Water has long been a theme at Heveningham Hall in Suffolk. When Jon Hunt, late of Foxtons, the London estate agency, bought it 20 years ago, he was after the lake-having a young family, he enjoyed watersports. The lake is now 1.5 miles long and the house overlooking it, rescued from disaster, beams magnificence across a park that has also been restored and replanted.
Water was at the fore again this weekend, as Mr Hunt led a conga of six all-terrain vehicles to explore his new wilderness reserve. Tracks had become rivers, rivers had become lakes, bridges had disappeared altogether. I felt like Jeremy Fisher on his lily pad. Only one of the buggies got through.
The wilderness reserve (www.wildernessreserve.com) is the next astounding chapter of the Heveningham story. Mr Hunt wants to re-create the original estate- some 20,000 acres-and he’s nearly half the way there.
But it’s the boom of the bittern, not land prices, that’s driving the project. Acquisitions are being ‘rewilded’, with, for example, the creation of new reed beds to replace those at Dunwich, whose extreme vulnerability was demonstrated in December’s tidal surge.
Financial sustainability will come from letting out manor houses, farmhouses and cottages, elegantly kitted out and supplied with butlers and chefs if needed. It’s the most exciting countryside initiative in England today. I didn’t mind getting my feet wet.