Managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Knettishall Heath is one of our favourite country parks. The diverse nature in the area means that you can walk in unbroken sunshine on open heathland, stroll in the shade along woodland paths, or meander by the riverside.
On this page we’ll tell you why we love this nature reserve so much and what there is to see and do here.
It’s time to really unwind…
Where is Knettishall Heath?
Knettishall Heath is part of a larger area known as The Brecks or Breckland: this is mainly situated across north-west Suffolk, south-west Norfolk, and a small part of Cambridgeshire. Importantly, The Brecks is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. This area must stay protected!
Signposted from the A1066 between Diss and Thetford, Knettishall Heath is west of Knettishall village. These roads are all typical East Anglian lanes, rural and small but motorhome friendly. Some follow the natural bouncy contours of the land but you can blame the underlying chalk for that!
Is there motorhome parking at Knettishall Heath?
The main car park at Knettishall Heath is large. However, the gates are not much wider than our 7′ 6″ wide Cree. Enter with care!
Overnight parking is not permitted. Two years ago, we were working in the motorhome and lost track of time. A warden tapped at the door and reminded us that we should have left the car park an hour ago. They wanted to lock up. Sitting amongst the trees with the sounds of nature drifting in the windows, we were at work. Time was irrelevant.
The main car park has toilets and sometimes an ice cream van. Previously free except for a suggested donation, it now has one of those parking companies running it. A very unpopular move! This is happening to many of our favourite spots – either prohibitive ticket prices or a total ban on motorhomes using the facility.
There are other car parks at Knettishall Heath. Unfortunately, the second largest closed in 2022. People have began parking on the grass verges. These places will soon be made impossible to use. Everyone has their fingers in your wallet, it seems! But we assume that at least a little of the profit goes back to the Trust.
That means that at least these 474 acres are safe from developers and agriculture – is that not worth a pound or two?
What can you see at Knettishall Heath?
The heath is a large open area with occasional stands of trees. Bracken covers much of it. The top soil is sandy with chalk beneath leading to ridges and dips. Alongside, there are small patches of unmanaged mixed woodland and the Little Ouse river weaving through. The differing habitats offer a home to a diverse range of flora and fauna species.
Knettishall Heath is a landscape that our Bronze Age ancestors created. They were responsible for mass deforestation across the British Isles. They were the first people to use large scale agriculture and they cleared trees from vast tracts of land.
Today, sturdy little Exmoor ponies graze freely to prevent the heath retuning to woodland. This is important for the hugely diverse flora and fauna population which now regards this environment as home. Some are exclusive to The Brecks. There is a bowl barrow at Hut Hill and an 18th century rabbit warren.
If you are in the main car park, there is a toilet block and a “beach” area by the river and bridge. Picnic benches beg you to sit awhile and listen to nature’s voices.
Is Knettishall Heath a good place to take children?
If your kids love getting out in nature, Knettishall heath is pretty much the perfect location. The short riverside path is suitable for wheelchairs and buggies. In summer months you’ll find several youngsters enjoying the waterfall and river/pond area to help them cool off.
A ‘Pine Path’ allows dogs off the lead most of the year, though other paths ask that dogs are kept on a lead. Indeed, there are several marked trails. Or, of course, you can do what we do and simply cross from path to path in a mindful appreciation of nature.
We’d love for everyone to experience that! So let’s have a look at what awaits you at Knettishall Heath:
Which path will you choose…?
Now you can choose to walk by the Little Ouse River, through natural woodland or across undulating heathland. There are paths through every part, each is different.
The river gently flows through the countryside, with small coves at the water’s edge where you can get a little closer. There are kingfishers which indicate the river’s cleanliness – and you may spot a fish or two. You’ll hear moorhens commenting about your presence as well as the usual water fowl.
The woodland is mixed deciduous and coniferous. The trees, mainly beech and pine, are left to grow naturally. You may see deer half hidden amongst the trunks – we were delighted to see a muntjac and her fawn picking their way through the woodland. There are plenty of grey squirrels of course. And fallen boughs make an excellent habitat for insect life – the food chain works its way up from there.
The heath has secrets! Look down for the sharp flints typical for the area but also the rounded brown/purple quartzite pebbles. Rounded stones in the middle of a dry heath? Half a million years ago, the Bytham River flowed through Knettishall and across The Brecks, rounding off pebbles as it rolled them along. The last ice age destroyed the river’s path.
On the western edge, watch for the stripes of vegetation, best seen in June and July. The thawing and freezing of the last ice age left wave-like deposits of sandy soil on top of the underlying chalk and mixtures of each. Therefore you get humps of sand between exposed chalk. Different plants thrive on each, hence the striping.
Knettishall through the seasons
The seasons each have their special effects. The open heathland is painted with glorious heather and gorse during summer under the legendary huge Suffolk skies. The area produces a wonderful floral display, but can leave the bracken and grasses parched. Look for reptiles warming their cold blood in the sun.
In winter, this can be a harsh place when the easterly winds cut across the open heath. A wonderful way to remove a few cobwebs and clear the mind.
Spring brings the flowers and creatures from out of the ground – you can see the heath coming back to life. The bracken gradually unfurls and covers the ground with a green blanket, underneath which the smaller animals can breathe a little more easily. Birds of prey abound here!
And autumn sees the trees ablaze with golds, reflecting the sun. If you know what you are doing, you can pick field mushrooms and look for sweet and horse chestnuts.
We have walked along most of the paths over the conservation area – getting up close with nature is what fires our souls. And since Knettishall is the meeting and crossing point of four ancient tracks, we are walking through history with the ancestors. The Iceni Way, Icknield Way, Peddars Way and Angles Way all traverse the heath.
We firmly believe that a walk in nature can restore a sense of balance and tranquillity. Our van life health and well-being pages has tips and resources aimed at maintaining optimum emotional health – anything from brain boosting foods to travel anxiety.
The Exmoor ponies at Knettishall Heath
A particular favourite is seeing the small herd of rugged brown Exmoor ponies placidly grazing or crossing the paths. Being amongst semi-wild animals roaming free is a real joy. The ponies are accustomed to humans walking by but are untamed.
Other species include deer, rodents, reptiles and birds of prey, foxes, badgers, owls and various moths – some of which are very rare indeed. Stay on the designated paths and you will not disturb ground nesting birds or upset a basking snake.
Which ever path you choose at Knettishall Heath, you will walk amongst some of East Anglia’s finest natural habitats.
Find out more at The Suffolk Wildlife Trust – Knettishall Heath