Ten reasons to visit….Sudbury

Sudbury by Jane Mortlock
Sudbury by Jane Mortlock

Just over an hour away from London via train, Sudbury has enjoyed the ebb and flow of commercial and cultural success over the centuries: it is another one of those East Anglian towns that has punched well above its weight. The town lies in the valley of the Stour, a river that conveyed power and influence upon the town bedded inside its sinuous curves. Its waterways transported the fruits of local labours in the wool and brick trades to regional ports and its beauty and rural industry was captured on canvas by three scions of Sudbury: Constable, Earee and Gainsborough. Nowadays, life is slightly more sedate after centuries of lively history which saw bears dancing in the streets and political corruption as one of the rotten boroughs. There have ben peasant revolts which lost Simon of Sudbury his head, and a Zeppelin attack on the town when a German bomber most likely mistook the glow from nearby lime pit kilns for a much larger town and dropped his payload on 8000 residents during the First World War.

By Darren Guiheen
By Darren Guiheen

The Telegraph newspaper recently reported that ‘Sleepy Sudbury’, in Suffolk, was the only postcode outside the M25 to enter the top ten new millionaire property hotspots last year. Outstripping the country’s frenetic average house price rises in 2014, this report conveniently ignored the fact that most house sales in Sudbury during the last year were terraced properties which sold for an average price of £160,531 with semi and detached properties selling in the £200,970 to £280,936 range. However it made a good story which got a lot of locals talking about the potential merits of an influx of oligarchs searching for million pound properties to live in for just two weeks of each tax year.

Paul Earee, (1888-1968),
Paul Earee, (1888-1968), “The Bend of the River”, “Reflections” and “The Mere”

Sudbury benefits from a semi direct line to London’s Liverpool Street station with the journey (changing at Marks Tey) taking approximately eighty minutes, a short enough time to make the commute a viable (and livable) option. The route from Sudbury to Marks Tey is attractive too, trundling along the Gainsborough Line with sweeping views of the river valley, the surprisingly steep valley sides and super long 32 arch Chappel viaduct which crosses the Colne Valleynd is thought to be the second-largest brick-built structure in England after Battersea Power Station. Those bricks were fired in Sudbury and sailed down river by lighter from which they were transferred at Mistley quay into sailing barges for the journey along the coast to London. Other commuters are served by hourly buses to regional larger towns although they do tend to end fairly early in the evening. Shift workers needing to return to Sudbury from Bury St Eds or Ipswich might struggle to make the trip via public transport.

Cross St by Jane Mortlock
Cross St by Jane Mortlock

Lovely meadow walks with well maintained trails, a lively converted granary theatre and plenty of independent shops, decent pubs and schools all make the town an attractive proposition to live in. There’s a mix of housing stock from well preserved Tudor and Georgian houses to streets of tidy Victorian brick cottages and larger villas, all ringed by modern developments. Prices tend to be a little lower than the aforementioned larger towns. Tourism is increasingly well catered to with informative tourist centres in the library and the calendar of local festivals and events is well promoted by local business and travel organisations. So, if you are thinking of taking a trip, here’s ten reasons to visit (or move to) Sudbury and we’d be delighted to hear about any more we might have overlooked.

Market Hill and the Black Boy pub.
Market Hill and the Black Boy pub.

(1) Its expert silk weaving history and the chance to buy beautiful fabrics: Originating in China many centuries ago, Sudbury has become a world reknowned centre for silk weaving and is home to four established firms- Vanners, Stephen Walters & Sons, Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company and the Humphries Weaving Company (established 200 years ago in the town). The town has also been a centre for cloth manufacture since the 14th century. Originally Sudburians wove woollen broadcloth then turned to lighter fabric with the decline of the wool trade which, in its time, brought great wealth to the town as well as to Lavenham, Glemsford, Long Melford and Hadleigh. The fine churches built all over South Suffolk are testimony to the great fortunes of a fortunate few families who endowed the county with these magnificent edifices.

Vanners silks by Keith Evans
Vanners silks by Keith Evans

Huguenots from Spitalfields in East London moved to Sudbury to escape magistrate imposition of a fair (and lesser) wage around the late 17th century: skilled textile workers were happy to work in Sudbury for a higher than usual wage which was still less than bosses would have to pay in London. By 1844 there were four silk manufacturers and some 600 silk looms in Sudbury with some of these set up in the workers homes, allowing women especially to work and manage their domestic responsibilities. Walk around the town, along Batt Hall in Ballingdon, Station Road near the bus station, East and Cross Streets and Melford Road backing onto the water meadows and you will see the traditional three story weavers cottages lining the narrow pavements, one window back and front per floor. With ground floor living space and top floor bedrooms, the middle floor served as working area with those large windows letting in plenty of light onto the looms which would have been set up in the centre of the floor at right angles to the window so the light fell across the warp. If manufacturers preferred to retain close proximity to their workers, they established small weaving centres, known as silk manufactories where managers could centralise training and supervise quality. The building which is now a Dental Emporium on Acton Square was one as was 47 Gainsborough Street next to the Gainsborough Museum.

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Weavers Piece commemorates the town’s silk and wool trade

Weavers Piece is a small outside exhibition in the heart of the towns old weaving quarter and it tells the story of the silk weaving history via an enclosed garden with story panels and bronze sculptures and comes complete with fake grazing sheep. Set in Siam Place, it is close to good local pubs, the Croft and town centre and those of you intrigued by the history of evocative road names will be kepy busy: Scalders Way (once the site of the ducking stool), Duckpit Lane and Gooseberry Row were all close by. Siam weavers were once known for making damask like silk cloth for the Royal Court and with an estimated 110 metric tons of Chinese silk entering the town each year, Sudbury claims to be the silk capital of England with Gainsborough Silk Weaving holding the Royal Warrant as Official Supplier of Furnishing Fabric to HM Queen Elizabeth II whilst Stephen Walters was commissioned to made silk for the wedding dresses of both the Princess Royal and Princess Diana. Humphires have worked with London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Gardiner Museum, Boston. All the companies make fabrics for some of the best designers in the world and supply many historic homes and national trust properties, replicating ancient patterns and techniques, often using a blend of state of the art computerised techniques and old as time weaving skills. They are incredibly skilled at what they do and guardians of skills that are hard won over time.

Image from Stephen Walters
Image from Stephen Walters

Two of the firms run factory shops on site where members of the public can buy high quality fabrics at pretty decent prices and alhough these premises aren’t all that glamorous from the outside, they are absolute treasure troves for those of you who want excellent quality fabrics at a less than rarified price. Stephen Walters also offers customers the chance to consult their large historical archive and reference studio and their creative and technical designers can also interpret the customers own artwork to produce something bespoke. Vanners sell furnishing and couture silks alongside an tiemaking and cufflink department. Should you want more advice on what to do with your fabrics or seek more alternatives then Amor Interiors on Friars Street offers expert advice as does Lingards Fabrics on King Street, one of the towns original haberdasheries- this is a tardis of a shop with everything the dressmaker could desire. (2) The glorious meadows and river- 10994924_1613175725586732_6351588392254855197_n As befits a place with a famous and accessible river wending its way through the town, Sudbury offers a plethora of ways to get up close and personal with the water, whether you are seeking something sporty or a more gentle and contemplative activity. The river Stour and meadows are a stunning location for a walk offering strolls of different lengths from end to end or circular with the chance to stop off in the town at multiple points- you are never far away from somewhere to eat and drink or a scenic place to sit and rest tired legs. The swan feed at nearby Brundon is hugely popular with families; there’s a bridge overlooking the home of swans of all ages who live on the millpond and a walk runs past which will take you along a path edged with deep hedgerows of cow parsley which occasionally part to offer views of the meadows and valley sides. The water at Brundon Mill and the nearby river runs thick with chub, roach, and carp plus shoals of dace.

