If you are planning a trip to Norfolk or Suffolk this year and want to do it old school, that is not wandering around waving your phone about, hoping to connect with Google maps, then these compact yet comprehensive guidebooks will please you.
The concept of ‘slow travel’ is simple: it seeks to free itself from the increasing domination of tourist listicles and encourage travellers to seek out a sense of place wherever they go. It’s not just about ticking off landmarks. Slow Travel wants us to meet people, to immerse ourselves in the natural lay of the land and to free ourselves from imposed timetables.
Both travel guides kick off with a regional map highlighting useful towns to base yourself in. The counties are divided into geographical regions for ease of navigation and each regional section kicks off with a map. Stopping-off points are highlighted and each featured walk comes with its own map. There’s information on public transport, good advice as to how to proceed on foot, suggestions for places to eat, drink and stay and reams of local history. Laurence introduces us to the people who live and work in East Anglia and those artists and writers who have visited and been inspired by the region.
The last year has seen a plethora of new places serving great breakfast and brunch within driving distance of Bury St Edmunds, where I live. Most of my favourites are in North and West Suffolk, admittedly, but I’ve hopped over the border to Norfolk too.
In this round-up of my favourites, I’ve only include establishments that I (or people whose judgement I trust) have regularly visited and found to be excellent as opposed to regurgitating press releases about establishments that I’m unfamiliar with. I hope this offers readers some guarantee that these places are reliably good and deserving of your hard-earned money. I realise that I have appeared to ignore great swathes of East Anglia but I will get to them in time, so please be patient if I’ve left off your chosen one [s].
Some of my choices don’t serve what you might think of as traditional brunch platefuls either but I don’t really think it really matters whether we eat an Indian inspired mid-morning meal or a typical English breakfast. I don’t think brunch is the time for concrete thinking. All that’s important is that the food is delicious and the surroundings, convivial. You can decide what kind of morning menu you prefer but these all serve food that I enjoy eating at any time of the day.
Situated in the pretty and winding St John’s Street in Bury St Edmunds, Gastro-no-me is a tiny and cosy little deli/café with a nicely edited menu of brunch classics and some more unusual meals. You get a vibrant plate of food here: the pancakes are basically Disney on a plate, loaded as they are with berries and the French Rascal croissants are similarly colourful and well stuffed with ham, cheddar, rocket and tomato jam. The newly updated menu includes Lola Granola [photo above], a plate full of fruit, flowers and toasted cereals and a platter of sweetcorn fritters. These sunny little mouthfuls come with wilted spinach, bacon, plum tomatoes halloumi and a pot of lime & chipotle butter. There’s plenty of veggie options and the cafe is very family friendly with a regular clientele that includes Americans from the local base who know a thing or two about what makes a great brunch. You can buy cheeses, meats , breads and pastries from their deli counter to take home too, after your meal. Win win. Gastro-no-me
A brand new coffee shop recently opened in Guildhall Street, Guat’s Up has a carefully designed interior [fab cushions made from coffee-sacks] but great design hasn’t come at the expense of comfort or your tastebuds. It’s open from 7 am which is handy for that pre-work cup of Joe and this is definitely the place to breakfast at if you prefer something lighter to accompany your morning coffee. They are serious about their coffee [but not pompous] and they are equally serious about their doughnuts which are brought in, freshly handmade, from Doughnut Lab. Guat’s Up is a multi-purpose place: they create fabulous cocktails and stay open until late in the evening, providing customers with a calm and sophisticated atmosphere in which to enjoy a drink. Coffee-wise, choose from pour-over Ethiopian Guititi natural, Peruvian Tunki and Colombia Huila among many others. Even their cocktails contain coffee: try ‘The Bruce Wayne’ made with bourbon, espresso coffee and maple syrup or the all-day single shot Irish coffee made with Ethiopian Derikocha filter coffee, whisky, sugar syrup and double cream. There’s also a great tea menu [the Rooibos Relief is a perfect winter tea with eucalyptus and orange] alongside pastries and savouries for a light European breakfast. And they sell all the kit a serious coffee drinker needs at home too, accompanied with friendly advice and guidance. Guat’s Up
Paddy & Scotts
Another Bury St Edmunds coffee-shop, this relatively recent addition to historic Abbeygate St is a tiny gem with an interior like the inside of a coffee cup, all chocolates and creams and warm dark wood. Their coffees are slow roasted and small-batch using hand-built machines and they sell particularly good cold drip coffee according to local journos [who know a thing or two about this]. There’s a morning coffee, “Wakey Wakey” , and a “Pure Shot” whole bean coffee which makes a smooth espresso for those of you struggling to stay awake. You can buy bags to take out and they are Rainforest Alliance Certified. Food-wise, customers can choose from a range of pastries, cakes (all homely and freshly made) and sandwiches. The serving and seating area is small and double buggies would struggle to be accommodated but its a lovely spot to lounge in and the large picture windows offer ample opportunities to people-watch. I also covet their armchairs made out of leather and brushed metal which are seriously comfortable. Paddy & Scotts
Bury St Edmunds Market
Held every Wednesday and Saturday, this large market offers a wide range of foods both hot and cold for munching on as you wander around or to take and eat in the Abbey Gardens and other open spaces. In warmer weather, a mini-brunch safari is a great thing to do, and particularly popular with the kids. A favourite breakfast of mine comes from the Yakitori Suzuki stall, owned by Kaori Dawson who serves breakfast until 11:30am. The Japanese breakfast centres upon a folded omelette (called tamagoyaki) made by rolling together thin layers of seasoned egg in a frying pan.This is served with triangles of rice, a miso broth and pickles made from mooli, a member of the radish family with a gentle peppery taste. For something rather different, try a Caribbean veggie pasty baked by Thomas Benjamin who has a large stall near Croasdales Chemist. Thomas sells handmade Caribbean pasties, wraps, cakes and pies from his well established stall: particular favourites are a crab filled pasty and cakes made with banana, coconut, ginger and rum. There’s also wheat-free versions and egg-free options for vegans. Mummery Brothers fish and Paul’s FishBox sell little pots of brown shrimps, pints of prawns and dressed crab, all ready for eating and Henry’s Hogroast is perfect for soft floury rolls stuffed with roast pig and topped with a perfect piece of crackling. If you fancy some pickles with it, drop by CourtYard Chutney Co for their ‘Berry St Edmunds chutney’ or even a pot of honey to sweeten that roast pork. For hot foods, try Spicey Sausages‘ authentic grilled Slaska and Torunska sausage. Run by two Polish friends. Beata Kalinska and Anita Okoniewska, they griddle them to order- just follow your nose and you’ll locate them. Thai Taste has a set-up up near the Buttermarket war memorial where they cook dishes such as noodle-based Pad Thai to order, adding chicken for non-vegetarians. They offer a mild coconut-infused Massaman beef curry which is popular with kids and is slow-cooked all day. Run by local baker Mark Proctor, The Friendly Loaf Company stall can usually be found near Waterstones and sells fresh bread, pastries and cakes made with flour from nearby Pakenham Mill. Mark trained in some of the most prestigious establishments and it shows in his food which is the best bread in Suffolk, in my opinion. Here’s the place to get a pain-au-chocolat, pastries loaded with fruits in season, bread pudding, very adult brownies and breads spiked with cheese, hazelnut and walnut, seeds, peppers and whatever else takes his fancy. Finally, we must not ignore the fruit and veg sellers who can sell you brown paper bags of cherries and perfect tomatoes in the summer. and blood-oranges to eat on the hoof in the winter. Add a baguette and some cheese, you have the perfect brunch. Bury St Edmunds Market stall PDF can be downloaded here.
