Monday, 18 September 2017

Nelson's Boyhood Home and Holkham Park

Red Roofs
After the rugged beauty of Northumbria and Cumbria our next destination was a rather different part of England, the flat county of Norfolk.  My wife and I had managed to lose the children for a week at Guide Camp and so we took the opportunity to investigate a county that I haven't really looked at much before.  Our base was just outside Norwich and this gave us the opportunity to investigate the Broads and the coast.

First up was this walk - one of the more challenging walks from vol 17 of the Pathfinder Guides Norfolk and Suffolk (walk 23).  All things are relative of course - this was far less challenging than some of the intermediate walks from other parts of the country.  It did combine the coast and a place we really wanted to visit though - Holkham Hall.  We began the walk in the village of Burnham Overy Staithe, a small fishing village on the coast.  It wasn't obvious that we were on the coast at the beginning of the walk and our route took us initially away into the hinterland countryside.

Former Railway
We walked along a lae that eventually turned into a farm track and the agricultural nature of this county became immediately apparent from the off.  The rumble of tractors pervaded the air and one in particular off to our left was particularly noisy - when we looked we could see it was muck spreading.  The smell soon hit us too!  The dustiness of the soil behind seemed very surprising considering how much wet weather we had experienced on our travels during the summer and even the day before we started the walk.

Field Fellows
We soon left the smell and noise behind and ahead we could see the countryside opening up.  Norfolk is not really a county for great viewpoints but occasionall you gain enough height to be able to see some miles ahead.  This was the case here and we could certainly trace the first few miles of our walk and the things we were likely to see along the way.  Peeping out of the fields and trees were a number of churches from each of the villages that dot this corner of Norfolk.  It wasn't just churches either - thre were also a couple of windmills.  Norfolk has more windmills than any other county and so this should not have been a surprise.

Burnham Church
Off in the distance we passed by Burnham Overy Town.  Our path did not allow more than a brief glimpse, which was a pity for it looked a most agreeable place when we drove through on the way to park our car.  We crossed a busy road and passed a small group of houses on the edge of the town and headed across some more fields to reach an old railway line.  This was the former Heacham to Wells-Next-The-Sea line, which closed as long ago as 1953.  Judging from the vegetation that now grew on the trackbed this is not a surprise but we could see the earthworks that definitely hinted at its past.  Nearby Burnham Market station is still extant and operates as a small hotel.  We walked a few yards along the old railway before dropping down the embankment and enetered a marshy looking field.

In the field was a large group of cattle - we gave them a wide berth as we headed towards the tower of a church in the distance.  Among the herd were a couple of animals that didn't look right and as we got closer we realised that two of the group were in fact donkeys!  They looked pretty as home among their bovine friends and gave us a look as if to query what the fuss was.

At the other end of the field was the first proper feature of the walk - the church at Burnham Thorpe where Nelson's father was once the vicar.  It is hard to believe that one of the greatest military men in British history came from such a calm and serene place.  We lingered at the church for a few minutes enjoying the ambience of the place.  We didn't venture inside though as it was a Sunday and the next church service would be starting not too long after.  

Estate Road
The path looped around the village of Burnham Thorpe, past the pub inevitably called Lord Nelson and gave us a glimpse of the manor house.  Sadly the pub wasn't functioning - it would seem even its histrical connections weren't enough to save it.  We also passed a woman who seemed to be travelling in a genuine horse drawn gypsy caravan - she was parked up on a grassy verge and her horse seemed to be having a well earned rest.  The rest of the village was largely deserted - even the children's play area was devoid of customers.
Boating Lake

We headed up the lane away from the village and soon we were in open countryside again among fields of wheat and maize.  The latter didn't look too far away from being harvested and I suppose a lot of it ends up as animal feed or the makings of corn oil.  Not sure it looked quite good enough to be harvested as a vegetable.  Our path took as between two large fields to an old barn and were unbroken apart from an area of what can only be described as animal slurry - it stank to high heaven!  We were pleased to get past there very quickly I can tell you!

Holkham Hall
Eventually we reached a lengthy wall that formed the perimeter of Holkham Park.  It was an impenetrable barrier at this point so we had to turn left and follow it for some distance before reaching one of the main gateways overlooked by a very attractive lodge house and even lovelier garden.  Coincidentally the path alongside the wall was also a Roman Road although I am not sure where it went to and from.