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The boating pond at the Croft

The Melford to Sudbury Valley Walk takes you from Melford Hall to Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury, walking along part of the old Gt. Eastern Long Melford to Sudbury railway line closed by Beeching back in the day. The route passes three old water mills along the route. The Croft in the town centre is a popular local beauty spot with lawns down to the water and bridge where generations of locals have fed the ducks. There’s an old boating lake, plenty of paths and the water meadows to play on or picnic and the towpath takes you to the Mill Hotel near St Gregory’s Church where cream teas or a pint awaits walkers. Go inside the hotel and check out the mummified cat interred in the wall centuries ago as protection against witches and evil spirits. Continue along the river walk or meadows and you will pass a tiny lane leading onto Cross Street on your left, reached via a bridge. Called Noahs Ark Lane, the name reflects its width- dairy cows and other grazing animals could only pass two by two en route to the common lands where they grazed in the spring and summer. Want to cycle? The River Walk runs alongside the old railway track and Sudbury is at the apex of signposted Millenium networks of South Suffolk Cycle Routes: both Route A and the two Loops to Lavenham (A1) and Bures (A2) begin in the town. Cycles can be hired here and from Cool Pedals near the station.

Noahs Ark Lane is one of the lovely routes down to the river from Sudbury town centre
Noahs Ark Lane is one of the lovely routes down to the river from Sudbury town centre

Another lovely walk is along Kone Vale (peculiarly named after a pre-war Egg Packing Station on the site) which hugs the river bank to the left of Ballingdon Bridge as you leave the town in the direction of Ballingdon Hill.  Not too far away from here on the hill lies a canal from the Stour that serviced Allens brickyards and most of the bricks made here ended up constructing Liverpool Street Station, the museums in South Kensington and the Albert Hall.  Suffolk has no decent supply of building stone but was rich in oak forests until the Tudor period and its brick industry provided less wealthy residents with an affordable building material. Consider this history and how it shaped this part of Sudbury as you walk along the lines of willows that edge the river, passing playing fields, stiles, meadows (Kone Vales) and farmland. Keep on and you’ll end up on the Stour Valley Path and eventually arrive at Henny Church and the tiny villages of Henny and Middleton.

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Ladies Bridge

If boating and canoeing is your thing, then Sudbury Canoe Club at the Quay Theatre offers tuition and the chance to enjoy river running and exhilarating white water kayaking with tuition by qualified BCU coaches.The River Stour Boating provides 25 mile trips along the Stour via Canadian canoe from the town through Dedham Vale towards Manningtree where the Stour estuary commences. Reaching countryside not always accessible on foot, there is the chance to watch otters and kingfishers, buzzards and water voles in their natural habitat and the chance to sail past Quay Cut to Lady Island and the old Ladies Bridge. The Stour Trust is happy for visitors to launch their own light craft from their private slipway by The Granary at the Quay Theatre but you will need to purchase a permit to use the river from The Environment Agency.

Stour walk by Oxyman/Geographic
Stour walk by Oxyman/Geographic

The River Stour Boat Trips offers trips crewed by fully trained volunteers between Sudbury, Gt Cornard and Gt Henny and trips between Stratford St Mary, Flatford and Dedham. They welcome new trainees who will be given full training in basic boat handling and safe lock operation. The boats can be hired for wedding trips along the river too and each September, this twenty four mile stretch of the River Stour hosts hundreds of canoe and small boat enthusiasts in a weekend event called Sudbury To The Sea, which finishes at Cattawade.

Rosette electric boat on the Stour by Oxyman
Rosette electric boat on the Stour by Oxyman

The river is also popular with anglers and offers good coarse fishing. A fishing permit and advice can be bought from Sudbury Angling Centre, 40 North Street, 01787 312118 and more advice is available here.

(3) Museums: Gainsborough’s House and Museum / Sudbury Heritage Centre

ooded Landscape with Herdsman Seated by Thomas Gainsborough, image courtesy of Gainsborough’s House Museum, Gainsborough Street, Sudbury, Suffolk.
ooded Landscape with Herdsman Seated by Thomas Gainsborough, image courtesy of Gainsborough’s House Museum, Gainsborough Street, Sudbury, Suffolk.

Son of Sudbury and commemorated for all time on its Market Hill via a statue, Thomas Gainsborough once lived and painted here on the street that now bears his name and is the location of his once home and now museum. Exploring his life and art, the museum stages regular exhibitions alongside its permanent exhibits and is a much loved place for all local school children to visit and benefit from a lively learning programme. Born in 1727, Gainsborough lived in Sudbury until around 1740 when, as a young teenager, he was sent to London to pursue a career as an artist, returning to the town in the spring of 1749 where he painted his celebrated Mr and Mrs Andrews (c.1750, National Gallery, London).  Despite moves to Ipswich, Bath and London, he never lost the influence of his native town and county with his work providing us with an invaluable record of  the ways by which agricultural technology impacted upon his beloved Suffolk topography. He was no chocolate box painter either; his keen eye was the result of a rigorous training both observational and practical. ‘Nature was his teacher, and the woods of Suffolk his academy,’ noted an obituary after his death in 1788. Yes, most of the landscapes Gainsborough painted were imaginary and not literal depictions but they are very much inspired by the stunning countryside nearby and his painting of Cornard Wood now hangs in the National Gallery. 2 The museum opened in 1961 and has a beautifully planted garden open for visiting and is designed around a large Mulberry tree which dates back to the early 1600s.  James the First ruled then and he encouraged the nascent silk producing industry by urging people to plant the tree that nourishes the silkworm which, in turn, went on to nourish the economic growth of Sudbury itself. Plants and seeds from the garden are on sale at the museum shop. Past exhibitions have included ‘contemporary East Anglian artists’;  ‘Silk Squalor and Scandal: Hogarth Prints’ and there’s also an open access print workshop. Children and students pay just £2 entry whilst under 5’s go free. Family tickets are available and there is a cafe too.

Thomas Gainsborough on Market Hill in front of St Peters Church
Thomas Gainsborough on Market Hill in front of St Peters Church

Sudburys Heritage Centre carries a permanent display that depicts the history of the town from its earliest, ancient days to current times and is located behind the Town Hall in Gaol Lane. The website houses Sudbury’s historic photo archive too and this can also be viewed online at the centre. (4) The Talbot Trail 1509942_1584032485167723_8680468889126441547_n With its links to both the quirkier aspects of the towns past and the more well known, the Talbot Trail is a great way to become acquainted with Sudbury history and get some exercise too. Taking you on a circular walk around the streets of Sudbury using a leaflet available from the tourist centre in the library, children will especially enjoy looking out for the bronze sculpture topped red bollards that depict particular events. Sadly, some of the bronzes have been half inched and it is to be hoped that they will one day be replaced.  The trail takes its name from a breed of hunting dog that appears on the Sudbury coat of arms and a dog once favoured by Simon of Sudbury and one of the bronzes commemorates another famous dog: Pongo from Dodie Smith’s 101 dalmatians which had a scene set in the town. Others are of dancing bears, skulls in churches and the Great Blondin, a famous trapeze artist who once visited. Upon completion of the the trail, take the leaflet back to the library to get it stamped and take the opportunity to explore this enormous building, once Sudbury’s Corn Hall and now home to the library. The Tourist Information Centre also sells an official town trail booklet by the Sudbury Society which is more adult orientated and explains the history of many of the towns historical buildings. The centre is super helpful, staffed by very knowledgeable staff and full of books, leaflets and guides to East Anglia. (5) There’s curious tales and ghost stories a plenty To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘age has not withered Sudbury, nor custom defied her infinite ghostly variety” and with a town so old and set in a landscape equally as venerable, the tales of hauntings and spooky happenings are many. With a history dating back to Anglo Saxon times, the town plays hostess to a haunted mill, a stamping ghost, the skull of a man with an eponymous moniker and a poor mummified cat alongside its close proximity to Borley Rectory, one of the worlds most notorious sites for ghosts and ghost hunters. Locals have also spoken of hauntings at the site of the former workhouse which quite frankly is unsurprising: the history and fact of its existence of the latter should serve as a haunting to us all if nothing else. The nearby Crofton House was once used as a 25 bed children’s home and in recent times has been a private home. Andy Simpson, who used to live there told us “It’s the big house on the corner at the top of the croft which used to be a childrens home and a very cruel one. There’s two ghosts in the kitchen, one in the back corridor, and three upstairs. It is now a hostel for the homeless.”

