of the shrine. After the destruction of the Abbey, Walsingham declined as a place of pilgrimage, but it never lost its place as one of the most significant religious sites in the country.
Anglican Chapel: Our Lady of Walsingham
Fast-forward to the early 20th century, and under the leadership of the Anglican Vicar of Walsingham, Fr Hope Patten, the Walsingham Anglican Chapel was rebuilt. The Walsingham Anglican Shrine contains a replica of the Holy House and also the Holy Well, where you can get Holy Water.
You can go inside the Holy House and try the Holy Water, although there is a warning that the water is not safe for children. We drank a little bit of the water and did not have any negative side effects. We will see if any good comes out of it.
Inside the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, there are several small chapels for prayer and they have daily services in the main part of the church. Outside the Little Walsingham church, there is a lovely courtyard. Around the courtyard, there are more facilities for pilgrims, including dorm rooms and a dining hall.
Roman Catholic Baslica: The Slipper Chapel
Also in the early 20th century, Charlotte Boyd purchased and restored the ancient Slipper Chapel and gifted it to the Catholic Church. It is now known as the Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady and is located about a mile outside of Walsingham in the hamlet of Houghton St Giles. You have to drive on a single track road to reach the chapel, but there is plenty of free parking.
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 an outside area. You can find the Slipper Chapel at the far end of the complex from the parking lot. On our short walk there, we spotted a nun. Close to the chapel, there is also a gift shop. You can even buy some of the holy water.
This was the final “station” on the Walsingham pilgrimage route. It was here that pilgrims would take off their shoes to walk the final “Holy Mile” barefoot. It was freezing when we visited, yet we still saw a few people doing the walk barefoot. You have to admire people with that kind of dedication.
Little Walsingham is a fascinating place to visit. The village is beautiful. I was moved learning about the pilgrimage and visiting the Walsingham Shrine. Seeing the pretty snowdrops was a nice bonus. I hope to make it back in the summer to ride the steam train.
Have you visited any places that have moved you?
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Expert Tips For Visiting Walsingham
- The Abbey and the Anglican Chapel are located in Little Walsingham. The Walsingham Catholic Church (The Slipper Chapel) is a mile away.
- Visit the end of January to the beginning of March to see the snowdrops at Walsingham Abbey. Check the website for exact dates and opening hours.
- Stop by the Walsingham Farm Shop for some local goodies.
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Last Updated on May 27, 2023
pretty flowers and an interesting place
Thanks Tanja. Yes I would love to go back.
Beautiful! I love snowdrops. We used to have them in the hills around the town I grew up. We always knew that spring was coming when we saw the first ones poke their head through the snow. I’ve never seen so many in one place though. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Emese – Glad you enjoyed it. What town did you grow up in?
A small town in Romania, called Ludus.
I must admit I didn’t know about Walsingham. Looks like a lovely place to visit at this time of year.
Thank you! It’s not very well-known but definitely worth a visit!
Such a pretty place. Reminded me a bit of Fountains Abbey. Definitely on my list of places to visit. Happy travelling .#weeklypostcard
Thank you. I have not been to Fountains Abbey yet but I would love to go!
I hadn’t heard of Walsingham so great to learn about it, and the attractions. Love that there’s such an expansive blanket of snowdrops!
Thanks Kavita. Glad you enjoyed it
Quite interesting! I love religious sites – going to the Holy Land in April on a pilgrimage. Somehow I’d never heard of this! Thanks for sharing! I’m sure I’ll make it out to England again someday.
Thanks Hilary. Your trip to the Holy Land sounds really interesting too.
I love flowers especially the ones that pop up to announce that spring is on the way. I’ve never seen anything like these snowdrops that cover an entire area. Also, like you, I can imagine the the beauty of Walsingham Abbey from the remains. #TheWeeklyPostcard
Dorothy – Yes I love seeing signs of spring. Can you believe the day after I visited it started snowing?! Now it feels like the depths of winter.
I just visited Columbia, SC and the pools were open and then I had to go north to cold weather.
Ha! Well hopefully spring will be here soon!
How cool! The snowdrops are beautiful, and I love visiting less-known places with a unique history.
Thank you! So glad to hear you enjoyed it.
Such a beautiful place. I’ll have to remember to visit one day.
Thank you. I hope you get the chance to visit!
What an amazing place to visit! The snowdrop flowers are so pretty. I’d love to explore the Walsingham Abbey’s grounds. The paths look like a lovely place for some walking!
Thanks Kaylene. I hope you get the chance to visit. The grounds are beautiful to explore.
First, I didn’t realize you are based on the UK. That sounds great. Second, I have never heard about Walsingham before but the snowdrops create beautiful scenes (how lovely is that bridges surrounded by them). I guess one of the benefits of living in Europe is the possibility of visiting all this historic places during your free time. #TheWeeklyPostcard
Ruth – I moved here back in September and yes I am really enjoying exploring. There is just so much history here!
How pretty! I love the ruins of Walsingham Abbey. They remind me so much of the ruins of Werner Chapel in Bacharach. I have never seen snowdrops before either. They are so cute!! Thanks for the great post!
Thanks Michelle. Hopefully I will make it to Bacharach to see the chapel!
I was born and raised in a country where Snowdrops were very common. This the first flower we saw on the markets in spring. I loved them and miss them a lot here, in California. I think I’ve seen them once in Oregon, but they weren’t quite identical with the ones you see in Europe. I know very little about Walsingham, so it was nice getting some information about it. #TheWeeklyPostcard
Anda – I can understand why you miss them. They are beautiful and I plan on making it a tradition to make sure I see some every year!
I love that you’ve gone for the nature, but stumbled on to a whole heap of history! What an interesting area! I have heard of snowdrops, but I’m not sure if we have them where I’m used to hiking. Very pretty.
Yes, the place really exceeded my expectations. I do wonder if they are anywhere in the US? If not, I feel like someone needs to do something about that!
Oh I never knew that Walsingham is also a prilgrimage place, had always thought the site is renowned for its snowdrops 😉 The flowers are beautiful. Thankfully, it was a sunny day when you went. Hope the weather has improved lately? Have read the news that it’s snowing heavily in UK! #TheWeeklyPostcard
Kat – Interesting that you have heard of Walsingham! The weather here is getting better. It has finally stopped snowing. It’s supposed to rain today so hopefully that will clear the roads.
OOh how lovely!! I’ve never seen snowdrops before!! I would definitely make time to visit these! I wonder why monarchs after King Henry VIII stopped coming here. #TheWeeklyPostcard
Glad you liked it. Monarchs after King Henry VIII stopped coming (along with pretty much everyone else) because as part of the English Reformation, Henry VIII had the Abbey destroyed. Many churches were destroyed as part of the transition from the Roman Catholic Church to the Church of England (the English Reformation).
I should have realized it had to do with the reformation!
The remains of Walsingham are truly striking, in a way a church or cathedral can’t match. I remember a school trip where we visited DC and stopped by the National Cathedral- one of the stained glass windows has a piece of the moon inlaid. That’s stuck with me. There’s something more powerful about an abandoned place of worship though, whether it’s a church, kiva or temple. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!
Yvette – Thank you. I really found it to be a moving place too. I have not been to the National Cathedral, I will have to add it to my list.
The snowdrops are so pretty, and in a field like that they remind of a light dusting of snow on the grass! What a great place to see both these beautiful flowers and ruins!
Thanks Bryna. I loved the snowdrops too.
Oh, the ruins are beautiful! The Chapel is pretty as well, and the Snowdrops just make the whole scene magical. What fun to be out in such a pretty and special place!
Thanks guys. It really is a special place, I hope you get the chance to visit.