Lavenham Farmers Market
Established by Justine Paul of Suffolk Farmers Market Events, these award-winning markets offer plenty of brunch opportunities from stalls selling produce made or sourced within a thirty mile radius. So you can eat with the knowledge that you are supporting some of our best artisanal local businesses. Recently recognised by February’s edition of Olive Magazine as one of the top food events nationally, the Lavenham farmers market thoughtfully provides a child-friendly Farmers’ Cafe where you can sit and eat a farmers breakfast or a bowl of soup, locally made cakes and freshly brewed hot drinks. If you want to eat on the hoof, the stalls are piled high with breads, pies, sausage rolls and cakes and you can buy chutneys, cheeses,honey and charcuterie to stuff into bread rolls. Afterwards, burn off the calories by walking round one of the most picturesque and historic villages in the UK, where plenty of other tearooms, food shops, pubs and restaurants compete to offer you the chance to eat lunch, high tea and supper without leaving the village. The village has well-organised websites rammed with information to help you plan a whole day in this justifiably famous village. Lavenham Farmers Market
The Suffolk Carver
Another recommendation via Twitter (thank you Barry Peters), The Suffolk Carver is located on Brentgovel Street, around the corner from the Buttermarket and is very popular for both sit-down customers and local workers in search of a swift take-out service. On market days (Weds/Sat) it gets very busy but a swift turnover means you’ll find a seat in this split-level café, so worry not. Want a substantial brunch? Choose the roast pork baguette with stuffing and apple sauce, the sausage and bacon granary baguette made with meat from local butchers or one of the grilled sandwiches from the large menu. ” A cracking breakfast and possibly the most pleasant staff I’ve ever come across” is the verdict on Facebook although customers do warn you to get there early if you want their roast pork because it is scarfed so swiftly by locals who know a good thing when they see it. Portions are large, the breakfasts come with good coffee and there’s outdoor seating on warmer days with a view of the venerable Moyses Hall museum which is well worth a visit after your meal. The Suffolk Carver
If you are looking to book a special occasion breakfast or brunch, this converted water mill is a stellar choice with a kitchen overseen by an award-winning chef and Bury Free Press columnist, Lee Bye. The surroundings are historic, subtly lit and gentle on tired eyes of-a-morning. There’s a lighter menu featuring Goosnargh yoghurt, almond granola or honey-glazed pink grapefruit or the Full English: a plate of Dingley Dell pork sausage, mushroom, bacon, baked beans, plum tomato, baby black pudding and eggs of your choice will fill you up. Or choose locally smoked kippers with a lemon beurre-noisette. For sweet-toothed breakfasters, the brioche French toast, caramelised banana and maple syrup is the logical meal to order. Non-residents pay 17,50 [at time of writing, Feb 2016] which is not inexpensive but reflects the expertise of the team, the lovely surroundings and the quality and effort put into the sourcing of ingredients. There has been a mill at Tuddenham for around 1,000 years with the earliest records being documented in the Doomsday book of 1086 and the surrounding countryside offers some of the loveliest walking in East Anglia. Tuddenham Mill
Rockers Cafe at Krazy Horse
The Rockers Cafe was established in collaboration with the world famous Ace Café and can be found upstairs, on a balcony overlooking Krazy Horses custom-bike operation. You’re on the Mildenhall Road industrial estate so the general location is nothing to write home about but the Rockers Cafe is. You’ll find a Wurlitzer and an industrial cum Americana vibe with a diner counter, silver pull-up stools and about eight or so tables arranged in semi circle. Behind the tables are shelves full of clothing and windows look out onto the business forecourt and the coming and goings of the bikes. They serve huge breakfasts with black pudding, hash-browns, sausages and eggs any way you want them, breakfast baguettes stuffed with any combination of the above, pancakes or waffles. Bottles of Salubrious Breakfast Sauce are a great alternative to the ubiquitous Heinz. Crabbies ginger beer, root beer and vanilla coke are served and the ice-cream, syrup and milk thick shakes taste pretty authentic. Coffees are flavoured with syrups and Belvoir mandarin and orange pressés are available alongside beer and ciders. It’s a great, fun place for well-behaved older kids and teenagers alongside anyone else who is bike-mad. Krazy Horse
The Coffee House
Tucked away on Moreton Hall, the Coffee House nonetheless attracts customers from all over the town because of its friendly and welcoming surroundings and lovely staff who don’t cluck at you if you make that cup of coffee last an hour or more. This is definitely the place to come if you like to spread out over a comfy sofa in front of large light-filled windows, eat slowly and read your paper. There’s a shelf of books to borrow, buy and swap and the Coffee House is regularly used by local community groups. Perfect for a huge brunch or a swift Suffolk Roasted breakfast coffee and Danish, the menu includes classics such as poached eggs on whole-wheat, fish-finger sandwiches, full English breakfasts, sausage stuffed baps and plenty of diner style layer cakes, tarts, pies and smaller hand-sized baked goodies. Regulars speak highly of the bowls of porridge with honey and banana, the excellent Americano coffee, the cheese scones and bacon butties. The Coffee House also has a branch in Ixworth too, ensuring villagers have their own community hub too. Great stuff! The Coffee House
Amandines Cafe- Restaurant
