If follies were built as grand statements of status by Georgian landed gentry, then the Triumphal Arch certainly fits the bill.
Such structures are dotted around Britain’s stately home estates, sometimes as gatehouses for security or as hideaways for those seeking solitude – or even for secret assignations between lovers.
The Holkham example certainly falls into the latter category after being tastefully remodelled into what has become one of the nation’s most romantic boutique boltholes.
As soon as I drove into the long entrance roadway in the twilight, it’s grey stonework melted into the surrounding countryside of the 25,000-acre Holkham Hall Estate, filled with the heady scent of mature trees, rolling parkland and wandering sheep chomping through the thick green grass.
Along with my partner and photographer Sue Mountjoy, I was intrigued to know what lay between those tall walls of a structure that was designed and built in the 18th century simply to impress coach-loads of well-heeled Londoners passing through en route to North Norfolk’s ancient inns and country houses.
If they were around today, they would certainly have been more than impressed by its conversion from a passing statement into a luxurious and comfortable three-level holiday home in almost complete seclusion.
Indeed, if ‘getting away from it all’ is something you crave, then the Grade 1 Listed Arch should definitely be in your bucket list.
For two idyllic days, Sue and I got away from almost everything: immersing ourselves in country walks, a beach visit, superb local food and the tranquillity that comes from having just a few wandering sheep as neighbours.
Immediately you step inside the right-hand doorway, it’s clear that something as apparently narrow as this towering building is, in fact, deceivingly roomy and packed with welcome detail.
First, we encountered the modern open-plan kitchen and dining area, with stone floors, a high ceiling, and enough equipment to create an intimate dinner for two on the sizeable table alongside the original fireplace.
On that table, we were also greeted by a spectacular welcome pack, filled with cheese, wine, beer, granola, coffee and other goodies, all from the Holkham Estate and other local artisan suppliers.
Using the rope-bannister of the spiral stone staircase, similar to that in a church tower, we passed the cloakroom, toilet, shower room, and then came to the huge, light and beautifully appointed bedroom and lounge which is somewhere the likes of Mr Darcy would certainly have enjoyed romantic trysts!
With the light from two arch windows casting their glow upon a huge bed, free-standing roll-top bath, cosy settee, a large flat-screen TV and integrated audio system, the opportunity for romancing certainly seemed to be at a very high level.
The fading evening light was casting a delicate glow through those huge windows, which provided spectacular views of the estate meadows and trees.
On our doorstep, we had Holkham Hall, one of the country’s finest Palladian mansions – also designed by the Arch architect William Kent – as well as glorious Holkham Beach, one of the best in the UK.
That first night was one in which we enjoyed the goodies of the welcome pack, upstairs in that idyllic master suite, where jazz music from the Bluetooth audio mingled with the occasional hoot of an owl and the bleat of a passing sheep far below.
Next morning we came to realise that The Arch is all about kicking off your heels, washing away your cares and de-stressing from life’s concerns (happily, this is aided by the mobile signal being almost non-existent).
Our suitcase packed with clothes remained largely untouched as we wandered round in our casuals, soon realising there was no-one around to impress – apart from those passing sheep.
As for food, breakfast was simply the muesli, cheese and artisan bread from the Welcome Pack and it was clear that we were becoming so chilled that we wouldn’t be doing any serious cooking over our two-day stay.
So, with some notable eateries on our doorstep, we had a bracing walk before changing into smart casuals and heading off to glorious Morston Hall, the period country house hotel run by Michelin-starred chef Galton Blackiston, for his afternoon tea. This was a delight as well as being substantial and included an opening glass of local champagne (sparkling water for me, the driver) to accompany such delights as quail scotch eggs and his own smoked salmon with lemon crème fraîche on Bavarian bread.
We walked off the feast at nearby Holkham Beach, often named as Britain’s best and a favourite of members of the Royal Family when they are enjoying their Winter break at Sandringham House.
Then it was back to The Arch for showers and a change of clothes before we headed out for a sumptuous dinner at the Holkham Estate’s Victoria Inn, built in 1837 and famed for its local and seasonal offerings including North Norfolk fish, shellfish and samphire, as well as beef from estate farms, local lamb, pork and summer fruit. In the winter the wild game comes from the Earl of Leicester’s own family shoot and venison from the estate’s fallow deer.
Back at The Arch later, we settled on the sofa with a glass of wine, soft jazz and the crackling of seasoned wood in the open fire at the far end of the upstairs suite before sinking into the deep mattress and Egyptian cotton of the king-sized bed beneath a full moon glinting through the arched window – a perfect end to a perfect day.
Next morning we were utterly chilled and a lie in was the agreed option, although there is still plenty to see and do within easy reach, including the magnificent Holkham Hall itself, renowned more recently as the setting for the 2008 film The Duchess, starring Kiera Knightley and Ralph Fiennes.
Apart from that treat, Arch visitors receive a free parking pass for Holkham and Wells beaches as well as for a car Park in pretty Wells-Next-The-Sea, as well as discounts at several local shops and cafes.
Further afield you can drop into the ultimate ‘Chelsea-on-Sea’ villages of Burnham Market, Brancaster and Cley-next-the-Sea. If time allows, Sue and I like nothing better though than to rummage through the antique and charity shops in lovely little Holt town
The Arch, though, proved too magnetic for such expeditions and we were happy to wander the estate tracks, spotting the spring nesting birds, as well as the occasional busy squirrel and a couple of furtive foxes, who have re-emerged it appears, since hunting was banned.
Eschewing cookery – apart from an open lunch sandwich courtesy of the Welcome pack again – we considered the many options for fish and seafood locally for supper, including Wells Crab House.
Instead, we opted to drive along the wonderfully quirky coast road to Cromer, to Galton Blackiston’s Norfolk No 1 popular fish restaurant, which has gained a national reputation for its fine fish and seafood, affordable prices and cliff-top location. My cod and Sue’s seafood risotto were fabulous – no wonder the likes of TV chef James Martin, comic David Walliams and ex-cricketer Freddie Flintoff have passed through its doors.
Yet the real star of this weekend show was The Arch where we spent another blissful night before packing the car next morning and driving off with that feeling that comes from having experienced a throwback to a truly tranquil and special place in our increasingly busy world.
Images (c) Sue Mountjoy.
Tell Me More About The Holkham Triumphal Arch
The Triumphal Arch is available for rent by SALT, a small Norfolk company offering unique and special holiday retreats for visitors. The property is non-smoking and up to two dogs can be taken along. Guests can need to be fit enough to use the spiral staircase and it’s also not suitable for infants and young children. For information, telephone 01328 887600.
Prices for three nights start at £541