Fresh pasture, new beginnings at Somerleyton Estate
PUBLISHED: 13:13 10 May 2016
Chef-director Stephen David enjoys a seasonal bounty
Arriving at Somerleyton Estate, straddling the Suffolk-Norfolk hinterland north-east of Beccles, I might have had the odd misperceived moment of Downton Abbey and To The Manor Born in my mind. I’ve known the enterprising and modern fourth Baron Somerleyton, Hugh and his wife Lara for a number of years, and it is their invitation to help lead the restaurants and events business forward, which has brought Rebecca and myself here. I knew it would be an engaging challenge, far from the televisual gentility of the Crawley and the fforbes-Hamilton families.
With a constant respectful nod to the family past and a very present sense of their obligations, the current Lord and Lady Somerleyton are strategically and sensibly planning for the days when future Crossley generations take on the legacy of this imposing estate.
Agriculture and tenanted properties have been the traditional preserve of estate finances, but this is a changing landscape, as costs rise and incomes are pressured for these traditional cropping and rental incomes.
This is where we come in to build on the rural diversification the estate has undergone in the past 10 to 20 years. Our main tasks are to focus on the ongoing revitalisation of the family’s Duke’s Head pub-restaurant (like many of Somerleyton village’s houses and significant addresses, the historic hostelry is part of the family holding) and The Fritton Arms, its grander more boutique inn cousin. Driving the few miles between the restaurants, one can see how the history of the estate continues to shape these communities, perhaps less rustic and dependent on the ‘big house’ than in past centuries as urban expansion and transport links change the lives of villagers, nevertheless the estate continues to be a very significant employer and local stakeholder.
The history and environment it showcases have provided a huge tourism and leisure opportunity to strengthen the adventurous portfolio of mixed enterprises it relies on to have a firm financial footing. Ambitious developments like the shaping of Fritton Lake into a family leisure destination, the nearby hidden woodland retreats and the recent creation of a micro-heritage farm all demonstrate how it has proactively prepared for a changing world.
It is pleasing to be part of that inventive flair and particularly to focus the foodie vision the family has to expand the farm-to-fork discovery for its visitors and guests, harnessing the wonderful estate produce and the opportunities it has for dining, foraging, education and, of course, simple, indulgent ‘R&R’.
To discover more about exploring Somerleyton, hosting a wedding or house party in the hall on the estate, enjoying The Fritton Arms, The Duke’s Head and Fritton Lake, visiting the gardens or booking our stylish outside catering, please visit www.somerleyton.co.uk or call 0871 222 4244.