If you enjoy being nosey around posh homes (and who doesn’t), then Holkham Hall will not disappoint you as it is one of the grandest stately homes in Norfolk. Building of this palatial house started in 1734 and the work took thirty years to complete. Now the heart of a 25000-acre, or 100 square kilometres, estate, the Hall was built for Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester, and is still owned and lived in by the Coke family.
We first visited Holkham Hall on a wet and miserable day during our last Norfolk holiday. It was one of those days when going out for a tandem ride wasn't at all appealing, and we instead looked around for something dry and indoors to explore.
The weather forecast suggested clearing skies in the afternoon, which we hoped would mean we could walk in the park. But the weather forecasters got it wrong! We did brave the weather, but didn’t get very far. Just the quick walk to the ice house and back left us soaked.
It wasn’t until a good few years later, on a fine sunny spring day, that we got a better chance to explore the greater Holkham estate during a walk from Wells-next-the-Sea. Even then, we only saw the north-eastern part of the parkland, so another visit is on the cards!
We all know how important it is to make a good first impression. At Holkham, the architect definitely achieved that! The Marble Hall makes for a dramatic entryway to the hall. Visitors would have been suitably impressed and probably a good bit daunted and overwhelmed if they'd been greeted by the Earl of Leicester himself.
The design draws inspiration from the Temple of Fortuna Virilis and the Pantheon, both in Rome, and the result is truly remarkable. Ornate columns support the roof, which rises over fifty feet above the floor. The recesses around the room are filled with plaster statues of Greek and Roman gods brought from Italy by the first Earl of Leicester.
The stone used in the hall is actually not marble, but alabaster. I suppose
naming the hall The Alabaster Hall just doesn’t have the same ring to it!
The remainder of the house is as impactful as the Marble Hall. Fine paintings and tapestries by great artists adorn the walls, statues and busts decorate small niches, and quality pieces of furniture sit attractively in each room.
One room that particularly got my attention was the calm and relaxing library. I could really see myself sitting here in front of a roaring open fire reading a good book. I found the room much simpler and less showy, and there were even family photos around the room!
parkland around Holkham Hall is free to explore and has several public footpaths and the National Cycle Network passing through. You can follow one of seven
waymarked walking and cycling routes, which range from two to six miles in length, and explore all parts of the park. Cycle hire is available for anyone fancy a cycle ride, but was unable to bring their own.
The scenery is stunning, and offers plenty of interest to explore, including a herd of deer! Don't miss the church, lake, ice house, temple, obelisk, triumphal arch, and Coke monument. You could also try your hand at boating, climbing, or watching a game of cricket by the lake!
Holkham village is a small collection of buildings that were rebuilt during the nineteenth century and includes the popular Victoria Hotel. Many of the building are Grade II listed and include the oldest building - “The Ancient House” - which is from around the seventeenth century but was heavily modified at the same time as the village was rebuilt.
The Holkham National Nature Reserve is a massive stretch of land that includes a wide variety of landscapes such as Holkham Beach, pine forest, salt marsh, sand dunes, and grazing marshland. It's a wonderful place for some nature watching. You may catch the odd seal basking in the sun on the beach, or see Little Terns diving for fish in the sea. At certain times of the year areas will be roped off to protect the eggs of ground nesting birds and, if you’re lucky, you may get the chance to see the young birds being raised. Just bring some binoculars or a camera with a long zoom lens!
The pine forest was planted in the nineteenth century to protect the marsh land that had been drained for grazing animals and conservation. Due to the lack of light and the cover of pine needles, very little gets to grow between the trees, but it’s great for the birds and insects. It’s amazing how this small length of trees can protect you from the sun, light, and wind!
Holkham Beach is one of Norfolk’s finest sandy beaches and is reached after a short boardwalk walk through the pine forest. The huge skies and vastness of the golden sand make for a beautiful panorama. Kids and dogs will love running around and playing on the sand and splashing about in the sea. And if you need to shelter from the sun, then there is plenty of shade in the pine forest behind the dunes!
If you want to capture all that can be experienced at Holkham Hall, one of the most exciting stately homes in Norfolk, then you’ll need a full day. There is so much to see and do around the estate. For more information on opening times and to book tickets see the Holkham Hall website.
At the time of writing in 2022, members of Historic Houses get free admission and free parking. Also, English Heritage members get a 20% discount on Hall entry.
Norfolk has no shortage of fabulous holiday accommodation whether you want to spend time on the beach, love boating or want to explore inland. You may covet a tiny fisherman's cottage like the one in Blakeney we kept returning to. You may like something larger and more modern like a loft overlooking the Norfolk Broads, or the right place for you may be a chic city apartment perfectly placed to explore Norwich...
However, if you fancy a hotel how about some of these...
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It's next to impossible to be bored in Norfolk, there's just so much to do and see. The list below includes some of our favourite places