Baconsthorpe Castle: A Dose of Historic Norfolk

Baconsthorpe Castle is a ruined but beautiful 15th-century manor house, located just outside Holt in Norfolk, England. Nestled deep in the countryside, a trip to Baconsthorpe Castle is an ideal morning out, for outdoors enthusiasts or history buffs alike. 

The castle was hugely significant to the local area when it was first constructed and it is fascinating to learn about the history associated with the build. Don’t be put off if you don’t fancy an education about the structure though, the grounds of Baconsthorpe Castle are a beautiful spot to enjoy a picnic and experience a bit of the Norfolk countryside. 

Although easy to access, the site is very rarely crowded and its picturesque setting makes it a perfect place to while away a few hours. For those who prefer a more active visit, there are a few circular hikes in the area which also offer tranquil scenery. 

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History of Baconsthorpe Castle

Historically known as Baconsthorpe Hall, this moated and fortified manor house is linked to just one family, the Heydon’s. 

A free yeoman named William Baxter first acquired the manor house in the early fifteenth century from the Bacon family. This family were very prominent in the local area, which led to Baconsthorpe village being named after them. 

Baconsthorpe Castle from inside
The Heydon family came to be very influential in the local area.

The earliest part of the castle construction, the inner gatehouse, was started by William Baxter’s son, John. He was a lawyer and prominent support of the Duke of Suffolk at the time. Once John started rubbing shoulders with important people of the day, he decided to change his family name to disguise their modest origins. This was when the family became known as the Heydon’s. 

During the War of the Roses (1455-1485), Sir John Heydon famously switched his political allegiances, originally being a Yorkist but changing to a Lancastrian for his own personal benefit. As you would expect, this fickleness earned him a reputation as a cunning and untrustworthy gentleman. 

Ruined ceiling at Baconsthorpe Castle
Baconsthorpe Castle is one of Norfolk’s most beautiful ruins.

The Construction of Baconsthorpe Castle 

Owing to the negative attention attracted by John Heydon’s political shifting, it was decided that he needed a large fortification to protect both himself and his family. This saw the castle begin to take form. It was to be rectangular, set around a courtyard. In each corner, there were four square towers, typical of the defensive style of the age. 

John’s son, Henry Heydon came to inherit Baconsthorpe Castle in 1480 and further vowed to expand it. He added the garden court, a moat and also a curtain wall to the north of the grounds. The castle was completed in the early 16th century. 

Baconsthorpe Castle and moat
The completed castle and grounds would have been lavish and impressive.

The Wool Trade

Whilst initially the Heydon’s had made their fortune in law, their focus shifted and by the Tudor period, it was the wool trade that made up the bulk of their income. Another of John’s sons, Sir John Heydon II, converted the eastern part of the castle into a wool processing wing which housed weavers and spinners. 

The cloth produced at Baconsthorpe Castle was sold all over England and also throughout the Netherlands. This commercial success resulted in the Heydon’s becoming even richer and they enjoyed a lavish life, further extending the property to cement their status as a wealthy and influential family in the area. Christopher I, the son of John Heydon II, inherited the property after his father’s death and made the decision to construct a deer park alongside the building, as well as an outer gatehouse. 

Outer Gatehouse at Baconsthorpe Castle
Christopher I constructed the outer gatehouse.

The Downfall of the Heydon’s

Unfortunately for the family, Christopher I and the rest of the Heydon family weren’t great estate managers. They blew big bucks on maintaining their grounds, with as many as 80 servants in employment. In 1579, when Christopher Heydon I died, the castle went to his son William. However, William Heydon II was forced to sell off parts of the estate to ease the debt that his father had built up. 

The money situation failed to improve and by the middle of the 17th century, much of the castle had been demolished in an attempt to settle existing debts. The gatehouse however remained and eventually became a private residence. It was occupied until one of the turrets collapsed in 1920. 

Ruined upper tier at Baconsthorpe Castle
The build has been left in ruins but it is still possible to imagine the grandeur of the original structure.

