Imagine your garden is big enough that you can go for a long, leisurely walk without ever leaving home. That's what I imagine living at Somerleyton Hall would be like.

The lovely Jacobean manor has 12 acres of spectacular gardens which visitors can explore – a day out in itself. But we're going further afield, in circular fashion with the hall at the centre of our route, through the surrounding countryside, village and hamlets and along the intriguingly named Waddling Lane.

The village of Somerleyton is delightfully eccentric and puts me in mind of Thorpeness a few miles south on the Suffolk coast. It too is a confection, although while Thorpeness was created as a sophisticated fantasy resort by Glencairn Stewart Ogilvie, Somerleyton was rebuilt in the 19th century as an everyday model village by Samuel Morton Peto. Since 1987, it's been combined with Herringfleet and Ashby to create the East Suffolk parish of Somerleyton, Ashby and Herringfleet.

But let me take you way back in time, when Somerleyton – or it Sumerledetuna to give it its Norse name – was a homestead belonging to Ulf, a Viking freeman 'relocated' to East Anglia. Ulf is replaced, however, when another conquerer, William, hands the manorial title to loyal Sir Peter Fitzosbert. Sir Peter is married to Isabella Jernigan, a prominent Danish family who had been warlords to King Canute many years earlier.

Domesday records 17 families living in the village at this time. The Jernigans became Lords of the Manor and the family set about building a suitable house, Somerleyton Hall. However, after Elizabeth I became queen in 1558, life became uncomfortable for the Catholic Jernigans and they emigrated to America.

Great British Life: Welcome to Somerleyton. Welcome to Somerleyton. (Image: Geograph)

In the early 17th century Somerleyton Hall was acquired by Sir Thomas Wentworth, the son of a carpenter who had risen to become lawyer to the aristocrats of East Anglia, including the Duke of Norfolk. He remodelled the hall as a Jacobean mansion house, complete with Dutch gables, stables, pleasure gardens and 52 hectares (130 acres) of deer park. When the Civil War came along, the estate hosted Parliamentarian troops several times. Admiral Sir Thomas Allin then bought it in 1669 and it remained in his family until Samuel Morton Peto bought it.

Peto was a Victorian Baronet, entrepreneur, civil engineer and railway developer, and, for more than 20 years, an MP. As a partner in Grissell and Peto, he managed projects that built many of London's major buildings and monuments, including the Reform Club, The Lyceum Theatre, Nelson's Column and the replacement Houses of Parliament.

Peto rebuilt Somerleyton Hall, bringing it up to date, as well as constructing a school and more houses in the village, and built similar projects in Lowestoft. For the hall, he engaged two of Victorian England's greatest names; John Thomas, sculptor and architect to Prince Albert, who also worked on the Houses of Parliament, and William Andrews Nesfield, celebrated garden designer to the aristocracy. It is Nesfield's work that you can see in Somerleyton's beautiful Grade II* listed gardens today.

While the hall was underway, Peto directed John Thomas in the rebuilding of Somerleyton village, creating a model village based on Blaise Hamlet near Bristol. But despite his vast wealth, the Somerleyton estate project bankrupted Peto and the whole lot was sold to Sir Francis Crossley, a carpet manufacturer from Halifax, West Yorkshire, who made it his home.

The title of Baron Somerleyton was created for Crossley's son, Savile in 1916 and the estate has stayed in the family ever since. It's currently the family home of Hugh Crossley, 4th Baron Somerleyton who's done a lot to promote the gardens and wild areas of the estate.

Great British Life: The memorial to Christopher Cockerell, inventor of hovercraft in Somerleyton walk. The memorial to Christopher Cockerell, inventor of hovercraft in Somerleyton walk. (Image: Lindsay Want)

With its picturesque thatched cottages, shop and pond overhung with willow trees, Somerleyton village is like a Victorian time capsule, and all the more charming for it. On Waddling Way, east of the village, there's a memorial to two airmen killed in a friendly fire incident during World War II. An RAF DeHavilland Mosquito nightfighter being flown by two American Navy pilots was mistakenly shot down by British anti-aircraft fire.

Somerleyton is also know as the place where, in the 1950s, Christopher Cockerell designed and tested the first hovercraft at his boatyard in the village. There's a monument to the inventor, erected in 2010, the centenary of Cockerell's birth.

That's Somerleyton; what's the story behind Waddling Lane? Suffolk was famous for turkeys and geese, so the name for this green lane may well stem from flocks of geese that were once driven along it to Smithfield Market in London. The geese wore felt bootees to protect their feet. The goose girl or boy driving them may well have been barefoot...

The Walk

Start at the pub, the Duke's Head. Find a stone block in the pavement that shows the pub lies outside the bounds of the Somerleyton estate. Turn right and follow the lane through the village, passing estate cottages and the shop, reaching the school. Where the road bends slightly left, leave right at an Angles Way sign along the lane to Ashby, next to the estate wall. You'll reach a thatched lodge. Turn right through a gate into the park. Follow the drive for about a quarter of a mile.

1. Look for a path signed through a gap on the left. Head along the path, past a line of oaks. The remote church of Ashby is just visible through the trees ahead.

2. Meeting a farm track turn right to Kitty's Farm. Go through the farmyard, threading your way through barns and where the track ends at a bungalow, go through an opening and continue along the edge of two fields. Juust before the end of the second one, go right towards East Wood. Reaching the wood, follow the path left along the boundary, into the next field, skirting a small pond, then into a small copse.

Go straight on and at the edge of the next field take the second of two openings on the right. Go diagonally across a field, heading for a gap in the far hedge by a telegraph post.

Great British Life: The gardens at Somerleyton are some of the finest in Suffolk and well worth visiting. The gardens at Somerleyton are some of the finest in Suffolk and well worth visiting. (Image: Somerleyton Hall)

3. Meeting Green Lane, turn right. Follow the quiet lane for about a mile. Over to your right, you'll see glimpses of Somerleyton Hall as you pass Green Farm on the left.

4. About 50 yeards before meeting the B1074 Blundeston Road, look for a sign to a path on the left. The path winds round a thicket (Green Lane Clumps) to a gate in the park wall beyond. Cross the road to a stile opposite and head out along the field edge. The path joins a gravel track; continue on, over a low rise for about half a mile until you reach a gate onto Waddling Lane.

Great British Life: The memorial to two American pilots who crashed in Somerleyton during the Second World War. The memorial to two American pilots who crashed in Somerleyton during the Second World War. (Image: Angela Sharpe)

5. Turn right onto the lane which is part of the Angles Way, running all the way along the Waveney Valley. You'll soon pass the memorial to the American aircrew on your right. This is a lovely part of the walk with great views across the Waveney Valley. After about half a mile the track divides; keep left for another half a mile, following the track until it meets Station Road. Turn left. Reaching the station, take the gravel track opposite into a wood.

6. Soon reaching an Angles Way sign, go left along a grass track into thicket and then a boatyard. Bear right go through the yard, follow the track onto a lane and back to the Dukes Head on the left.


Distance: 6.25miles/10.1km

Time: 3hours

Start/finish: Dukes Head, Slugs Lane, Somerleyton NR32 5QR

Access: quiet roads, lanes, footpaths, field edges

Map: OS Explorer OL40

Ts & Ps: Dukes Head, Somerleyton