Although it’s not technically a brunch place, I had to include the delightful Amandines whose owners have been cooking vegan and vegetarian food in the little town of Diss for over 28 years. Their premises is prettily situated in the courtyard of a converted Victorian red-brick warehouse, opposite Fredericks, one of the best delicatessens around. Amadines is bright and airy and in warmer months the climbing jasmine and roses scent the air although a Godin wood-burning stove and internal glass-covered courtyard keep it snug year round- dogs are allowed in the courtyard too. Open Tues – Sat between 10am – 3pm, food is freshly prepared by the staff and the menu easily navigates the brunch-lunch interface, offering sandwiches and toasties; a mature cheddar panini with lime pickle dressing is very good; hearty bowl-food plus quiches, cakes- Tunisian orange cake and a date tart were gorgeous- and pastries.Pudding-wise they excel and an apricot and pine-nut pudding with butterscotch brittle and mascarpone cream was a recent offering which went down very well. Their drinks are well spoken of by their customers with the Italian coffee and hot chocolate prepared properly. If you are looking for something heartier, meals such as dosa, pea and beetroot chutney, coconut rice and curry are just one example of what they do exceedingly well and in the summer months, customers can enjoy creative salads such as feta and nectarine with home-made goats cheese and olive bread. Although they don’t serve meat products, I’ve never heard a customer complain about this and you really won’t miss them. Amandines
The Copper Kettle & Tearoom at Kersey
Owned by Rosie Waller and located in the adorable village of Kersey with its famous ford, the Copper Kettle cooks bake every day, providing customers with a wealth of fresh cakes, pastries, scones and bread and their passion for seasonal, local ingredients shines through. As well as lovely breakfasts and brunches served from an early bird opening time of 8:30am, (excellent bacon rolls and endless cups of tea plus Rosie’s Suffolk Huffers), they serve a classic English afternoon tea with sandwiches and speciality teas. The surroundings are as lovely as the food with a more formal café tea room overlooking the Mediterranean Gardens and a conservatory with club chair seating which opens onto a pretty courtyard. The mill itself is worth a look around as are the other shops and amenities in the grounds. Walk it all off by strolling up the hill to Kersey’s church with scenic views over this tiny village. Copper Kettle Tearoom
The Pantry, Newmarket
Since their opening, The Pantry’s ethos has been based upon using and selling the very best East Anglian foods in their deli and the restaurant. There’s an open kitchen and lively, bright eating area, deservedly popular with locals and visitors alike. Meat comes from Eric Tennant’s butchers and all things fishy from Fish! of Burwell, both near-neighbours trading just off Newmarket High Street. Brunch is served until midday and is high quality at a very reasonable price. There’s croissants stuffed with local cheese and ham or a veggie version with Hawkston cheese and mushrooms. My favourite is the black pudding, fried egg and potato hash which comes with toast. If you order *just* toast, it’ll come with East Anglian jams and marmalades . Very hungry? Go for the pantry breakfast: Suffolk bacon, Musks sausages (from Newmarket), black pudding, tomato, mushrooms, fried egg and toast is £7 and there’s a vegetarian breakfast with roast beetroot, mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes and scrambled egg for a fiver. Paddy & Scotts supply their coffee, by the way and I also recommend the lemon posset with Swedish toffee biscuit and a dark chocolate rice pudding with pistachio brittle which is not ‘breakfast’ per se but I really don’t care for such restrictions. Afterwards, a walk to the Harley Davidson dealers in the town to drool over the bikes is recommended. The Pantry.
Just over the border in Norfolk and close to Thetford Forest and only a thirty minute drive from Bury St Eds, Browns of Mundford is an absolute gem, serving top-notch food made from local ingredients. They are hugely supportive of local farmers and their bacon and sausage is some of the best we’ve had. Sausage and bacon is Scotts Field large black pigs, the eggs are free-range and from Andy Gapp and the scrambled eggs that result are buttery, soft and delicate. A large bacon roll is 3,95 at time of writing and from noon, they start serving bubble and squeak with Scotts Field ham, those eggs again and a basil dressing. Cakes, tarts and scones are made on the premises and alongside the old favourites there are more unusual choices such as Tosca cake, walnut tart and chocolate and peach layer cake, all made by a pastry chef. Seating is comfy, spacious and plentiful, both indoor and outdoor, WiFi is provided and you’ll not be shoved out of the door if you want to slump on the sofa and read the papers afterwards.
Nestling in historic Bungay, 37 miles from Bury St Edmunds, Earsham Street Café is a wonderful pit-stop on the way to the beaches of North-East Suffolk, located as it is on the borders of Norfolk. Sited inside a lovely historic (17th century, to be precise) building which used to be a former cock-fighting pit, among its many incarnations, the cafe is now a happy well-regarded tea-room and cafe. The opening hours are 10am – 4.30pm (last orders at 4pm) 7 days a week and they offer full English and vegetarian breakfasts and lighter meals on a Saturday & Sunday between 10am – noon. Kids are made welcome with a selection of toys, crayons & books and dogs are allowed in the covered courtyard garden (free dog biscuits given!) whilst cyclists can store their bikes securely in the garden. Teas and coffees are Fair Trade and accompany the lovely weekend brunch menu which also features American style pancakes with Greek yoghurt, banana, and maple syrup, beans on toast or a bacon sandwich. The Earsham Street vegetarian breakfast is fabulous value at £7,00, serving up fried egg, tomatoes, mushrooms, home made baked beans, griddled polenta & a slice of toast. They try to source locally too: organic vegetables are from Peter at Kitchen Gardens; cheeses come from Jonny at Fen Farm and Rodwell Farm in deepest Suffolk. Their eggs are from Mr & Mrs Blackmore near Halesworth whilst Cundy’s of Bungay deliver super-fresh Suffolk Marybelle milk and cream. Earsham Street Cafe.
