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After a quick breakfast, time to hit the motorway with good company on hand. I can’t believe how time has flown since I last visited Holkham and, truly, it’s one of the most magical places to visit in the UK.
Arriving around lunch time, after a few unavoidable “photo-shoots” (well you can’t blame ME for the beauty of nature and/or picturesque houses which demand to be photographed for Instagram and for you guys to enjoy), I can’t wait to walk along windswept Holkham Beach and feel the wonderful sea air under a brilliant blue sky.
The Victoria Inn is located in the quaint village of Holkham, just a few minutes’ walk from the golden sands of Holkham Beach and the gates of Holkham Hall, which is the ancestral home of Lord and Lady Leicester and is still owned by them today.
The inn itself is full of character with wooden furnishings, and a warm country atmosphere to complement fresh gourmet food, which smells truly scrumptious. Dogs are welcome and there are already a few adorable pooches patiently waiting to be treated to any tasty leftovers from the table. After checking in to the Ancient House just opposite the inn, we are shown to a cosy vibe bedroom, which comes with a separate living area and state of the art bathroom, all guaranteed to ensure a comfortable night’s sleep.
Let’s plan the rest of the day at Holkham Hall… Within a stunning location on the north Norfolk coast and at the heart of a thriving 25,000-acre estate, Holkham Hall is described as an exceptional place, rich in history, architecture and wildlife. The hall is an elegant 18th-century Palladian style house, based on designs by William Kent and built by Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester. The Marble Hall is a spectacular introduction to this imposing building, with its 50ft pressed plaster dome ceiling and walls of English alabaster, not marble as its name implies. Stairs lead to magnificent state rooms displaying superb collections of ancient statuary, original furniture, tapestries and paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Claude, Gaspar Poussin and Gainsborough. The house took 30 years to be completed, fills in with so many treasures.
I had an opportunity to meet Lord and Lady Leicester, happy to be known more informally as Thomas and Polly, over breakfast last year and we discussed their history, ancestral home and even covered the subject of social media, which seems quite alien in this setting, but a vital part of shaping the new business as it is becoming today. Time to explore the estate and we begin with the glorious Marble Hall. Local craftsmen, Joseph Pickford and Thomas Carter, who carved the alabaster into shape, dedicated 20 years of their lives to working in the Marble Hall, in The Chapel, and on the fireplaces. The splendid colonnade was copied from that of the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome, while the breath-taking ceiling, taken from the Pantheon, also in Rome, rises to a height of over 50ft.
We walk through from one room to another, seemingly endless, and I am struck by how my impressions of the huge size of the building from the outside still do not prepare me for the enormity of the building on the inside! I find myself in one of my favourite rooms, The Saloon. Rich in crimson wall hangings with ornate paintings by Peter Paul Ruben and Anthony Van Dyck and beautiful gilt furnishing, the saloon is still used today for the same purpose as that for which it was designed – entertaining on a grand scale. In 1865, a grand ball was held here in honour of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Guests entered through the north door into what was then called the Egyptian Hall, where flowers were intertwined between the pillars. The Saloon was illuminated by 300 wax lights and the dancing went on until the early hours of the morning. Time for a waltz, methinks?
You may have noticed what I’m wearing and at first sight, perhaps thought I was auditioning for an acting role at Holkham Hall? Hence, this sartorial military style jacket, which was worn for the same purpose during 18th Century. Nope, it’s not a costume and it’s surprisingly affordable – you want me to name it? OK, it’s from Zara, I know, right! And coincidentally it matches the decor of The Saloon, so maybe I should consider calling it ‘home’ for now?
Time to visit the parklands, the sweeping park that surrounds the hall is home to a large herd of fallow deer and a small herd of red deer that roam freely. Designated walks allow visitors to explore the 3,000-acres grounds and take a closer look at prominent landmarks, such as the monument to Coke of Norfolk and the obelisk. I think it’s time for ‘cuppa’ and some delicious cake, right? The Courtyard Café offers a wide range of meals and snacks, from breakfasts to afternoon tea, perfect after a long spell of sightseeing.
More walking to come now because it’s time to visit Holkham Beach and early evening gives us the perfect opportunity to see the fabulous sunset. The beach at Holkham is one of the most unspoilt and beautiful stretches of sand in the country and has won the well-deserved award for the ‘Best Beach in the UK’. Thank goodness for the Hunter wellies and Brooks Brother quilted coat with cashmere scarf after the long walk along the stunningly lit beach and back.
Supper calls and The Victoria Inn offers locally sourced food, ranging from fish to meat and vegetarian options too, along with multiple choice of wines to accompany your meal. I chose the most delicious scallops for starter and, believe me, it was pure heaven.
On this fine morning, whilst it’s cold but fresh with glorious sunshine, time for some breakfast. For the first time in ages, I order a full English Breakfast in the spacious conservatory, with its views over the Holkham National Reserve, along with morning papers to catch up on before I head out to my next Norfolk countryside adventure.
Holkham has so much to offer, especially if you can stay for a weekend, or even a week – a perfect getaway for couples, families and friends and, arguably, one of the most beautiful places you could wish to visit. I will soon be returning for the Holkham Christmas Special, which promises to be utterly magical, so I will be wrapping up warm with a lovely glass of mulled wine, just counting the days.
Photos by Diana Martin Photography