So after our trip to the seaside and an evening staying in a granny flat that Mrs Gnomepants had found via AirBnB, we headed out for the journey home. In August last year we bought membership to the National Trust as a treat, since then we have tried to visit at least one National Trust property a month and occasionally more if we are a distance away from home. As we were far far away from home it therefore made sense to visit two locations on our journey home.
But first, breakfast, and following seconds of revelation that the Clas Ohlsen in Norwich had closed and minutes of research into alternative destinations, our original intent of visiting the highly recommended Unthank Kitchen was shelved and we headed west towards Swaffham.
Swaffham on a Sunday is a reflection of many smaller towns within the UK; mostly closed. All around, once proud shops seemed either closed for good or up for sale. This, sadly, also included the local NatWest bank. It seems that beyond the big cities and more popular towns, the high streets in smaller towns struggle to stay profitable against internet sales and one by one the major retail attractions in the smaller towns close causing a decay. As Swaffham is not exactly a major tourist pull the lack of investment is clear from the run down buildings throughout the town.
However what remains is interesting to look at. There's a curio shop, interesting looking boutiques (mostly selling joss sticks) and plenty of tattoo parlours, if of course that's your thing. Stephen Fry had great things to say about Swaffham, or so the notice board in the town centre says, and there is also a fine butter cross where once butter was sold by farmers from around the region who couldn't be arsed to travel the extra distance to Downham Market. Which was most of them.
Swaffham Butter Cross
Following a fine breakfast in the newish Swaffham Cafe (near the Market Place bus stop if you're ever there) the missus and I continued to Oxburgh Hall. The hall itself is still part private house and its easy to see how those with stupidly unbelievable amounts of wealth have always been able to afford to live in palatial luxury while the rest of us serfs and commoners scrabble about in our little rabbit hutches and give them our money in taxes or profits. Even from the castellated roof top, one could survey the lands as far as the eye could see, unspoilt by those poor people who might cause one to pause and think because they are hidden by the trees or out of sight in a natural dip on the landscape. Besides, it is right that the poor should suffer because God had them born into poverty so therefore those born into wealth must follow His plan and help them suffer in poverty for it is His will*.
Of course being filthy rich means you can hide priests in your house if so desired and so it is no surprise that wealthy ne'er-do-wells would have the facility to do such a thing designed into their vast manse. Indeed, it has been said that there were once two such hidey holes at Oxburgh but only one remains now because when you're stinking rich you can destroy your own stuff as you please. Indeed, as the cost of maintaining such vast properties is likely to eat into your vast family wealth, why pay for it to be done yourself when you can "gift" the draughty and damp under used parts to a heritage preservation society like the National Trust and have the descendants of those same poor people your family mistreated over the years pay them to do it up for you! Inspired.
A priest's hole, tight and accessible to visitors
I tried to convince zoefruitcake to open up our house to rich people for a £15 entry fee, but she doesn't see the idea taking off and she didn't seem to like the suggestion that we hide a few priests in our shed either.
As well as interesting artworks, creaky floorboards and tapestries made by Mary Queen of Scots (well, mostly her staff of professional embroiderers) Oxburgh has some lovely grounds. I think Zoe was pleased to get me out of earshot because not only was I gnashing my teeth at the injustice of the poverty such palatial living produces but I was also a little windy from the delicious breakfast I'd eaten a few hours earlier. So a brisk walk around the woods was in order followed by a mooch around the Hall's plant nursery to look at the plants there.
After waving a two fingered goodbye to the Hall and the ghosts of those whom God had made wealthy by accident of birth (after all it is his will that they should live like that) the wife and I bumbled our way further westward this time towards Cambridgeshire to stop briefly at Houghton Mill. While there one can see why it was important that hard working common folk suffered from Miller's lung and leptospirosis in cramped conditions for a penny a week so that fancy pants could fart around his echoy chambers. Without those hardworking millers flour wouldn't get made, sold and taxed and without taxes and profits, there could be no wealthy, and without the wealthy there would be no mill. Or need for flour. Or poor people. QED.
Until recently the mill was also a Youth Hostel. I can just imagine those young men who stayed there and how they could adventure and explore their own country without fear of abduction or molestation in the post war years, without car and with naught but the camaraderie of their fellow chap who was equally as keen to hike across the countryside in search of manhood. Nothing gay about that. Nothing untoward. Just healthy bonding and manmanship. Smoking fags and drinking pale ales. Learning about the world before joining up to do their National Service. Try to get young men to do that now, let alone when I was a young chap. You'd get that glazed "I can't be arsed" look from friends and then the "Don't be daft, there are radioactive mutant killer gay perverts out there according to the Daily Mail" glare and firm "No Chance" from parents.
Still it was a lovely place to walk around too, even if it was heaving with day trippers and kids playing about unsafely in the Mill pond. And I also got my cream tea.
Which was nice.
* - if you seriously think I believe this kind of guff, you have obviously no clue about me and you should seek advice from a medical professional. I identify with the Levellers, and I don't mean the Brighton band.