23 August 2015

Escape to the Country

North by North Norfolk

Escape to the Country is billed, by BBC2, as a series which helps prospective buyers find their dream home in the country.  In each programme we discover why they want to move, what they're looking for and which part of Britain they've set their heart on. In their chosen area, we show them three idyllic country properties that match their search criteria and their budget. The last option is the 'mystery' house, a property that challenges our buyers' perceptions about what they really want….. At the end of the programme, our house hunters discuss all the properties they've seen and decide which one is the best option for them.

This, the MemSahib’s favourite programme (there are endless repeats on Really) might better be summarised as ageing middle class couples with pets dream of The Good Life…..

So this week, retired couple, Ricky and Mandy, with their pet dragon, Meadow, are seeking to sell their priceless accommodation in Harpenden, Herts, to relocate to North Norfolk, to benefit from the endless grey skies, the winds from Siberia, and extreme traffic at weekends.  They are quite flexible in the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but would like a library, servants’ quarters, possible a priest hole, and stabling for their entourage.  They prefer period properties but are not keen on low beams.  The kitchen should be quite separate from the dining room, and Mandy would like a room for her tapestry work.  Ricky would like outbuildings for his taxidermy, as he loves stuffing birds.  The couple don’t mind if there is some renovation work to be done, as they are up for a bit of a project.

The budget is flexible, as house prices in Harpenden are astronomic, so this should be a doddle for our presenter, who will take them to a selection of properties which are usually isolated and inaccessible. The last property of course will be the Mystery House, which will be totally out of keeping with the couple’s intentions, but which will at least make the presenter smirk with supercilious smugitude….

So, Ricky and Mandy, why North Norfolk?

Well we are great fans of Alfred Hitchcock and our favourite is the one in which Cary Grant outruns the birds in a cornfield having driven along the coast completely drunk, and then has his face chiselled on a rock near the Statue of Liberty, where Tippi Hedren pulls him up into the upper berth on the night train from Liverpool Street.  Ever since then we have yearned for a place surrounded by great flocks of birds, and want to live like James Mason…..

OK, that's great, and, well, we do have some very exciting properties lined up.  So cram into the back of my old Chevrolet while the cameraman films me driving…..

And the first property is a mile and a half from the village of Aylsham, which has a farmers' market twice a month, but our property is a Jacobean house with its own church and pub.....

Blickling Estate

First impressions?

Quite nice, I suppose, but it looks single glazed.  And can you get children to sweep the chimneys?

Ha ha, of course.  Interestingly Anne Boleyn lived here, before she was beheaded that is..... Shall we go inside?  You will see that the current owners are packed and ready to vacate....

But you will be interested to see that the table is laid for dinner with their friends, which gives you an idea of the kind of people they were.....

Ooh, I like Joyce Grenfell, and isn't David Cameron an Astor by marriage? But  Kermit Roosevelt? Wasn't he an alcoholic? And Joachim von Ribbentrop?  Was he Jewish?  What did they eat?

I'm afraid I can't tell you that, as they ate in French....

Mmmm, I like Maryland chicken! Can we keep the cook?

I'm afraid she's off, but you do get the lady by the tapestry upstairs....

And there's a chap who hangs around the piano in the library.  He's free....

Very nice.  What about the pictures?

You can have this one.....

Poor chap.  He must have worked very hard.

I think it was the table plans. Anyway, must press on as we've lots more in store....  But before we go, have a little look at the garden,

Of course you get the cows, and notice the little sign in the bottom left of the picture.... 'pumped sewer' - all mod cons....

Our next property is not far away....

Felbrigg Hall

What do you think?

I don't like the motto. "Gloria Deo In Excelcis."  A bit 'in your face' isn't it? Did nuns live here? And again we have chimneys and single glazing, but it looks a little more manageable than the last one.

Well it is also Jacobean, and it is one of the largest estates in Norfolk, with 1,760 acres, including 520 acres of woodland.

Plenty of firewood then?

