The famous Abbey Gardens provide a great example of a manicured public garden in the style beloved of the Victorians but these have evolved into a modern and diverse centre of outdoor entertainment for tourists and locals alike. Many civic events take place here- the Holocaust memorial ceremony, Bonfire Night festivities and performances that form part of the Bury Festival each Spring. Bounded by the River Lark with its pretty bridge and ample (and hungry!) duck life and the grand Abbey Gate entrance (pictured above), the park is bisected by a broad tarmac pathway ideal for children to run or scooter along in full view of parents. In 1327 the Abbey was stormed by the townspeople, who destroyed the original Abbey Gate and much of the monastery. Some 20 years later, work began on the replacement Abbey Gate which is the one still standing today. Outside the Abbey Gate, you can turn right and follow the pathway to circle around the statue of St Edmund, passing the Cathedral and the Norman Tower, known as “the great gate of the church of St Edmund”, and which historically has served as the bell tower to the Cathedral.To your left here is a small row of residential homes built into the original abbey walls, houses that are magical to children, appearing to be where a Hobbit or other fantastical creature might reside.
The manicured flower gardens, rose gardens and ponds make a visual and olfactory spectacle with their seasonal planting and the rose gardens themselves are a memorial to the close ties Bury St Edmunds has with USAF and its nearby airbases. The Friends of The Abbey Gardens and Bury In Bloom work very hard to maintain and design the flowers which attract thousands of visitors each year. Pictured near the bottom of the page is the sensory garden- a place for the visually impaired and other plant lovers. With safe wide paths, scented and textured plants and warm shaded seating areas, this part of the gardens is popular with everybody.
Carousels and other small rides can be found on the entrance greens as you arrive and to the left hand side is a small cafe selling drinks and ice creams. Running alongside this is a small section of bird enclosures- there used to be Monkeys here until the 80’s and now thankfully no more. However some residents would like to see the aviaries gone too despite the pleasure they give to small children. You will find Parakeets, Zebra Finches, Pheasants and Love Birds here. Towards the back of the park is a recently refurbished playground containing an excellent selection of rides and climbing frames and there are also tennis courts for hire- contact the park rangers for details.
Adjacent to the playground are the ruins of the world famous 11th century Benedictine Abbey, part of the complete ruins that also include the 14th century Great Gate and Norman Tower, and the impressive ruins and altered west front of the immense church. On the tallest pillar, you will find two plaques commemorating the spot where, in 1214, the barons of England swore to compel King John to sign the document now known as the Magna Carta. These tall flint pocked spears and tumbled walls have ample space for children to run around and many a game of hide and seek has taken place in the ancient ruined secret rooms (and privies!). Generations of locals have done this and now bring their own children and grandchildren to do so. There is another way to enter and exit the Abbey Gardens too, via Mustow Street.round the back of Angel Hill and this entrance leads you onto the garden’s greensward surrounding the River Lark. To enter this way, cross the road and turn right to find Abbot’s Bridge, which dates back to the 12th century, and originally linked Eastgate Street with the Abbey’s vineyard on the opposite bank of the river Lark. Beside this, you can still see the Keeper’s cell, from which he would have operated the portcullis which protected the Abbey from unwanted visitors.
The cathedral gardens including the beautiful physic/herb gardens can be accessed via the Abbey Gardens and the cool environs of the cloisters are a perfect place to retreat to on a hot day. The cathedral spire can be seen from many garden vantage points and the cathedral, being open to the public, is well worth a visit. Opposite the garden entrance on Angel Hill can be found the famous Angel Hotel, frequented and mentioned by Charles Dickens and a favourite writing spot for him. The afternoon tea and dining in its cellar restaurant comes highly recommended.
The gardens have public toilets that are regularly inspected -these can be found to the left of the Norman Gate entrance. There are also baby changing facilities.