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My introduction to Nelson, England’s most famous naval hero, was a skipping rhyme in the school playground.
‘Lord Nelson lost one eye, Lord Nelson lost the other eye…’ and so on until the poor man lost arms, legs and fell down dead.
I have no idea if this was common in the sixties or if it was because the school I went to in Ipswich was in Victory Road, built on the site of Nelson’s country home, Roundwood House.
Nelson never actually stayed there but his wife, Lady Frances did. Nelson preferred to dally with his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton.
His amorous adventures may have dimmed his lustre in people’s eyes at the time, and as we learned on our road trip in Antigiua, he was not universally loved, but Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson is Norfolk’s most famous son.
Nelson’s victory and dramatic death at the Battle of the Trafalgar in 1805 guaranteed his place in the history books, but Nelson was a national hero long before then thanks to his naval tactics and brilliant sea battles.
He was an inspirational leader, greatly admired by those under his command, and it all began in the sleepy, flat and water-filled countryside of North Norfolk.
7 places to visit in Nelson’s Norfolk
Burnham Thorpe – Nelson’s birthplace
Horatio was born on 29 September 1758 and baptised within hours at the marble font which still stands in All Saints church.
His father was rector of the parish. Growing up with his brothers and sisters – Maurice, Susannah, Catherine, Edmund, Ann, William, George and the bizarrely named Suckling – the rectory must have been a noisy place.
The family home is now demolished but Nelson’s Barn on the same site is a holiday rental cottage (we had a short but very luxurious family stay there several years ago) and there’s a plaque set in the flint wall on the roadside.
The graves of Nelson’s parents lie beside the altar in All Saints. The church now boasts a rood cross and lectern made from timber from HMS Victory.
The village pub dates back to 1637 and was known as The Plough until 1798 when it was renamed The Lord Nelson in honour of Norfolk’s famous son.
Places to stay near Burnham Thorpe
Holidaycottages.com have a wide selection of properties for any Norfolk based holiday, including 11 beautiful places near Nelson’s birthplace.
North Walsham – Nelson’s early schooling
Scene of Nelson’s scholastic studies in Latin and Greek, Paston Grammar School is still going strong today, as a sixth form college but in Nelson’s time it was an all-boys boarding school.
Nelson only stayed there until he was 12, moving on to King Edward V1 Grammar school in Norwich to complete his education.
Places to stay near North Walsham
Rural Retreats prides itself on offering picturesque self catering holiday cottages across the UK. For your trip to Nelson’s Norfolk they have self-catering accommodation in Baconsthorpe, Wickmere, Trunch and Erpingham, all within a stone’s throw of North Walsham and near the lovely Norfolk coast.
Norwich – Nelson’s further education
Nelson became a pupil in the city at what is now Norwich School in Cathedral Close. A statue, commissioned by the city stands in the close facing his old school.
An enormous portrait of Nelson, painted by William Beechey in 1801, hangs in Blackfriars’ Hall in Norwich, while his naval hat, a captured Spanish sword and other Nelson memorabilia are on display in the Norwich Castle Museum.
Norwich is one of our favourite cities; we both lived there for a while and have happy memories of its parks, gardens, cobbled streets and pubs. So many pubs!
Places to stay near Norwich
If you want to combine your Nelson history with a bit of outdoor rural living there’s always Forest Holidays centre in Thorpe Forest, just a few miles south of Norwich. Luxury log cabin living, connecting people, nature and local communities.
Burnham Overy Staithe – Nelson learns to sail
Nelson honed his seafaring skills on the rivers and waterways of his native Norfolk.
According to various documents, he learned to row and sail a dinghy at Burnham Overy Staithe, a few miles from his home, when he was ten years old.
Two years later he’d joined the Navy and completed his education with them. Today the village’s only pub is called ‘The Hero’ in his honour.
Barton Broad – more sailing adventures
Barton Broad, another favourite spot for young Nelson, is the second largest of the Norfolk Broads.
It’s now a wildlife reserve with a board walk to make spotting the birds and creatures of the river bank much easier.
Places to stay on the Norfolk Broads
What better than a stay in an unusual place where you can hear the water lapping nearby? Trust Quirky Accom to find the ideal spot – from windmills to shepherd’s huts.
Great Yarmouth – Nelson professional seafarer
Nelson sailed in and out of Yarmouth several times, declaring ‘I am myself a Norfolk man and glory in being so’.
Nelson’s words weren’t always so worthy and he was known for his sarcastic sense of humour. When he was granted the freedom of Yarmouth after his victories he put his left hand on the Bible at the swearing in ceremony. When the clerk said: ‘Your right hand, my lord,’ Nelson famously replied, ‘That is in Tenerife.’
His dark humour rose to the occasion again when the landlady of Yarmouth’s Wrestlers Arms asked to be allowed to rename it The Nelson Arms. ‘That would be absurd, seeing that I have but one,’ the great man replied.
The seaside town also has its very own Nelson’s Column, although it looks a little forlorn standing in what is now an industrial estate, just down the road from the rattling roller-coasters of the Pleasure Beach.
Known as The Britannia Monument it pre-dates the more famous column in Trafalgar Square and offers amazing views of the surrounding countryside for anyone who can manage the 217 step spiral staircase.
The figure of Britannia sits atop the pedestal, facing inland towards Nelson’s birthplace, although legend has it the architect made a mistake and that was unintentional.
There’s a story that he was so embarrassed that he threw himself off the top, but there’s no proof of that, although an acrobat named Marsh did fall to his death while climbing the monument.
Oh and the town surveyor collapsed and died while inspecting the monument in 1819, and that’s how rumours of curses and tragedies get started!
Places to stay near Great Yarmouth
Sykes Holiday Cottages have more than a hundred properties near Great Yarmouth to suit every party size and budget.
Brinton Hall, Melton Constable – Nelson’s staircase
Glimpses of Nelson can be found dotted around Norfolk, even in areas with no direct connection to the Admiral.
Melton Constable is nearly 20 miles away from Nelson’s childhood haunts, but the glorious wooden staircase at the Bagnall-Oakeley’s family home is thought to come from Nelson’s last home in Merton.
Even if the link is tenuous, this restored Georgian house is well worth a visit with its beautiful walled gardens.
Places to stay near Melton Constable
How about staying somewhere different with Cool Stays? Try Spinks Nest Cottage, a romantic retreat for 2. Or Woodcutters, a 300 year old renovated cottage on the edge of a deer park near North Walsham. Sign up to the Cool Stays newsletter for their latest deals.
And of course wherever you go in Norfolk there’s always an opportunity to raise a glass or two at the numerous Horatio- influenced pubs.
Want to know more about Norfolk before you go?
Visit Norfolk has all you need to know about this beautiful East Anglian county.
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