Rating: 9 out of 10
Description: History and nature come together at this peaceful, hidden idyll in rural Norfolk
Pros: Educational, free admission, quiet, a haven for wildlife, ideal for picnics or those who want to enjoy some quiet time being in nature
Cons: Tucked away down a narrow lane. If driving by car, follow the brown tourism signs and not your sat-nav – you could end up on a track unsuitable for vehicles
Despite having lived in Norfolk for 17 years, we recently visited Baconsthorpe Castle for the first time. The ‘castle’, now a ruin, is actually a fortified manor house dating back to the 15th Century and has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade 1 listed building.
Handy tip: Throw away your sat-nav!
At first we struggled to find the castle; the sat-nav sent us up a track, which became progressively potholed and overgrown. Rather than run-aground on the central vegetation, we backed up and found a narrow, but drivable, access road a few yards around the corner.
When we got our first glimpse of the castle, we were surprised and delighted at our discovery! We pulled into the car park and felt eager to get out and start exploring. As we stepped out of the car, the first thing we noticed was how quiet it was. There were only a handful of cars in the car park, it was a beautiful sunny day and the impressive gatehouse was beckoning us in.
As you approach the path towards the gatehouse, an English Heritage guide board gives a brief potted history of the castle. In summary, the castle – a Grade 1 listed building and a fortified manor house – was built as a family residence by wealthy law professional John Heydon. The house increased in size as the family’s wealth grew. It remained in the Heydon family for around two hundred years where the family – then wool traders – fell on hard times, and parts of the castle were dismantled and materials sold to pay off mounting debts.
The gatehouse that greets you on arrival was a late edition to the moated residence and was built to show off the family status and formed an impressive entrance to the property. After the demolitions of the main castle, the gatehouse was converted to a private dwelling and was occupied up until 1920 when the left-hand tower collapsed.
After passing through the old gatehouse, a path leads you to a gated bridge across a moat and on to the inner gatehouse of the castle. The castle moat is made up of a lake to the east, and three deep water-filled ditches siding what is left of the other three walls of the old castle.
History, nature and picnics!
Much of the inner building has long since disappeared, with just a couple of old wells positioned in the now wide expanse of well-maintained lawned grass, punctuated with random ruins of buildings and rooms that once stood there.
Educational guides are dotted all the way around this historic dwelling, giving insightful snippets of history relating to the various parts of the building.
A place of serenity
What was most apparent to us was the quiet serenity of the place, with only the sound of the breeze rustling the reeds and the occasional chirrup of a moorhen navigating the narrow waterways.
We stood by the lake watching a swan with seven signets; the adult swan appeared to be showing the youngsters how to take off from the water – a combination of fast paddling with powerful wing-beating until the swan gathered enough momentum to become airborne.
With just the breeze, the birds and a few visitors for company, including picnickers, book readers and nature-lovers, this historic site offered both peaceful tranquility and the chance to visualize how this impressive residence would have appeared in its heyday.
Would we go again?
Definitely! It’s a great place to wander around and take in the history, or just to be at peace in a quiet corner of rural Norfolk. Baconsthorpe Castle has wide appeal for different reasons; it is educational and enjoyable for children, with both open space and nooks and crannies to explore. It is also a place to observe nature in peaceful and beautiful surroundings.
Entry is free!
Admission to this English Heritage site is free. What’s not to like? 🙂
To get location details, directions and more information about the facilities available, visit our Baconsthorpe Castle listing here.