Sandringham heritage trail
The Cycle Together Sandringham routes pass by some very interesting and historic sites. On this page you can read about the royal history, quirky facts, and historical sites to look out for on this heritage ride.
- Park House Hotel
- Dersingham and the Church of St.Nicholas
- Tithe Barn
- Bircham Windmill
- Houghton Hall
- Holkham Hall
- Anmer Hall
- King's Avenue
- Royal Studs
Park House Hotel
The cycle route will start and finish at the historic Park House Hotel, in Sandringham. The house was built in 1863 by the Prince of Wales, the first royal resident of Sandringham, for his comptroller (responsible for management of the household) to live in.
Diana Spencer was born at Park House in 1961, the fourth girl born to her parents, and wasn’t named for a week after she was born because her parents were really hoping for a boy to continue the Spencer family lineage. Princess Diana grew up here at Park House and spent many summers here after that, playing with the young Princes Andrew and Edward.
In 1983, The Queen, a patron of Leonard Cheshire Disability, offered the house to the charity to use to benefit disabled people. The trustees decided to convert it into a lovely countryside hotel for disabled people and their families, and a nationwide appeal raising nearly £1.5 million helped achieve this.
One of the bedrooms in the house is known as the W.I room because all the Women’s Institutes in Norfolk worked together to raise money for all the furniture and fittings in this room. The Queen officially opened the hotel in 1987 and has catered to guests with a wide range of disabilities ever since.
On setting off from Park House Hotel you will find yourself in the midst of the beautiful Sandringham estate, the Queen’s private countryside retreat. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought Sandringham in 1862 from Charles Spencer Cowper, the stepson of Viscount Palmerston, the Prime Minister at the time. Queen Victoria bought the house for her son, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. The Prince had somewhere to live at Marlborough House in London but the Queen felt he should be able to escape the pressures of the city and enjoy a healthy country life! They paid £220,000 for the house and all it’s furnishings.
When the Prince moved in, Sandringham house was a slightly smaller and simpler affair than you see now, and was considered not fitting for the future King’s quickly expanding family, so it was soon demolished to make way for the house you see now.
King Edward VII introduced ‘Sandringham Time’ where the clocks at the estate were set half an hour ahead of GMT. This was done to create an extra half hour of daylight in the winter evenings for hunting, a favourite pastime of many of the royals when staying there. This time change continued until 1936 when it was abolished due to the obvious confusion it caused!
King George V once said of the estate, ‘Dear old Sandringham, the place I love better than anywhere else in the world.’ Sandringham is steeped in royal history, having seen four generations of royal families, and the death of two monarchs.
Dersingham and the Church of St.Nicholas
On your way out of Sandringham you’ll take the scenic route past the village of Dersingham. Early settlers felt Dersingham was the ideal place to live because it was on the coast but high enough up to avoid flooding. Many years later, they turned out to be very wrong about this. In 1953 the Norfolk coast, including Dersingham, was hit by some of the worst floods in England’s recent history.
Dersingham is home to the beautiful 14th century Church of St. Nicholas. Peter de Valognes, who accompanied William the Conqueror on his arrival in England and fought in the Battle of Hastings, gifted the church to the village. There is a chest inside that dates all the way back to the 14th century and is preserving many historic documents about the town and it’s people.
As well as its historic relevance, Roger Meddows-Taylor, the drummer for rock band Queen was born in Dersingham.
Also in Dersingham is the tithe barn, never actually used to collect tithes but used as a general agricultural store. The barn was gifted to Norfolk County Council by the Queen in 1972, as a storage facility to help restore historic buildings across Norfolk.
On the 20-mile route are two extra sites worth looking out for. Before you reach Great Bircham you might be able to spot Bircham windmill in the distance. First built in 1846 it fell into disrepair until the 1980’s when it was restored to fully working order and now produces bread in the original bakery downstairs. The windmill was actually sold to the Queen and formed part of the Sandringham estate for a short period, she sold it on to someone interested in restoring it.
On the 20-mile route you’ll also cycle through Big Wood, which has Houghton Hall on the other side of it. Houghton Hall was built in the 1720’s by Sir Robert Walpole, who is regarded at Britain’s first Prime Minister due to his power and influence. No expense was spared in the building and lavish decorating of this grand house, designed to be fitting for a man of such importance to entertain political guests.
Sir Robert Walpole housed an impressive art collection here. His grandson sold off a considerable part of the collection to Catherine the Great of Russia to cover the estate’s growing debts. More recently, in 1990, Hans Holbein's "Lady With a Squirrel and a Starling" that had been in the hall since 1780 was sold to the National Gallery for £17million to pay for maintenance of the house and grounds. Another valuable painting was stolen from the hall in 1990 and still remains missing.
The landscaping is just as impressive as the hall and is home to about 600 white fallow deer.
The 50- and 90-mile route will pass through the breathtaking Holkham Park, right past Holkham Hall, on their private road for cyclists and pedestrians. Holkham Hall was built by the first Earl of Leicester, Thomas Coke, and is still lived in today, by his very lucky ancestors! After touring Europe for many years Thomas Coke returned to England and wanted his own little piece of Italy on the Norfolk coast so he had Holkham Hall built in the style of an Italian villa and brought evergreen oaks over to Holkham from Italy to populate the grounds.
The route will pass through the deer park, home to a large herd of Fallow Deer and a small herd of Red Deer. You will also cycle up to the Obelisk, the highest point in the 3,000 acre grounds, standing on an axis with the centre of the house. The Obelisk was built to commemorate the beginning of the architect William Kent’s work on the park, the man responsible for most of this impressive estate.
Not too far now! You will cycle past Anmer Hall, which is believed to have been chosen as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's country retreat. William and Kate will enjoy a Grade II listed late-Georgian house formerly lived in by the Duke and Duchess of Kent, with a swimming pool, tennis courts, stables and a private local church next door.
Give a royal wave as you pass, just in case!
Near the end of all routes you’ll cycle back into Sandringham along the beautiful tree lined King’s Avenue, the road connecting the village of Anmer and Sandringham. Every time King Edward VII went hunting he would invite his hunting companions to plant a tree along this road at the end of their hunt. He was very partial to hunting so this whole road is lined with ancient beech trees as far as the eye can see.
The final mile is all down hill (phew!) back into Sandringham, passing by the ancient horse breeding grounds, The Royal Stud. This is a highly influential spot in the history of the thoroughbred horse and has produced many racing legends, from the time of Prince Edward through to the winners The Queen is involved in breeding today. The Royal Studs have won basically every major race in Britain in the last 200 years.
The Royal Stud features a statue of Persimmon, the legendary race horse, bred by The Prince of Wales himself, in the 1890’s. Persimmon’s skeleton can be seen at the Natural History Museum. Much of the prize money the Prince got from his horses was put in to developing and expanding the Sandringham estate into a luxurious Edwardian house for Royals to enjoy for generations. The Queen’s derby winner, Motivator, is currently residing in deluxe paddocks developed in the Old Walled Garden.