Holkham Hall, a Wonderland!

The splendid Holkham Hall is an 18th-century country house near the exquisite village of Holkham in Norfolk.

Well, let me spend a few words about this spectacular geographical area just to find it on the map: if you take a peep at your Geography book, you’ll observe that Norfolk is in Anglia. In particular , that’s a ‘ceremonial’ county in the East of England and East Anglia, bordering on Lincolnshire and The Wash to the north-west, the North Sea to the north and east, Cambridgeshire to the west, and Suffolk to the south. The largest and most known settlement is Norwich. Please take note that several ‘vip’, I mean very important people, were born in this county: for instance Lady Diana Spencer from Sandringham. And be aware that Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired by Norfolk beauties : in fact he first thought of The Hound of Baskervilles while holidaying in this region…but, don’t worry! The Hound is not here anymore ( at least I do hope!)

The contemporary Norfolk economy is largely based on agriculture and tourism. As a matter of fact, this ceremonial county is an extremely popular tourist destination having lots of holiday attractions: for example many seaside resorts, the finest British beaches and electrifying wonderlands like Great Yarmouth, Cromer and Holkham (our destination!). This territory also contains the Broads and other areas of awesome natural beauty, wild bird sanctuaries and reserves, finally national parks.

And here’s our Holkham Hall, a majestic 18th-century stately home and visitor attraction, characterized by the special Palladian style and located at the centre of a 3,000-acre deer park on the North Norfolk coast. It includes a woodland play area,a walled garden and farming exhibition. In a nutshell, here you can find all that you need! You could simply say that at Holkham you are able to do ‘en plein’ or to hit the jackpot!

Holkham Hall in the background and deer in the foreground
PHOTOGRAPH BY Holkham Hall - https://www.holkham.co.uk/

Why did I choose Holkham?

Well, first of all I must confess that this year I’m focusing my cultural activity on Anglia, especially thanks to an excellent and awesome VOD (that is video on demand) promoting my initiatives on ITVX ANGLIA. That was a definitely turning point that allowed me to know some local artists, estates and museums and to create some cultural ‘connections’ and new projects.

That’s why I’ve recently met Holkham on my cultural journey: the enchanting blogger Rachel Whitaker (known as @girlaroundnorthnorfolk on Instagram) has been organizing a praiseworthy and admirable fundraiser. She signed up for Trek 24 with a group of friends and they’ll walk a 24 mile circular route starting at Holkham Estate! This hike is in support of the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA), a charity providing life-saving critical care 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-a-year. Living rurally has its benefits in abundance, but local people often acutely aware of the distance they are between hospitals that provide critical care. @eastangliairamb covers Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire.

Historical Details

The Hall was constructed in the Neo-Palladian style for the 1st Earl of Leicester by the architect William Kent, aided by Lord Burlington. As you can see by the pictures, that is one of England’s finest examples of the Palladian style and architectural design. The Estate was built up by Sir Edward Coke, who is remembered as the founder of his family’s fortune thanks to his purchases: in fact, at first he bought Neales manor in 1609, though never lived there, then he decided to embark on a series of many other purchases of land in Norfolk to endow to his six sons. One of them, John, inherited this land and married heiress Meriel Wheatley in 1612. So the married couple made Hill Hall their home, and by 1659 had complete ownership of all three Holkham manors. That’s why this historical house is definitely the ancestral home of the Cokes, that later became Earls of Leicester. In conclusion, Holkham is the lucky result of a lucky chain of lucky purchases, in other words the product of a lucky sequence of events!

Overhead view of the estate
PHOTOGRAPH BY Holkham Hall - https://www.holkham.co.uk/

Holkham: The House of Opulence and Palladian Ideals

Through my eyes I can definitely ‘see’ two predominant elements having the greatest power there: the opulent interior and the Palladian exterior. That’s not difficult to understand!

In short, if you look at the interior of the hall, you’ll be able to distinguish the opulent element, even though the hall is simply decorated and furnished. The principal entrance is through the Marble Hall, quintessentially of pink Derbyshire alabaster. From here you can go upstairs to the ‘piano nobile’ (in English noble floor) and state rooms. The Saloon is absolutely the most stunning and sublime room due to its walls lined with red velvet. According to me, that’s a real example of majestic creation as all the rest of the Estate, a chef-d’oeuvre imagined and realized by a genius. Moreover I have to underline that each the major state rooms is symmetrical in its layout and design. Due to this geometrical reason, in some rooms, false doors are necessary to fully achieve this balanced effect.

Well, let me introduce the particular Palladian design: the south facade with its Ionic portico is devoid of arms or motif; no window is allowed to break the void between the windows and roof-line, the lower windows are simple and mere piercings in the stark brickwork. The only hint of ornamentation is from the two terminating Venetian windows.

