A walk for princes and paupers alike: Follow in William’s footsteps on a Norfolk nature stroll that’ll soothe the soul
- Prince William has recorded a walking tour of the Sandringham estate that’s available via Apple Music
- The Daily Mail’s Simon Barnes experiences the same route, setting off from St Mary Magdalene Church
- The estate is a good place for spotting crossbills, says Simon, and notoriously the occasional hen harrier
You can’t beat a nice walk, and nice walks are available to princes and paupers alike: so there I was, with my binoculars and a pair of waterproof trousers, all set for a proper Sandringham meander in the footsteps of Prince William.
He has provided a reflective commentary via Apple Music and chosen three songs you can listen to as you walk. The Prince did this in return for donations to three of his favoured mental health charities.
He set off from Sandringham House, not a starting point available to most of us. I decided instead to start at another place on William’s walk, St Mary Magdalene Church, where the royals will go to sing O Come All Ye Faithful in a couple of weeks.
The Daily Mail’s Simon Barnes walked the yellow nature trail on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk
Royal retreat: Sandringham House, the Queen’s country home, sits at the heart of the sprawling estate
No good. The gate was padlocked. I tried another approach; this one was marked ‘PRIVATE’. So I took a way marked ‘trail’ on a part of the estate open to hoi polloi. There’s a £5 parking fee.
William is right: we all need to walk if we can, so I swung into my stride, eyes alert for any movement in the tree-tops and listening hard — for when you’re in nature, sound enriches you almost as much as sight.
This is a good place for crossbills, they’ve had breeding ravens here and notoriously the occasional hen harrier. Dersingham Bog has excellent breeding nightjars: a thrilling bird to look for in the evenings of high spring.
A year or so back, a rare and spectacular pallid harrier over-wintered at Sandringham. A few miles north, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ reserve at Snettisham has one of the great wildlife spectacles of the country, when knots — small, neat wading birds — come crowding together in their thousands at high tide.
Simon set off from St Mary Magdalene Church, above, where the royal family attends an annual Christmas service
Simon says its common to spit crossbills on the estate
‘Walking has been a feature of my life during the good times and the bad,’ William said; well, mine too — and there, high in the canopy of this oddly mixed woodland, I could hear a triple-call: sisisi. There was a party going on among the topmost twigs, a mixed feeding flock organised, as usual, by the long-tailed tits.
A jay flew up at my feet. They have been called the British bird of paradise: bright pink, black, white and, as the bird takes wing, there’s a flash of blue on the wings that almost hurts the eyes. The bird had probably been feeding on the acorns it had buried.
The walking was easy — flat, a hard surface under the fallen leaves, perfect if you’re pushing a buggy, wheelchair or driving a mobility scooter.
So was the sky, glowing pearl grey above the towering sweet chestnut trees. The wet leaves smelt like autumn and the razor-sharp easterly wind like winter.
‘In rain or shine,’ the Prince added. And you always feel better for it. But while all this stuff about the role of nature in wellness and mindfulness and mental health is true, it encourages you to stepout on to the path and say: OK nature, get on with it! Do me good and do it now!
But walking in nature is like love: if you start by asking what’s in it for me, you’re not going to get as much as the person who seeks only to love.
‘The walking was easy — flat, a hard surface under the fallen leaves, perfect if you’re pushing a buggy, wheelchair or driving a mobility scooter,’ writes Simon. Pictured is a sign directing walkers to the two nature trails
The Prince listened to Tina Turner, Shakira and AC/DC — but putting recorded sounds into your ears is not going into nature, it’s cutting nature off. And because I wasn’t cut off I heard, high above my head, a soft, subtle yodelling honk.
And because I wasn’t listening to Simply The Best I looked up and found what was, simply, the best: 40 pink-footed geese making two elegant chevrons in the sky, commuting between the Wash and the fields where they feast on sugar-beet tops.
Then, up ahead was a pair of red kites — still a mildly unusual bird in Norfolk — climbing confidently in the rising wind while the rain moved confidently towards horizontal.
The Prince is right: we are all better and happier people for nature, and the more you walk in it the more you’ll want to do something for it in return.
Just lose the headphones and take one step after the next, all the while looking out for movement and listening for the music of the birds.
Sandringham Estate will reopen next spring, allowing access to its 400-acre royal park with trails through woodlands as well as the main house; tickets from £23, or from £13 for only the gardens, with under-17s free. Visit sandringhamestate.co.uk and visitnorfolk.co.uk.
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