And you do get a pianist with this one.....

Not sure I like the children.  Can they clean chimneys?

Ha ha, I expect they would love it. Come through to the dining room. Is this to your liking?

What's on the menu?  Apart from rubber pheasants?

Bit heavy for us, don't you think dear?

But you don't have far to walk to the Drawing Room where you can sleep it off....  This is where the last owner, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cramer, sank into depression and allowed the house to crumble.

A little dark, don't you think?

But subsequently the estate was managed by Christopher Mackie, whose wife Mary wrote "Dry Rot and Daffodils" - have you read it?

No but we heard "Cobwebs and Cream Teas" on the radio.  It was quite good.  Anywhere for my taxidermy?

Oh yes.  Between the kitchen and the Dining Room, below stairs. The squire's grandfather was a keen ornithologist.....

Nice.  I can see he loved his birds. And what about the kitchen?

Fully equipped.  Quite modern.....

And so, as the sun sets over the North Norfolk Coast, we come to the end of our first day of house-hunting for Ricky and Mandy.  Tomorrow we will continue with our search, and of course we will finish with the Mystery House, which I am sure will cause waves.....

Zzzzzzzzzz.... (Time for an advertisement break)

So we start our second and final day of house hunting in the superb region of North Norfolk, in the hamlet of Oxburgh, which has a pub, though you would have to drive seven miles to Swaffham for a pint of milk and the Daily Mail.

Today's first house is a fine example of a late medieval moated manor house.  Outside you only have seventy acres of garden and woodland,  but inside you do get a priest hole as the Bedingfield family were Catholic.  

Oxburgh Hall

What do you think, guys?

Quite nice.  Is it haunted?

Well there is a curtain that is always billowing rather spookily in the Queen's chamber.....

But more to the point, a rather large lady has often been seen inspecting the furniture in the Master bedroom.....

Oh my goodness!  Chilling!  I'm not sure this is for us.

Well it does have some very nice period pieces, like this fireplace....

Mmmmm. Shame about the cat.

And I rather like the way they have made use of window seats....

No curtains.  People can see in.

So I get the feeling that this one has not got the wow factor?  Shall I take you to the Mystery House?

Indeed. We can't wait.

And what do you think it will be?

A barn conversion? A new build? A WWII airfield?

Not this time!  I'm taking you to the village of Snettisham, mentioned in the Domesday Book, and home to an RSPB nature reserve, 

so you'll get plenty of birds....

I'm afraid the railway station was closed in 1969, but Nicholas Pevsner claimed that the 14th century St Mary's Parish Church "is perhaps the most exciting decorated church in Norfolk."  This is also famous for the "Snettisham Hoard," a series of discoveries of precious metal objects from the Iron Age, currently in the British Museum.

And the property I am going to show you is just down from the Yacht Club....

What do you think, guys?

I'm blown away..... It's perfect, don't you think dear?

But can we afford it?

So we have reached the end of our house search in North Norfolk.  Retired couple, Ricky and Mandy, were looking for a detached property with room for their interests, and with a comfortable budget.  We showed them three desirable family residences, each with period features, including plenty of grounds and outhouses, but somehow none of these quite hit the spot.  The last property, the Mystery House, was something of a gamble, but Ricky and Mandy seemed really taken with it, despite the fact that there were no servants' quarters nor stables.  

On the coast of the Wash in the village of Snettisham, within a short walk of local facilities, including a fish and chip shop, and with views of vast flocks of birds as the tide sweeps in, the house caught Mandy's imagination at once.

I have to say that this just goes to show how the Mystery House tests the imagination and how, sometimes, it releases unexpected ideas. Sadly, in this case, although Ricky and Mandy made an offer on the Mystery House, they were unable to proceed, as the lease does not permit the keeping of dragons on or near the premises..... 

But Ricky and Mandy will continue their search for their dream home in North Norfolk, and I am sure that sooner or later, with their affection for Hitchcock, birds, and their pet dragon Meadow, something will turn up.....

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