The old priory in Friars St, as it once might have looked
The old priory in Friars St, as it once might have looked

In addition to the ‘big’, more famous tales of hauntings, locals also talk of a ghostly presence lurking upstairs in the old Savory & Moore chemists (now the Edinburgh Woollen Mill) which former employee Debbie Smith describes: “All the staff saw shadows at certain times going past the canteen door. The canteen was a former kitchen in the original house. A corridor ran outside the door to a former front door which can still be seen up in the wall if you stand outside the post office and look up. A toilet was at the end of the corridor by the door, and we often saw a shadow heading down the corridor. Thinking someone had gone down to the loo and not came back we check they were ok, only to find no one there. A frequent occurrence!” Then there’s the ghost of a monk that has been seen walking across Friars Street down by the old Ship and Star pub which has now been converted into a private home: the Priory Gateway is still along this street with the original priory grounds accessible via nearby Church St. Finally Helen Bigden adds her experiences to the oft related belief that the old Angel Inn in Friars St (near to the old priory site) was haunted by the ghost of an old man:. “An old man with a long grey beard used to sit by the window, probably waiting for someone to buy him a pint – but I never saw him. Upstairs was the ‘Lady in Grey’. I stayed there one night and heard footsteps going backwards and forwards outside the bedroom but when I opened the door no-one was there!”

Borley Church
Borley Church

Two miles NW of Sudbury, the demolition in 1944 of the infamous haunted rectory and its association with Victorian ghost hunter Harry Price has not deterred people from making the journey to the tiny hamlet of Borley. Price’s reports about the incidents (or not as the case may be) have long intrigued us and there is soon to be a stop motion animation film directed by Ashley Thorpe, starring Reece Shearsmith. The story of Borley has all the best spectral tropes: carriage drivers and nuns, theatening ghost graffiti on the walls, graveyards and poltergeist activity.

The Mill Hotel, home of a mummified cat by David Hawgood
The Mill Hotel, home of a mummified cat by David Hawgood

Bizarre in many ways and harder to understand to modern folk was the 17th century habit of interring live cats in walls to protect against the antics of local witches and Sudbury’s Mill Hotel contains a prized and famous example of this phenomena, safely preserved for all time behind glass. The mill has been converted into a hotel, bar and restaurant and its restored waterwheel is also encased in glass, a beautiful feature of this well known building on the water meadows which is believed to be the modern incarnation of a mill that has stood here for over a thousand years. A ghostly apparition of a woman has been seen wandering the older 19th century parts of the existing mill, believed to be the spectral remains of a sad drowning incident beneath the water wheel. Her appearance has spooked many an employee and cleaning staff have been known to refuse to work alone in some parts of the hotel.

The Mill Hotel's mummified cat
The Mill Hotel’s mummified cat

The snarling skeleton of the mummified cat was found when the water mill was converted into the hotel, its remains discovered by builders, regarded as rubbish and thrown in the trash. The Mill Hotel subsequently caught fire and after this was extinguished, the cat was retrieved from the bin and peace prevailed. Inexplicably the cat was sold to a local shop later on whereupon the shop caught fire and eventually the cat was returned to the hotel where it remains to this day. Just as well really because during its absence, the road outside the Mill exploded, the person who moved the cat had an accident and the hotel managers offices were flooded. Although fires during building work are common and riverside properties prone to flooding, many locals remain convinced of the supernatural powers of this skeletal feline.

St Gregory's Church
St Gregory’s Church

The rather incongruous setting of St Gregory’s church is home to the skull of Simon of Sudbury whose story is also told via the Talbot Trail. In brief, Simon of Sudbury was seized by insurgents after they stormed the Tower of London. Simon was dragged to Tower Hill and publicly beheaded. Sudbury, was Chancellor of Salisbury and Bishop of London before being made the archbishop in 1375 and became deeply unpopular with the rebellious peasants because of his role in introducing the third poll tax. Not on show to the public, the skull is kept in the vestry of the church although forensic scientists recently recreated Simon’s facial features to complete a series of 3-D bronze-resin casts of his head. These casts were revealed on 15th September 2011 in St Gregory’s church, 630 years after Simon’s death. Unsurprisingly, the ghostly apparition of Archbishop Simon has been seen walking inside St. Gregory’s Church: several locals have heard unexplained footsteps in the dead of night.

A stained glass window at St Andrews church in Wormingford marks the dragon
A stained glass window at St Andrews church in Wormingford marks the dragon

The nearby villages of Wormingford and Little Cornard have their own bizarre folklore-tales of giant murderous worms and of dragons that fight to the death on opposing hills that form some of the highest points in the south of the county where it borders Essex. Battles raged centuries ago and Romans camped on the hills of Little Cornard and Bures, ranged against invasion on high ground that afforded them the views stretching for miles across the Stour valley. In 1449, a chronicle kept in Canterbury cathedral tells of a battle waged between two fire breathing dragons: a Suffolk dragon with scaly black skin curled around the summit of Kedington Hill and a reddish spotted creature from Essex guarding Ballingdon Hill where the steep climb towards Halstead and the Essex lands begins. Unfortunately for Suffolk, they lost although both dragons retreated to their own hills “to the admiration of many beholding them” according to the chronicle. There are many accounts of dragons, including one which terrorised Bures and the hamlet of Wormingford which acquired its name from tales of dragons; ‘worm’ meaning serpent or dragon. The first tale relates the escape of a crocodile from Richard I’s menagerie in the Tower of London and cause of much damage in Wormingford before being killed by Sir George Marney. The second, written in 1405 by John de Trokelowe, a monk, told of a dragon who threatened Richard Waldegrave’s territory near Sudbury but fled into the Mere when pursued, hence ‘Worm-in-ford. The walk to Bures and Wormingford along the river valley is one of the loveliest around and it is easy to catch one of the hourly buses that run between Sudbury and Bures should you not fancy a return journey on foot.