Located in a fourteenth century building at the heart of Clare, one of Suffolk’s loveliest little towns, Cafe Clare caters to locals and visitors alike across two floors and a tiny courtyard garden with views of the castle ruins and motte. Gluten, dairy free and vegetarian diets are also catered for along with smaller portions for children and well behaved dogs are made welcome. Cafe Clare serves breakfast all day, conveniently opening from 8:30am although breakfast can be served from 7am (24 hours notice) and they are open Tuesday to Sunday inclusive. (Closed on Mondays.) Owners Sue and Chris Curtin pride themselves on their locally sourced ingredients which include free-range eggs from Rymer Farm Barnham and sausages and bacon from Hubbards Pork butchers in Bury St Edmunds: the sausages and black pudding are actually made on Hubbards premises. All breakfasts are cooked to order and customers preferences are happily catered to alongside a choice of a major or minor full English, hot-smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, breakfast bacon burgers and other menu choices. The village shops and antiques centres, pubs, museum and country park provide ample entertainment for a day out after your breakfast with the surrounding countryside criss-crossed by a range of cycling and walking routes. Cafe Clare
The Barn Cafe at Alder Carr
Located near Needham Market, off the A14, at the heart of a working farm in a converted barn, The Barn Cafe sources as many ingredients as they can from local suppliers and this includes seasonal produce grown on the farm: all dishes are made from scratch too. Full cooked breakfasts are available between 9:30 – 11:30am (11:15 Sundays) and include a full breakfast for 7,95 (sausage, smoked Suffolk bacon, grilled tomato, field mushroom, black pudding, bubble and squeak cake and a free range egg served poached or fried plus toast) and a vegetarian version with veggie sausages. Egg lovers can choose from several options: Royale, Benedict or dippy eggs accompanied by chunky toast soldiers. Children are made welcome in the spacious and light dining area and post-breakfast, visitors can browse the farm shop and crafts stores or eat some of the superb Alder Carr ice-cream which is some of the best you’ll eat anywhere in the UK. The cafe is set in Mid-Suffolk’s Gipping Valley surrounded by miles of beautiful walks and cycle routes and the nearby town of Stowmarket is home to the Museum of East Anglian Life. The museum is deservedly popular with families because of its child-friendly and engaging activities and exhibits. The Barn Cafe.
Hollow Trees Farm Shop and Woodlands Cafe
This is a bit of a drive from Bury St Edmunds for us, but the glorious countryside along the way and fantastic breakfast and brunch at the end makes it absolutely worthwhile. And of course, for you, it may be a shorter drive. Hollow Trees Farm is a 140 acre mixed farm, growing vegetables and producing pork beef and lamb and its breakfasts have been previously nominated in The Best Breakfast Awards. Combining their own produce with the best available locally, their full English is rightly popular (sausages and bacon sourced from the farm, local free range egg, hash brown, grilled tomato, mushrooms and toast) as is the granola from Crush Foods of Norfolk, made using local borage honey and apple juice. Served with yoghurt made with milk supplied by local dairies, it is a lovely light alternative. Coffee is freshly ground and the orange juice pressed to order. There are children’s menus and highchairs; menu-wise the café offers daily specials and gluten-free options and there’s good wheelchair access. After you’ve eaten, stock up at the Farm Shop where a wide range of regional and seasonal foods are stocked and take the kids on the farm trail to see the many animals that live on the farm and burn off energy on the rope swings and other outdoor equipment. (There’s a small charge for the trail.) Hollow Trees Farm and Cafe
As a small girl, one of my favourite push-me-pull-me activities was to terrify myself by avidly reading ghost stories (I read ‘The Shining’ aged eleven) and I coped with their scariness by telling myself that they were imaginary events with no existence outside the minds of their authors. One evening I was staying at a friends house and picked up her fathers copy of ‘Haunted England’, devouring it from cover to cover, huddled up in a black leather office chair that swiveled round and round. As I got further into the book, I grew more and more preoccupied with ensuring the chair faced the (now open) office door in that drafty cranny filled Edwardian house. A room that had always been as familiar to me as those of my own family house became filled with strange noises and unpredictable shadows and from that moment on I could no longer regard ghostly tales as entertainment nor see my everyday spaces in the same way. The thought that ghosts might be real and they might live near me was just too much.
Still, this did not stop me from going on a ‘camping trip’ to the grounds of the notorious Borley Rectory aged sixteen or so, although I was fortified and dulled, sensate wise, by copious amounts of cider sold to us via the off licence at the back of a local pub. (Things were laxer then.) I eventually passed out from sheer fright and drunkenness half in and half out of the tent, only to awaken hours later covered in dew and miniature cobwebs from the money spiders that infested the grounds. I haven’t been back since and despite the fact that I don’t think I saw anything from any world other than my own, I remain thoroughly spooked by the worry about what it would have meant to me and my spiritual standpoint had I seen ‘anything.’
The two counties of Norfolk and Suffolk possess a subtle spookiness: of mists drifting across the flatness of the Fens and the Broads, of a strange and porous landscape, bordered by a coast that is continually beleagered by the elements, arranging itself in a new form after each winter. A landscape of graphic linear horizons under wide skies contrasts with this sense of impermeability, rendering us more receptive to stories of ghosts and strange creatures themselves slipping through the semi permeable membrane of time itself. Told by cottage fires to children to scare them away from danger and in pubs and public gatherings over the centuries, the stories serve many purposes as well as that of entertainment. The very real dangers faced by our ancestors and the risks remain a familiar fact of life for inhabitants of this watery landscape- we may not face wolves and marauders in boats from the far north, but we do have floods and tides, land erosion and loss of habitat. We are vulnerable and somehow we have to find a way of managing the feelings this engenders.
It is not hard to conjure up the ghosts of the invaders and settlers who left their burial mounds, hidden treasures, caves and ringed settlements of huts, circled against fresh invaders. They arrived during times of war to defend us and left us their airfields and castles, whilst others built churches, cathedrals and monasteries to commemorate and celebrate their gods. The ancient towns and cities bear rings of concentric history from medieval grids and the black and white of the Tudors to the narrow alleys, grand squares and almshouse courtyards of their Victorian periods. To walk around the region is to slide from century to century and it is not hard to imagine that others, from times past, walk alongside you too. Here are their tales, some more well known, others less so.
(1) Borley Rectory, ghost hunters and artifice-
Harry Price was one of England’s most famous ghost hunters, dedicated to his mission to investigate suspected hauntings and with the potential to expose the fraud that might lie behind them. Since the early 1920’s when news of the suspected haunting at Borley first became public knowledge, the burned out remains of this rectory and its graveyard and grounds in a small village near Sudbury in Suffolk has captured the imagination of the public to become arguably, one of the most, if not the most famous of all national ghost stories. It is a tale full of gothic tropes- nuns, ghostly writings and fierce fires with strange figures seen in the flames. Pure Vincent Price.
Borley Rectory was built in 1863 for the Reverend Henry Bull on the site of an ancient monastery.The ghost of a sorrowful nun who strolled along the so called “Nun’s Walk” was already well known locally at the time, believed to be a disobedient sister from the nearby nunnery at Bures who had fallen in love with a monk from the Borley Monastery. The two had tried to elope and upon their capture, the monk was executed and the nun bricked up alive in the cellars of the monastic building. The family weren’t too bothered by her presence but their guests began to be startled by the nun appearing to peer at them through the windows of the new rectory and servants rarely stayed long. When Henry’s son Harry took over the rectory the visitations were reported to have increased with a ghostly coach and horses seen racing up the rectory drive.
