It was off to North Norfolk last weekend for two nights in a quaint old cottage in the quiet little village of Docking. However, our first port of call was Sandringham, the Queen’s country house and estate. When we arrived, it was raining so we did something very British. All five of us (wife, daughter, son, son’s girlfriend and me) sat in the car to eat our picnic. While munching our sausage rolls, cold pizza, chicken and pasta salad, my daughter let on to the others that Dad (on my last return from Le Mans), had bought a cup of tea in one service station then driven to another service station to drink it. For some reason, everyone thought this was hysterically funny. I think we were overcome by cabin fever. Tip: if you buy a cup of tea at Thurrock Services on the M25 and find it has been superheated to 200°C, then drive to South Mimms and drink it; by that time the tea will be a drinkable (assuming you are driving anti-clockwise round the M25 otherwise it will be stone cold). This saves time and is much safer than drinking scalding tea whilst driving.
By the time the hilarity had died down and we had finished scattering cold food over ourselves and the car’s interior, the rain had stopped. So, we did another very British thing and headed straight to the Sandringham estate café for ….. a cup of tea (I suggested buying the tea there and driving to nearby Castle Rising to drink it but was out-voted).
Eventually, we handed over some hard-earned and entered the gardens, museum and house – seventeen years on from our last visit of which our kids have no memory as they were only about 2 and 4 years old at the time. The gardens are immaculately kept (as you would expect) with well trimmed expanses of grass, many beautiful trees and the odd statue and lake here and there. If you don’t fancy parting with any cash, then 240 hectares of the Queen’s private estate have been designated a Country Park and you are free to explore its nature trails, woodland paths, sculpture trail, adventure playground (remember to take an adult with you) and visitor centre with its shop, restaurant/café and all-important toilets. There are also campsites on the estate should you have a tent, caravan or yurt to hand.
The house itself was built in 1870 by the then Prince and Princess of Wales, (later Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) as their country retreat. We have visited many stately homes and, to be honest, the interiors get to look a bit samey (impressive but samey). Sandringham is a bit different because it is still a real home for the Royal Family and this is obvious from the pictures and photos dotted around the place. The knowledgeable and friendly staff in each room also promote this feeling with little insights into Royal life at Sandringham. For example, showing us where the Christmas tree is placed every year and where the family gather to open presents. Like other stately homes, it is grand but not excessively ornate or opulent and even has a certain informal feel to it.
The tour of the house only affords access to the ground floor and the main living, reception and dining rooms. A tour of upstairs and the bedrooms would be too intimate – after all, no-one wants to see Royal underwear scattered on the floor and dirty coffee cups lying around.
After the house, we went to the museum in the old coach house and stable block which over the years have also been used as a police post, fire brigade station, carving school(?! that’s explained in the museum) and Royal garages. On show are various gifts given to the Royal Family over the years from around the world but the larger part of the museum is given over to a collection of Royal cars, including some interesting child-sized ones! One of these is a miniature replica of the James Bond DB5 built by Aston Martin engineers in about 1965 for the young Prince Andrew. It sports concealed dummy machine guns, a bulletproof shield which could rise out of the boot, electrically operated water jets in the rear light reflectors, a smoke discharger and more!
There were too many cars too feature here but here is a selection….