In the heart of Norfolk the beautiful Georgian pile that is Bressingham Hall makes a wonderful spot for a break, says Martin Fone.
For me the county of Norfolk is almost terra incognita. The Grade II listed Georgian mansion that is Bressingham Hall made for a perfect base from which to Diss-cover the delights of the south of the county and plug this lamentable gap in my knowledge of our country.
Built in the early 19th century to a design dating from the 1760s and on the site of an earlier farmhouse, the ivy-clad, solid house presents itself with confidence, dominating the local landscape. It was bought by Alan Bloom, together with 230 acres of land, in 1946 and has been in the family ever since.
Internally, the house has been sensitively modernised, by Alan’s daughter, Bridget and designer, Jill Hodgson, with particular care taken to preserve many of the original features. There is a wonderful grand staircase and the pretty, decorative fireplaces make an attractive feature in each of the bedrooms. Tall ceilings, sash windows, chandeliers and dado rails all evoke its Georgian splendour.
The splash of modernity is provided by the double-sized walk-in showers, roll-top baths and comfortable beds, all of which ensure that modern expectations are met, even when you seem to have stepped back in time. For such a large building, the heating system is impressive, a glowing testament to the effectiveness of the energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly bio-mass boiler.
The Hall is available for short-term lets and whoever books has exclusive use of the house for the duration of their booking. With seven bedrooms, each named after a flower, it can accommodate up to 18 people. We chose the Aster Room with its four-poster bed and commanding views of the grounds. The Hall has all mod-cons including TV and stereo system in the snug and whilst the mobile signal was somewhat patchy (many would consider this a godsend), the wi-fi was pleasingly reliable.
The ground floor provides the communal living space, with an atmospheric scullery, a well-equipped kitchen fitted out in a classic farmhouse style, a delightful snug, a formal dining room, a drawing room, and a conservatory, with great views of the gardens.
There’s also an old, renovated barn which, after two years’ work, was completed in 2015. A tasteful mix of original features with contemporary design, which is the Bloom trademark, it is available for weddings, accommodating up to 120 guests. With the Hall available for the immediate family, it’s easy to see why it’s become a very popular venue for that special day. And if you’re looking for things to do and see or souvenirs to buy away from the house, nearby Diss – just two miles to the east – is likely to meet most needs.
Bressingham Hall sleeps up to 18 people in seven bedrooms – prices start from £1,250 for a four-night break via mulberrycottages.com
The Hall’s crowning glory is its 17 acres of gardens. There is a private garden (and terrace) for those staying in the house, but the bulk of the gardens are open to the public 9am-5pm from March to October. One of the great joys of staying at the Hall is that after the crowds have left you can still wander the gardens to your heart’s content.
And what a place they are to wander. These rightly-famous gardens reflect the skill and pioneering spirit of the accomplished (and perfectly-named) plantsmen Alan Bloom and his son Adrian, whose talent has been recognised far and wide. Both have been awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour by the Royal Horticultural Society, in 1971 and 1985 respectively.
Alan, who championed the use of island beds and helped to bring the likes of Crocosmia and Kniphofia back into favour, created the Dell Garden. What is remarkable is that the flints which adorn the brick work of the bridge and thatched summerhouse were knapped by Alan himself.
Adrian, meanwhile, has a passion for the flora of North America that can be seen in the wood which bears his name where redwoods, now some fifty-four years old, provide an impressive backdrop. His Foggy Bottom – named with a nod to the swamps of Washington DC but also reflective of the mists that roll over the low-lying land – is a masterpiece of plantsmanship, with a staggering number of varieties of perennials on display.
The gardens are designed to provide interest all the year round. During our stay in mid-February the winter garden was vibrant with colour, reds provided by a stunning display of Cornus sanguinea “Midwinter Fire”, and whites by wonderful carpets of snowdrops.
My favourite was Galanthus Sam Arnott with its distinctive pendulous head and three inner stepals tinged with green. Incidentally, until I visited, I had no idea that snowdrop bulbs attract the same sort of frenzied trading activity that tulips did in 17th century Holland, with Galanthophiles paying as much as £500 or more for a single bulb from a rare or new variety.
There is a nursery associated with the gardens, managed by Adrian’s son, Jason. It is a wholesaler of perennials, RHS Wisley being its biggest customer, and has an online presence. The stock of over 8,000 different types of plant includes many of the over 200 cultivars developed and named by the generations of Bloom plantsmen.
Also attached to the gardens is the Bressingham Steam Museum, a marvellous collection of miniature trains and steam-powered gallopers – if that sort of thing is your cup of tea, you’ll be in heaven.
George Plumptre explores the legacy of the great nurseryman Alan Bloom, via his remarkable Norfolk garden.
It's exactly 50 years since the last passenger steam train in Britain made its way from Liverpool to Carlisle and