The Heydon Walk

St Mary’s Church, located in Baconsthorpe is a great place to visit alongside the castle. When parts of the castle began to be sold off in the 1950s, stained glass from the banquet hall was saved. It was brought to the St Mary’s church where you can still see it today. 

The glass shows the important social connections that the Heydon family established with other notable characters of the time, including the family of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. To reach St Marys Church, follow the track back to the village along Castle Road, before heading onto The Street and turning into School Lane. The postcode for the church is NR25 6LT and the walk takes around 20 minutes one way. 

Countryside pond and moat
Some of the beautiful scenery in the area.

Other Circular Walks

There is also a 3.5-mile circular walk around Baconsthorpe Castle which leads through the village. It is well signed and easy to follow. There is also a beautiful 5-mile circular walk which begins in Bodham. For details (including a route map), check out this guide

If you do decide to take on one of the local walking trails, make sure you read this guide about crossing cow fields safely. There are a lot of cattle in areas with public footpaths. 

Main entrance to Baconsthorpe Castle
Baconsthorpe Castle sees very few visitors.

Baconsthorpe Castle FAQs

Where is Baconsthorpe Castle?

Address: Castle Road, Baconsthorpe, Norfolk, NR25 6LL

Baconsthorpe Castle is located close to Holt in Norfolk. Make your way to the village of Baconsthorpe and then follow a dirt track signed from the village. Be warned that this track isn’t in the best of conditions so if you’re precious about your swanky new car, it is best to park elsewhere and walk up the track. 

It is possible to get public transport via bus to the village of Holt and then walk the 4 miles to Baconsthorpe Castle (takes just over an hour). Check timetables to help plan your visit. 

Baconsthorpe Castle is located close to the Norfolk town of Holt.

What are the opening times for Baconsthorpe Castle?

According to the English Heritage website, Baconsthorpe Castle is open ‘during daylight hours at any reasonable time’. There are no exterior gates on the way to the grounds and the car park is accessible all night. 

Entrance Fees and Parking

Entrance into Baconsthorpe Castle is free. However, as this is an English Heritage site, there is a £2 charge (payable via text) for non-members use of the car park. Members park for free if they have an English heritage sticker displayed in their car. 

Side of Baconsthorpe Castle close to pond
Baconsthorpe Castle is managed by English Heritage.

What facilities are at Baconsthorpe Castle? 

There are no facilities at Baconsthorpe Castle so make sure you plan your toilet stops in advance! The nearest facilities to the site are located in the market town of Holt.

Can I bring my dog to Baconsthorpe Castle? 

Dogs are welcome at the castle and grounds, however, they should be kept on leads at all times. 

Baconsthorpe Castle ruins
Dogs are permitted on leads at Baconsthorpe Castle.

Accommodation Near Baconsthorpe Castle

Soul of Norfolk 

This incredible glamping spot is perfect for couples or groups who are looking for a unique stay. These tipis offer a rustic yet luxury camping experience, complete with comfortable beds and little extras (like tea and coffee)! There is a composting toilet and off-grid shower cabins. A tipi, either with a double bed or two singles, costs £230 ($300USD) for two-nights. 

Isabelle’s House

Located along The Street in Baconsthorpe, Isabelle’s House is a very highly rated B&B. The property boasts large and comfortable rooms which come complete with a tasty breakfast provided in the morning. The views are particularly good, showcasing the beautiful Norfolk countryside. A double room begins at £220 ($289USD) for a two night stay. That works out to be £55 ($72USD) per night, per person. 

Baconsthorpe Meadows Campsite 

A great option for the budget traveller is the Baconsthorpe Meadows Campsite. This no-frills option has everything you require from a campsite and all for a bargain price. In high season, a tent pitch for 2 people with a car costs just £19.50 per night. In low season, this goes down to £15. There is a reception, a small shop and laundry facilities. Electric hook ups are available at an additional fee.

Have you visited Baconsthorpe Castle yet? 

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