Every visit to Norfolk must always have a wet day contingency plan. For my parents and I, this was Somerleyton Hall, a grand house set in a beautiful estate. So, when the day dawned in true Norfolk style (heavy grey skies, leaden rain and a hearty wind) we all set off for the shelter the hall would provide.
The house is quite rare in that it is still privately owned – Lord Somerleyton and his growing family still live there, which is why the opening hours are quite restricted. This is most definitely a good thing, because it prevents the hall from feeling like a museum – modern photos and portraits are sprinkled throughout the rooms alongside the mementos of severe-looking ancestors, and we were informed that the family still uses the formal dining room with its sparkling display of silver.
Guided tours are a must here due to the fact that I doubt anybody would like random tourists poking their noses wherever they like in your house. The tour guides are very informative and clearly have a passion for their place of work. They also hold a great deal of respect for their employers, which is touching if a little strange in this day and age.
Before our tour, we had a little wander around the gardens close to the house. I would definitely love to see them in sunshine, but they still held some charm underneath the gloomy skies.
Inside, there is evidence everywhere of the house’s history and that of its owners. Carpets made by the Crossley carpet company are laid out in a dining room as a testament to how the family acquired its fortune. In another room, there is a chair stolen from the captain’s cabin of a Dutch man o’war after it surrendered to a victorious ancestor. A rather gruesome reception hall also contains the spoils of various hunting expeditions made by another member of the Crossley family – polar bears loom in the corner and several tiger skins are pinned to the walls.
Once our eyes were full of portraits, silver, princely gifts and luxurious furnishings, we pottered outside for another quick flick around the garden. The age of the park is displayed by the eye-watering size of some of the trees in the park – it gave you neckache to look at them.
After stretching our legs, we went to the cafe for lunch. If you visit Somerleyton, you MUST try the cafe. They have an excellent array of homemade cakes and if you pick the right thing off the menu, you are sure to waddle away satisfied.
I chose a steak and ale pie for my luncheon. I wouldn’t normally have gone for something so filling, but I thought that the sandwiches and ciabattas were very expensive while the pie was cheaper, so I thought I’d give it a go. Best decision EVER. The pie was one of the best I’d ever had, and large to boot. I managed to munch the whole thing, followed by a wonderfully squidgy slice of sticky toffee cake. The weather couldn’t hurt me now – I was insulated from within.
Unfortunately, the rain didn’t know this, so it continued to battle against us. As it fell thickly from the sky, my mum decided that now was the time to crack open the ’emergency poncho’. This poncho was made out of clear plastic, and it was about four times the size of my mum – a horse would have worn it very well. This poncho kept my mum very dry (when it wasn’t inflating with wind, catching on trees, or trying to suffocate her). I think I laughed so hard I almost fell over.
Now seemed like the opportune moment to tackle the maze set up in the gardens. As soon as we got there, my dad gallantly ran off in the hopes of finding the centre before the rest of us. For a while, I lost track of my mum, who was wandering around with her inflatable emergency poncho crying out “Hello?” in a sad, plaintive voice. After a few wrong turns, my boyfriend followed my dad and dashed off into the rain, leaving me to work my way through the maze with my mum. Needless to say, we lost the race to the middle.
After working our way out again, we decided to call it a day. As we wandered back to the car, the clouds magically dispersed and we saw a glimmer of sunshine. Sod’s law that.