Nine things:

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rowan Man­tell

San­dring­ham and the gin­ger­bread vil­lages


The Royal Fam­ily al­ways chooses a Nor­folk Christ­mas. The Queen and the Duke of Ed­in­burgh host princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, earls and countesses, at splen­did San­dring­ham House.

Here’s a glimpse of their fes­tive sched­ule.

Christ­mas Eve is Christ­mas Day for the Roy­als. They open their pressies on Christ­mas Eve, and as peo­ple who have pretty much ev­ery­thing, the tra­di­tion is to go for to­ken or jokey gifts. There are stock­ings stuffed with small gifts and fruit for house guests on Christ­mas morn­ing – and then a fes­tive break­fast be­fore the 11am church ser­vice at St Mary Mag­da­lene church. Hun­dreds of well-wish­ers line the route as the fam­ily ar­rives – some on foot af­ter a brac­ing walk across San­dring­ham Park and some by car. There is an­other chance to see the roy­als af­ter the ser­vice when they take a bit of time to chat to peo­ple in the crowds be­fore head­ing back to San­dring­ham House for Christ­mas lunch at 1pm.


The roy­als sit down in front of the telly to watch the Queen’s Speech – just like ev­ery­one else. The first Christ­mas speech was broad­cast by ra­dio from San­dring­ham by the Queen’s grand­fa­ther, Ge­orge V, on De­cem­ber 25, 1932. Twenty five years later the Queen made the first tele­vised Christ­mas broad­cast, live from the li­brary at San­dring­ham. It was King Ge­orge V who said: “Dear old San­dring­ham, the place I love bet­ter than any­where in the world.” His son, Ge­orge VI, said: “I have al­ways been happy here and I love the place.” The deeply loved home has seen sad times too as both kings also died at San­dring­ham.


The Queen tra­di­tion­ally ar­rives in Nor­folk by train. These days the near­est sta­tion is King’s Lynn but for around a cen­tury San­dring­ham’s royal rail­way sta­tion was at Wolfer­ton. The vil­lage sta­tion, now a pri­vate home, had el­e­gant wait­ing rooms for its aris­to­cratic trav­ellers. Even the lamps were topped with royal crowns for the em­per­ors, em­presses, kings and tsars who ar­rived here. The build­ings have been beau­ti­fully re­stored to some­thing rem­i­nis­cent of their royal hey­day.

One story is of a short jour­ney Ed­ward VII took with the Tsar of Rus­sia. Catch­ing a train home af­ter a walk they were asked for their tick­ets. “I am the King of Eng­land and this is the Tsar of Rus­sia,” said Ed­ward. The ticket col­lec­tor replied: “Glad to meet you. I am the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury.”


The Queen is a pi­geon fancier, with her own loft of rac­ing pi­geons at Wolfer­ton. The hobby has passed down from monarch to monarch and Her Majesty is a knowl­edge­able owner who vis­its reg­u­larly.

The Queen has also been a mem­ber of San­dring­ham Women’s In­sti­tute for 75 years. She at­tends the Jan­uary meet­ing, at West New­ton vil­lage hall, where she chats with mem­bers, en­joys tea and gin­ger­bread and lis­tens to the vis­it­ing speaker. This year the speaker was our own Susie Fowler-Watt.


The rich seam of red stone which runs through the re­gion is of­fi­cially called carr­stone. Nick­named gin­ger­bread, it gives a fairy­tale feel to vil­lages full of gin­ger­bread cot­tages. Find them in In­gold­is­thorpe, whose name gives away its Vik­ing past, Fl­itcham, where St Felix vis­ited in the sev­enth cen­tury, and Ders­ing­ham, with its his­toric tithe barn and bog which is a na­tional na­ture re­serve.

‘It was King Ge­orge V who said: “Dear old San­dring­ham, the place I love bet­ter than any­where in the world’


Birds fly in from as far afield as the Arc­tic in the win­ter and Africa in sum­mer. The coastal na­ture re­serve at Snet­tisham, run by the Royal So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of Birds, is alive with flocks of res­i­dent and mi­gra­tory birds all year round.

Deep in the heart of low­land Ice­land pink-footed geese flour­ish in sum­mer. But as tem­per­a­tures drop, the geese head south, with many thou­sands gath­er­ing at Snet­tisham. They roost overnight on the mud­flats and are ready to fly out to find food at first light.

The sight of the sky full of soar­ing pink-footed geese has been dubbed the Snet­tisham Spec­tac­u­lar by the RSPB, which runs its dawn Wild Goose Chase on De­cem­ber 14, 15 and 30 and Jan­uary 5.

Book­ing is es­sen­tial on 01485 210779.


West Nor­folk has been as­so­ci­ated with roy­alty for more than 2,000 years. Scores of Iron Age gold torqs have been un­earthed around Snet­tisham – of such high qual­ity they are thought of have been the royal trea­sure of the Iceni tribe. The Snet­tisham Hoard, in­clud­ing huge twisted gold neck­laces, or torqs, was found be­tween 1948 and 1973. See some of the finds in Nor­wich Cas­tle Mu­seum, with more in the British Mu­seum. A sep­a­rate hoard of Ro­man jew­ellery has also been found nearby.


Sedge­ford has the most stud­ied his­tory in Bri­tain. The Sedge­ford His­tor­i­cal and Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­search Project has been run­ning for 22 years, and un­cov­ered more than 4,000 years of hu­man his­tory from the burial of a Bronze Age 20-year-old around 2300BC through a Ro­man villa (there are also the re­mains of Ro­man vil­las in nearby Grim­ston, Gay­ton, Cong­ham and Fl­itcham) and me­dieval manors to a First World War aero­drome.

Ev­ery sum­mer the his­to­ri­ans re­turn to one of the largest and long­est-run­ning ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­search and train­ing projects in Bri­tain.


St Felix is said to have been res­cued by beavers af­ter be­ing ship­wrecked on the (tiny) River Babin­g­ley in 630AD. He had come, via The Wash, to in­tro­duce Chris­tian­ity to East An­glia when he was caught in a vi­o­lent storm. He was so grate­ful to the colony of beavers which saved him from drown­ing that he made the chief beaver a bishop. To­day the vil­lage sign for the ham­let of Babin­g­ley, near beau­ti­ful Cas­tle Ris­ing, shows a beaver in a bishop’s mitre.

And fi­nally… Fancy a real royal Christ­mas tree? Christ­mas trees are sold from the sawmill on the San­dring­ham es­tate.

Pic­ture: Ian Burt

To mark the Queen’s Di­a­mond Ju­bilee, Royal Loft Man­ager Peter Far­row re­leases a pi­geon out­side the Nor­wich Gates at San­dring­ham

Pic­ture: Matthew Usher

ABOVE, FROM LEFT The Queen on Christ­mas Day 2013

Pic­ture: Matt Usher

ABOVE:The Pink Footed Geese fly over Snet­tisham RSPB re­serve at as the sun rises.

Pic­ture: Ian Burt

BE­LOW:The Sedge­ford His­tor­i­cal Ar­chae­l­og­i­cal Re­search Project

RIGHT:The River Babin­g­ley Pic­ture: Ian Burt

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