(This is some text I wrote for the official guide book, which will almost certainly never be printed. I did question why a place that prides itself on being somewhat under the radar would want to have a guide book, but there we are).
Often described as a stately home, Runton Hall is a large country house with grounds featuring several copses, a shallow stream, and a sizeable organic vegetable garden, originally planted by German prisoners of war in 1944 and known ever since as German Field. The Hall was designed in 1733 by Sir Thomas Ripley and financed by the Gurney family, gaining a reputation as a discrete rural hideaway, well away from London gossip, to which blind eyes could be routinely turned.
The Runton estate was proposed as a base for the wartime code-breaking operations that later took place at Bletchley Park, and was almost converted to a lunatic asylum in the 1950’s, with plans shelved when the cost of restoring the estate’s outbuildings proved to be prohibitive. Rumours persist of all manner of hi jinks taking place here over the years, as well as mutterings of Masonic skullduggery, but Runton, as ever, is playing its cards close to its Palladian-style chest.
The Runton Hall Trust took over control of the estate in 1963 and by the mid seventies it was run as a spiritual retreat. The grounds and outbuildings are maintained by a team of site managers [myself, Joe, Becca and ‘Anton’ if you’ve read this far] who are currently undertaking restoration work on the original Victorian greenhouse to the rear of the Hall.
The large area to the west of German Field is used all year round as a campsite, and the keeper’s cottage and restored former servants’ quarters welcome faith-based groups by prior appointment. Enclosures for goats, sheep, horses, chickens and donkeys, as well as a ‘petting zoo’ with what we believe to be Britain’s only wild hamster community can be found among the grounds. The more adventurous may discover the hermitage to the extreme south east of the estate – this is in continuous use and we ask that the privacy and tranquility of those using it is respected. The restored barn near the animal enclosures acts as Runton’s ‘Speaker’s Corner’ in fine weather, and tolerant, good-natured debate is encouraged on all non religious or political issues, again by prior appointment. If you’ve ever wondered if the moon landings actually happened, or who shot Kennedy, or why there is never enough peanut butter, the restored barn is the best place to find out.
Incidentally, Runton Hall isn’t actually called Runton Hall, but it’s easy to find if you put your mind to it. It’s a Georgian country estate, not the Loch Ness Monster. I’ve also changed names to protect anonymity, except ‘Anton’ whose name was changed to make him sound more ridiculous.