Many interesting and influential figures have built homes and lived lives in Norfolk amongst the peaceful grandeur of their private stately homes over the last 1000 years. Lords, ladies, Prime Ministers, King’s and Queen’s have all left their markers on the landscape, shaping the development (or destruction) of rural village communities. The most glorious examples are found at Holkham, Felbrigg, Blickling, Sandringham and Houghton Halls, each with its own unique history and architecture.
In present day England, stately homes now play host to a wide range of activities for all ages. So if you are interested in woodlands, gardens, museums, nature reserves, walking, biking, dining or even concerts, you should check out our local guide to North Norfolk Stately Homes…
A close neighbour to Blickling, just inland from Sheringham, Felbrigg is sometimes referred to as the ‘bountiful estate’ due to its mixture of luxury and practicality. Much of its food produce is available on-site and many a gardener has learnt new tricks within the four walls of the old garden. A fine 18th century orangery forms part of the more formal garden, with plenty of space left for the herbacious borders and kitchen garden.
Originally the Felbrigg family owned the land on which the current hall stands, but it was not until its purchase by the Wyndham family in the mid 15th century that Felbrigg Hall was constructed in the Jacobean style. The estate remained under the stewardship of the family until just after the 2nd World War, It is now ran by the National Trust.
The site also features a 520 acre tract of ancient woodland, called the Great Wood. Whilst out exploring, keep an eye out for barn owls, kestrels and deer.
Excellent links to woodland walks on Felbrigg’s website.
For the last four centuries Blickling has sat at the heart of its 4,700 acre estate, a splendid example of Jacobean architecture and decadence. Famously the Boleyn family (and relatives of) resided here for over 130 years from 1459. The carriage driven ghost of Queen Anne is said to still haunt it. In more recent times the estate became a 2nd World War base to the RAF and is now owned and maintained by the National Trust.
Regular concerts, including the ‘Blickling Proms’, are held on the estate, theatrical performances also fill its busy events calendar. Entry to the house, with its book collection of national importance, also gives access to the 55 acre garden. Once finished here, the greater estate beckons. Whether you are walking or cycling, many different routes are available, dogs are also allowed into the park and woods, but not the main house or gardens.
Whilst on your walk, watch out for green and greater spotted woodpeckers, grey heron, kingfishers, red deer and many grassland and woodland butterfly species. Being such an old and established estate, the ancient woodlands provide wonderful displays of bluebells in the spring.
Check out the National Trust website for links to woodland walks and other information.
Four generations of the royal family have resided at Sandringham, 10 miles South East of Kings Lynn at the heart of North Norfolk. The hall has gone through many changes over the last 3 centuries including a full redevelopment in the late 19th century. Within the estate, Anmer Hall is to be the new home to Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, continuing the long royal relationship with Sandringham through to the next generation.
Visitors have a range of choice in how to spend their time, the more adventurous can explore the many miles of path the weave throughout the 20,000 acre site. Walking takes you through Scots Pine, Beech and Oak woodland that gives way to wood pasture and heathland. Adjacent to the North, Natural England care for their reserve at Dersingham, significant for being a major nesting ground for Nightjar and home to many rare butterflies and wildflowers.
Access to the main house is now possible for paying customers, allowing visitors to tour the many sumptuous rooms. For many, the highlight of the trip is the classic car museum, first opened to the public in 1930, many of the exhibits were used by the family in formal engagements over the last seven decades, a rare opportunity!
The significance of the goings on at Holkham are perhaps less glamorous, but ultimately of greater importance in the shaping of modern Britain. Built by the Coke family in 1764, the grand Palladian mansion is a wonderful example of the fashion of its day. The estate is large and varied, comprised of wooded areas, deer park, lake and arable land, all of which give way to the sand dunes, beaches and pine woods of Holkham Bay. Encompassed within is a National Nature reserve that offers superb access to walkers with or without binoculars, £4 is needed to use the adjacent parking on Lady Anne Drive.
A day out at Holkham might feature a tour of the house and gardens, or a less formal approach in the deer park on bikes or by foot. The bay has been the setting for many different film productions, yet it still retains its panoramic majesty and remains seemingly untouched by man. Pink footed geese graze nearby and the last seal pups of each season can be found amongst the dunes on a Winters day. The Hall often plays host to concerts ranging from Rod Stewart to opera and its events calendar is well worth keeping tabs on.
Built in the early Palladian style, Houghton is almost unique in its original purpose. Built by Englands 1st Prime Minister Robert Walpole, it was designed to hold the greatest art collection of its time. After Walpoles death, his grandson was eventually forced to sell much of the collection to Catherine the Great of Russia, where it was housed in the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. In 2013 much of the collection returned to great national acclaim for a six month exhibition, Houghton Revisited.
The surrounding deer park and gardens are also well worth your attention with sculptures and interesting art installations around every corner. After much recent improvement and restoration, the 5 acre walled garden is also a real treat. Sturdy boots are advised for the wider estate where you are able to further explore the deer park and woodland.