The Revd Eric Smith and his wife arrived at the rectory in 1927 and they invited well-known psychic researcher, Harry Price, to visit, setting off nexplicable poltergeist activity where belongings were broken and stones thrown at the family and Harry Price. The Smiths only lasted two years before they moved, to be replaced by the Revd Lionel Foyster and his family whereupon the ghostly presences increased their activities. The resident ghost appeared to hold a penchant for the rector’s wife, Marianne, displaying its ardour in a bizarre manner- hurling objects at her and leaving messages scrawled all over the walls. Witnesses claimed to have seen these appear in from of their eyes, although most of the writing was illegible and unintelligible. Finally the family decided have the Rectory exorcised and life quietened for a while afterwards but the manifestations eventually returned in a variety of new ways with inexplicable music emanating from the nearby Church and servant bells ringing by themselves, communion wine turning into ink and “something horrid” attacking one of their children. The family left and successive Rectors refused to live in the rectory and who would have blamed them?
Upon his return in 1937 with a large team of investigators, Harry Price recorded a number of phenomena, the most chilling occurring during a seance where a ‘communicant’ claimed that the the rectory would catch fire in the hallway that night and burn down. A nun’s body would be discovered in the ruins. Nothing happened until exactly eleven months later when the rectory burned down after an oil lamp fell over in the hall. Locals claimed to have seen a nuns face peering from an upstairs window and ghostly figures cavorting around. When Price returned yet again in 1943, he discovered the jawbone of a young woman and gave it a Christian burial in an attempt to bring peace to the site. Locals still report supernatural happenings in the graveyard and the place has cemented its reputation as a spooky place to visit, regardless of whether these events happened or not.
If you are interested in Borley and its history, Neil Spring’s book ‘The Ghost Hunters’ tells the story of the rectory and Harry Price via the character, Sarah Grey, one of the new assistants taken on to explore the hauntings. Sarah says: “I knew of Borley Rectory, too, before I visited it with Harry – supposedly the most haunted house in England. I knew there was no such thing as phantoms; the many witnesses must be mad, or lying. I knew I could visit Borley Rectory without fear, return without harm. These are the things I thought I knew. I now understand the true meaning of terror.”
A new animated documentary film called ‘Borley Rectory is also currently in production. Noir-ish is style, the director Ashley Thorpe describes it as a ‘love letter to another age of horror’ after reading about Borley Rectory as a child in the Usborne Book of Ghosts.
(2) Newmarket gypsy boys grave-
In times gone by, a crossroads wasn’t merely a place where four routes intersected but was actually accorded a religious and spiritual meaning and people who committed suicide were sometimes buried nearby. Until the late sixties, suicide was treated as a crime ‘the murder of oneself’ and the families of suicides were not granted permission to bury them on consecrated ground. This is where the term ‘committed suicide’ originally comes from and refers to the commission of an unlawful act. Families would seek some form of religious meaning in burial by selecting a crossroads as the burial site of their loved one so they could be buried near what they saw as the shape of a cross in the road.
Drive in either direction on the B1506 near Newmarket and Moulton and you will reach a crossroads caused by an intersection with the B1085. Nearby is the unmarked grave where Joseph, a young lad from a traveler family, took his own life in the 17th Century and was subsequently buried. It is believed that some sheep from a flock he was herding went astray one day and, believing he’d be accused of their theft and knowing he would not get a fair trial in a society prejudiced against gypsies, took his own life rather than be hung for something he did not do. This is believed to be his grave and gypsy families erected a cross there in the seventies. In his book “Paranormal Suffolk,” the author Christopher Reeve says: “cyclists are mysteriously forced by some strange unseen power to dismount as they near the spot.” and local riders have long reported their mounts shying away or refusing to go close. Conversely there is also a well established tradition of race goers visiting the grave for good luck too. The belief is that if any flowers should appear on the grave during Derby week, then a horse from the Newmarket stables will win and the colour of the graveside flowers will foretell those of the silks of the winning jockeys.
(3) Tales of Norwich from ‘The Man in Black’-
Book yourselves on a Norwich Ghost Walk and you wil get two hours of ambulant history and ghostly tales as you tramp the streets of this atmospheric city with the ‘Man in Black’, a lugubrious Victorian historian and tour guide. Our favourite location, Fye Bridge is a 13th century structure rebuilt in 1829 and the site of a medieval ducking stool used to ‘test’ for witches. Should the poor women survive her ducking, she would then immolated on a wooden pyre, surrounded by baying crowds. Locals report multiple sighting of the ghosts of these witches, all of them carrying their own faggots –the piles of wood on which they would later be burned: a particularly sadistic executioners touch. The ghost walk uses local actors to simulate scenes from the past such as the ‘Faggot Witch’ who curses you and shakes her sticks as you pass.
Nearby Magdalen Street has been described as one of the most ‘haunted places in Britain’ with No19 infested by ghostly footsteps echoing through the empty parts of the building, cold spots and drafts, and a shadowy figure on its stairs, maybe as a result of a nineteenth century murder committed in the building. Staff at the Adam and Eve pub report a sighting of a ghostly hand holding a head in the car park, the terrifying sensation of somebody running hands through their hair and odd noises. Lord Sheffield, who died at the inn in 1549 is believed to be the culprit here.
The aptly named part of Norwich known as Tombland is the site of the Grey Lady hauntings, believed to be the earthly manifestation of a very unhappy and inadvertent victim of the plague. When the disease killed the occupants of the nearby Augustine Steward building, the house was boarded up for several weeks to prevent people entering or leaving but sadly a young girl in the house had survived the plague, only to starve to death, unable to escape. Her grey robes fade away to nothingness below the knees as she drifts around several location in the older parts of the city, it is understandable that after such confinement, unable to escape, her ghost is certainly not going to limit itself to one site.
(3) Disappearing and reappearing mansions in Suffolk-
Perusing the Bury Free Press last spring I was intrigued by a letter from a Jean Batram who spoke of her disquiet after seeing a house apparently appear then disappear moments later as she drove through the village of Rougham. She explained: “About five years ago, we were having a Sunday afternoon drive, coming into Rougham and going along Kingshall Street (I’d never been that way before) and up to the last bungalow. Looking across the newly harrowed field I saw a large house on its own very, very plainly. I said to my husband ‘look at that lovely house, I’ll take a look again on the way back’.