Swans on the Brundon mill pond, near to the haunted Brundon Hall
Swans on the Brundon mill pond, near to the haunted Brundon Hall

A little further on in the opposite direction and near to the swan feed, is the grade II* listed Brundon Hall which has another water mill nearby and a ghost story of its own in the form of an apparition of a woman dressed in blue satin, who stamped three times on a blue slab set into the floor of the hall near to its great staircase. Seen by two young boys, they watched in fright as she melted through a solid doorway and, after relating their experience, were told that this spectre had not only been seen before but was connected to an ‘unpleasant event’ of which the family declined to speak of further. Wind forward in time as the new owners of the hall renovate the building and encounter an underground vault which had been concealed by the blue slab the apparition had stamped upon. Upon exploring it, they found some very disturbing contents..a couple of skeletons guarding a large stash of gold coins. One of the skeletons wore a gold bracelet whilst the other had gold spurs near its feet. Nearby could be seen a goblet containing what some believed was dried blood and a collection of children skulls and bones inside a recess set into the wall. (6) Pubs music and eating out

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Rear of the Bay Horse showing its pub gardens

It might not be the most picturesque of Suffolk pubs (although its gardens have sweeping views of the beautiful water meadows) and it certainly isn’t in a romantic country location but I love the Bay Horse on Sudbury’s Melford Road because of the generosity of welcome there. With brilliant live music on a Sunday afternoon plus free, yes FREE, food such as great steaming hot bowls of chilli and soup with salad, bread and coleslaw, this is one of our favourite places to see blues, a bit of bluegrass and indie where the musicians know how to play. Don’t expect glamorous interior design but do turn up if you like friendliness, a sense of being among real Sudbury folk and decent music. Dogs welcome too. Sudbury’s pubs in general are raising their game after the loss of a couple of legendary taverns over the years. (Anyone remember The Anchor and music at The Ship & Star with its very own dragon in the form of a highly strung landlady?) Now we have the Brewery Tap on East Street, run by local micro brewery Mauldons instead of one of the large conglomerates. J.C. Mauldon & Sons were local brewers from 1793, once based at the White Horse Brewery until 1958 when they were taken over and closed down by Greene King. Brewing returned to the town in 1992 when Peter Mauldon set-up a brewery in his family name once again and is now located in Churchfield Rd. The Brewery Tap serves Mauldons own Black Adder stout alongside German Pils and Japanese lagers, Aspalls Suffolk ciders and a wide variety of Scottish malt whisky. (Bunnahabain, Bruichladdich, Aberlour & Oban Lagavulin and Talisker are just some of them.) Food wise there’s proper salt beef and smoked gammon baps, pork pies and homemade scotch eggs plus a Breakfast club where a bookable full English with the papers is currently £6,50.

The Waggon & Horses by oxyman
The Waggon & Horses by oxyman

With favourable online reviews, a lovely location very close to the Croft and river but only minutes from the town centre, the Waggon and Horses self describes itself as “a pub with a restaurant” with a full range of bar food and snacks, proper meals (wood pigeon, mac & cheese, plaice with anchovy butter and purple sprouting, cheese burgers) and drinks in milk bottles with straws for the kids. There’s cute layered puddings in mason jars, a partially covered outside space, live music and special meal deals plus dogs are allowed. Now owned by the local Nethergate Brewery, the pub is the site of the now defunct Phoenix Brewery of Grimwade & Co which was based there until 1920. It gained its name when it arose from the ashes of a fire in 1890. Also nearby is the Weavers Piece outdoor exhibition space.

Belchamp otten's Red Lion
Belchamp otten’s Red Lion

If you are able to travel a few miles out of Sudbury, the tiny hamlet of Belchamp Otten is home to the Red Lion, a typically rural Suffolk pub on a winding lane side which offers a great welcome to the many cyclists and walkers that haunt this part of the county. (It’s close to Borley too.) Located on the Essex/ Suffolk border which itself winds around Sudbury, there are log fires, real ales and a menu of good pub food which isn’t adventuruous but is well cooked. There’s regular live music, mini beer festivals but to be honest the views over endless fields and hedgerow edged lanes are so stellar, they are enough in themselves.

The Angel
The Angel

Back to Sudbury and you’ll find The Angel, an old coaching inn down near the cricket ground and Quay Theatre, scene of alleged hauntings in the past and with a gorgeous setting, refurbished dining room and rear garden. The menu is mainly European, ingredient wise. There’s clam tagliatelle and ox tail and local pigeon alongside snacks and bar food.  This is the place to come when the cricket stretches out into the low light of a summer evening; to refresh yourself with a pint, a glass of wine or some ice cream then get back to the action next door. Opening in late May 2015 is the Rare Cow Steakhouse overlooking the river and by the Ballingdon Bridge and, based on its existing excellent restaurants, is shaping up to be another good place for a burger in this neck of the woods. Sadly, my favourite place to eat burgers (and better than all the London based burger purveyors raved over by metrocentric critics) Shakes n Baps has recently closed. They plan to return in another guise so keep an eye out for them. For younger folk, Eden’s 45 club on Gainsborough Street has an upstairs cafe bar serving affordable alcohol free cocktails and there’s a Screenzone bar downstairs. Run by Eden’s Project, the youth clubs have an underlying Christian ethos and aims to offer an alternative to hanging about on the streets with structured activities such as youth football. There’s a CaféZone, free Internet access, a pool table and games consoles and a garden too. Unfortunately there is no wheelchair access at the Sudbury base.

The Rude Strawberry tarts- image from their Facebook page
The Rude Strawberry tarts- image from their Facebook page

Eating out is well catered for in the town with a decent proportion of independent cafes and restaurants although the chains are marching in. We love the Rude Strawberry in Friars Street, a quirky cafe in an old building serving proper hand made food. Local means Weston’s bread and free range eggs from Little Cornard, pate from Seasonal Suffolk in Boxted, Glemsford honey and pork from Assington. Herbs and veg are grown in season and cakes are scratch made just like everything else (including a divine looking Swedish apple, plum and cinnamon cake). Veggies and wheat avoiders are catered for generously and there’s gluten free bread. Happy hour breakfasts for less than five quid are not to be missed and they treat breastfeeding parents extremely well -they don’t just tolerate them.

Marimba chocolate
Marimba chocolate

Packed whenever we’ve visited and most definitely on Market Days (Sat/Thurs) Huffers on King Street has been there for quite some years now and in a long narrow building that seems to go on forever (there’s a dinky little patio garden too), waitresses bustle about serving up the large menu of freshly cooked cafe classics. If you like good hot chocolate, candies and freshly made filled chocolates then around the corner in the (admittedly brutalist and unattractive concrete) Borehamgate Precinct is Marimba. Two premises, one for aforementioned candies and chocs and the other (opposite) serves drinks and snacks in a small cafe with a few outside seats too. I had an onion and cheese toastie last week which was less than four quid, hot and decently made and sat reading the free papers listening to locals chat to the staff. They do hot chocolate melts packed with a whopping 40g of single origin real chocolate flakes in blends of dark, milk and white and although the views outside aren’t stellar,  it doesn’t matter so much when you are filling your chops with chocolate. Afterwards, if you can still go a little more in the candy department, cross the precinct to buy more of them from a shop rammed with tall jars filled to the brim with old fashioned sherbert pips and pontefract cakes, chocolate limes, tablet and barley sugars and my favourite, banana toffees to take out in striped paper bags. Sudbury used to have two perfect sweet shops: Dollies was opposite Borehamgate Precinct and served the starving hordes of kids streaming out of the open air swimming pool and park, Belle Vue, over the road. We’d stand dripping and wrapped in towels as they slowly weighed our candy before hurtling back to the pool and the iodine brown hygenic foot bath we all had to walk through. When I was older I’d buy cigarettes individually from Dollies- a lot of us Sudbury reprobates did. Then, at the bottom of Market Hill at the junction with Gainsborough St was Saunders which, like Dollies, also sold pipe tobacco and cigs. The wooden shop fittings with their glass topped cases were impregnated with the scents of cherry pipe tobacco and old Suffolk uncles sporting tweed  jacketsand Tattershall check shirts in brown and cream stood around shooting the breeze as they bought their weeks supply of baccie.In town for the cattle and pig market which used to take place once a week, they did all their socialising in one dizzy rush before retreating to their farms in the deepest countryside. (7) Belle Vue Park and Cornard Country Park- Cornard Mere

