Thursday, 31 August 2017

Hip. Hip. Horatio!

Day 4 in Norfolk and a road trip was on the cards. Large picnic bag packed to bursting with supplies and we set off west along the coastal road.

Our first port of call was medieval village Cley-next-the-sea, somewhere I've wanted to visit since the early 90's when I collected Lilliput Lane miniature houses and they brought out a ridiculously expensive model of the village. Of course there was plenty of artistic licence involved, and the Cley we found bore no resemblance to that model! 

Still, the walk from the car park to the windmill was interesting, down all the little back alleyways, where I imagined smugglers brought their bounty ashore.  Cley was once one of the busiest ports in England, doing a roaring trade in grains, fish, spices, coal and fabrics, especially with Flemish towns across the North Sea.

Of course, Cley is no longer right next-the-sea, it's now around a mile away over slat flats, a great place to find samphire it seems. The locals were selling it at every corner from these little hand made, and sometimes colourful, stalls.


We soon arrived at the famous windmill, which turned out to be a B+B as well, something to look into for future visits this way. Interestingly, the mill was owned by the family of singer James Blunt until 2006 when it was sold. 

I also discovered that wartime poet Rupert Brooke was holidaying in Cley when WWI broke out.

After a cup of tea and some cake in the car, we drove eastwards again, in search of another small but interesting village.

Burnham Thorpe is the birthplace of Horatio Nelson. It is a tiny and disjointed village with old properties scattered around the lanes. The local pub, we discovered, had closed down in October 2016. Nelson often brought his crew back to the pub when they were in port. He had his favourite bench, which is still inside the pub. The pub was known as the Plough during Nelson's life but the name was changed to The Lord Nelson after his death.

Nelson was allegedly born in the parsonage, as his father was the Rector

However, the parsonage was being redecorated at the time of his birth and locals believe his family were staying at the shooting box, a house nearby.

The shooting box.

The church, All Saints, was heavily restored in the late 1800's.  Inside, due to the Nelson connection, there are several ensigns on display, all are old and off previous warships, but none are from Nelson's time 

These flags are huge and off warships from the 1st and 2nd world wars, they flank the medieval font where Nelson was baptised  

This one's seen a bit more action, the fabric was so thin, like muslin.

Nelson's father, Edmund, is listed in the column on the right of this notice.

Nelson requested that he should be buried in the churchyard at All Saints with members of his family, but when he died at the age of just 47 during the final moments of the Battle of Trafalgar, his service to the country meant his was a state funeral, with interment in the crypt at St Paul's cathedral in London.

I was utterly fascinated by the story of Horatio Nelson, and after we arrived back home, read up on his amazing life story. After thinking he died very young he appeared to have packed more into his 47 years than most of us could fit into two lifetimes. 

With the village pub shut, we sat on the deserted car park with our packed lunch, imagining the well worn wooden benches inside, where Nelson briefed his crew and enjoyed a pint or two.

Turning back towards the holiday chalet, we stopped at Creake Abbey, a free to visit English Heritage ruin nearby.

Creake Abbey was founded in the early 1200's, but a fire in 1484 meant that large parts of the abbey had to be demolished, despite donations from King Richard III.

we noticed several shrines in the walls, with money and prayers

In the early 16th century the plague struck and the abbot was left alone, he died in 1506 and at that point the church reverted to the crown

It took all of ten minutes to view the ruins, so little is left. However, it is a pleasant and tranquil spot.

Nearer to our chalet we came across Binham Priory, a sprawling ruin of a Benedictine Priory, with the church still standing. The bricked up windows below date to 1244, and the remaining window is thought to be the earliest example of decorative windows called bar tracery, in England 

The priory was founded in the late 11th century as a dependant house of St Albans abbey, by the nephew of William the Conquerer.

The grounds were quite extensive and it was surprising to see so many walls left in situ

The walls must be damp to support this beautiful deep red antirrhinum, growing happily 

Spot the OH, camouflaged in khaki.

Of course, Binham was closed down during Henry VIII's reign, but the church remained and now serves as the local parish church.

By this time we were suitably shattered and could take no more information in, such a fascinating day out, but we needed a good rest.

More tales from Norfolk soon.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Felbrigg, chickens and reminders of home

The second full day of our holiday started much like the first, dry but overcast. We were heading to Felbrigg Hall, and stopped off at the seaside on our way.

Cromer is a typical English seaside resort, with roots in Victorian England's love of promenading in the bracing sea air, hence there is a lovely late Victorian pier.

We noted, jealously, the sandy beach! 

As you can see, by the time we got to Cromer the skies were blue, OH kept telling me it was going to be a sunny day but I didn't believe him, think I need to get him a job with the BBC!

Innovative use of an old fishing boat and pebbles, maybe that's why there aren't many on the beach.

After a quick walk along the pier, we set off for Felbrigg Hall, a National Trust managed property a few miles inland.

As tempted as I was by these hobby-horses, I left them

Felbrigg is a 17th century property built on an estate owned by the Wyndham family since the 1400's.

Felbrigg has had it's fair share of characters, one of them being the Victorian William Frederick Windham, or Mad Windham as he became known (yes, the y in the name changes to an i back and forth through history). Mad Windham was the only child of William Windham and his wife Sophie, born in 1840 and said to be a strange child.  He declared a love of uniforms early on in life, particularly train guard uniforms. He allegedly caused chaos at local stations with unauthorised whistle blasts.

Mad Windham took a fancy to the kept woman of a local timber merchant known as Mahogany Roberts, who in turn took an unhealthy interest in the woods surrounding the hall. Mad Windham wanted to marry the woman, Agnes Willoughby, so agreed to a marriage settlement to guarantee her an income. 

