Well, autumn has well and truly arrived in Norfolk, with the leaves falling from the trees and the weather turning damp and gloomy. Thankfully you don’t have to stay at home though, because there’s still plenty to do indoors.
In fact, that’s why, a couple of weekends back, The Chap and I escaped from Norwich, seeking historical entertainment at Blickling Hall.
Having had a splendid day at Holkham Hall earlier in the year, we had been meaning to go to Blickling for a few weeks, but it took a change in the weather to nudge us in the right direction.
Less than half an hour’s drive from the south side Norwich, it’s quick and easy to get to, even in the bad weather. And although we didn’t set off for the Hall until midday, we still managed to spend most of Sunday afternoon there.
Keeping up appearances
Just to ease you into our experience, here’s a bit of history to whet your appetite: the construction of Blickling Hall began in 1616 under the gaze of Sir Henry Hobart, 1st Baronet and Lord Chief Justice. It has undergone numerous changes over the centuries, before being bequeathed in its entirety to the National Trust in the 1930s by Lord Lothian.
From the picture at the top of the page, you can imagine the reaction the building had on people in the seventeenth century – the ornate architecture, manicured lawns and established box hedges – the show of wealth in the grounds alone would have been enough to put you in awe. We certainly were!
As soon as we entered the building, two volunteers quickly came to give us a potted history of the Great Hall, which has had an interesting history of its own. While it might look Jacobean, it actually dates from the Georgian period, when the Hall extended and a sweeping stairway was added. The volunteers also explained a bit about the choice of decoration, portraits and the stained glass window at the top of the stairs – which was reportedly moved in its entirety to a local church, but then reclaimed by the National Trust in the twentieth century.
During our three-hour amble through the house, we spoke to lots of extremely knowledgeable volunteers who were keen to tell us more about Blickling’s past. We were particularly impressed by the South Drawing Room (above), which has an enormous, stripped wood fire surround in the middle of the room and intricate ceiling mouldings. It must have been wonderfully cozy with a fire lit on a damp October afternoon!
The Brown Room, which was formerly a chapel, has a beautifully painted ceiling and is well worth a pause, if only to find out how the room’s use has changed.
I took a particular fancy to the Peter the Great Room, adorned with apricot silk and delicate ceiling mouldings. It was a bit like being inside a giant fondant fancy, which is always a good thing in my book!
An exploration below stairs was also fascinating, with huge kitchens filled with cooking equipment, which gave a real feel for how people worked in the Hall. With churns and orange presses, cabinets filled with glass and silverware, and a huge range, you could imagine it bustling with activity (especially if you’re a Downton fan).
I really liked the little touches on the way round the house too – including contemporary magazines and newspapers. It gave a real insight into what was happening in Britain immediately before Blickling became a National Trust property.
Once we’d toured the entire house, we headed out to the gardens for some fresh (damp) air.
We took a hike up to the temple at the end of the path at the back of the Hall, where we discovered a lovely spot for a picnic, looking out over the estate’s land. If it was a bit warmer, we’d have happily sat there for a couple of hours with a picnic and a book – but I imagine everybody else does too, so it becomes rather busy in the summer.
We also found the Secret Garden, hidden among the trees, before heading back inside to get warm. We’ve decided that we’re going to come back next summer to explore the grounds more fully – I think you could easily spend a couple of hours roaming around and soaking up the sunshine.
And for once, I didn’t go to the Book Barn, which is probably one of my favourite places in Norfolk. Filled with thousands of second-hand books, it is a dream/nightmare because I can spend a fortune adding to my collection. If you’re a bibliophile, I recommend stopping there on the way.
The only downside of a visit to Blicking Hall is the cost of the visit. Obviously, because it’s National Trust, it’s quite pricey, with admission prices at £13.90 per adult and £3 for parking. However, if you’re going to spend the whole day there, it is definitely worth a visit.
You can find out more about Blickling Hall and it’s history on the National Trust website.