But coming back later, the house was gone and I asked if we were on the same road and he said ‘yes’, so I remarked ‘how odd’ as I knew very plainly that there was a large house standing on its own quite near across the field with trees behind it.”
NowJean was not the first person to see this strange vision and indeed is one of many over the last century and a half. In her book, ‘Ghosts of Suffolk’, Betty Puttick christens the apparition the “Rougham mirage” and goes on to talk about an eye witness account from 1860 when another local by the name of Robert Palfrey saw a large red brick double-fronted house behind ornate iron gates, only for the sight to disappear in a blink of an eye, right in front of him. Several decades later, his own great grandson reported the same phenomena whilst out with his horse and carriage. He drove past it and upon his return trip, noticed the house was no longer there. What is so odd about these sightings is that the house is described as not only being very large, making one wonder how locals had such little awareness of such a house being constructed, but was also of Georgian appearance. That period of architecture ended around 1830, only thirty years before Mr Palfrey’s sighting so it would seem likely that had it existed, locals would report their memories of its construction. Remember how under populated rural regions were then (and still are)? You could not hope to slip in and out of a village let alone build a house in one, unnoticed. The building of such a house would have involved hundreds of locals, from those sourcing and supplying the raw materials to the many who would have been intrigued and gossiped about the potential inhabitants.
Well known and respected psychic researcher Tony Cornell carried out his own investigations in the seventies and could find no corroboration of either its existence or the lack of; however he did find some evidence of the existence of a residence called the Kings House, demolished in the early 1800’s through his research of local maps. The mystery continues although I look away from the alleged site whenever we drive past, frightened that I might accidentally see it (which would be NOT a good thing for this frightened of ghost houses person).
(4) And haunted airfields-
Suffolk and Norfolk provided a temporary home to thousands of the ‘over paid, over sexed and over here’ American Airforce men during the Second World War and it appears that some may have decided to remain here, long after their corporeal life was over. Rougham Airfield (What it is about this little village that makes it so seductive to ghosts?) has long been reputed to be the eternal wandering grounds of a number of these young men from the U.S. 8th Air Force 1942-1945 who tragically were killed during their posting here.
After the wars end, most of the airfields north of the village were returned to the farmers and were reintegrated into the surrounding arable fields, although a few acres became the Rougham Industrial Estate, whilst the remaining grass taxi and runways were turned over for commercial and civil use. The control tower remains though, and now forms the hub of the Airfield Museum with frequent open days, kite festivals and other events, giving the public a chance to visit.
Towards the end of the war, an American airman nicknamed L’il Butch wandered around the base, triumphant after his successful return from yet another bombing raid over Germany. He must have been greatly relieved to be back at base as he wasn’t too far off the end of his active service in England. He was seen and waved to by several of his colleagues as they too arrived back or headed towards their own planes. The curious thing was that several months earlier, L’il Butch had actually been killed on a bombing raid over Germany and had not returned at all. He seemed to not know that he had died, according to his friends, and apart from their knowing that he was dead, his ghost gave no indication of being in anything other than the rudest of health.
Hauntings at the airfield were said to have increased from the seventies onwards, with locals reporting sightings of ghostly apparitions of American servicemen walking the fields and runways of the base and the noise of aircraft could be heard as they landed and took off. Eerie voices echoed around the control tower: one in particular sounds very distressing and is believed to be that of a pilot who ran out of fuel and crashed his plane at the base: ‘Why wouldn’t you let us land?’” he has been heard crying out in distress. Should you wish to further channel the spirit of these good natured and brave men, then Lavenham’s Swan Hotel has the Airmen Bar with one wall covered in their signatures. They relaxed and drank here and Glenn Miller was reputed to have set out on his fateful flight after visiting the bar. As Bernard Nolan stated in the East Anglian Daily Times: “We could get to Lavenham quite easily from where we lived in a Nissen hut just a few fields away. I can recall that we used to walk across the muddy fields in our flying boots, and we would take our boots off and leave them on the road and pick them up on the way back from the pub We usually came here to the Swan – it was one of our favourite haunts.” It is such a shame that so many of the cartoons and graffiti created by the airmen has now disappeared although the group Eighth in the East was established to record and research the legacy USAF had (and still has ) upon East Anglia.
“And a dreadful thing from the cliff did spring. And its wild bark thrill’d around, his eyes had the glow of the fires below, t’was the form of the spectre hound.”
Or as Enid Porter said in ‘Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore”: “The noise of rattling chains over the desolate fields on moonless nights announced the invisible presence of these hounds; sometimes their heavy breathing might be heard. The important thing to do was to take shelter immediately, at home if possible, and to lock and bolt doors and windows so that the fearsome animals, foretelling death or other disaster, could not come by”
The Anglo Saxon had a word for a devil or demon; ‘Scucca‘, as did the Norse Vikings; ‘Shukir‘ and both of these served as shorthand, after a manner, for their Norse ‘Dogs of War’, the gods called Odin and Thor. Some historians claim this was the name of Thor’s faithful old dog whilst others state the dog actually belonged to Odin. So one of both of these may have given their name to the ‘Black Shuck’, the East Anglian colloquial name for a terrifying canine beast that is super sized (and I don’t mean St Bernard sized- think bigger). Huge and black with eyes the size of saucers, the Black Shuck pads almost soundlessly behind you, dogging your step and getting closer and closer: your inevitable fate, should you look directly into those eyes, is death within six months to a year. Equally its name may simply be a bastardisation of’ Shucky’ which simply means shaggy, and the legend merely a story of the shaggy dog kind.
The Black Shuck is a local version of a legend that is common to many parts of the UK and even in East Anglia, he is known by other names: the Galleytrot in Suffolk and Old Scarfe in other parts of Norfolk. In Essex they call him the ‘Hateful Thing.’ One of his more famous stamping grounds lies between Sheringham and Overstrand where, in 1890, a young boy reported being hounded farther out to sea by a large dog that would not let him come ashore. There are numerous sightings over centuries, all remarkably consistent regarding behaviour and appearance, although Overstrand village legend also tells of a gentler Black Shuck. In this version, a Dane, a Saxon and Shuck the dog were inseparable friends who were drowned whilst out fishing one day and the Dane ended up being washed up at Beeston while his friend, the Saxon, washed up at Overstrand. Shuck roams the coast between the two looking for his friends and masters, doomed to never be reunited with them and to this day the village of Overstrand bears an image of this loyal hound on its village sign.