Belle Vue Park by Oxyman
Belle Vue Park by Oxyman

Built in the grand Victorian style when money and space was no object, Belle Vue park  lies at the southern entrance to the town, straddling the Colchester roads and abutting the former maternity hospital, St Leonards. Edged by dark woodlands that are springy underfoot from decades of dropped pine needles, there are formal landscaped gardens surounding Belle Vue House like an ornate petticoat and winding paths encourage visitors past aviaries of Asiatic pheasants, finches and fluffy white chickens. Time has not wrought a lot of change apart from the much lamented closure of the open air lido and swimming pool. The present 19th Century Belle Vue House near its entrance was used as a Red Cross hospital during World War One and later on as the Stour Valley Old People’s Centre although its future is now under review after the council mooted a potential sale. Belle Vue hasn’t been preserved in aspic though. There’s a skate park inside and BMX track just outside the entrance, a fair sized kids playground with tornado swings, toddler area and large sandpit and there’s also basketball and tennis courts and a trim trail alongside a huge expanse of grass for picnics and lunch hour sunbathing. Baby change and loos, a light bites cabin for ice creams, drinks and sweets and fitness equipment for adults completes the picture. In the Summer, the park plays host to Party in the Park, a large and free spectacular with music and other attractions. It is to be hoped that the council will be able to work with locals to enhance this part of town and attract more visitors to the park which it, at present, rather easy to miss by those who do not know it exists.

Cornard Mere
Cornard Mere

Cornard Mere is a mixture of open fen, scrub and woodland off Bures Road on Blackhouse Lane and is only a mile from Sudbury. Close to the River Stour, there’s nesting sites for reed bunting, sedge and reed warbler and in autumn swallows and sand martins use it as a pit stop on their journey back to Africa. Large noctule bats can also be spotted hunting on summer evenings. The park is kept as an old style country meadow with an annual hay harvest and a large number of wild flowers grow naturally. With woods and cornflower and poppy speckled fields to explore and a picnic place to enable you to just sit and enjoy the countryside, it is popular with families. Shawlands Wood in Gt Cornard is another local beauty spot, found near to Maldon Court on Shawlands Avenue. The southern boundary is opposite to the junction of Poplar Road and the bank continues from here to The Pot Kilns. Covering 20 acres, the woods are home to slowworms, long-winged conehead bush crickets, common blue butterflies, bullfinches, three types of orchid and ploughman’s spikenard.

(8) The Quay Theatre

The Quay Theatre by Dave Gruar
The Quay Theatre by Dave Gruar

The 700 feet of Cretaceous chalk that Sudbury is bedded on played its part in the development of theatrical limelights before the advent of electricity although Sudbury’s tiny theatre, The Quay, and the building that is home to it did not come into existence as a theatre until much later on. Comverted from a granary and with a quietly lovely setting on the banks of the river Stour, this little theatre and bar is something Sudburyians are rightly proud of, attracting decent acts such as Alexei Sayle, Dr Feelgood and Germaine Greer. Converted from what was the towns last industrial building on its riverside, the granary, this is also where the River Stour Trust operates its passenger electric powered boats from. Its proximity to the Cricket, Bowls and Canoe Clubs and an attractive pitstop for those walking the river trails has turned what could have been a neglected and ancillary part of the town into a hub of activity. Also home to Sudbury Dramatic Society and Sudbury Musical Society, the theatre has an eclectic programme for all ages: film nights, talks, classes, open acoustic music evenings and the more traditional touring plays and shows are presented in an incredibly warm and cosy setting with exposed brick walls and a bar with views over the river and flood meadows. You don’t have to be booked into an event to use the bar either and quite a few locals use it as a convivial place to unwind during their lunch break or after work. Such an old setting isn’t without a tale or two either with local director Michael Mann telling us about a few encounters he had there: “About 15 years ago one of the bar staff at the Quay Theatre had locked up the building, stood in the car park to make sure no lights had been left on, and saw a face at the top window. He went back in and did a search but found no-one, and if anyone was left in there it would have set off the alarm. Then, five years ago after the final performance of a play I’d directed, the stage manager was finishing clearing up when she saw a figure like a silhouette move from the wing to the stage. She went to check and there was no-one there. Finally, on the last night of Calender Girls as the interval was ending, I went down the corridor that leads to the wing to go back into the packed auditorium, and the door opened on its own for me. I walked through and watched as the door closed behind me. I didn’t thank them for fear of the audience thinking I was talking to myself.” (9) Farmers markets and food

Fresh fruit and veg at Sudbury Market
Fresh fruit and veg at the Market

Like most towns, Sudbury has experienced the effects of larger supermarkets and no longer has the North Street greengrocers and fishmongers that many of us remember from our childhood: our parents chose from fish draped over the marble slabs, icy fresh and sold out by lunchtime and lifted fruit and veg to be weighed from the cardboard and wooden boxes that sprinkled feet with East Anglian soil. The shop assistants would name check local farms and farmers as they went about bagging up our five pounds of potatoes, picked that morning from Woodhall or Chilton. Sudbury does have a great farmers market in St Peters church on the last Friday of each month though, conveniently housed in the towns deconsecrated epicentre. With over 30 local producers including Burwells fish, locally shot game, stacks of jams and chutneys, vegetables and batch pies plus a cafe manned by the Sudbury based charity, The Bridge Project serving drinks, scones and more, the market is managed by Suffolk Market Events with the brilliant award winning Justine Paul at its helm. Suffolk Farmers Market, her ‘baby’ has seen towns and villages transformed as they welcome growers and providers from a 50 mile radius of each market (fishermen have a 100 mile radius limit). At Sudbury Farmers Market (like all of her markets), stalls are operated by someone directly involved in the production of the goods ensuring customers get to establish a relationship with their food and the people who produce it. They are experts through and through and what happens, as a result, is a market filled with the buzz of people connecting. There is also a bi weekly market on the Hill (Thurs/ Sat) with a few stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, a cheesemonger, butchers and local game purveyor. Many of these traders have been coming here since before I was born and well deserve your custom and, like the farmers market, they are all about relationships built over time: talk to them and discover a wealth of local stories and history. When I visit the cheese stall they still remember my grandfather, a loyal customer, and they always refer to him as ‘chief’ because that is how he addressed them. This is where I go to remember him and hear stories about his custom. I hope the Sudbury market increases its size as locals realise the value of shopping at independent stores and companies.

Taste of Sudbury Festival
Taste of Sudbury Festival

Taste of Sudbury stages a well regarded food and drink festival in the town (14th June this year) with cookery demos next to St Peters and exhibitors ranging from Stowmarket based Artisan Marshmallows, tamales from Smokin Hot Tamales (!), the amazing curry packs from Rafi’s Spice box (more of which below) and Bowers beef. Rafi’s Spicebox is the kind of place I would still visit even when I lived in London with access to prime Indian ingredients because their curry packs are such a clever and time saving idea- and they are uber good quality. Originally taking inspiration from the spice boxes used to store ingredients in, founder Rafi created kits of freshly prepared spices, herbs and ingredients that just need stock or other ingredients added to make amazing family meals. From the well known bhunas and masalas to the Goan Xuacutti with coconut and tomatoes, butternut squash sambhars and Gujarati green beans and potatoes, there’s not just curry mixes but packs of mini poppadoms, dried onion bhaji mix and shelves of other products. We particularly love the tiny bags of onion bhaji mix which make cool gifts for food lovers and have been known to end up in Christmas stockings chez us.

