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Around Oxburgh Hall

Lush meadows and peaceful farmland surround one of England's finest country houses.

Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Footpaths and country lanes, 3 stiles

Landscape National Trust house and arable farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 236 King's Lynn, Downham Market & Swaffham

Start/finish TF 743015

Dog friendliness Can run free, but must be under control on farmland

Parking On-street parking around village green or near village hall

Public toilets None on route

1 Begin by walking up Eastmoor Road, opposite the church then, after about 700yds (640m), take the footpath to your right. The signed path may be partially obscured by crops, but take a diagonal direction north until you reach the end of the second field. Turn left along a sandy farm track with a line of trees to your left. Eventually, you reach a lane by a barn. Turn right, with the earthworks of old St Mary's Church in the field to your left.

2 After about 600yds (549m), the lane bends sharp right towards Gooderstone and Oxborough. Follow this road to a crossroads. Go straight across, down the road marked 'Unsuitable for HGVs'.

3 Look for the footpath sign on your right, which will be before the bridge over the River Gadder, and immediately adjacent to the Anglian Water works. Cross a stile, and walk straight across the meadow ahead, heading for the gate in the distance. When you reach it, continue in the same direction until you reach another stile in the far corner of the field. Turn left and head for the row of tall trees until you reach a third stile by a house. A path leads you to a track, which in turn emerges on to the green and your car.

Oxburgh Hall is one of Norfolk's greatest treasures. It is a gorgeous cluster of red-brick buildings standing defiantly inside a wide moat. These days the moat contains nothing more threatening than carp and water lilies, but the Bedingfeld family, who have owned the house since the 15th century, had good cause to protect themselves in the past. They have demonstrated loyalty to two causes - the Catholic Church and the English Crown - both of which have led them into considerable danger. The pub in Oxborough village (note the different spelling) is named after the family.

The Bedingfelds' loyalty to their religion stood them in good stead until Tudor times, but was a dangerous position to hold during the Reformation - as the 16th-century Priest's Hole attests. When it became illegal to hold Catholic Masses, some wealthy families were reduced to building secret places in their homes, so that their household priest could hide there, occasionally for some considerable time, without being detected. Oxburgh Hall was one such house.

Before the dissolution of the monasteries, the Bedingfelds were a respected and influential family. One member was so trusted by Henry VIII that he was given the divorced Catherine of Aragon to watch over and his son was entrusted with the care of the future Elizabeth I. However, as Protestantism became more firmly rooted, the Bedingfelds fell from favour. They fell even further during the Civil War when they remained firmly Royalist. Their allegiance to Charles I saw Oxburgh Hall occupied and damaged by Roundheads. They survived precariously until the Restoration, when their fortunes turned again and they began to claw back some of their power and riches.

Oxburgh Hall's best features are its gatehouse and its Marian wall hangings. These tapestries were sewn sometime around 1570 by Mary Queen of Scots and the Countess of Shrewsbury, Bess of Hardwick. There are more than 100 panels, mostly of animals and plants. They came to Oxburgh in 1761 from Cowdray Park in Sussex.

Between 1835 and 1839 a chapel was built by Sir Henry Richard Paston-Bedingfeld in the grounds of the hall, near the gatehouse. In 1845 the French gardens were laid out. Visitors can enjoy strolls around the kitchen garden and orchard, or follow the woodland walk and nature trail. The Wilderness, which was laid out in the 19th century, was restored by the National Trust in 1970.

Oxburgh Hall has seen many changes since Sir Edmund Bedingfeld applied for a licence to crenellate - to upgrade his manor defensively - in 1482, but, conversely, many things have remained unaltered. Edmund's great gatehouse still dominates the house, and Pugin's restoration in the 1830s was sympathetic to the original style. In 1952 it was acquired by the National Trust.

Where to eat and drink

The Bedingfeld Coach House is a lovely country pub overlooking the village green and the half-ruined church of St John the Evangelist. It serves food all day and has a good selection of ales There is a licensed restaurant inside Oxburgh Hall that is open at variable times between March and November.

What to look for

One of Oxburgh Hall's best features is its tremendous, late 15th-century gatehouse, perhaps the best of its kind of this age. It was so impressive that in 1487 Sir Edmund Bedingfeld was able to entertain Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth inside it. Don't miss the King's Room on the first floor of the gatehouse.

While you're there

Close by is Cockley Cley (pronounced 'Cly'), which boasts a reconstructed Iceni village on the site of an original encampment. There are houses, towers, defences and a drawbridge.

Norfolk

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