Arthur Conan Doyle is said to have based ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ on another of the Black Shuck’s routes, around Mill Lane which passes by Cromer Hall but replaced the flatter Norfolk with a wilder Dartmoor. The description of Baskerville is remarkably close to the appearance of Cromer Hall although stories telling of black devil dogs abound in Devon too so it is by no means certain that Doyle used the Norfolk prototype as his inspiration.
The benefits of tales and legends such as these are pretty clear. What better way to keep people safely at home as night fell, away from beaches, cliff edges and lonely dark lanes than by frightening them? Or they may have functioned as a way to explain what was then, the inexplicable- tragedies, misadventure and disappearances as people attempted to find their way home in the dark, in an inhospitable place. Curious children can be protected from drowning by an over elaborate tale of how one of their compatriots nearly drowned themselves after venturing too close to the sea. In addition, if you are involved in smuggling or other beach side capers, here’s how you warn away the curious and those who might wish to make a move on your lucrative trade.
What was probably a lightning strike in a church in Blythburgh, resulting in black striations on the inside of the church door, which locals described as the claw marks, sounds far more sinister blamed upon a gigantic black dog leaping from a beam up high, killing a boy and two grown men, before leaving the building with ‘a great thundering sound?’ It also avoids having to ask awkward questions of a God who sends a storm to kill pious church goers- and far more comfortable it must be to blame it on a black dog sent by a devil instead. Of course this would be encouraged by the church who could further turn such tales and subsequent fears to their advantage: “Pray harder, tithe more to prevent such evil visiting us again” maybe?
East Anglia is littered (get it?) with all manner of Black Shuck iconography, from the signs of its villages to street lights topped by weathervanes such as this one in Bungay, designed by a local child in a competition in 1933. The hound rides a lightning bolt and refers to his appearance in the town in 1577 during yet another thunderstorm which killed several worshippers in St Mary’s church. Two were killed after being touched by the animal and a third died after being “drawn together and shrunk up as like a piece of leather” according to Abraham Fleming’s account of this event in his pamphlet of 1577. This latter description sounds more like the effects of the intense heat of a bolt of lightning. The weathervane cum streetlight, which was erected on the site of the old water pump has an inscription which reads: “All down the church in midst of fire the hellish monster flew. and passing onwards to the Quire he many people slew.” Should you want to know more, then ‘ byShock! The Black Dog of Bungay: A Case Study in Folklore’ by Dr David Waldron and Christopher Reeve is a great (albeit non academic) account of the history of not only the Bungay and Blythburgh events, but the historical and cultural background to the myth.
Should you wish to toast the legend of the Black Shuck then there are available locally, several fine ales brewed by some small independent breweries in regional hostelries or via off licences. Hellhound, a Suffolk brewery based in Hadleigh,started up only a few years ago, has Cerberus as its logo and brews Black Shuck, a 3.9% porter described by them as dark bodied with notes of caramel and raisin and is a ‘breakfast stout’, brewed with porridge oats and coffee. We drank it at a Norwich pub called The Murderers, a suitably named place for an ale named after a dark legend. In Old Buckenham, the Wagtail Brewery brews ‘Black Shuck’, a stout using malt from Wells-next-the-Sea. According to the label: “Since Viking times, the inhabitants of Norfolk have told of a wild black dog with flaming red eyes, the appearance of which bodes ill to the beholder.” Made as a vegan beer in total contradiction to its namesake who we feel sure is NOT a vegan, this ale is shuck dark with a very mild scent of coffee, roasted and woody in the mouth.
(6) The haunted drowned town of Dunwich
From a land haunted by dogs and people, we turn to a land haunted by an entire disappeared village, a place once inhabited by real Suffolk folk, busy and full of life. By the eleventh century, Dunwich, right on the edge of Suffolk where it meets the tea coloured waters of the North Sea, was one of the greatest ports on the entire east coast with a naval base, monasteries, churches, huge public buildings and its own mint. Locals lived well off the fat of their labours in shipbuilding and trade and a fishing fleet of more than seventy ships went out every day. From its earliest beginnings as a Roman fort, Dunwich became the capital of a Saxon kingdom and the place where St Felix converted East Anglians to Christianity, and the tenth largest in England with two parliamentary seats. There was much to be lost when the town eventually tumbled into the North Sea that had provided it with such a good living.
Prior to this disastrous and terminal event, the towns expansion and prosperity had been curtailed by a huge storm in 1328 which tore through the town, shifting the shingle of the seabed, changing the current and ended up blocking off its harbour. Walberswick became prosperous off the back of this because ships were diverted there and this caused animosity between the two towns. During the subsequent storms, houses, churches and windmills were lost and by 1540 the sea had engulfed the market place and Dunwich was lost. All that was left was the 13th century Franciscan friary on the edge of the cliff and the Leper Hospital chapel in the present churchyard.
Coastal erosion has not ceased and the land continues to recede at a steady old rate, first recorded in Roman times. The soft boulder clay of this coastline is crowned by a layer of shingle which has an essential impermanence, shifting so much the coastal mappers cannot keep up. Man has not helped either with the construction, in the early 20th century, of a new pier at Lowestoft. This altered the tides and the current began to encroach upon and take All Saints church, formerly one of Suffolk’s most impressive churches. That one church tower remained upright on the beach until its eventual collapse in 1900. Until the 1950’s walkers still came upon its masonry, littered across the shoreline and the former graves gave up their contents, scattering bones across the cliffs. The thundering surge took not only the village, all six parishes of it, but also wiped out an entire hunting forest, hills and the harbour which was stopped up by a shingle bank so impenetrable, its fate was sealed forever.
Today Dunwich is a little village of less than 120 residents although its numbers swell hugely during the tourist season. There are some fishing boats left, a shadow of the former fleet and the gorgeous pub ‘The Ship’ which sprawls on the corner of the sandy tracks down to the beach. The Flora tearooms cook and serve up hundreds of thousands of plates of expertly friend fish and chips and the heath teams with walkers and bird watchers. Near to the pub is the Dunwich Museum that tells the tale of this lost place.
“But!” I hear you cry…“What about the haunting? “
That lost undersea world, our nearest thing to Atlantis has attracted many pilgrims over the years who come to sit on the sand and perch on the cliff tops, listening for the church bells, ringing their futile and haunted peels from the bottom of the North Sea. “Where frowns the ruin o’er the silent dead?” we might ask as we sit on the beach at night, the only light coming from the few buildings that cling to the marram grass tufted cliffs, and the only noise the soft clatter of the thick crust of pebbles that make up the beach here as the waves move up and over them. There is a myth that Dunwich had over fifty churches, perpetuated by Thomas Gardner, a Southwold historian, but there weren’t that many.
