We recently returned from a holiday in north Norfolk. One of the many highlights of our week in this glorious county was a trip to the Holkham Estate near Wells-next-the-Sea.
We loved our visit to the Holkham Estate. Apart from the wonderful landscape and beauty of the buildings, the atmosphere felt so welcoming and relaxed. We were allowed to take photos throughout and the blinds were up. Sometimes when you visit such places you feel you have to walk around talking in hushed tones in the dark!
At Holkham, the staff were all incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. They were really keen to guide you and give extra information. Even the woman on the gate selling ice cream was super helpful and gave us advice on where everything was. We got the impression that it was a very happy place to work.
The jewel in the crown of the Holkham Estate is, of course Holkham Hall, a grand 18th century Palladian country mansion. It is absolutely stunning, from the beautiful marble entrance hall to the fabulous ‘Parrot bedroom’, still used to accommodate guests at the hall. Fabulous artworks and tapestries hung in every room. There was so much to see we didn’t know where to look first!
Thomas Coke (pronounced Cook), who built Holkham, collected a variety of treasures on his Grand Tour of Europe as a very young man. They are scattered around the house. We particularly enjoyed the Statue Gallery, which displays some of his purchases. Not quite the holiday souvenirs most of us go for, but stunning nonetheless.
The library was amazing, packed to the rafters with priceless books and manuscripts, many collected by Thomas Coke on his travels. The guide explained to us that university students come in to help clean and conserve them and that they are still used for historical research.
The old kitchen was huge and full of copper pots, pans and kettles. We really enjoyed the portraits of the estate staff commissioned by the 7th Earl of Leicester, painted in the 1990s into the early 2000s. These showed the people who continue to maintain the estate and make it the beautiful place it is. The guide surprised us by telling us that the kitchen staff did not mix with the upstairs staff at all. It wasn’t like Downton Abbey! They didn’t speak to each other except to communicate when food was ready to be taken upstairs and it was passed through a small hatch.
Farming at the Holkham Estate
We had a long chat with the guide in the Field to Fork exhibition. He explained that the Holkham Estate is a fully functioning farm, which helps to support the house and grounds. The estate grows a lot of barley, much of which goes to breweries such as Adnams in Suffolk. They also produce the malt that goes into Maltesers! Other crops include oilseed rape, potatoes, wheat and sugar beet.
There is a strong emphasis on conservation at the Holkham Estate. It employs six gamekeepers and a conservation team, aiming to preserve the park and woodland for the benefit of wildlife and to protect natural habitats.
You can feel how the environment benefits from this careful management. The grounds were full of bird song, and we were thrilled to see all the tiny goslings along the lakeside.
This was the largest walled garden we have ever seen, covering six acres. It is very much a work in progress. Some of the spectacular Victorian glass houses have already been restored, although the ‘sunken greenhouses’, which look like huge long cold frames, are a future project.
When we visited, the vegetables were just starting to take off and the lavender was at its fragrant best.
Wheel chair accessible
We were impressed by how accessible the house and grounds were to visitors with limited mobility. There were ramps everywhere, nearby parking for blue badge holders and you could take a buggy from the house to the walled garden.
After our long and very pleasant day wandering around the Holkham Estate we decided to make our way to Holkham Beach. What an absolute gem! Part of the Holkham National Nature Reserve, the beach is as huge as the sky. Totally unspoilt, you walk through a pine wood to get to the sand and, depending on whether it is high tide or low tide you then walk a long way or a really long way to find the sea. It is fabulous! We were blessed with evening sunshine when we went and had a paddle in the warm sea.
The admission price for Holkham Hall, the Field to Fork Experience and the Walled Garden is £16 for adults and £8 for children. A family ticket costs £44. You do have to pay for parking on top of your entrance fee, both for the house and for the beach, but I think it is a price worth paying to contribute to keeping both the Holkham Estate and the beach in such great condition. We bought a couple of things in the gift shop: if you spend £12 you get your £3 parking charge back. You can find further details at the Holkham Estate website.
The Holkham Estate was kind enough to give us complimentary tickets. However, this post contains my own unbiased and honest opinions.