Circling one of Norfolk’s most important Bronze Age landscapes, this route is a wonderful chance to get off the beaten track and sample high culture in the same day. Houghton Hall offers an array of outdoor sculpture in its gorgeous gardens as well as indoor art exhibitions.
Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, began the construction of Houghton Hall in 1722. He considered that the existing village was too close to the new building, so he had the entire village moved. Today the new village of Houghton consists of two rows of white cottages that line The Street on the approach to the south gate, and some of the residents still work on the estate.
Walpole built the Hall to impress, and to augment his status with no expense spared. The mansion’s grand Aislaby Stone cladding, for example, was quarried in Yorkshire and shipped all the way to Norfolk. Today Houghton Hall is known as one of the finest Palladian houses in England. Walpole, however, was not the first to have an impact on the look of the local landscape.
The estate and countryside surrounding Houghton Hall is peppered with prehistoric earthworks; these Bronze Age burial mounds date back 3300 to 3500 years. Many are not immediately obvious and their sheer abundance only becomes clear when identified on maps. Some appear simply as islands of scrubby woodland, isolated in the middle of fields. The area is regarded as one of the most significant Bronze Age landscape sites in Norfolk.
The farms and estate have provided jobs for generations of locals. A memorial plaque outside the south gate of Houghton Hall is dedicated to the lives of three servicemen from the village who died in the First World War: gamekeeper Arthur Snell, Herbert Ramm and Reginald Callaby who had both worked as farm labourers before they went abroad to fight for their country.
Houghton Hall Circular Walk takes a route from the south gate, out along hedge-lined paths, through agricultural land via Peddars Way - itself an ancient feature of the landscape - and alongside several well-preserved Bronze Age burial mounds, before returning through mixed woodland and parkland.