The Chap and I sit, blissed out, as the sun warms our faces and the gentle patter of water from the fountain almost lulls us to sleep. The clear, cool breeze carries with it the distant lowing of cattle and the sound of children playing, as they chase through the labyrinthine avenues of the gardens at Houghton Hall.
As days out in Norfolk go, it doesn’t get much better. Combining gardens, with heritage, architecture and fine slice of cake, there are worse things to do in Norfolk.
Having explored both Blickling and Holkham Halls on recently, Houghton was next on our list of places to explore. It certainly didn’t disappoint. Well, except for the fact that we got at 10.30 and it doesn’t open until 11am. Learn from our mistake and don’t rock up too early!
When we eventually got in, we paid our £18 entry fee each and made straight for the gardens, to make the most of the weather.
Norfolk’s great outdoors
Houghton Hall’s Walled Garden has several distinct areas. These include a fruit and vegetable garden, a Mediterranean garden, with a circus at the centre, featuring a burbling fountain.
We meandered beneath the boughs of apple trees, watched butterflies dance on delphiniums and bees buzz from one lavender bush to another. In all, it was fantastic for recharging my batteries.
Hidden in a section of the garden is the Jeppe Hein’s Waterflame. At first appearance, it’s just a fountain. Then you spot that the water is on fire – and it’s truly mesmerising to watch.
Art at Houghton Hall
There is lots of art and sculpture dotted about Houghton Hall and its gardens and you can never be sure when you’re going to stumble across something new.
For instance, the artist Richard Long has several works on display, both inside the Hall and in the grounds as part of the Earth Sky exhibition. Full Moon Circle will become a permanent installation, while A Line in Norfolk features in the promotional posters for the exhibition. Arranging stone interesting shapes, they almost feel part of the environment. They might have been there for centuries, they seem to fit so naturally within the landscape.
Inside the hall, North South East West is a surprise in the Stone Hall. The room itself is striking. It’s a large, galleried space with intricate carvings, sconces, busts, sculpture, chandelier and columns; it really is something to behold. The artwork brings the outside in, with natural shapes and tones that complement the space.
Inside Houghton Hall
Having jumped straight into the interior of the Palladian-style Hall, I may as well continue. Only part of Houghton Hall is open to the public, but it gives a real sense of what the house would have been like in former-Prime-Minister Sir Robert Walpole’s day.
I’m not going to bang on about the history. Much of it is available to read online and I’m liable to get in a muddle if I try to recount it. However, as you explore Houghton Hall, you get a real sense that Walpole wanted the estate to be lavish and breath-taking – and he certainly succeeded.
The sweeping steps that lead into the West Wing are topped with pillars and statues reminiscent of ancient Greece. And then, when passing from the foyer into the main body of the house, you’re greeted by the magnificent Great Staircase, classical tromp l’oeil on the walls and a statue of a gladiator atop a folly.
From there you can explore a number of rooms, including the aforementioned Stone Hall, the damask-encased Saloon, The White Parlour, The Common Parlour, the Embroidered Bedchamber, The Green Velvet Bedchamber, the Library, and my personal favourite, The Cabinet. Bedecked in beautiful Japanese blue wallpaper illustrated with intricate plants and birds, I’m now searching for something similar to go in our spare room.
The guides in each of the rooms were very friendly and helped with the many questions we may had about Houghton Hall and its inhabitants, helping to bring the experience to life.
Food and drink at Houghton
Before I sign off, I should mention that the stables are worth a visit. Not only does they house the gift shop (and I do love a gift shop), but it’s also home to the café. Located around a central courtyard, it’s protected from the wind and is a great place to people-watch other sightseers.
With high, vaulted ceilings, the café is a lovely space in itself. There are illustrations and architects’ elevations on the walls and terracotta pots filled with herbs on the tables. The food looked amazing too (it was all I could do not to have a sausage roll). I can highly recommend the lemon cake with a pot of tea.
Got an idea for where I should explore next? Drop me a line on Twitter with suggestions.