Smokin' Hot Tamales will be at Taste of Sudbury
Smokin’ Hot Tamales will be at Taste of Sudbury

Another blast from my past is Wheldons pick your own fruit farms in nearby Gt Cornard, a place I visited frequently with my grandparents to pick punnets of the best strawberries and currants followed by pears and apples as they ripened on the tree. The farm shed also sold primrose yellow Jersey and Guernsey cream to open up there and then and dip the strawberries into- we’d sit in the car with the doors open on a summers day and pick out strawberries with juice stained fingers still scented with from the straw the strawberry beds were mulched in.  The sun hot berries would wear a hat of cream so thick it failed to slide off even when the berry was tipped upside down. Wheldon’s is still here, larger and more swish, 70 years or more since it first opened, and they now grow and sell a variety of veg including asparagus, peas and pumpkins alongside a stock of honey and ice cream, pickles, local meat and juices. Come here on a searingly hot day with a hat and sunblock and enjoy a day picked right out of the pages of H.E Bates’ ‘The Darling Buds of May’. It’s heaven and a perfect thing to do with the kids.

Wheldons
Wheldons

(10) Sports a-plenty- A.F.C. Sudbury is an English semi-professional football club from Sudbury, Suffolk. The club was formed in 1999 by the merger of Sudbury Town and Sudbury Wanderers, the process giving rise to the name Amalgamated Football Club Sudbury.With teams and activities starting from the under 7s and a women’s team, the Brundon Lane grounds are close to the water meadows and river and stage a variety of social events and fund raisers.

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The Cricket Club/courtesy Cricket Club

The cricket club at the junction of Quay Lane and Friars St is located in a lovely old part of the town, very close to the Quay Theatre, the bowling and rowing clubs and several pubs and cafes. The club was founded in 1787 and is the oldest sports club in the town. History tells us that cricket teams have been in evidence in Suffolk from at least 1743, although the sport is known to have existed in a basic form elsewhere in the country as early as 1550. The gentlemanly reputation of the sport was put to the test most severely in 1865  when a July match between Sudbury and Tendring Park on the Mill Common was interrupted by rebellious town freemen who protested against the matches location on their grazing lands. The match was moved to a field at Brundon Hall and the freemen condemned as a disgrace to the town by the borough councillors, who, in times past, have been no slouches themselves in the disgrace stakes. The thwack of ball on willow is set against a backdrop of church spires, old stone walls and a beautifully kept lawn: the archetypal trad English setting. There’s a club house lively social events and a full programme of junior and adult coaching and team activities alongside a Friday evening women’s team. The club hosts Cricket Week at the end of July too. Screen_Shot_2011-10-24_at_19.25.30 Also proximate to the water meadows is the Kingfisher Leisure centre with large pool, a kids ‘Kingfisher’ play centre, gym and ball sports facilities. The Little Kingfisher centre offers ‘JustPlay’ sessions for kids with disabilities and their siblings are invited to accompany them to these. Full and exclusive access to the soft play area is guaranteed. There are a lot of clubs to choose from: archery, rollerhockey, Stagecoach drama, karate, football boot camp and more alongside grass pitches, gymnasium and trampoline facilities. A mile down the road at Great Cornard, there is a public outdoor swimming pool  at the leisure centre there. I’m not going to tell you about our teenage years spent skinny dipping there at night, silently climbing the fence to enjoy a swim lit only by moonlight and the few street lamps that existed then. Don’t do this now.

Gt Cornard open air pool
Gt Cornard open air pool

Ten Reasons to Visit….Cromer

 

2115625_e965e364 pier from rocket house in cromer

Clustered on the very edge of North Norfolk, the little fishing town of Cromer is famous for the eponymous crabs caught off its beaches, the lighthouse that stands guard over them and a pier that spikes off into the distance.  It is in full  possession of all the iconography a traditional British seaside town should own. As lovely as Southwold and Holt but without the twee self consciousness, Cromer’s wind blasted cliffs stand guard against time, tide and Londoners in search of second homes although their influx is inevitable as Holt, Burnham and the Brancasters price themselves out of all but the spendiest of pockets.

Like a lot of coastal towns it is more than the sum of its parts and we have had a good look around, talked to locals and come up with a handy guide to ten of the best things about the place. This list is by no means exhaustive (the idea that there is only ten, TEN lovely things is plain daft), but this guide is a start and we’d love to hear of anywhere we’ve left out and you believe should be in here. We are happy to add and amend and places do open up and they certainly (and very sadly) close down. So here it is, Ten Reasons to Visit Cromer.

(1) All things lifeboat and lifesaving-

cromer peter facey
The tower is that of St Peter and St Paul, Cromer, Norfolk. Beneath it, the cream-coloured building is the Henry Blogg museum and Rocket House, Cromer. At the end of the pier, beyond its pavilion, is the lifeboat station. There has been one in this position since 1920 but the present one was built from the beach up in 1998.

The lifeboat service has been described as ‘lifeblood of the town’ and this applies to any place with a strong maritime history and dependency upon the fruits of the sea – Cromer is no exception. The Henry Blogg Museum commemorates Coxwain Henry, saviour of over 170 lives from the North Sea and the RNLI’s most decorated lifeboat man, serving over 53 years. Holder of the George Cross for bravery, the exhibits tell the story of Henry Blogg’s most famous rescues and has as its centrepiece, the HF Bailey, his trusty boat. The museums design has won architectural awards and is regarded as very child friendly, admission is free and there is a lively programme of year round events.

Cromer_Pier_Lifeboat_Station

Cromers lifeboat station is actually spread over three locations including the museum and carries ‘Explore’ status meaning it offers a higher level of visitor experience. Free access means you can go inside, look around and chat to the crew when they are around. Tours can be pre-booked and there is an RNLI gift shop. Please do make a donation too, no matter how small: every bit counts for a service that scandalously relies on these to keep it going and all beach goers should be prepared to contribute to a service that, god forbid, you will hopefully never require. And should you be on the pier and hear a loud’ bang’, get down to the pier end as fast as you can to where the station is and you may, if you are fortunate, see the lifeboat being launched along its slipway, straight into the spumey grey green waters of the North Sea.

Inside the Lifeboat museum and station
Inside the Lifeboat museum and station

Living near the sea affords locals with a healthy respect for what it gives and takes away and many people recommended  nnslsc.org.uk a voluntary organisation set up to train lifeguards and offer water and beach safety awareness courses for children aged 7+. Summer sessions are held on the beach, from out of the club house on the promenade and then move to the indoor pool during the colder months. Membership is very inexpensive and lasts for a year.

(2) The beaches

cromer

Being essentially Edwardian – Victorian in its character and town development, Cromer is all about those healthy sea breezes, much recommended by Victorian fresh air fiends who placed a lesser priority on feeling warm and sheltered as they ‘took the sea air.’. However this doesn’t mean that visitors hoping for a sunbathing, bucket and spade holiday will spend their time shivering, wrapped up in blankets, grimacing as the wind blows a shed load of sand into their eyes. I have toasted myself on the beach here and there are plenty of natural windbreaks along the coastline, where families can spread out and enjoy the warmth.

The town front beach is a lovely combination of utiliarian and leisure- a lack of a harbour means visitors enjoy a ringside view of the fishing boats being hauled up by winches over thick ridges of shingle by rust speckled tractors. For a great view, park up on the cliff top and watch the boats come in from afar but don’t forget the binoculars.

Cromer boasts two sandy blue flag beaches which span as far as the eye can see when the tide is out, whilst kids can paddle some distance before the seabed falls away. West beach to the left of the pier is a nubbly mix of sand and stone and usually quieter the further you proceed towards East Runton; this is where you’ll find some good rock pools.

