NOT the First World War

SOK might look like he’s parked behind a WW1 crater somewhere in the north of France, but appearances can be deceptive. He’s at Grime’s Graves in Norfolk, the definite highlight of the last three days’ travels.

Grime’s Graves is a somewhat bizarre-looking landscape:

Basically, each of the hollows (of which there are 433) is a backfilled pit dug into the chalk ridge by neolithic man using the digging tools of the day (deer antlers). Dates estimated at 2650 – 2100 BC make this site of similar age as Stonehenge.

What the miners were after was flint, which is found in layers within the chalk and formed on the sea bed of what was, around 146 to 65 million years ago, a tropical sea. They used the flint, of course, to make arrowheads and other tools.

At Grime’s Graves, the third layer of flint down, at a depth of 9-12 metres, was the one to go for – a black flint without fossil inclusions (inclusions were undesirable as they’d weaken the tools you made with the flint).

To get to the flint, they dug a vertical pit and then dug galleries a short distance outwards into the layer of flint. As you can imagine given the landscape you can see today above ground, the galleries from different pits did tend to run into one another…. Pits could be backfilled using the chalk spoil from later pits….

Visitors can access what’s known as Pit 1 via a 9m ladder. Seven galleries open out from the bottom of the pit, but then immediately subdivide into multiple excavation areas.

Of the 433 pits, only around 28 are known to have been excavated… Who knows what artefacts might lie hidden in the others?

It doesn’t take long to visit Grime’s Graves (about an hour) but I thought it was absolutely fascinating…..

My next stop was Denny Abbey and Farmland Museum. Denny Abbey was founded in 1159 as a Benedictine Abbey, then became a retirement home for the Knights Templar before becoming a convent for Franciscan “Poor Clare” nuns in 1308. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it became a farm….

The abbey building you can see today is a real mishmash. Windows were added during the period when it was a farmhouse, but a lot of the original features can still be seen:

The nuns’ refectory is interesting. Here it is around 1730…

… and here it is today. Yes, it became a barn! A handy mural inside does give you a good idea (and there are still original tiles visible on the floor):

Other farm buildings on the site have been put to good use as a farmland museum. I suppose it was lucky that Mark wasn’t there or we could have spent many happy hours examining all the bits of old machinery…..

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights on the Camping and Caravanning Club site just outside Cambridge (another cost-effective grass no-electric pitch), which was a good location from which to visit Audley End on Wednesday.

What can I say? It’s a great big Jacobean mansion….

There’s some nice stonework on the outside, and attractive gardens round the back:

They don’t allow any photos inside… There are some unimaginitive 18th century “improvements” (Robert Adam-designed state rooms, landscaping by Capability Brown etc etc). Oh, and some very narrow gates on the way in and out (particularly on the way in). I think I may have been getting a bit stately homed-out by this point….

As it happened, I’d already booked a tour of Apethorpe Palace on Thursday morning. There are no photos at all allowed there, so the best I can do is the outside of the property as shown in the English Heritage guide book:

My reason for going here was that Apethorpe Palace has featured in quite a few “English Heritage wastes lots of taxpayers’ money” stories in the press. Basically, Apethorpe was taken into public hands by compulsory purchase a few years ago (2004) when the structure was threatened by dry rot and all manner of other problems. I’ve seen a purchase price online of just over £3 million. English Heritage then spent a few million on the place (I’ve seen £8 million mentioned online) before selling it back into private ownership in 2014 for…. £2.5 million. Hmmm, looking at the photo in the book, £2.5 million looks cheap….. The new owner promptly changed the name from Apethorpe Hall to Apethorpe Palace (I kid you not…).

Well, having seen the property, I can report that appearances on photos can be deceptive. The place is still one great big building site – there was clearly still a huge amount left to do when the it was sold. It also looks a lot more attractive as a potential residence on the photo than it does in real life. It’s basically a medieval hunting lodge with lots of bits tacked on over the centuries. “Palace” seems very much an estate agent’s description…. You won’t end up living a Downton Abbey lifestyle here, no matter how much cash you throw at finishing the restoration….. You’d have to love it for the history (James I was a frequent visitor), which apparently the new owners do…. (and apparently they do have serious architectural history credentials as well as very deep pockets).

I did ask the guide whether the plan was always to sell the property back into private hands, and he said Yes because the access is poor so it could never become a proper tourist attraction. I didn’t like to point out that I thought the access was much better than at most of the English Heritage places I’ve visited this trip. Travelling in a motorhome, you do notice these things……

I did wonder about Apethorpe again when I visited Kirby Hall later in the day.

Kirby Hall is an Elizabethan mansion that is nowadays half ruin (the left hand side in the photo above) and half in better condition (the right hand side). The ruined part is fabulous:

Yep, I can see that this was the long gallery:

This place would have been absolutely amazing in its day:

James I visited Kirby Hall too – nine times. Hmmm… Is Apethorpe Palace really that much more important that we had to spent millions and millions of taxpayers’ hard-earned pounds saving it from dry rot etc only to then sell it off to a French Baron on the understanding that he’ll open it to the public for 50 days a year for the next 80 years? Personally I’m not quite getting the logic….

Still perplexed, I arrived at the Caravan Club’s Stamford site for two nights. This site is a bit cheaper than most as, like the Thetford Forest site I stayed on a few days ago, it has no toilet / shower block. The signs outside reception do bode well for a friendly stay!

This camp site turns out to be right next to a forestry commission place promising 2 mile, 3 mile, and 6 mile trails through the woods. Right, it’ll be the three-miler for me then before tea and planning tomorrow’s adventures……


  1. The last three post are more examples of Jo’s super-informative reporting. Who needs a history degree with Jo doing all the hard work for you?


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