Blickling: Buckinghamshire Arms

The 17th century former coaching inn has always been a popular spot as it serves good food, has a pretty garden and obviously offers the whole National Trust estate right on the doorstep.

So what do you do when your old man celebrates a 40-something birthday? Mid-week in February? Now that's what you call a challenge. This year, I have to admit, I did rather well on the pressie front as I bought him a house but more of that later.

The Sunday before his big day I booked a table for the four of us, us and our two children, plus a family friend, at the Buckinghamshire Arms at Blickling.

The 17th century former coaching inn has always been a popular spot as it serves good food, has a pretty garden and obviously offers the whole National Trust estate right on the doorstep.

Although owned by the National Trust, it was run by Robert Dawson Smith of the Saracen's Head at Wolterton for 10 years before being taken over four months ago by Pip Wilkinson.

Certainly, Pip, who has worked at Buck (as those in the know call it) before and comes from the Number 10 restaurant in Sheringham, is full of plans and, most importantly, enthusiasm.

The pub, or inn as you should call it, oozes character with pamment flooring, low ceilings and plenty of nooks and crannies.

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There's a tiny snug, said to be 10ft square, a good sized bar with the pre-requisite roaring log fire and a separate restaurant, again with a wood burner.

All is fresh and light, and looks like it's had a bit of a revamp. The loos, well, at least the ladies, are still a bit ropey but hopefully they're next on Pip's list.

Food is served both lunch times and evenings and there's an accent on local produce and probably falls into the category of modern British cuisine.

Sunday lunch sees a good choice of dishes, all chalked up on several blackboards around the restaurant. Roasts (beef or pork), a fancy fish pie, Old Spot bangers and mash and a chicken and gammon pie - all at £8.95 - were on offer when we visited.

My friend and I went for the roast pork which he thought was a bit stringy and certainly wasn't pure, lean meat. The beef, chosen by my better half and son, seemed a better bet and disappeared quickly.

The vegetables (three different types) were plentiful and the Yorkshire pudding was excellent while my five-year-old daughter, who we all think is fast becoming a vegetarian, simply tucked into lots of roast potatoes and vegetables and was more than happy.

As we hadn't had starters, we went for puddings (all at £4.95) and again, there was a good choice from old-fashioned nursery favourites such as sticky toffee pudding to a selection of British cheeses.

The crème brulee and some sort of chocolate cake were selected by members of my party although I simply went for a creamy latte - the hot chocolate looked good, too.

After the meal, we went into Blickling's formal gardens and splendid they were. The winter has been kind to the garden and strolling around is simply delightful.

The orangery, the Tuscan temple, the yew hedges and all those spring bulbs are a delight, especially when you've got a full tummy!

As for that house - well, we're hoping all goes well and that we'll have a new family home soon. And when I said that I bought him a place, well, I sort of found it - the mortgage people did the actual buying!

t Buckinghamshire Arms, Blickling; 01263 732133

t Where is it? Right next-door to Blickling Hall, a couple of miles from Aylsham

t What about children? They can have half portions - for half price - or they will rustle up something. There are no high chairs.

t Should I book? Yes, we always recommend you do.

t What about smoking? You can smoke in the snug.

t What's the parking like? The pub has its own car park and there's the National Trust car park, too.

t Anything for vegetarians? Yes, as with more and more restaurants, vegetarians are being taken more seriously.

t Can you stay overnight? Yes, there are three bedrooms, with four-posters. And Pip hopes to create another one.

t Anything else? Well, apart from exploring the hall, formal gardens and parkland, make time to call in at Samphire, a farm shop just yards from the pub. It sells fab Norfolk produce from soaps to soup! Tel 01263 734464 or visit