Beach_Huts_on_Seafront,_Cromer,_Norfolk_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1508508

East Beach is the most picturesque, channeling that traditional seaside vibe as it clusters below the town and its higgledy piggledy warren of streets and alleyways. It is also overlooked by Hotel de Paris, now sadly faded and standing over the town in the manner of a Diva a few years past her glory days. Designed by the architect George Skipper, he was sometimes referred to as the ‘Gaudi of Norfolk.’

The undersides of the pier offer some shelter, especially for surfing and swimming, and again, when the tide is out, is the location of some good rock pools for kids to explore. There is a rip tide though and boards on the beach advise as to how best avoid it. Those lovely cliffs do mean a bit of a stiff plod uphill though so they aren’t ideal for the infirm or very young of leg. Disabled parking is provided on the promenade to make walking life a little easier. Cromer is one of the many seaside resorts known for its gaudy beach huts but many of the huts along the promenade are privately owned although the local authority does rent out brick built ones by the day- contact them via their website where you will also find information about dog friendly beaches coast wide. In Cromer, dogs are banned from the beaches between 1st May to 30th September.

West Runton
West Runton

Reaching nearby beaches is easy too; from the Esplanade you can walk east towards Overstrand, or west to the wide and comparatively deserted beaches of the Runtons, Don’t forget to tell the children that this is where beachcombers uncovered elephant bone fossils a few years back. East and West Runton remains a popular fossil hunting destination and significant amber finds have been reported too, around the pier and along the coastline to Overstrand and East Runton.

(3) The pier and promenade

CromerPier-Norfolk_2269923b

Cromers north facing coast means the pier is the only one where you can watch the sun rise and set over the sea, something that is free of charge at any time of the year. The pier offers amusements, a restaurant where they serve great hot chocolate (another brilliant winters day thing to do) and the Pavilion Theatre which has a famous end of the pier summer show and also hosts Christmas entertainment. In polite Victorian and Edwardian Society, these piers became the place to promenade and socialise, the working classes arriving en masse via the newly built railway lines, usually in waves as their entire factory took its holiday at once. Entrance to the pier was restricted by cost and a dress code. Nowadays no such conventions exist but the promenade remains the place to saunter, especially as the sun goes down.  And if you are nearby on Boxing Day you are perfectly placed to observe one of the more eccentric habits of the British, the famous North Norfolk Beach Runners Boxing Day Dip in aid of charity.

The promenade has gardens, a putting green and small boating lake and has had considerable money spent on it over the last few years. A charming and knowing touch is the paving which includes some quirky features such as quotations by famous people about Cromer including Oscar Wilde who had this to say about the town: “I find Cromer excellent for writing, Golf better still..”

(4) Those crabs, food & drink

Fishing_Boats_on_Cromer_Beach_-_geograph.org.uk_-_384344

Famous for quality and taste- the locals say this is down to the cretaceous chalk ridge that offers crabs shelter deep under the waves alongside a smorgasboard of other sea creatures to feed upon, the nationwide decline in the fishing industry has not stopped the daily launch and return of the crabbing boats from the beach although their numbers are greatly reduced. Local fishermen will sometimes take tourists out on their boats too- hang around the beach and ask them.

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Plenty of local cafes sell Cromer crab both in the traditional dressed manner and as a filling in sandwiches and ingredients in main meals. For a more traditional Cromer crab sandwich try the Rocket House cafe next to the Henry Blogg Museum or the Lifeboat cafe, both with sea views or buy from Bob Davies crabshop in the Gangway which locals cite as a must visit for tourists. You can watch the crab boats setting out from and returning to the beach at the foot of the gangway too, popular with children.

Alternatively go crabbing off the pier after buying the crabbing line, bucket and bait (bits of bacon or other smellier alternatives such as squid) sold from the many stores that line the beach front. In the summer, there are competitions to catch the most and the biggest crabs, fiercely fought by locals and tourists. And don’t forget the Cromer & Sheringham Crab & Lobster Festival, held every summer and hugely popular. Look out too for the local Stiffkey Cockles, harvested a few miles along the coast and also known as Stewkey Blues because of their colour which ranges from lavender to dark grey-blue. The colour is a result of their muddy sandy habitat that requires them to be harvested with short-handled, broad rakes and nets and they are traditionally steamed, boiled and eaten with vinegar and pepper although more chefs are coming up with innovative ways of cooking with them.

Local cheesemakers Mrs Temples Cheese, located in the village of Wighton, not too far away from Cromer, are made from the milk of Holstein Friesians and Swiss Cows and sold throughout the county. Look out for Walsingham and Hard Matured Cheese, the mountain style Wells Alpine, the semi soft Warham and Binham Blue, a soft blue veined cheese. Lastly, Copys Cloud has a fluffy white rind and melting centre whilst Wighton is a fresh curd cheese. Just three miles out of Cromer is Grovelands Farm Shop, a cornucopia of food, including butchery, a wine cellar, garden centre, restaurant and coffee shop, all housed in a traditional Norfolk flint barn. Selling local products including Norfolk honey and spelt from a few miles down the road, poultry from woodland and grass reared birds and local drinks, this is the place to stock up at if you are self catering or want to take some gifts home with you. Finally, they sell many of the regions beers, no mean feat when you realise how many there are.  Norfolks high ground and sea frets make it a brewers paradise due to the moisture they offer the grain of the malting barley and it is the reason why the county has more brewers than any other. With over sixty brewers, finding a good local pint in Cromer will not be difficult.

Mary Janes Fish & Chip Bar
Mary Janes Fish & Chip Bar

The town itself is a charming place divided into little streets and alleyways with interesting shops and quality restaurants making it a pleasant stroll. The Buttercups Tea Room serves excellent cakes and the  offers paint your own pottery and T shirts alongside meals, snacks and drinks. It is also truly child friendly as opposed to gritted teeth kid friendly. The Rock Shop Bistro is also described by people on twitter as dog and child friendly with ‘great cake’, including gluten free varieties and an amazing bread pudding, free papers and hot chocolate to die for, whilst fish and chips from Mary Janes should be part of any default Cromer visit according to many. The beach front with its elevated views over the shingle is one of the best seaside places to sit with a hot paper wrapped parcel of fish and chips- eating them will keep your hands and lap warm and bolster you against those North Sea breezes.

No1
No1

No1 Cromer is the latest restaurant from renowned chef, Galton Blackiston serving chips made from potatoes from his own farm and a Times newspaper rating as the 6th best place to eat by the sea. According to tweep Lisa Vincent, “there is nothing better after a bracing seafront walk.” Upstairs is their modern British restaurant with endless views of that Cromer sunset and pier. Should you feel like Italian food, try “La Griglia‘ on Brook Street and whilst Kews Pie Shop on Garden Street might look a bit down at heel from the outside, don’t be fooled. It boasts a loyal clientele and has great ratings with mains for £6:50 including some of the most buttery mash we’ve ever eaten.

Pub wise, we’ve heard good things about  the Cromer Social Club: “good for a cheap pint” and the Red Lion with a solid Edwardian exterior and stellar location. It offers well priced accommodation, food and drink and overlooks the pier with those views. Eating local is their priority too – Norfolk Sausages, Venison, Cromer Crab, Morston Mussels all feature on the menu.

