Prince Philip: How Norfolk became home for the Duke of Edinburgh

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Duke of Edinburgh at SandringhamImage source, Getty Images
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The Duke of Edinburgh in the foreground, followed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and the now-Duke and Duchess of Sussex arriving at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham on Christmas Day 2017

For decades, the Duke of Edinburgh has joined the rest of the Royal Family in spending Christmas at Sandringham. But that was not his only connection with Norfolk and the East of England. As tributes are paid to the duke following his death aged 99, the BBC looks back on his links with the area.

Walking down the path to St Mary Magdalene Church, the sight of Prince Philip waving, pointing and sometimes joking with well-wishers has been a familiar one.

Along with the rest of the Royal Family, the short walk to the Christmas Day service gave the duke the chance to greet the crowds lined up on the Queen's Sandringham estate.

It became an annual tradition that stretched back over decades.

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The Duke of Edinburgh competes at the Sandringham Country Show's horse driving trials held in 2005

But her late husband's affiliation with Norfolk did not just centre around the festive season.

Prince Philip would end up staying a few months throughout each year on the estate - both at the main house and the secluded Wood Farm in Wolferton.

The 20,000-acre (8,000-ha) estate encompasses arable, livestock and fruit farms, as well as a country park.

It enabled him to indulge his passions for country pursuits, such as shooting and carriage-driving.

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Tributes were laid outside Sandringham on Friday

When he retired from public life in 2017, Prince Philip chose Wood Farm as his permanent home.

The Royal couple already stayed there in preference to opening up Sandringham House when it was just the two of them.

The duke retired from royal duties in May 2017 - a month before turning 96 - but had already stood down in 2011 as Cambridge University chancellor after a 35-year tenure.

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Along with the rest of the Royal Family, the duke would traditionally spend Christmas at Sandringham

In 1987, his sense of fun was caught on TV cameras at the university when the fully-robed duke put himself at pains to point out a spectator's lens cap was still on their camera.

At the time of his retirement, he was a patron, president or member of 780 organisations - and in East Anglia had links to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT), Norfolk Nelson Museum, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, Harwich Yacht Club and Grafham Water Sailing Trust among many others.

In the 1976 annual report for NWT, the duke's wry sense of humour was noted when meeting the Otter Trust's co-founder - who had a bandaged hand.

"An otter, I presume," the duke quipped, when inquiring about how the injury had been inflicted.

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The duke pictured behind the funeral cortege from Sandringham Church to Wolferton Station where the body of George VI was to be taken to London by train

He also competed in carriage driving at the Royal Norfolk Show and was patron of the Wherry Trust, which owns of the last of the traditional Norfolk Broads boats.

In 1991, the duke gave an interview on farming to BBC Look East from the Sandringham estate - on the eve of Peterborough's former East of England agricultural show, of which he was president.

In typical style, he said: "I get depressed by... this intensive breeding... some of the breeds have become grotesque."

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The duke, seen here in 1999 on the Norfolk Broads, was patron of the Wherry Trust

His loyalty to the show and dogged sense of duty were also illustrated when he kept his long-standing engagement in 1999, despite it being on the same day as Prince Edward's wedding to the Countess of Wessex in Windsor.

In recent years, the duke's health declined and he has been treated in hospital for abdominal surgery, bladder infections and a blocked coronary artery - the latter of which caused him to miss the Christmas Day service at the estate's church in 2011.

But he even managed to put in an appearance at the church after suffering a heavy cold, which kept the Queen away, in 2016.

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Prince Philip, seen here in 1981, took part in carriage-driving at the Royal Norfolk Show

In January 2019, he gave up driving after being involved in a car crash near Sandringham, which left a passenger in another car with a broken wrist.

Then in the December of that year, the duke spent four nights in hospital as a "precautionary measure", but was discharged on Christmas Eve, in time to be driven to Sandringham and spend Christmas with the Queen.

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Seen here on a visit to a residential home in Aylsham, Norfolk in 2013, the duke carried out numerous engagements in the East of England

But the coronavirus pandemic caused the Royal couple, who were vaccinated against the illness weeks later, to forgo the traditional Sandringham gathering, having spent the lockdown at Windsor Castle.

It was thought to be the first time the couple had not spent Christmas at their Sandringham home since the mid-1980s.

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