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From ancient woodlands and marshy waterways to lordly family dynasties and medieval peat-mining – geography and history go hand in hand in Norfolk, and, as a result, it’s a county that’s full to bursting with intriguing architectural treasures.
Some of Norfolk’s most unique properties are in the care of the National Trust, and our guide to these fantastic buildings will tell you everything you need to know as you journey into the past.
This spectacular house, built by the prominent Bedingfield family in the 15th century, is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Surrounded by a moat and set amid an estate of nearly 70 acres made up of beautiful gardens and woodlands, Oxburgh Hall has survived wars, religious tensions, and even fire and has a rich history that’s told in its every brick and beam; from Tudor carvings to Victorian Gothic splendour, the hall is an architectural tapestry of its former inhabitants’ own fascinating stories.
The unique historical collection at Oxburgh Hall includes a beautiful tapestry of embroidered silks, known as the Marian Hangings, made by Mary Queen of Scots herself during the period of her captivity in Scotland. Built by the family at a time when practicing Catholicism was a treasonous act, are you brave enough to crawl into the claustrophobic confines of Oxburgh’s secret priest hole?
The thoughtfully tended estate at Oxburgh is an unmissable experience. Wander beside thousands of flowers and along the perfumed herbaceous borders of the formal gardens, explore the winding, romantic paths of the Wilderness, or walk beneath the dappled leaves in My Lady’s Wood.
After your adventures, pop into the tea shop for a spot of tea and a bite of mouth-watering cake, or pick up some excellent local produce at the hall’s shop.
Top tip: for a different view of things, head up to the roof of the hall. You’ll get to look down over the elaborately decorated chimney tops and the views across the surrounding countryside are superb.
For more information, visit the National Trust’s Oxburgh Hall page.
Felbrigg Hall is one of the region’s most elegant and ornate buildings, offering up medieval stained glass windows, opulent Italianate décors, a sumptuous Gothic library with over 5,000 books, intricate 17th-century plaster work, and much, much more.
Felbrigg’s Walled Garden is home to intoxicating colourful herb beds that give off wonderfully intoxicating aromas as you walk the picturesque, hedge-bordered paths. Alternatively, why not pay a visit to the cool shade of the Orangery or gaze at the unusual, exotic plants that grow in the grounds?
Entering the rest of the hall’s 520 acre estate, visitors can walk beside the ancient beeches and oaks of the Great Wood (a designated Site of Scientific Interest), uncover the folly ruins of the Ice House, or lounge by the tranquil waters of Felbrigg Lake.
Felbrigg’s tea room has an excellent reputation for homemade soup and scones, so a pit stop here to refuel is highly recommended!
Top tip: Don’t miss the chance to visit the dovecote in the Walled Garden. Built in the late 18th century, it is one of the UK’s very best surviving examples of a large-scale dovecote, with holes for nearly 1000 birds to nest in. The structure was restored in the early 20th century and is still home to eye-catching doves today.
For more information, visit the National Trust’s Felbrigg Hall page.
A masterpiece in red brick, this Jacobean gem is a must. The estate covers a staggering 4,600 acres and its vibrant history stretches back for a millennium. Nowadays, visitors can explore the beautiful house and learn the stories of its past.
Blickling was the birthplace of the ill-fated queen, Anne Boleyn and it’s said that her headless ghost drifts through the hall on the anniversary of her death. In fact, the building has a claim on being one of the most haunted houses in Britain, with a small army of phantom residents supposedly haunting it; the terrifying, deathly groans of Sir Henry Hobart are said to be heard coming from the West Turret Bedroom each year.
After discovering the delights of the hall and its supernatural tales, immerse yourself in the magnificence of the estate at large. The striking gardens are a joy to behold: the immaculate lawns, avenues of vibrant flowers in bloom, a neo-classical ornamental temple –you could spend hours admiring these magical delights.
Top tip: The estate’s woodlands are perfect for walks (especially with four-legged friends), and it’s worth keeping an eye out for the architectural splendour of the Mausoleum, a grandiose, 18th century pyramid that is the final resting place of the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire and his two wives.
For more information, visit the National Trust’s Blickling Estate page.
Sheringham Park was conceived in 1812 by the prolific Humphry Repton, one of England’s greatest historical landscape designers, for the estate’s newest owner’s, Abbot and Charlotte Upcher. The farmhouse that stood on the site was replaced by the much grander incarnation seen today and the land was transformed into enchanted scenery that enhanced the natural vistas it offered.
The parklands cover 1000 acres and Sheringham is renowned for its brightly coloured collection of azaleas and rhododendrons, along with the three species of deer that call this place home. Walkers will love Sheringham Park, and there are several waymarked routes, ranging from short to long distances, for visitors to enjoy. Why not take in the wonderful surroundings on Repton’s Walk, discovering the unique features of the landscaped gardens designed by the man himself?
Top tip: we especially love the view from the Gazebo, which reveals the Norfolk coastline in all its glory, so don’t forget to admire the sights from this hilltop lookout.
For more information, visit the National Trust’s Sheringham Park page.
This iconic Edwardian building stands watch over Horsey Mere amid Norfolk’s fascinating broadland landscape.
Built in 1912, the mill was designed to pump water from the drainage dykes of the Broads, sending the water on a journey of over twenty miles to the the sea at Great Yarmouth. In 1943, the windpump was dramatically struck by lightning, destroying the timber frame that held up its sails. Left derelict for over a century, a National Trust restoration project to restore the building to its former glory is currently underway, and, soon, windsails will once again crown this unique structure.
While the building is being cared for, access inside isn’t permitted, but the landscape around Horsey Windpump can still be enjoyed and a visit here is most definitely worthwhile. This remote and peaceful setting is well known for the international wildlife that visit each year, including Swallowtail butterflies and an array of wild birds, and walks through the Horsey estate offer a wealth of natural beauty to be discovered. Fancy a stroll? The National Trust’s Horsey Estate Walk covers all of the wonderful highlights of the area.
Top tip: Take to the water and enjoy a wildlife boat trip across Horsey Mere. Departing from Horsey Staithe in all weather conditions from May until the end of September, this informal tour – led by Ross, your knowledgeable guide – on a traditional wooden pleasure boat reveals the hidden secrets of the Broads landscape, which has remained unchanged for centuries.
For more information, visit the National Trust’s Horsey Windpump page.
Looking for somewhere to stay during your visit? Explore our selection of cottages near National Trust properties in Norfolk.
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