The wonders of west Norfolk
- Credit: Matthew Usher
International attention is focused on west Norfolk this summer as the amazing Houghton Revisited exhibition brings thousands of art lovers to the area. The exhibition, of priceless, peerless masterpieces by Rubens and Rembrandt, Velazquez and Van Dyck, is set to attract people from all over the world – but it is only part of the wonderful offering that the west of the county for visitors from far and near.
International attention is focused on west Norfolk this summer as the amazing Houghton Revisited exhibition brings thousands of art lovers to the area.
The exhibition, of priceless, peerless masterpieces by Rubens and Rembrandt, Velazquez and Van Dyck, is set to attract people from all over the world – but it is only part of the wonderful offering that the west of the county for visitors from far and near.
Itself a treasury of art, and architecture, Houghton Hall’s delights range from the design of flamboyant mansion itself to the modern sculpture trail, curated by the current owner, the seventh Marquess of Cholmondeley. There are beautiful gardens and parkland and a new café in the original kitchens of the Hall.
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The patron of the prestigious exhibition knows the area well because he is none other than the Prince of Wales. Prince Charles is, of course, a very regular visitor to nearby Sandringham. But when the Royal Family are not in residence the house is open to the public. And the Sandringham shop, restaurant and visitor centre are open all year round. Visitors can walk through the rooms used by the Royals, explore the beautiful gardens and see collections of carriages and cars used by kings, queens, princes and princesses, plus rare ceramics, photographs and memorabilia in the Sandringham Museum. Children will love the tractor and trailer tours of the country park, and the parish church of St Mary Magdalene, which often counts the Queen and her family among its congregation, is well worth a visit.
The Earls of Leicester have lived at Holkham Hall for more than 250 years. The palatial stately home was conceived as Italian villa, transplanted to the north Norfolk coast. The Coke family still live here and share with visitors the house and its treasures, surrounding garden and parkland, and access to the coast and iconic beach.
This romantic moated manor house is owned by the National Trust and still lived in by the Bedingfeld family, who had it built six centuries ago. It is famous for its priest-hole, the needlework stitched by the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, and the beautiful hall, gatehouse and gardens too.
Sense of place
Lynn is a town steeped in seafaring history – visit its Tourist Information Centre in the magnificent Customs House on the quayside for full details of Lynn’s rich past. This month history comes to the King’s Lynn Corn Exchange too.
Horrible Histories brings the past to gleeful, gruesome life from May 24 to 26 and The Drifters’ 60th anniversary tour comes to town on May 19. The theatre also has comedy, drama and popular and classical music on its programme this month.
Famous for its red and white cliffs, beautiful beach and traditional seaside fun, the attractions of Hunstanton include its Sea Life Sanctuary which is home to a wealth of ocean wildlife, including sharks and penguins.
The magnificent earthworks and stone Norman keep of the Castle Rising Castle are among the finest surviving ruins of their kind. Astonishingly, the current owner is a descendant of the Norman knight who first owned the castle.
This beautiful village has both a castle and a priory. The priory is one of the best preserved monastic sites in England, dating back almost 1000 years. Its recreated herb garden is packed with plants monks would have used for medicines and cookery. At the heart of the village are the extensive ruins and remains of the castle itself – which are free to visit.
North Norfolk coastal footpath
Not everyone will have time to tackle the full long-distance path – but it can be broken down into some lovely shorter walks. Try the six miles from Hunstanton to Thornham, six miles from Holkham Gap to Stiffkey or the two miles from Blakeney to Cley.
West Norfolk is a wonderful place to stay and enjoy some of the best accommodation and food in the region. There are two Michelin-starred restaurants – at Morston Hall, on the north coast, and The Neptune in Old Hunstanton – offering fantastic menus.
The wealth of other eateries includes hotels such as Briarfields in Titchwell with its stunning views out over the saltmarshes and a reputation for fine food and luxurious accommodation. The Lodge in Old Hunstanton is a pub with luxurious and newly revamped accommodation, in the heart of the pretty village, close to the sea and with an excellent restaurant, serving fresh, local produce. Then there are the traditional country pubs with top-quality cuisine. Many are in tiny villages and yet have a big following of fans from miles around. The Duck Inn at Stanhoe has recently reopened, and is reviewed in this issue by our food critic David Adlard.
Pay a visit
Creake Abbey, set alongside the picturesque ruins of a 13th century Augustinian abbey, is home to an award winning farmers’ market and a courtyard packed with shops and studios offering everything from antiques to clothing and beauty therapies to art.
This month the farmers’ market is on Saturday, May 4. Look out for stalls laden with rare-breed meat, fresh fish, local fruit and veg, home-baked cakes and pies, cheeses, preserves, artisan breads and local ales and fruit juices. A new café and food hall also opens at Creake Abbey this spring, showcasing some of the finest local, national and international produce.
See highly skilled glassmakers create beautiful vases, tableware and ornaments at Langham Glass in Fakenham, where visitors can watch glass being made, browse the gift shop and take a break in the restaurant.
Houghton Revisited is a not-to-be-missed exhibition of around 70 paintings bought by Britain’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, to hang on the walls of his lavish new stately home.
In 1779 the entire collection was sold to Catherine the Great of Russia to hang in The Hermitage. This summer some of the masterpieces are being loaned back to Norfolk, where they are being hung in their original settings.
Houghton Revisited runs from Friday May 17 to Sunday September 29.
Tickets can be booked at www.houghtonhall.com/houghtonrevisited or by calling 01603 598640.