If you're facing withdrawal symptoms after the credits roll on the final episode of Downton Abbey this Christmas, you might like to hire a stately home and experience the dramas of upstairs-downstairs living with some of your friends.
Somerleyton Hall, near Lowestoft, on the Suffolk-Norfolk border, should fit the bill. This Victorian pile in 5,000 acres is cosy and unstuffy inside, yet grand enough to impress even the most jaded Londoner.
The hall is the family home of Hugh Crossley, the fourth Lord Somerleyton, his wife, Lara, and their three children, Johnny, five, Christabel, three, and Margot, one. They live in the former kitchens and servants’ quarters, transformed into a spacious family home and office.
The rest of the hall — including 14 bedrooms, a grand dining room, the elegant library and fabulous ballroom — can be hired from £3,700 a day to sleep 24 guests or host parties for more than 100.
This is where Hugh, a modern aristocrat with an entrepreneurial streak, grew up with his four sisters.
In 2000 he set up a Middle Eastern restaurant called Dish Dash in Balham, and in 2013 he opened Hot Chip in Norwich, voted Norfolk’s best chippy last year.
He took charge of Somerleyton in 2005, moving back from London to face the archaic plumbing system, which meant choosing between hot water or heating.
Ten years on, Somerleyton has a super-efficient new boiler and remodelled interiors.
Lara’s devotion to the house is obvious. She says: “We are trying to get it to the standard it deserves.”
They are doing so well that Simon Thurley, former English Heritage chief executive, called them “heritage heroes”.
Lara enlisted interior designer Laura Ingrams, from Arie & Ingrams Design, to help reinvent the décor.
“Laura is more contemporary and I am more traditional, so we complement each other well,” she says.
Lamps and shades were sourced from Newark Antiques Fair, jewel-coloured saris bought in Rajasthan were reinvented as headboards and modern lighting turns the dining room into an outpost of Annabel’s nightspot.
Hugh has to find up to £300,000 a year to maintain the estate. He runs a farm and two pubs, including the nearby Fritton Arms, plus a boatyard, Suffolk’s largest natural lake and 120 holiday cottages. He also hosts about 20 weddings a year.
He says: “This house sucks up cash, but it allows us to live in a certain way and ensures the continuity of the family at Somerleyton.”
Frinton Lake Lodges
The building of lodge “retreats” on the Somerleyton estate began in 2003, with 70 now completed and privately owned. Single-storey and wood-clad, they have large terraces overlooking countryside. Interiors are cosy, with wood-burning stoves.
Fully furnished, they start at £90,000 for two-bedroom resale homes and £160,000 for new three-bedroom lodges, with annual service charges of about £3,600.
“They rent at £250 for two nights up to £1,250, and owners who choose to rent can get returns of four to five per cent net,” says park manager Phil Sharlott.
“Our typical owners are doctors, lawyers or city workers who come for the weekends. They love the peace and to relax or cycle, or canoe and row on the lake.”
For more about Fritton Lake Lodges, visit frittonlakelodges.co.uk