First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Ill-fated, black-eyed little Anne Boleyn lived as a child in the north Norfolk countryside at Blickling Hall. But the Tudor mansion she knew is not the one we admired as we crunched down the grave drive – these pepper-pot turrets and huge central clock belong to the following century, as do the curly Dutch gables.
Blickling Hall is magnificent, and so are its widespread grounds. We followed a waymarked walk which skirted the inverted comma of the ornamental lake. Storm-splintered cedars spread their wide dark skirts in the pastures, and the carcases of dead oaks lay as pale and massive as elephant corpses among the long grasses.
We passed a signature beech, its smooth grey bark incised with lovers’ names and initials – SDF & Di, AW loves BW, Olly hearts Dolly. A cold west wind drove wavelets against the northern shoreline of the lake, where we took to well-trodden tracks among fields full of the glinting leaves of sugar beet.
Boardwalks spanned the squelching woodland of Moorgate Carrs. We crossed the dimpling water of the River Bure where whorled mint gave out a savour half minty, half sharp. The blackberries in the green lane hedge were sharp on the tongue, too.
In the corner of a field by a margin planted to please the palates of pheasants with goldenrod, mayweed and purple brassicas, we lay on our backs for half an hour for the pure pleasure of watching the sky. Then it was up and on, heading south through pastures grown tufty and lumpen. We recrossed the Bure, a skein of rushy watercourses dried to trickles in the grass where tangled curls of water plantain pushed up their flowers, each with its three pale blue petals.
From the southern skirts of Itteringham a dusty lane ran east between stubble fields. Pheasant poults went scurrying away up the rows, too flustered to feed, too young to fly. The wind rose and shoved at our backs, and we were glad to get into the shelter of Blickling Park’s Great Wood.
On a grassy ride in the middle of the wood we came on a bizarre structure, a sharply pointed pyramid as tall as a house. Over the eastern portal posed a fine stone stag, brandishing real antlers. Within this eccentric mausoleum John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckingham, lies alongside his two wives.
The plaque on the western face of the pyramid, topped by a great bull, seemed to suggest that the Earl had married his own daughter. Perhaps I misunderstood it. In any case, I can report that the north- and south-facing openings of the tomb make great echo chambers. They allow one to sing harmonies with oneself, to truly eerie effect.
Start: NT car park, Blickling Hall, Aylsham, Norfolk NR11 6NF (OS ref TG 176286)
Getting there: Blickling Hall is on B1354 Saxthorpe road, signed from Aylsham (A140 Norwich-Cromer)
Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 252): From car park walk down road to Blickling Hall. Down drive towards house; just before buildings on right, turn right through hedge, up steps. Keep right of Courtyard Bookshop; half right to map notice; from here follow waymarked Estate Walk (blue arrows). At top of lake (179295), left along gravel path. In 150m fork right (orange arrows). In 400m, right at 3-finger post (174295, ‘public footpath’).
In 500m, right on road at Moorgate (174300); in 100m, left (yellow arrow/YA). Boardwalk crosses Moorgate Carrs and River Bure (175301). In 250m path turns left along field edges (YA), and on to road at Fring Wood (174308). Left, in 700m, fork right (167308) up drive past White House Farm; on along field edge tracks westward for ½ mile. Descend through gate to broad green strip at The Rookery (152309). Don’t go through gate with YA opposite; bear left along wood edge; in 100m through gate, follow hedge on left southward for 2 long fields / ½ mile to cross several channels of River Bure and reach road opposite Orchard Farm (154299).
Left, in ½ mile on left bend (161297), ahead through Woodgate car park; past 5-bar gate, follow stony track on outskirts of wood (orange arrow). In 600m, sandy track on left (165292) leads to mausoleum (166295).
Lunch/Accommodation: Buckinghamshire Arms, Blickling NR11 6NF (01263-732133, bucksarms.co.uk)
Blickling Hall: nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling-estate