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September, 2015

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Oxborough definitely has lots of hidden charms and the luxury Bed & Breakfast offered at the Bedingfeld Arms will definitely suit the visitor as a central base from which to explore ‘The Brecks’.

Where are the Brecks, I’ve never heard of them, I hear you say? The secret’s now out. It’s a region to be found ‘slap-bang’ in the middle of East Anglia’s seldom explored hinterland. There are approximately 385 square miles straddling south-west Norfolk and north-west Suffolk known as ‘The Brecks’.

It is suggested that this is one of the driest regions of England; skies are often blue, inviting outdoor activity. Much of the exposed areas are gorse covered sandy heath. To the south lies Thetford Forest, the largest lowland forest in Britain. The interesting landscape mixture of forest, heath and farmland gives rise to flat straight roads and lanes with miles of tranquil tracks and paths to explore. The area is abounding with tales of infamous inhabitants, full of landed estates, history, stunning architecture, local anecdote and the homeland of the Celtic Iceni 2000 years ago. The region is rumoured to be Queen Boadicea territory, riding out in her chariot to challenge Roman rule, defeating the IXth. Legion at Great Wratting, south of Bury St. Edmunds, amongst her exploits.

Today, the area is a safer haven for cyclists, walkers and explorers with more peaceful pursuits than routing Roman Legions! It provides Fly Fishing at East Tuddenham off the A47, Coarse Fishing at Whitebridge Farm, Feltwell and both specimen and pleasure lakes at Oxborough near the River Gadder. Archery is available in Thetford and Downham Market. Karting at the Anglia Karting Centre, North Pickenham, and east of Swaffham. Clay Pigeon shooting at The Big Shoot, Thetford or Kings Lynn and Paintballing at the Ministry of Paintball, Gooderstone Road, Oxborough. The interesting market towns of Kings Lynn and Brandon also border the area. The latter known as the capital of Flint production and once renowned for its ‘Flint Knappers’, who turned out 1 million Musket flints a month in the early-mid Victorian era. Sandringham and Holkham Hall, the fine Palladian mansion are barely a few miles north east and north west respectively. The diversity of interests & pursuits available here is almost endless.

A new pursuit is always worthy of consideration. If you like walking try ‘Pingo’ spotting? No, not ‘Pingu’ – that’s an animated penguin introduced to our culture in 1986. Pingo is the name given to a mound of earth in the last ‘Ice Age’ covered with ice now collapsed and forming small ponds. There are dozens in the Brecks – the largest density in the UK. The word Pingo comes from Inuit language. The ponds can be spectacular to look at, but their importance for biodiversity, particularly related to a vast range of plants and animals, makes them of immense conservation value. They are a haunt of the very rare Emerald Damselfly, the endangered Great Crested Newt and many other interesting creatures for instance.

Walkers, cyclists, bird watchers and naturalists will find plenty of information at “Click here to link to the informative ‘Breaking New Ground Mag’.”:http://www.breakingnewground.org.uk/ which gives very useful links to pursuits in the Brecks. Whilst “Click here to link to see ‘Wings over the Brecks’ from an R.S.P.B. article”:http://www.rspb.org.uk/whatwedo/futurescapes/thebrecks/wings-over-the-brecks.aspx is an online must view for ornithologists showing locations and partnerships to see rare breeds here, like the Stone Curlew, Goshawk and Nightjar.

However, the village of Oxborough, itself, is the jewel in the crown in this region. Predominantly, Oxburgh Hall, the family home of the Bedingfeld family since 1482 eclipses the hidden delights of the village and area to the new visitor somewhat. However, those other delights will shortly be revealed. The hall nevertheless has always been a beautiful castellated moated manor house and certainly a romantic breath-taker. The National Trust manages its conservation and presentation to the public eye very well. A wing of the building still remains in family hands.

Strikingly, as you enter the walled area overlooking the house, the floral parterre, mirroring a family coat of arms, gives the setting for the grandeur yet to come. It is an impressive house, well recommended to explore with its grounds and hidden treasures. The house architecture is magnificent but its treasures are for the visitor to appreciate and discover their origins. Sir Henry Bedingfeld lived here between 1510 and 1583. This was a staunch Catholic family, who learned to survive Henry VIII’s purge against Catholicism. Sir Henry was obviously a cunning chap because he managed to ‘keep his head’ in Elizabethan times. He had been Gaoler of the young Princess Elizabeth in the Tower of London when she was a child. His obvious friendly disposition to the later Queen Elizabeth I had saved him from ‘the chop’! The hall had Royal patronage when Henry VII & Elizabeth of York stayed here in 1497.

Tapestries from the hand of Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick are displayed here too. A visit to the priest hole is a must for the more able-bodied so that you can claim the sticker ‘I escaped the Oxburgh Priest-hole’! A visit to the family chapel in the grounds whilst visiting the parklands is also recommended.

As you leave Oxburgh Hall, do not miss a visit to Oxborough’s 14th-century St. John the Evangelist Parish Church and Chantry Chapel to the left of the exit. Notice the manicured triangle village green and the central fine old Lime tree as you enter the church. The church entrance is the central gothic arched door and the Bedingfeld family Chapel is to the right. It contains the Bedingfeld Chapel and tombs of the family, including the ‘piece de resistance’ in England of two stunning Terracotta tombs and screens. Perhaps under-rated and overlooked they are the most remarkable and comprehensive works in the material to be seen outside of Italy and a big surprise to any architectural scholar.

Opposite the church, the 18th-century coaching Inn the Bedingfeld Arms is perhaps summoning you for a well-deserved drink & lunch. Refurbished just 3 years ago this is sumptuous and an extremely welcoming diversion. I-Spy in the garden a statue of John Lennon walking toward the bar. Local rumour suggests he visited the Inn in 1971 for a pint – ‘Imagine’ that?

Just up the road from the Inn is Gooderstone Water Gardens with its Monet inspired water lily pond of Giverney. A beautiful and enchanting garden of colour, tranquillity yet vibrancy, was the idea of creator Billy Knights back in 1970. Oxborough and its environs are an unspoilt and little-explored delight of English rural countryside. The luxury Bed & Breakfast offered at the Bedingfeld Arms will suit the decerning touring visitor and the Bar and Restaurant are well recommended. It has a ‘cosy log fire’ too – so the sign says! Mike W.B.


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