Blickling NR11 6NF 01263 738 030
From the outside at least Blickling Hall is probably the finest Jacobean mansion in Norfolk, by Sir Henry Hobart in 1629, on the site of a mansion that once belonged to the Boleyn family, Inside, however, it's more Downton Abbey than Hampton Court, furnished in the style of an Edwardian country house from when it was the residence of the British ambassador to Washington, Lord Lothian (who bequeathed it to the National Trust in 1940). It’s his portrait that oversees the dining room, laid out for dinner, but there plenty of examples of the stamp the Hobarts left on the place, from the family coat of arms above the main entrance to the impressive Long Room, now a library with some ten thousand books, which was built to suit a rather modern purpose – for Sir Henry to keep fit when the weather was poor. There’s also the so-called Great Room, home to a tapestry given to Sir Henry by Catherine the Great that was so large the room had to be built to accommodate it. Two Gainsborough portraits – of the second earl and his wife – hang on either side of the fireplace. Otherwise it's Downton all over: the tour takes in the servants' quarters below stairs, where you can listen to recordings of the staff who worked here in 1930 – the footman, cook, gardener – while upstairs there is a series of sumptuous bedrooms connected to 1930s bathrooms, in which the Lothian family would luxuriate amid their state-of-the-art bathroom fittings. And of course there are extensive grounds, which incorporate formal gardens, woods, a lake and the weird, pyramid-like mausoleum of the second earl. There’s also a café and shop, although the best place to eat is the Buckingham Arms, right outside the Hall's main entrance.
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