I have visited royalty before – the Duke of York and Prince of Wales when I had a beer at some of the inner city pubs back in Melbourne. Yesterday, we travelled to Sandringham to see the Royal House where the Queen spends Christmas each year..
I had half expected Her Majesty to be there; retreating from having to put up with Donald Trump during his visit here. But this very brave and stoic woman was continuing with her duties as monarch in London.
We briefly watched Trump’s arrival on television in the morning. It was preceded by one of his usual obnoxious, rude and very unpresidential tweets about how Britain should conduct itself.. His visit here is quite controversial with many MP’s boycotting functions that he is attending and lots of expected protests. He seems to think that British people like him, but the truth is exactly the opposite. I saw the someone had described why, saying; “He has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, that we admire”. (And I could safely include Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians as having this same sentiment)
Sandringham is about an hour’s drive from Norwich. The house is open to the public when the Queen is not in residence. It sits at the heart of the 8,000 hectare Sandringham Estate, first coming under Royal ownership in 1862 as a country residence for the then Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. After the death of Edward VII in 1910 the house passed to his son, King George V who wrote ‘Dear old Sandringham, the place I love better than anywhere else in the world’. The Royal Family have continued to enjoy spending time at Sandringham and looking after its estate and 24 hectare garden. The Queen inherited Sandringham from her father in 1952 and The Duke of Edinburgh took overall responsibility for its management. One of His Royal Highness’s principles has been to maintain the estate for future generations, so conservation has always been an important part of the Estate’s management practises.
It was a lovely sunny day and we could walk through the gardens and enjoy the sunshine. I’m still amazed that many of the flowering plants are past their prime, even before summer here has really begun. It is beautifully kept place, very ‘homely’ and is far more comfortable than the older stately homes that we have seen in other places around Britain. We could walk through the many of the rooms, seeing where the Royal Family relax, where the seven Christmas trees are placed each year and where visitors are entertained.
In the old stables, there is a museum where many of the old royal vehicles are on display. Some of these are moved to other places when the Queen visits so that her current vehicles can be kept out of the weather.
These people really do things properly. A good part of the their enjoyment at Sandringham is the sport of hunting. One of the horse drawn vehicles in the museum was used for shooting and it could hold 28 brace (pairs) of pheasant. I think that number of bird would almost feed a regiment rather than just a family. After all, the dining table in the house was only set for a party of eight!
Nearby, is the little church of St Marys where the Queen attends services when she stays here. The church has a somewhat unusual design with the royal pews being behind the pulpit (where I think the choir would normally sit) and the choir sits at the back of the church near the door.
The guide book says to allow between three and five hours for a visit to Sandringham and we spent a little over three hours. We had a snack in the cafe in the stables and then drove on to see some other local towns.
One of the towns that I had on my list to visit was Little Walsingham. In medieval times, Walsingham was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world and a rival to even Rome! That changed after the reformation, but a revival during the 19th century has put Walsingham back on the pilgrimage map and thousands now visit here each year, especially at Easter time. A shrine was built here and the village has the ruins of both a priory and an Abbey. They certainly know how to extract money from the pilgrims – parking in the village car park costs about $5 an hour and entry into the old priory and its grounds costs another $10.
The village itself has some lovely old medieval streets containing interesting shops. There is also a museum containing a courthouse from the times of George III. The main attractions however are the religious sites and the remains the priory.
Standing in the heart of Norfolk’s undulating fields, Bircham Windmill now looks just the same as it did over 100 years ago. At that time over 300 mills ground corn for horse feed, cattle feed and bread making in Norfolk. Today, very few windmills are left, and the mill at Great Bircham is considered to be one of the best still remaining: It is the only windmill in working order in this area open to the public.
The mill was once part of the Sandringham Estate but it is now in private ownership and completely restored. Visitors can climb the five floors up to the fan stage and, when possible, on windy days, visitors can also see the sails and the milling machinery turning.
Along the north coast of Norfoilk are a number of little villages that sit along the seaside. I was expecting to see some long distances of nice sandy beaches but these are a long way from the road and the village main streets. There are a couple of kilometres of marshland between the sea and the road. The streams are very tidal and at the time that we we were there, many of the boats were sitting on their bottoms on long stretches of sandy river bank.