The seabed here attracts divers and snorkellers, attracted by an subterranean history as rich as that of ground sites and experienced divers, who are not easily spooked nor vulnerable to all manner of fancies, tell of unsettled feelings, of not being alone down ‘there’. Fishermen too, another breed of folk not prone to flights of imagination talk (although they do like a good yarn) speak of seeing an Elizabethan sailor who wanders the beach at nights fall, eventually wading out to a boat anchored a way out to sea. They hear the bells, infinitessimally muted by a hundred of more feet of waters, hear the cries of ghostly children playing on the beach at dusk and see the phantom horseman astride his steed. Said to be a former squire of the Dunwich heathlands (now owned by the National Trust), he only appears during the full moon when the tides turn, scaring those that encounter him. The phantom horseman is not the only phantom horseman either and when there’s a full moon, locals have seen the ghostly apparition of a past landowner racing his horse across the heathland at full gallop.
Walk the cliff path near the grade II* listed Greyfriars Priory ruins and you may see the apparition of a man, striding along in angry search of his adulterous wife who ran away with her lover. The ruins of the priory and those of the old leper hospital in Dunwich are the haunt of ghostly monks (I have yet to come across a priory that isn’t home to a monk ghost of three!) who roam its grounds, blissfully unaware that it is in need of urgent repair. Finally, if you are brave (and daft enough) to visit St James Church at dusk, you may bump into the spectral remains of the leper inhabitants who are said to haunt the churches graveyard.
That old East Anglian ghost mascot, the Black Shuck likes it here too and its glowing red eyes have been reported to peer at visitors who come here at dusk (who in their right mind would want to come to such a spooky place at night?) with a notable sighting reported in 1926 of a giant dog which loped around the tumbled stones. Dunwich has a plethora of animal ghosts with flocks of ghost sheep and cows seen along the shoreline, reminders of the real animals who were once raised here and perished during the storms, their water logged corpses washed up along the shore for months afterwards.
One of the worst tales for sheer weirdness is the encounter a young couple had with a pair of ghostly disembodied legs along the Helena Walk Trail in 2011. Hearing strange footsteps following them, they turned around to see these spooky floating legs, hovering a few feet above the pathway. Wearing dark trousers and boots, the legs ran away into the trees lining the pathway and may have belonged to the ghost of the brother of the Lord of the Manor who apparently fell in love with a local serving maid. Banned from ever seeing her again, he is said to have pined away and died from a broken heart. I do not know how he became separated from the rest of his body.
(7) The wailing babes in a (Norfolk) wood
The trope of the pint sized ghost- that of a child- is a familiar one over the centuries and in many cultures, one that should fill us with nothing but sadness for the tale of a young life cut short. Yet all too often films and books with stories of child ghosts and spirits (is there a difference between the two?) are the scariest. What lies behind this might be the fear of the partially formed spiritual and religious persona, a child with an incomplete grasp on (adult) morality and therefore more vulnerable to inculcation by evil. I don’t know.
Or maybe the thought of these ghostly spectral children are too vivid a reminder of the vulnerability of our own children, of our family happiness and security? What could be worse than the spectre of your child, a child, so near and yet so far away, hovering in the doorway, in a wood or other familiar place? I think that as a mother, I would be driven out of my mind by this, not comforted. With ghosts (and specifically the ghosts of children) A fear of something I want to keep outside has somehow made its way inside and lodged itself into the realms of possibility- that one of my own children might, one day, die before me. Anyway…<pushes that thought firmly out of my mind>, we go on.
In 1595, Thomas Millington published the story ‘The Babes in the Wood’ in Norwich and again in ballad form as ‘Children of the Wood’ in 1640. Millingtons story was written in a time when some Protestant and Catholics were making all manner of wild accusations at each other, so it may have had a nefarious and political intent. But folk tales tend to contain a grain of truth….
According to folklore this tale was based on a wicked uncle from Norfolk who decided to dispose of his two child charges in the local woods, Wayland Woods, known previously as ‘Wailing Woods’- an ancient woodland near Watton. A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), oak, ash, hazel and bird cherry trees grow freely here, providing a home to the only naturalised Golden Pheasant population and the woods are a survivor of the great forest that once covered much of England, dating back to the last Ice Age. The nearby Thompson Common is renowned for its pingos, a series of 300 shallow pools which provide a home for water beetles and dragonflies. These circular ponds were created during the Ice Age when water beneath the surface froze to form lenses of ice, pushing the soil upwards. Starting in nearby Stow Beddon, the Great Eastern Pingo Trail is an eight-mile walk that encompasses this phenomena and many other local sights.
To date, no other place has been strongly associated with the tale and it is now believed to be at least partially based upon a true series of events in the sixteenth century. The name ‘Wayland’ is derived from the cries of the children calling for help, cries that woodland walkers allege they hear to this day. Other sources say the Vikings named the woods Waneland, a place of worship which may be another origin of the legend. In pagan times it has been alleged that people sacrificed unwanted children to appease and praise the gods, often by leaving them in remote places. Could these two tales have melded- the pagan woodland sacrifices and the 16th century deaths into one combined source of the legend?
The legend tells that these two children were left in the care of their uncle at Griston Hall on the edge of the woods, following the death of their parents. On reaching the age of majority (21) they were to inherit their father’s fortune, but should they pass before this time the wealth would go directly to the uncle. The uncle plotted to dispose of the two children to stake his claim to the wealth after hiring two cut throats to take them and murder them in the woods. One of the cut throats appear to have possessed a stronger moral code than the uncle though (only ever so slightly though) and killed the other in order to prevent him from going ahead with the murder. The surviving cut throat abandoned them there (remember the children were aged three and one under two) and they died of exposure and starvation. Their bodies were found under an oak tree where robins had covered their bodies with leaves, an absolutely heartbreaking detail. In 1879, the tree that the babes had reputedly been left under was struck by lightning and destroyed.
Griston Hall used to contain a wood carving that was described as depicting the tale of the Babes in the Wood, placed there by a family descendant as reminder of his ancestral cruelty. The village signs of Griston and Watton commemorate the tale and locals will tell of the white wraiths seen flitting from tree to tree in the woods as darkness falls. Ground fog or the spirits of these unfortunate children? Who knows.