An arty weekend in … north Norfolk
Discover Rachel Whiteread and Henry Moore in a PM’s parkland, Emin and Freud in the pub, and a picture-postcard beach
Make the trip for …
North Norfolk is peppered with grand houses with impressive art collections. Houghton Hall near King’s Lynn, which was built for Robert Walpole in the 1720s, is no stuffy stately home. Its parkland is a treasure trove of modern sculpture by Rachel Whiteread, Anish Kapoor, Henry Moore and more. Some large-scale pieces are in full view, but many others are hidden. Armed with a numbered map, visitors search mazes, walled gardens and woods to track down the artworks – so it’s great fun for kids, too.
The first sculpture to be commissioned, one of James Turrell’s Skyspaces, created in 2000, is still one of the most impressive, while Jeppe Hein’s Waterflame is mesmerising. This year, Sean Scully has a sculpture exhibition in the grounds, plus paintings in the house and the Contemporary Gallery (23 April-29 October, adult from £20/under-18s free). There is also an exhibition of artists and makers based in East Anglia, East to East, and a model soldier museum. The house itself is a Palladian mansion with sumptuous state rooms.
Another of north Norfolk’s great houses is just 14 miles away. Holkham Hall is also an 18th-century Palladian house, in extensive grounds. It has one of the biggest private collections of French landscape artist Claude Lorrain, plus works by Poussin, Van Dyck and Rubens, and a statue gallery. Other stately homes open to the public include royal residence Sandringham, Blickling Hall and Felbrigg Hall.
The Georgian town of Holt has lots of art galleries, bookshops and antique shops, such as Holt Antiques & Interiors Centre. Holt Sunday Market, on the first Sunday of the month, brings together 50 regional makers plus buskers and six street food stalls (April-December). Wells-next-the-Sea also has several galleries selling photography, prints and ceramics.
When to go
The Houghton festival is a celebration of electronic music and art, with live performers and DJs, plus sculpture garden tours, life drawing classes, a spa and a floating restaurant on the lake (10-13 August).
On vast, beautiful Holkham beach there’s a three-mile circular walk along the sands and back through pinewoods, and there are also beach walks east to Wells or west to Burnham Overy Staithe.
Drinks and dinner
The Suffield Arms, a pub, tapas bar and Mediterranean restaurant near Cromer, opened in 2021 and showcases some of art dealer Ivor Braka’s collection. Braka also owns the Gunton Arms a couple of miles away. This is a gastropub with rooms, with works by Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Lucian Freud and Paula Rego, and a sculpture park. Wells Crab House sells platters of Norfolk crab, lobster, oysters and mussels, plus other English seafood, to eat in or take away.
Holly Lodge, a boutique B&B in Thursford, has six rooms and a luxury shepherd’s hut (doubles from £135 B&B). Deepdale Camping & Rooms in Burnham Deepdale has regular live acoustic music and is next to Dalegate Market, which has independent pop-up shops and art workshops (pitches for two from £18 a night).
The nearest railway station to Houghton Hall is King’s Lynn, 13 miles to the west.