If I must tell the truth, the most impressive way to visit and ‘see’ Holkham is definitely the particular chance to choose their unique Attic Tours and to deepen this treasure trove from a whole spectacular perspective. In effect you’ll be able to learn more about the construction of the building, explore behind the scenes and capture bizarre and hidden details, find out and walk through the servants passages, discover the exquisite Holkham’s past gems, visit the highest Tower rooms and admire the royal beds where the royalty slept many centuries ago (please don’t be envious!). And don’t forget to be careful and pay attention to the scintillating beauties and the electrifying atmosphere: that’s a sight for sore eyes!

Then let’s go wild in the treetops: Holkham’s ropes course is open all half term week. Obviously, if you are brave and courageous!

At last, if you fancy a go, enjoy a tractor-trailer for a whistle-stop journey around the superb deer park and take a look at the Walled Garde, that is constantly changing all over the various seasons of the year. It’s always ‘renovated’.

Well, in the end I could really claim that Holkham is a wonderful mix of unexpected connections: architectural and geometrical treasures of perfection, a sweeping parkland, natural ingredients of paradise, golden sands and an absolute sense of freedom and joy! That’s all.

A view of the beach
PHOTOGRAPH BY Holkham Hall - https://www.holkham.co.uk/

How to get there

There are numerous ways to get Holkham Wonderland: as you can see from the map, this estate is two miles west of the enchanting Wells-next-the-Sea on the main A149, within easy reach of the picturesque Norwich on the A1067, the famous King’s Lynn on the A148. Finally, if you come from London or Cambridge, you can follow the M11 and the A10.

BY CAR: If you’re lucky and have a SatNav, you must enter NR23 1RH. Anyway, remember that the complete and full address is: Holkham Hall, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, NR23 1AB. The Satellite Navigator will be happy to bring you to the almshouses at the north gates entrance to Park. Please follow the brown tourist signs indicating the route from Fakenham following the B1105 and A149 road from Wells-next-the-Sea. Once arrived, you’ll find a car Parking, that costs £6 per day, but is redeemable in the gift shop on purchases of £35 or more. Moreover you have the opportunity to receive a 30% discount on attractions when you arrive car-free.

BY TRAIN: Well, if you decide to arrive car-free and take the train, you have to consider that the nearest train stations are Cromer (25 miles) and Sheringham (19 miles) on the Bittern Line from Norwich. You can get direct trains to Norwich if you are coming from London. King’s Lynn (27 miles) has direct trains from London via Cambridge and Ely.

BY BIKE: if you love sports and you’re not tired, you can have the chance to travel by bike because Holkham Park is on National Cycle Route and very easily accessible.

Why 'Wonderland'? What's that?

Well, I’ll try to explain it in a nutshell: Holkham Estate is just a WONDERLAND! No doubt. That’s why at Holkham they have created a sustainability strategy entitled WONDER that isn’t just a mere formulation of evocative words, but the creation of three key objectives and the investment in real, live projects. If you take a peep at your dictionary, you'll be able to read the noun wonder evokes a feeling of amazement or stunning admiration caused by something of remarkable. And, yes indeed, Holkham is definitely remarkable because of its beauty and extravagance in exceeding usual limits of amazement. But that’s also extremely particular and fragile if you consider its natural vulnerability due to the dangerous effects of climate change and the risk of flooding.

Thus, for the last decade, Holkham’s team have been focusing on the following activities: renewable energy projects, tree planting initiatives, investing in electric vehicles and machinery, developing increasingly sustainable farming practices and conservation management.

Filming Location: History, Romance, and Drama at Holkham!

Did you know that this WONDERLAND has been the location for many film projects? Yes, of course! Its previous clients include: Apple TV, Netflix, BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Grazia, Porter Magazine, Jaguar Land Rover, Lotus Cars, Victoria Beckham, Mulberry Bags, Toast, Crew Clothing, Next, Burberry and Mr Porter.

The sumptuous staterooms, Marble Hall and the Statue Gallery featured as the interior of Buckingham Palace in the BBC docudrama ‘Victoria & Albert’ and Joanna Hogg’s latest film ‘The Souvenir’. Finally don’t forget the C4 docudrama ‘Victoria’s Men’.

And again, Natalie Portman played a biologist joining a mission to uncover what had happened to her husband in Holkham’s futuristic ‘fantasy’ reality!

Furthermore, Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes played there as the Duchess and the Duke of Devonshire in 2007.

Finally, Holkham was the protagonists of BBC COUNTRYFILE (as part of BBC programme covering the North Norfolk coastline), BBC ANTIQUES ROADSHOW and ITV SERIES KINGDOM (starring local actor Stephen Fry).

Thus that’s a real TV filming set! No doubt! And your journey here will surely be a majestic movie! Lights, camera, action!

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Downton Gazette

The cultural blog Downton Gazette was created in 2022 and concerns whatever can be referred to DOWNTON ABBEY, of which it shares the brave motto :” You can change your life if you want to”( Mr Bates to Gwen, series 1). This website, also devoted to Theatre,Music and Art, supports the art activity of FONTANA SHELTER(in loving memory of the Italian painter Luigi Fontana), recently member of West Ox Arts Gallery in Bampton, Faringdon Art Society and Oxfordshire Artweeks.

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