Sneaking a peek behind the scenes at Norfolk attractions

Explore backstage at the Theatre Royal

Explore backstage at the Theatre Royal - Credit: Archant

No entry, keep out, access to authorised personal only — there are plenty of places usually off limits. But if you're in the know you can go behind-the-scenes everywhere from a hi-tech car factory to the zoo. SIMON PARKIN looks at places where it pays to be nosy.

Watch how they create your favourite Woodfordes Brewery beer

Watch how they create your favourite Woodfordes Brewery beer - Credit: Archant

Royal Residence

Be a zoo keeper for the day at Africa Alive

Be a zoo keeper for the day at Africa Alive - Credit: Archant

Built in 1870 by the Prince and Princess of Wales, later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, Sandringham was once described as 'the most comfortable house in England'. It has been passed down as a private home through four generations of British monarchs and is now the country retreat of Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. The estate runs private group tours from April 19 to July 25 and August 2 to September 20 (evening tours) or November 2 (morning tours) where you are escorted by a senior member of the staff from the glorious grounds into the splendour of Sandringham House itself, with plenty of time to view each room. The tour normally lasts around an hour, allowing you to enjoy the beautiful collections of porcelain, jade, rose quartz, silver Russian gilt and bronzes, admire the family portraits and photographs and study the Victorian and Edwardian decor and furnishings in a home that was created to be the epitome of style in 1870. The cost is £22 per person, but with a minimum charge of £330 so its very much a group thing. More details on 01485 545408,

Take in the view at the top of the Happisburgh Lighthouse

Take in the view at the top of the Happisburgh Lighthouse - Credit: Archant

Take a sneak behind the scenes at the Lotus factory

Take a sneak behind the scenes at the Lotus factory - Credit: Archant

Clock Tower

Go on a hands-on interactive visit of the BBC studio at the Forum

Go on a hands-on interactive visit of the BBC studio at the Forum - Credit: Archant

It looms over Norwich, and finally seems to be regularly telling the right time, but the clock tower also offers unparalleled views. Join a tour of City Hall's stunning 1930's art deco styling and furnishings and there is the chance to climb the 166 steps to the top of the 206ft high tower. Children under eight years aren't allowed, suitable footwear must be worn and no one with a heart condition or similar should attempt the climb. Tours by arrangement, details and prices from the Tourist Information Centre on 01603 213999,

Wind Turbine

It's not exactly hidden – standing almost 100m tall in one of the flattest landscapes in the country – and the Green Britain Centre at Swaffham has the only wind turbine in the world which the public can climb, using the world's highest spiral staircase to get to the top. Over 150,000 people have already climbed it and a few brave souls have even jumped off it — abseiling for charity. The viewing platform at the top was designed by the famous architect Sir Norman Foster and when you reach it you'll get to experience a modern windmill and enjoy the panoramic view. The centre is open Mon-Fri 10am-4pm (they don't open at weekends until the summer). Windmill tours at 11am, 1pm and 3pm, £6 (£5 cons), £4 children (ages 7+, minimum height 1.20m), £18 family. Pre-book on 01760 726100,

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TV Studio

We've all walked past the Forum studios, we've all watched or listened to the programmes, but have you ever wondered just what goes on in the BBC's Norwich outpost? Well the BBC offers a fantastic chance to gain access to the rarely seen world behind the TV and radio programmes on its behind-the-scenes tours. Tours include a visit to the Look East TV studio and production gallery, a peek into the presenters' dressing-rooms, a wander through the Radio Norfolk studios while they are broadcasting, plus a look at the new purpose-built Open Studio with the chance to try a hands-on interactive studio experience. It lasts up to an hour and costs £8 (£6.50 cons), £6.15 children (aged 7-15 years). Pre-book on 0370 9011227,

Cathedral Tower

St John's Cathedral is the second largest Catholic cathedral in the country. The sweeping views from the tower may be familiar as Anglia TV has a camera on top that provides images during their nightly news programme. Guided tower tours run every Saturday at 1.30pm and 2.30pm, lasting about 50 minutes. Places £5, £2.50 children and must be booked in advance on 01603 624615. Special group tours of the tower (maximum number 20 persons) are available by private arrangement. More details at


Woodforde's, based in Woodbastwick, is Norfolk's biggest brewer using Norfolk-grown barley and plenty of expert knowledge to produce beers like Woodforde's Wherry and Nelson's Revenge. If you've ever wondered just how they produce all those pints they offer the chance to find out on their special behind-the-scenes tours. They do individual 90-minute tours to see how they make your beer costing £10 per person. Alternatively they do group tours, £85 for 12 people; £170 for 24. Tours include a guided intorduction the history of Woodforde's and the brewing process and — best of all — the chance to sample some award-winning ales. Tours run from March 12-November 1. Pre-book on 01603 722218,