His uncle, General Charles Windham, feared for the estate and what was left of the family fortune by this time, so petitioned to have his nephew declared De Lunatico Inquirendo.

The inquiry lasted 34 days and 140 witnesses gave evidence. But, the hearing collapsed and Mad Windham was declared sane.  

Not unexpectedly, Mad Windham's marriage didn't last. His spiralling debts meant the house was soon in the hands of the bankers, and mad Windham spent his final few years driving a coach from Cromer to Norwich, before dying at the age of just 26. 

We followed in Mad Windham's footsteps around the house, and upstairs entered the Chinese bedroom, where we were puzzled by these interesting wobbly headed figures placed high upon the walls. 

Interestingly, they are earthquake early warning systems, any slight tremor sets the heads wobbling, and at that point you know to get out of the building! So clever.

The beautiful wallpaper is presently undergoing restoration from damp, and unbelievably was hung in 1752 

Back downstairs and I was drawn to all the pots and pans so beautifully polished in the kitchen

A tour of the below stairs area and estate office proved interesting, with 18th century leather fire buckets and furniture made to fit in to the house in the 1700's

Some interesting old packaging in the service wing, particularly the Mander tin from nearby Wolverhampton.  I'm pretty sure Harrods no longer sell the other item though! 

Wandering through the walled gardens and I spotted this lady, minding her own business and looking for bugs, there were quite a few chickens around, but I only saw a handful of banties, allowed to roam wherever they wanted.

 We quickly negotiated the doorway into the dovecote, but didn't get 'bombed'.

 Halfway round the walled gardens we were caught in a sudden storm, and had to shelter under a brick archway, with another chicken!

 Back out into the sunshine again and through the meadow with a neatly mown path

 We left Felbrigg and headed to the coast once more, OH eager to get his feet wet.  We discovered Overstrand, a delightful village on top of the cliffs, with a sandy beach, and a great cafe.

 Finally, OH was able to walk on sand and have a paddle. 

More tales from Norfolk soon!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Norfolk, cricket and round towers

Well, we enjoyed a long anticipated Summer holiday last month.  I've never been to Norfolk and anticipated marshy sea fronts, big skies, interesting local vernacular and flat countryside, I was correct on all counts and in small doses! Norfolk is indeed very diverse and we literally only scratched the surface of the north of the county.

Marshy sea front and flat countryside - check

Big skies - check

Interesting local vernacular - double check!

We stayed in a little brick built chalet in the village of Weybourne, on the North Norfolk coast. The chalet was semi detached but the neighbouring chalet and the one opposite were both empty for the whole week, so it was very, very quiet, blissful in fact.

We travelled on a Saturday, when I always think we will hit congestion and shoppers, we didn't!

Sheringham sea front

Our first full day, therefore, was a Sunday, and after a visit to the nearest supermarket in Sheringham, and a quick walk along the front where we watched a chap painting a mural for the lifeboat station we set off to find a Sunday lunch.

Sheringham lifeboats through the ages

Steering clear of the coast and associated tourist tat, we came across a beautiful church with a cylindrical tower.

Although this was a first for me, I've since found out there are lots and lots of round tower churches in Norfolk

Soon after stopping to visit the round tower, we stumbled upon a quintessentially English village green, with a pub at one corner. We were in Aldborough.

The pub, The Black Boys, was threatened with closure a few years ago but had a stay of execution and now serves traditional English food, roasts on a Sunday and fish and chips on Friday nights.

We were happy to indulge in not only a large roast lunch but puddings as well! 

 Afterwards, we waddled outside and sat on a bench under a tree to relax in the warm air.  The locals were setting up the cricket pitch and soon a steady stream of players arrived in their whites. So we settled back to watch.

 We stayed for what seemed like hours, in reality it was just one. I'm sure this little scene has taken place most Sundays in this village for many years.

Back to the car and map out, we looked for somewhere interesting close by to visit.  I spotted Baconsthorpe castle a previously fortified manor house now under the management of English Heritage and free to visit.

Baconsthorpe is a grade I listed building and scheduled ancient monument, built by an ambitious local family in the late 1400's, headed at the time by John Heydon, who made his money in wool and switched his political allegiances during the War of the Roses as often as he changed his socks, it seems! 

Over the next 200 years the house grew to reflect the family wealth.  After the English civil war and a family row about ownership, the property was abandoned and fell into ruin.

There are no upper floors or decent remains of steps to be seen at Baconsthorpe, but it is still grand, even in it's present state of decay.

 There is still a lake to one side and a water filled ditch surrounds the outer walls, implying fortification.

Close up, and you can see why these late medieval walls are so strong, the flint is still as razor sharp as the day it was constructed over 500 years ago.

We had to run from Baconsthorpe, a sudden thunderstorm engulfed us and we fled back to the safety of the car and a flask of tea!

We drove back to the chalet through Holt, a rather posh little town with some ridiculously priced charity shops. One was open, well it was Sunday, and we couldn't resist having a look. £15 for a second hand jumper? no thank you! 

Never mind, Holt is very pretty and we meandered around the tangle of little streets for a while to amuse ourselves.

OH made this property look like a child's playhouse, he could reach the upstairs window!

Love the sign on this shop door, we went back when it was open and it just said... open!

This had us wondering, what was the connection with Nelson?  we found out later in the week!

Back at our cosy little chalet we had a light tea and wandered down to the beach, although it was pebbled and steeply sloping, it was fine to walk along (we both noticed aching knees and calves for a few days then got used to it)

I'm not overly fond of the sea but we came back to this little beach with its ever changing sunsets every night during our stay and loved every minute of it. 

More tales from Norfolk to follow soon...