Inside the park we headed along an estate road.  This did not look like it was a tourist entrance for the road was mostly empty save for one vehicle that passed us halfway to the main house.  The estate road seemed to go on forever - it was certainly more than a mile long from the lodge house.  By the time we reached the main house we were so anxious to get there that we managed to missed the walled garden along the way, which was rather disappointing.  Up on a small hill away from the house was the ice house; not especially convenient if you needed a cube or two to go with your Scotch.

Holkham Hall is really impressive, especially at the angle of approach on this footpath.  It is widely regarded as one of the country's finest examples of Palladian architecture, constructed by the 1st Earl of Leicester back in the 18th Century.  We certainly couldn't pass by without taking a look around and we also had a very enjoyable lunch in the cafĂ©.  Inside the place is as opulent as you might expect, with lots of sumptuous furnishings, marble and incredible old paintings.  The guides in each of the rooms were very knowledgeable and we chatted to some of them about some of the old stories that a place of this size and history must have had.  The one thing that struck us about Holkham Hall is how well the staff were treated; almost as if they were an extended family rather than employees.  One thing to beware of if you decide to stop is that it is still privately owned (not National Trust) and therefore the opening times are not as often as you might expect.

Holkham Village
Outside the building the view out across the estate was equally impressive.  Off to the right was a large boating lake with plenty of people circling around in their hired boats.  Straight ahead in the distance was a large column, not dissimilar to the ones at Castle Howard and Blenheim.  I guess this must have been the fashion accessory for the well heeled at a certain point in history?  In front of the column a game of cricket was going on.  I'm not sure I would want to be playing cricket in these surroundings - my eyes would be drawn to the scenery rather than the ball!

Stripes and Chimneys
After stopping at Holkham Hall for about three hours we were ready to move on.  We passed the well filled car park and it was obvious then that visitors come in from Holkham village through a rather more impressive gate than the one we passed through earlier.  The village of Holkham was just as busy as the house and is impressively laid out.  Opposite the rather grand looking Victoria Hotel we headed along Lady Anne's Drive.  When I saw this on the map I imagined a rather impressive tree lined grand estate road.  Sadly it is rather spoiled now by the number of parked cars along here as the Drive now acts as a main thoroughfare to the beach.

Site of Holkham Station
Part of the way down we crossed backover the old railway that we had encountered earlier in the day.  You would need to be a really good detective to know it was here though as the only real clue was the fact that it was marked on the map.  Holkham station was once here but any trace of its remains are long gone and only a pillbox marks where it once stood.  It was about half a mile from the village it was supposed to serve and this was a common theme with all the stations along this route which probably explains why it was an early casualty.

Holkham Beach
At the end of the car park the crowds of people formed what can only be described as a conveyor belt of visitors to the beach.  My heart sank as I didn't really want to be dealing with such crowds for the last stretch of the walk.  I needn't have worried.  By the time we got to the beach the tide was out and the expanse of sand was so huge that it swallowed everybody comfortably.  We also had the advantage of turning left when we got to the beach while most people headed straight on to the sea.

Approaching Burnham Overy Staithe
Our onward route was now through some enormous sand dunes.  This got quite difficult and it wasn't easy to see the way ahead at times so large were the dunes.  Eventually I tired of trying to plot a course through the dunes and so I encouraged my wife to follow me down onto the beach.  By now we pretty much had the expanse of sand to ourselves with only the odd wading bird for company.  A combination of light waves, hot feet and soft sand were all too much and soon our boots and socks were off and we waded along the beach for quite a distance.  We felt most indulgent as we did so!

Red Sail
Soon we came to the end of the beach and so reluctantly boots went back on and we plotted the course down to Burnham Overy Staithe and back to our car.  The path was quite easy compared to the dunes and as the tide was now coming in all the boats that had been trapped in port for several hours were now heading out to sea once again.  It wasn't too long before we got into the village and as we did so we were faced with a most picturesque harbour and plenty of activity around it as people scrambled to get out to sea.  By now we were ready for more refreshment but wanted something a little more adult than the mobile tea bar located by the harbourside.  We opted instead for the pub in the village for a lovely cold pint - it was a great choice.

Snack Stop
This was a fairly lengthy but easy going walk in three distinct sections with an agricultural section, one through Holkham Park and then the coastal section.  All were delightful in their own way and there were plenty of interesting features along the way to keep us interested.  We voted this the best walk that we did in Norfolk on this trip.  I'm now tempted to walk more of the coast too!

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