Holkham

Things are afoot at Holkham, the North Norfolk Coast's stately home (that one with the world famous beach attached). 

I was on pork pies and sausage rolls delivering duty there yesterday and had a good nosy round. I came away impressed and pleased, I liked it before and, as with anywhere you are fond of, was that little bit apprehensive about the end result, especially having seen it as a building site over the winter when I dropped in for meetings. But it all looks just fabulous. Much improved and so much more appropriate for the destination that Holkham has become over the last few years, but still retaining oodles of character. The courtyard (where the Bygones exhibition was before) has been used to create a single smart cluster of resources for visitors.

The Courtyard Cafe is more spacious and the entrance has been swivelled round, so that you access it from the courtyard. The park opened to visitors, after the winter, this weekend and I know they were busy from the huge number of sausage rolls and pies they have got through in just three days. The ever-accurate pork pie barometer.  The family have always been keen to use local food, and the cakes have always been stunning, but in the alterations the recently appointed manager, Simon (who has come from some well known and very well thought of food places), has been supplied with a brand new pro kitchen that gave me equipment envy. 

Usually there on business of one sort or another, I'd never taken enough notice of the shop, where it was previously on the far side of the Stables courtyard, but it's suddenly got chic and spacious, housed in a beautiful, glass fronted, airy side of the courtyard and has some perfectly beautiful things. It is an absolute pleasure to browse round. There are some very covetable pieces of metalwork from Holkham Forge, a great range of doggy items, including leads from The Traditional Rope Company (who live and work in my village) and a lot more Holkham badged products than I'd been aware of before, including some clothing that I really had to drag myself away from, in the estate's tweed.

Being a long time ceramics fan, some very stylish black and white china in the kitchenalia area lured me in and called out  to me photograph it. When I got back to HQ my Twitter friend, Steven Moore, the Antiques Roadshow's ceramic expert, informed me that they are made for Holkham by the famous Staffordshire Burleigh Pottery (of which he's Creative Director), so not much wonder it's jolly nice! I reckon sales of that will be as brisk as sausage rolls.

The remaining wing of the courtyard is the new interactive Farm to Fork exhibition. Telling the story of agriculture on the Estate, one of the first things I saw was local food star Norfolk Saffron which rather delighted me. Holkham's all about the whole family experience and the exhibition, whilst fascinating as an adult, has also been designed as an education resource with lots of touchy feely and unexpected things for children to explore and learn from.

All in all, a great improvement. For visiting times and admission information click here.