Why I love Sandringham

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chatting with Gill and Vicki Symon on Christmas Day at Sandringham

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chatting with Gill and Vicki Symon on Christmas Day at Sandringham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The stately home is set in 24 acres of gardens in the rich heart of the 8,000-hectare Sandringham Estate - 240 hectares of which constitute the woodland and heath of public-friendly country park.

Sophie Biddle interviewing at Sandringham_Picture. Submitted

Sophie Biddle interviewing at Sandringham_Picture. Submitted - Credit: Archant

At the age of five, and just two years after the sudden death of Diana, Princess of Wales, I first visited the estate on a summer's caravan holiday, getting up to high jinx with my cousins from Kent.

The excitement of the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich blared from the radio as we travelled - with caravan in tow - to west Norfolk, from our home on the east coast of Suffolk.

The headphones from my Walkman, however, remained firmly clamped on my head and Malory Towers drowned out United's victory.

We were too young to appreciate the connection Sandringham had with the Royal Family but at an age which afforded us the pleasure of exploring the woodland crevices, under the watchful gaze of our sun-bathing parents.

Queen Mother at Sandringham Flower Show in JULY 1998. EDP Archive

Queen Mother at Sandringham Flower Show in JULY 1998. EDP Archive - Credit: Archant

One memory which stands out from the rest is sitting in a cart which was pulled by a tractor on a tour of the estate, the guide pointed out Park House which had been the childhood home of the Princess of Wales and was now a hotel for disabled people.

Sandringham for the princess was not always a happy and carefree home, situated within playing distance of the young royals, as her parents divorced when she was aged just eight.

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But it was a place Diana returned to year on year with her own children to attend the Christmas service at the church of St Mary Magdalene on the estate.

In the summer the Sandringham Flower Show remains a 'must see', its special royal connections continuing as strong as ever, more than a decade after the death of the Queen Mother whose appearances at the event had been a highlight for so many years.

So it was of little surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to re-visit the place which had given me many happy memories as a child and exchange a Christmas spent indoors for a two-hour wait on a crisp morning to see the Queen arrive, followed by her family walking up from Sandringham House.

Feeling rather pleased I held prime position for viewing the royals in the press pen. I was not expecting the flurry of activity which quickly ensued as soon as a royal face was glimpsed in the distance.

Armed with my pen and paper, eager to stand away from the photographers' pushing and shoving, I could see why hundreds - and often thousands - of visitors turned up on Christmas Day for this intimate viewing of the family.

Followed by a warming cup of tea in the visitors centre, for many the morning service is part of their own family's tradition.

Almost on no other day in the year can you see such a large gathering of the royal family and with a bit of festive cheer in your heart (and a pair of thick socks), it is a privileged place to be.

Even today, and now living a short drive away from the estate, trudging in the muddy woodland gives me a sense of excitement which can only be explained by the close proximity of the Royal Family and the thought that perhaps the path I walk is the same which has felt the weight of more famous footsteps than my own.