In the depths of Norfolk, near the market town of Aylsham, stands a 400 year old red brick building named Blickling.
"Nobody ever forgets their first sight of Blickling. The breath-taking red-brick mansion and ancient yew hedges sit at the heart of a magnificent garden and historic park in the beautiful Bure meadows. Inside the house is the Long Gallery, which contains one of the most important book collections in the country.
The story of the estate unfolds over a thousand years. The landscape, with its hedges and narrow tree-lined lanes has changed little over the centuries and is quintessentially Norfolk. The countryside is a hive of hidden activity, made up of farms and woodland, cattle and sheep, barns and cottages; all contributing to the rural charm of the surroundings. It continues to act as a hub of social and economic activity, providing homes and work for local families, some of whom have been part of the estate for 300 years.
Blickling’s owners have used the estate as a place of quiet refuge, while playing their part on the world’s political stage. From ambassadors and airmen, to kings’ mistresses, its complex and sometimes tragic family history has been tainted by debt and social ambition.
Blickling has always been a place of pilgrimage and tranquility to its owners, workers and visitors. Today, it continues to extend the warmest of welcomes to all who come here."
During the 15th Century, a manor house once stood in this spot belonging to a man named Sir John Fastolf, an English Knight during the Hundred years war.
Later the manor passed to the Boleyn family, to be the home of Sir Thomas Boleyn and his infamous daughter Anne.
Interestingly, all 3 of these historical figures are said to haunt Blickling, even though the house we see today was in fact built over the ruins of the earlier Tudor manor.
"Thomas Boleyn died in 1539 and legend has it that as penance, for the untimely deaths of two of his children, he must cross 12 bridges before cockcrow on 19th May. With his ghostly coach of headless horses, he starts at Blickling and crosses bridges at Aylsham, Belaugh, Burg, Buxton, Coltishall, Hautbois, Meyton, Oxnead and Wroxham."
"Other odd happenings at Blickling include a mysterious grey lady, who has been sighted in the house and on the grounds by the lake. She was once witnessed by a butler who went out to enquire if she was looking for someone, to whom she replied: "That for which I search has long since gone". The next moment she vanished. Eerie groans are said to emanate from a bedroom in one of the towers. They are thought to belong to Sir Henry Hobart, who died there after being mortally wounded during a duel in 1698. A room in the house known as "Old Bullen's Study" apparently had such an oppressive atmosphere few would dare to venture into it so it was locked up. The exact location of the room has now been forgotten."
However, the most famous ghost sighting is said to be Anne Boleyn herself.
Each year, on the anniversary of her death she rides up the driveway in a horse drawn carriage, where she proceeds.. headless... to drift from room to room until dawn.
It seems an unlikely ghost tale to me, and if you visit Blickling you will find no evidence of the Boleyn family's life. As indeed, there is no real evidence that Anne was ever officially born there.
But in a house with so much history there surely must be some remnants of the past, echoes, footsteps, whispers.
And as you wander though the rooms, you can imagine hundreds of years worth of people making their lives here.
"After the death of Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian (the last private owner of Blickling) in December 1940, the Blickling estate passed into the care of the National Trust as part of his bequest.
During World War II the house was requisitioned and served as the Officers' Mess of nearby RAF Oulton. It was at this time that the house and its estate passed to The National Trust, under the terms of the Country Houses Scheme. RAF servicemen and women were billeted within the grounds in Nissen huts, whilst RAF Officers were housed within Blickling itself. The National Trust has created the RAF Oulton Museum on site in tribute to the RAF pilots and ground crew who served in the Second World War, and this may be visited for no additional entrance fee.
At the end of the war, the house was de-requisitioned. The National Trust again let it to tenants until 1960, when the Trust began the work to restore the house to a style reflecting its history. The house and grounds were opened to the public in 1962 and remain open under the name of "Blickling Estate".
From Blickling's grand appearance on entering, it becomes more homely and comfortable inside. Each room has a warmth that makes you feel as though you could sit for an afternoon with a nice pot of Earl Grey.
It's a grand but cosy house. In fact, the Long Gallery was originally built as an indoor exercise area during bad weather.
It later housed the full length portraits you now see in the main stair well, and went on to become what it now the Library.
We had visited Blickling estate with the intention of enjoying a long Autumnal stroll around the lake and parklands. But the late September weather turned out to be so hot that it was all we could do to fetch our picnic after we toured the house, and stumble over to the lake side deck chairs, (Thank you National Trust for those... such a welcoming and lovely idea)
We whiled away an afternoon exploring the gardens and enjoying the views.
I think we need to return in Winter for that longer walk. The Countryside around Blickling is stunning.