Having pootled about in Norwich for the past two days, I decided that I was going to have an adventure in the wilds of north Norfolk when I woke up this morning. And that I did.
More specifically, The Chap and I had a history-based adventure (so not in anyway dangerous, but it did involve leaving the city for the first time in a while, so it felt like a big deal) and headed out to Holkham Hall.
If we had been sensible, we should have realised that because it was a sunny bank holiday lots of other people would have had the same thought. We certainly would have been less surprised when we rocked up at 1pm to see huge swathes of the grounds covered in parked cars!
Thankfully the grounds are so huge it didn’t feel claustrophobic and the house itself was quite quiet – it was just a bit of a trek to get from the car to the house itself. In fact, the grounds are so vast and sprawling, you could easily spend a few hours ambling around there after a trip to the beach if you wanted to.
So much to learn
After passing the lions standing sentry at the entrance to the Hall we were immediately greeted by a guide who took our tickets, and gave us a little more information about the busts of both classical figures (Alexander the Great) and those contemporaneous with the house (Sir John Windham), explaining that the more modern ones were of people known by the architect.
It was the first of many encounters with stewards and guides who couldn’t have been more helpful and knowledgeable – they really did make our visit memorable and can’t I commend them enough.
Passing through the entrance, you enter the “Marble” Hall, which is truly breathtaking. There is alabaster (not marble) everywhere, sweeping stairs and a ceiling inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. You could almost imagine the reception the room would have received in the eighteenth century.
From there we made our way through to drawing rooms, state bedrooms, antechambers and a chapel. My favourite parts were the libraries though, which housed some of the oldest printed works in the world, including a copy of Gutenberg’s Bible. Although the books themselves are not on display, the stewards have so much fascinating information about them, telling us about the most significant parts of the collection, how they came to be collected and where they have been used as part of exhibitions elsewhere in the world.
The tapestries throughout the Hall are incredibly beautiful too. I was particularly taken with those in the North State Sitting Room. Created in Brussels in the sixteenth century, they depict the changing seasons and astrological scenes – and there is so much to see. On three of the room’s four walls, the tapestries are almost like a giant Where’s Wally? where my eyes kept spotting interesting things. At the bottom of the picture to the right, which shows Taurus, there are some putti or cherubim, which apparently have the faces of the men that wove them. If you visit, I strongly recommend speaking to a steward to find out more about the designs.
Upon finishing our tour of the Hall, we decided to check out the Walled Garden, which is a ten-minute stroll away. Unfortunately, if I’m being honest, there wasn’t too much to see. It might have been because of the time of year, but much of the ground was bare and nothing much was in bloom. The best bit was the vegetable garden, but I sort of feel like you can see that anywhere. Maybe my hopes were a bit high, but I was a little disappointed by the experience, especially because we paid an additional fee to take a look around.
In spite of that, it was still a great day out and I felt I learnt a lot about Holkham and its heritage. I’d like to return in the summer and explore the gardens a bit more and possibly have lunch at The Victoria Inn – so watch this space!
Parking was £2.50, while adult entry to the house and walled gardens was £12 each.