Steam Railway

North Norfolk Railway runs a 10.5 mile round trip by steam train (vintage diesel trains on some journeys) through the glorious North Norfolk landscape. On selected Wednesday evenings in May and June the Poppy Line will again be operating will be operating behind-the-scenes tours. After a journey along the line from Sheringham to Weybourne, in the company of an expert guide, the tours offer a rare opportunity to have a guided tour of the locomotive and carriage sheds. There will also be an opportunity to visit the signal box at Sheringham. Tours are planned for May 7 and 21 and June 4 and 18, places £10 per person, which includes the train fare and the guided tours. Pre-book on 01263 820800,

Lotus Factory

We'd all like to get behind the wheel of a Lotus but how about behind-the-scenes of how they are made? The company's hi-tech manufacturing facility at Hethel, is where the world class, high performance sports cars are all individually hand built. The company runs regular factory tours that shed light on the history and heritage of Lotus as well as seeing the cars being assembled, painted and checked. They're the perfect day out for any family of petrolheads. Tour places are £39, more details and future dates on 01953 608547,

Stately Home

Blickling Hall reopens on February 15 but if you would like to see more than visitors usually get to see keep an eye out for the National Trust's regular programme of 'backstage pass' tours which unveil some of the great hall's hidden secrets, including a servant's tunnel which burrows under the hall's moat. Parts of the historic hall which are usually out-of-bounds are opened to the public with tours of the private rooms usually hidden behind rope barriers, the extensive attics and visit what was once the heart of the hall – the boiler room and coal store. Event dates have yet to be announced but to enquire about tours call 0844 8004308,


You'd think to visit a distillery you'd have to head north of the border — you don't, just head to Roudham. St George's Distillery, home to the English Whisky Co., opened in 2006 and produced its first spirit soon after and has since made well over 1,000 casks which are all maturing nicely in their warehouses. They run a variety of behind-the-scenes tours. The basic tour runs every hour on the hour from 10am-4pm, seven days per week, £10 per person, £4 under-18s. The more in depth tasting tour is led by the chief whisky maker and looks at the distillery and barrel warehouses, followed by an hour of tasting whiskies from around the world, including Norfolk's finest. This normally runs on a Saturday afternoon once a month, £30 per person. Pre-book on 01953 717939,


Norfolk is, of course, a rural county and therefore there are loads of opportunities to get closer to the farms that produce most of our food. The best way is on Open Farm Sunday a nationwide event that sees lots of Norfolk farms throw open their gates to visitors. It's a fantastic opportunity to experience the smells of the farmyard and really get in touch with the land that feeds us. This year it takes place on June 8 and local farms taking part include Lodge Farm, North Walsham; Cornerways at Wissington; Cavick House Farm, Wymondham; Claxton Manor Estate; and The Grange at Rollesby. Full details at

Castle Dungeons

Norwich Castle Museum's tour of the dungeons begins with an unusual health and safety check — anyone who is particularly spiritually sensitive might become distressed. There are said to be ghosts down there. Although these vast stone vaults were built as storerooms for the Norman castle, they were part of the city gaol and for 500 years. Tours usually run Mon-Sat 11.30am and 2.30pm, Sun 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm, £2.40, (£2.10 cons), £1.80 children. Closed January 20-22 for maintance. More details on 01603 4587,


Ever fancied exploring backstage at Norwich Theatre Royal, having a sneaky peek in the dressing rooms and even trying on the panto Dame costume? Well you can every summer. The theatre runs a special annual free open day every August that includes theatre tours so visitors can have a browse around the building exploring what happens behind the scenes, walk out onto the stage to get a performers-eye view and see what happens at the lighting and sound desks. More details on 01603 630000.


The opportunity to get up close to some exotic animals is the big attraction of the Keeper For A Day scheme at both Banham Zoo and Africa Alive offers the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes of the busy zoo. As a temporary zoo keeper — complete with uniform — the events do give you a true feeling of what it is like to work with animals. On a typical day Banham visitors may get to release the colobus monkeys into their outside enclosure, feed lemurs and clean out and feed the meerkats. At Africa Alive, you may get to feed giraffe, carry out skin care on a rhino or get to grips with an aardvark - plus some mucking out duties of course. The full day experience (10am-4pm) is £180 (£270 for two), while the half-day (10am-1pm or 1pm-4pm) is £99 (£170 for two). Banham details on 01953 887771, Africa Alive details on 01502 740291,