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Retreat to Norfolk
Sandringham House and Gardens (Norfolk)
Member Name: waterlilly
Sandringham House and Gardens (Norfolk)
Advantages: Beautiful home and gardens, great collection of old vehicles
Disadvantages: Stuffed animal exhibit and a bit pricey
Have a sunny day in Norfolk? Have foreign visitors? The Norfolk retreat of the Queen, Sandringham is a great place to while away a few hours and has something for everyone. The photo above does not do the house, gardens or estate any justice. A fairly new house having only been built in 1870, Sandringham is not as imposing as some of the royal residences, but it has a pretty, comfortable feel that makes for a lovely visit. The estate itself covers 20,000 acres and the 60 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens could keep you wandering all day if gardens are your thing.
THE PRACTICAL STUFF
The House and Gardens are closed at certain times of the year so be sure to double check on the website before heading out. For 2009 the House is open daily from 11 April to 24 July and then open again from 2 August to 1 November. The Gardens are open daily from 1 April.
The cost of visiting the House, Museums and Garden is £10 with discounted rates for Seniors, Children and Families.
The good news is that parking is free and plentiful. You may have a bit of a walk to get to the entrance but at least it is under tall, impressive trees. Also the country park is easily accessible and free of charge.
I find toilets a vitally important part of any location and the Queen's public toilets are well kept.
WHAT WILL KEEP MY INTEREST?
I have visited the House, Museum and Gardens at Sandringham twice. Both visits were on lovely sunny days in warm weather so I cannot vouch for what it is like when the weather is... a little more typically English. On both occasions the group included several colonials (Canadians to be specific) and we colonials love such things so the group was in high spirits the whole time which makes the difference when visiting anywhere. Each time we were also accompanied by men who have a limited tolerance for admiring china patterns and porcelain collectables.
The gardens at Sandgringham are among the best I've seen. In places there is the traditional formal gardening but most of the garden is made up of lush, comfortable greenery with cheerful floral accents. It is an inviting place with a relaxed atmosphere. You never once felt that a guard was going to cart you off if you stepped out onto the grass. There are also some fun and interesting sculptures and pieces of interest scattered about.
The house itself is definitely worth a visit. The guides are friendly and knowledgeable. I've certainly never seen the Queen, nor has anyone I know who has visited. However, the guides promise you that she can often be seen looking through the daily post or simply enjoying the garden when she is visiting. So if you're going purely to get a photo of you with Queenie I'd say you're likely to be disappointed, but perhaps there is hope.
Some items of interest in the house include anything collected by the former Queen mother. It seems she had rather a love of all things hot pink and gaudy. It will astound you. All of the tributes to the royal animals (plates with portraits of royal horses and dogs) are equally amusing. The men in the group had to be dragged away from the extensive collection of fire arms, but we were glad that they'd stopped calling everything ugly!!
The museum is also wonderful for keeping men occupied (they just weren't really garden people). Set in the old stables the museum provides a wonderful glimpse into the history of the estate. The best asset of the museum is its collection of royal vehicles stretching back over the last hundred years. Some of the vehicles are occasionally in use. My husband was very disappointed that the royal Land Rover was missing when we went back a second time but cheered up at the image of the Queen off driving around the estate in it. This collection includes a delightful little car that belonged to Prince Charles as a boy as well as some gorgeous old fire trucks. Warning, the royals have a long history of hunting and it seems that Prince Phillip (who is in charge of the estate) believes a collection of stuffed animals with accompanying animal noises makes for good entertainment.
Little Sandringham Church is worth a visit, particularly if you're looking to stretch your legs and take a slightly longer walk around the grounds.
We don't have children and didn't borrow any for the day so we didn't approach the site with them in mind. There is a bit of a play area and certainly lots of green space for running and playing. I wouldn't say that the house is overly child friendly, in that there is only so much to keep their interest, but the guides seemed particularly fond of engaging with the children who were in other groups, pointing out animal ornaments and such that they might like.
My husband doesn't let me into shops and such at these places for very long. It seems he feels that is dangerous to our bank account and to our available space in our tiny apartment. I can say that there is a gift shop full of all sorts of things but slightly short on postcards depicting the actual house. However, if you have a family member who would appreciate close up portrait postcards of any of the royal family, this is your place. Goods and products of the estate are also for sale. The restaurant/tea room is lovely and reasonably priced for such a location.
If you happen to be in Norfolk Sandringham should be on your list of places to visit. It's not far from the coast so can be incorporated into a holiday to the seaside or a day trip out and about.
Summary: Spend a day like the Queen in Norfolk