A trip through history
PUBLISHED: 06:42 11 August 2014
Distance: 12 miles. A gently undulating route following quiet rural lanes.
Difficulty and terrain: A gently undulating route following quiet rural lanes. The road through the park at Felbrigg is gravelled but suitable for all types of bike. Younger riders should be supervised by an adult.
Start: Blickling Hall main car park
Finish: Felbrigg Hall car park
Time to complete: One hour 20 minutes
I find nothing unwinds me after a hard day at work quite like hopping on my bike and giving the legs a good stretch, especially in the beautiful north Norfolk countryside. So it is that I swap my National Trust uniform for my cycling lycras and climb aboard my trusty steed. Blickling Hall would make a fitting backdrop for a Grand Départ let alone a quiet after-work spin but my mind is not fixated on the recent achievements of Messrs Froome and Wiggins but rather the Boleyn family.
Some 478 years previously to me walking my bike down the main driveway of Blickling Hall, Anne, the most famous of the Boleyns, lost her head at the Tower of London. Earlier today a costumed procession marked the anniversary of the death of Blickling’s most famous former resident. Far from a macabre spectacle, it offered a glimpse of the rich history that the hall is privy to.
The Hobart family took up residence after the Boleyns and were predominantly responsible for landscaping the grounds around the estate. Their tenancy lasted into the 19th century when the estate passed into the hands of the Kerr family who set about perfecting the gardens which are preserved by a team of hardworking staff and volunteers to this day.
Bidding farewell to Bilckling, my route guides me along quiet country roads towards the village of Itteringham. Should you feel the need to wet you whistle here, the Walpole Arms and the village shop and cafe both offer refreshments aplenty. Itteringham also serves as the point for my rendezvous with National Cycle Network Route 33, which I will follow all the way to Felbrigg Hall.
I headed north-east, passing Wolterton Hall to my right, nestling comfortably in typical Norfolk arable scenery. This grand estate, constructed in the 1720s, was the seat of the younger brother of Britain’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole (the pub in Itteringham is testament to this connection). The village of Wickmere, which I pass by on my way to Aldborough, provides accommodation for the workers of the estate.
Upon reaching Aldborough I am greeted by the sight of a typically English vista – a quaint village surrounding a well kept green complete with cricket pitch. The green has played host not only to many a cricket match but also a funfair held every midsummer’s day since the reign of King John. As well as the cycle route I am following, The Weaver’s Way long-distance footpath passes through the village on its way from Cromer to Great Yarmouth.
Leaving Aldborough via Thurgarton, I follow the obvious Route 33 signs north to Sustead. Here, I pause to appreciate the historic church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. This pretty church, with its round tower, dates from Saxon times but has been extended over the years by the Normans, Tudors and Victorians.
As Route 33 propels me closer to Felbrigg I check my map and find myself outside Felbrigg Lodge – a secluded, luxury retreat that would serve as a fitting base for anyone wishing to explore the area further. I roll down park road and through the gates of the Felbrigg estate.
Felbrigg, although not quite as large as Blickling, is no less grand an edifice at which to terminate an evening jaunt. Its Jacobean exterior is befitting of the sculpted parkland that it inhabits and has been cared for by the National Trust since 1969, following the death of its owner Robert Ketton-Cremer. The estate, though originally the possession of the Felbrigg family from which it takes its name, was long the residence of the Wyndhams. They were most likely responsible for the construction of the hall which is complimented by attractive gardens, an orangery and orchard.
For those with energy to spare there are 211 hectares of park and woodland to explore here. Waymarked trails provide ample access for those who wish to swap two wheels for two legs, but I must about face and retrace my journey back to Blickling.