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A riot of colour fills Sheringham Park - one of the finest Victorian gardens

Updated: May 21

Rhododendron and azalea blossom fills the park with colour during spring and summer (Photo: National Trust)
Rhododendron and azalea blossom fills the park with colour during spring and summer (Photo: National Trust)

Sheringham Park in North Norfolk is considered the finest work of landscape designer Humphry Repton. That is quite an accolade – he designed more than 400 landscapes and gardens across England.

The 1,000-acre park has miles of stunning views from Upper Sheringham to the North Norfolk coast. It is a glorious early 19th-century landscaped park and garden with miles of footpaths to explore.

It is especially noted for its nationally important collection of 80 species of flowering azaleas and rhododendrons. These offer colour from November to August but the peak of the colourful display is from mid-May to early June. There are two viewing platforms to give an almost aerial view looking down on a carpet of colour.

Humphry Repton with sketchbook (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)
Humphry Repton (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)

The last owner, Tom Upcher, used to hold rhododendron champagne parties in the 1950s to show off the rhododendrons and azaleas. Ladies arrived in their fine gowns, some wearing Wellington boots, to walk down the main carriageway, sipping champagne and admiring the colours.

Sheringham Park, two miles outside Sheringham, (and nine miles from Blakeney) is a perfect spot for rambling any time of the year, whether it is to spot the 100 plus varieties of fungus, 15 varieties of magnolia or soak up the colour of the rhododendrons.

The parkland has several viewing towers giving superb views over the surrounding area. The most spectacular views are from The Gazebo, a viewing platform built on the site of a Napoleonic War watchtower.

The Park is somewhere you can spend hours, walking through a mix of open fields and shady woodland which is still essentially the parkland as laid out by Humphry Repton. It is a natural landscape of trees, lush flowers, and carefully planned vistas. It is said to take in some of the most beautiful landscape in Norfolk.

There are some special trees on the estate including one of the biggest Scots pines outside Scotland, beech trees that are more than 200 years old and a snowdrop tree said to be one of the tallest specimens in England.

Repton considered Sheringham Park his favourite garden design, and called it his 'darling child'. The design, created in 1812, has been adapted and altered by subsequent generations of owners but the parkland surrounding Sheringham House is still essentially as Repton laid it out. But one thing Repton did not plant was the rhododendron. They were added in the late 19th century.

A view of Sheringham Hall across the park's 1,000 acres (Photo National Trust)
A view of Sheringham Hall across the park's 1,000 acres (Photo National Trust)

The hall is privately occupied, but Sheringham Park is in the care of the National Trust and open to visitors. It has a visitor centre with an exhibition on Repton and his life. There are four colour-coded circular trails throughout the woodland and fields beyond, ranging in distance from one to five miles.

Sheringham Park has a variety of habitats from woodland, parkland, farmland, a wild garden and a clifftop area. Each has a wide range of wildlife and plants, from Britain’s smallest bird, the Firecrest, to three species of deer including Red Deer.

Humphry Repton was called in to landscape the park by Abbot and Charlotte Upcher when they bought the Sheringham estate in 1811. They wanted landscaped parkland around their new Sheringham Hall home to accommodate their 11 children.

Repton was tasked with landscaping the estate and his son, John Repton, designed the Grade II house using oak from a ship wrecked at Blakeney.

Paths wind through the park's trees and shrubs
Paths wind through the park (Photo National Trust)

Humphry Repton was the last great designer of the classic phase of the English landscape garden. He is often regarded as the successor to Capability Brown, perhaps the last great landscape designer working on English stately homes and estates.

Repton. who was born in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in 1752, actually coined the term 'landscape gardener'. He was a failed textile merchant, journalist, and dramatist before he hit upon the idea of using his interest in botany to become a garden designer.

His work included improvements to existing landscape schemes at the estates of aristocratic clients like the Dukes of Bedford and Portland, but also designs for much smaller properties. Repton's work links the landscape design of the 18th century and the gardenesque movement of the early Victorian years.

Repton's commissions included the picturesque landscape at Bristol’s Blaise Castle, Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire, Endsleigh Cottage in Devon, London’s Russell Square, Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire, Tatton Park in Cheshire, the themed gardens at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire and Uppark House in Sussex.

Repton had a serious carriage accident in 1811 which left him disabled. He carried out the Sheringham Park commission often using a wheelchair to get about.

The Upchers planned to have their new house and parkland finished by 1817 but the work dragged on into 1818 when Repton died from his injuries. He is buried 15 miles from Sheringham at Aylsham.

Tragedy struck Sheringham Hall again in 1819 when the landowner Abbot Upcher died aged just 35. The hall was finally completed by Abbot Upcher’s son Henry in 1839.

*Sheringham’s landscape park and woodland garden with miles of stunning coastal views can be found at Upper Sheringham, Norfolk, NR26 8TL.

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