Sandringham is a jewel in West Norfolk's crown, as Chris Bishop explains in his tour...
...which takes him around the house, estate and nearby villages.
“Dear old Sandringham”
Sandringham is a jewel in West Norfolk’s crown, as Chris Bishop explains in his tour around the house, estate and nearby villages.
Sandringham is known around the world as one of the Queen’s country estates. The gardens, rolling parkland and pine woods have been a favourite with generations of Royals since it was bought by Queen Victoria in 1882 – indeed, King George V said of the place: “Dear old Sandringham, the place I love better than anywhere in the world”.
This has grown from a village fete to a celebration of many aspects of gardening and outdoor living, which attracts more than 20,000 visitors including Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. This year’s show is on Wednesday, July 28.
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Sandringham’s name comes from Sant Dersingham – literally the sandy end of Dersingham. Sandringham Time was a phrase coined by previous generations of the Royal Family, who turned the clocks back half an hour to maximise winter daylight time for their shooting parties. The tradition lasted until 1936.
Sandringham is famed for several kinds of produce. Peas grown on the estate are called 150-minute peas, because that is the maximum time between their being harvested, in July, and being frozen. Blackcurrants grown at Sandringham are among those pressed to make Ribena. Apples from orchards planted by King George VI in the 1930s are sold at the Visitor Centre, which also sells eight varieties of apple juice.
The Duke of Edinburgh is also growing truffles, having planted oak and hazel saplings whose roots were infected with truffle spores. If successful (the jury’s still out on this one, as truffles can take years to mature ...) the foodie fungi may go on sale at the Visitor Centre.
Nice neighboursThe Feathers in Manor Road, Dersingham, is barely a mile from Sandringham House. There’s a landscaped garden for brighter days, while inside they do both bar meals and a restaurant menu, with three courses for �16.95. The pub’s Sunday roasts are the stuff of legend locally – so much so they now serve them all week. Its three bars also do real ales to wash down your beef, turkey or lamb.
Just along Manor Road is Rossiters – one of Norfolk’s handful of performance car dealers. Their forecourt boasts Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes and Audis, if you’re looking to trade up your hatchback for something a little racier.
Dersingham has also got a new delicatessen. Priors, the butchers from King’s Lynn and Knights Hill Farm Shop, have moved into converted farm buildings near the church, in St Nicholas Court. As well as locally-sourced meats, they stock lots of East Anglian produce, including chutneys, jams, traditional breads, pastries and cakes, with plans to start selling wines soon too.
There are some great niche shops in Sandringham itself and the surrounding villages. There’s a gift shop and plant store at the Visitor Centre, while West Newton has a butcher’s selling beef from the rare breed Red Poll cattle which are reared by one of the Royal Estate’s tenant farmers.
Dersingham boasts the Wrought Iron and Brass Bed Company, which sells lovely bedroom bling as well as traditional beds. A mysterious iron safe in the back of the shop hasn’t been opened for more than 50 years because the key has been mislaid as the premises changed hands over the years!
Around the corner is Thaxter’s, a sizeable independent garden centre. One of their specialities is the hanging basket – you can order one and they’ll make it up for you, or buy all the bits you need to plant your own display.
The Queen and her immediate family traditionally spend Christmas at Sandringham, where the Christmas Day service is one of the rare times when the entire family is seen together in one place. Hundreds of well-wishers gather to greet them outside the church of St Mary Magdalene, across the park from the house.
When the Royal Family is not in residence, parts of the house and gardens are open to the public. Once described as one of the most comfortable houses in the country, its ground floor rooms are hung with paintings and contain ceramics and silverware collected by successive monarchs.
A museum in the grounds has everything from the former Royal fire engine to toys played with by younger Royals and gifts from overseas tours. The gardens are worth exploring too, with their lakes, rockeries and grotto.
Sandringham House, Gardens and Museum are open daily from 11am to 3.30pm, from Saturday, April 3 until Friday, July 23; and from Sunday, August 1 to Sunday, October 31. Adult admission is �10 to see all three, �7 for museum and gardens. Children aged five to 15 are half price.The country park is open every day (as is the Visitor Centre) and admission is free. With the Queen’s lifelong love of animals, it’s no surprise well-behaved dogs are welcome for walkies. For tired legs, there are tractor and trailer tours of the grounds, while for a refuelling stop, try a cup of tea and a cake at the Visitor Centre, which also does light lunches and sandwiches in its airy restaurant. One of the highlights of the Norfolk year is Sandringham Flower Show.