Norfolk... east of England

Back in the days when British parents still considered Humphrey a flattering name for their male offspring, there lived a man named Humphrey Repton. In a nation known for its beautiful gardens and keen gardeners, Repton was the grandfather of all greenthumbs, employed by landowners across the country to transform acreage into landscape architecture.

Repton would assess a property's potential in a "Red Book." After half a century and more than 400 professional consultations, he produced his largest Red Book for the owner of a windswept estate near Sheringham on England's north Norfolk coast. In June 1812, after five days spent surveying the estate, Repton was smitten, calling Sheringham "my favourite and darling child..."

"... I can with truth pronounce that Sheringham possesses more natural beauty and local advantages than any place I have ever seen," wrote Repton.

Those not privy to the contents of Repton's Red Book might have been dubious of such outpourings over what was a rugged, rather bleak, undulating landscape of gorse and broom.

My family were equally dubious when I booked a restored barn in Sheringham Park as the venue for a week-long reunion. Before foreign travel became affordable to the average middle class family from South London, Mr. and Mrs. Judd would take their three boys down the motorway to Margate in Kent or on a sweaty six-hour hell ride to Cornwall in Britain's west country.

For some reason, a holiday that involved crossing the River Thames was not an option. Despite being less than three hours drive northeast of London, the Judds had yet to set foot in Norfolk, whose coastline conjured up heady images of fresh crab and even fresher northeast winds.

My task was to arrange a holiday for 12, pleasing grandchildren as young as two and grandparents as old as 70, with tastes as varied as the ages in between. Sandy beaches, funky shops, boat-trip potential, a decent pub within walking distance and the small matter of a Thomas the Tank Engine experience were on the list of demands to be catered for.

Repton had it easy.

Situated on a working farm on the edge of Sheringham Park, with unobstructed views of the North Sea, Cart Lodge Barns are 300-year-old farm buildings, tastefully restored into holiday homes by the National Trust. The conservation and heritage charity bought the property in 1986 when the farm was mostly unused and in disrepair, its traditional barns unsuited to modern farming methods.

Volunteers undertake most of the restoration work, while revenues generated by holiday visitors are ploughed back into renovations. People aren't the only visitors. Barn owls and pipistrelle bats continue to nest and roost in the barns, and swallows frequent other nooks found in smaller sheds.

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