(5) A glamorous stay

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The Grove provides super luxe accommodation alongside a lovely restaurant for dining at lunch and evenings. Their own fruit and vegetable gardens and access to the counties best local food producers means your plate will always contain the best of what is available and a choice of the oak-panelled study or the original Georgian dining room offers formal dining or something more intimate. Should you choose to stay, there are rooms in the original Georgian building or contemporary Orchard Rooms overlooking the landscaped gardens and six self-catering cottages in the adjacent barn conversions. A private path to the beach and heated pool with treehouse and trampoline rounds off the general loveliness mentioned by many people on twitter.

The Grove beach pathway
The Grove beach pathway

Rather different is the Beach House, a property available to rent in Cromer, located on the beach front with spacious first floor open-plan living area and  glass exterior plus a multi level, enclosed decked garden. Felbrigg Lodge Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel midway between Cromer, Holt and Sheringham, ideal for short breaks or longer stays. It comes highly recommended. Finally, if you like staying in something traditional, then the Cliftonville Hotel, a family-run listed Edwardian building, with stained-glass windows, wooden bar, minstrels gallery and grand staircase will suit you. All 30 en-suite bedrooms benefit from stunning views of the sea and town and an all day coffee shop and bar as well as Boltons Bistro and a la carte dining will keep you all fed.

(6) Museums and the church tower

Cromer Museum
Cromer Museum

The Cromer town museum gives an excellent account of life in a Victorian fishermen’s village in the 1800s and has an exquisitely restored fishermans cottage that children (and adults) tend to be enchanted by. A collection of seaside and fishing history artefacts complement the cottage whilst the Geology gallery has the oldest and most complete elephant fossil from the ice age found in West Runton on the nearby beach and inspires visitors to go fossil hunting along the cliff base. You will also discover the creatures that swam in the surrounding seas some 80 million years ago and a stunning series of sepia photographs of the town by North Norfolk photographer Olive Edis. Experts from the museum can be booked to take you on a guided walk which are suitable for older children.

Cromer church tower stair case
Cromer church tower stair case

The parish church at Cromer dominates the town centre with an impressive 160 foot tower which naturally offers fine views and is open in the summer for visitors to climb all 172 steps. The tallest tower in the county, the church was once used as a navigation point by ships out in the North sea who could see the distinctive tower for many miles and replaced an earlier church that was lost in the 1330’s to the sea, along with the village of Shipden. On Sunday mornings, the peel of bells can be heard for miles around and the tower is open  between 30th March and 2nd April 10.30-12.30 and on 4th April (Easter Saturday) and from 6th April (Easter Monday) until the end of October half-term (Friday 30th October.

(7) Stately homes

Felbrigg
Felbrigg

Felbrigg Hall is a mere couple of miles from the town with its lovely gardens, under the auspices of the National Trust and landscaped with with miles of wooded trails and walled gardens. Buggy friendly surfaces make access easier and childrens play boxes dotted around the great house help kids understand its history. The interiors are mind blowing in their opulence and stories behind the acquisitions-  the Chinese nodding mandarins in the bedroom; majestic stained glass windows in the great hall; a royal teapot belonging to Queen Mary and the more prosaic, although nonetheless covetable, copper pans in the kitchen.

Felbrigg Dovecote
Felbrigg Dovecote

Another local estate run by the National Trust is Blickling with over a thousand years of history contained within its red brick walls, extensive gardens and park, situated in the Bure meadows a few miles from Cromer. Like Felbrigg, it puts on a year round programme of special events, often linked to festivals and historical moments alongside its every day opening. Bike hire allows the more active to explore the grounds and there are trees to climb and an unusually shaped mausoleum to discover. Those of you interested in oral history can hear the voices of those who have lived and worked here over the years, recorded to bring the past to life as you explore the interior. Home to the RAF Oulton Museum, the exhibits remember the Bomber Command squads who were stationed there. The largest collection of second hand books in the NT is available to browse and buy from so why not do that then retire to the tea shop for a piece of cake and cup of coffee?

The Mausoleum at Blicking
The Mausoleum at Blicking

(8) Carnivals and festivals  

Cromer has a strong community feel and organises an incredibly popular carnival each summer which kicked off in 2014 with a five metre high reconstruction of the animal that lived in the Cromer area 600,000 years ago. Clowning, aerial displays, some traditional competitions; ‘Bonny Baby,’ and Fancy Dress, plus wacky races ensure that all ages can take part. Delicious food with a strong emphasis on those famous crabs, a treasure hunt, fireworks at night and what looks like the whole town participating means that although parking is a bit of a nightmare, it is worth braving the queues to visit at carnival time. The sandcastle competition is really popular and great to watch.

A tired Wizard (from a local Maize Maze)cools his feet in the North Sea near to Cromer Pier after procession around the town for the Cromer Carnival.
A tired Wizard (from a local Maize Maze)cools his feet in the North Sea near to Cromer Pier after procession around the town for the Cromer Carnival.

The Cromer & Sheringham Crab & Lobster Festival is a must do according to many of the people we asked, organised by volunteers over two days and raising money for local charities. Kicking off with a variety show in the grand tradition, there follows cooking demonstrations featuring the eponymous creatures, market stalls, live music, special events across the museums in both towns and enough seafood to feed an army. Keep an eye on the website for 2015 dates.

The Crab & Lobster Festival
The Crab & Lobster Festival

The pier hosts Folk on the Pier each year and is scheduled between 8-10th May in 2015. Described by Fairport Convention’s Dave Pegg as “the Best Gig on the North Sea,” Folk on the Pier is a highly regarded showcase for the finest folk and folk-rock acts from all over and the opportunity to listen to music backlit by the multi hued rays of the setting sun is unforgettable. And for book and art lovers, COAST, the Cromer & Sheringham Arts Festival, is one to watch. Including painting and sculpture, pottery, music and photography plus dance, theatre, literature and film, the festivals remit is broad and inclusive. Slated to start on 23rd October, keep an eye on their website for a list of events.

(9) Theatre

Little Theatre
Little Theatre

Cromer is one of the few seaside resorts keeping the tradition of end of the pier variety shows alive via the Pavilion theatre. Touring drama, music and musical theatre companies all make a pitstop here for the chance to perform in a location that is anything but run of the mill. Expect a varied programme, from a talk by Michael Portillo, classical ballet from the Vienna Ballet to the Johnny Cash Roadshow. Alongside the Pavilion, the nearby town of Sheringham has its Little Theatre, home to one of the countries last surviving repertory companies. A popular winter pantomime and a year-round programme of events, includes film, art exhibitions, dance, drama, music and comedy is put on alongside weekly classes in stage skills, drama and dance for young people aged from four to 25. Cinema lovers are catered to also with the Merlin Cinema which shows first rank films across four screens and is the oldest cinema in Norfolk.

 (10) Travelling around is as pleasurable as arriving

Trails around West Runton to Cromer
Trails around West Runton to Cromer

The town and surrounding countryside offers a wealth of interconnected walks and trails and there are good public transport links for people who don’t want to walk the whole route. Annoyingly, getting to Norfolk from the rest of the country is not the easiest thing to do though;  there is a much maligned rail link to Norwich (45 minutes or so, every hour) and by road, Norwich is 40 minutes away and the A1 or M11 up to 90 minutes away. High season will see traffic snarl ups, especially along the most obvious routes.

An excellent bus service serves the coast east and west: the Coasthopper bus runs along the North Norfolk coastline and is, in itself, a lovely thing to do providing gorgeous scenery out of big picture windows and a warm place to gaze upon it during the colder months. Living up to its name, it is easy to alight at any of the stops and walk to the next one, catching later buses back. Walks from the Cromer clifftops can be extended to the north via the Cliff tops to Sheringham (about six miles, return by train) or to the south along the cliff top past the golf course and through ‘Poppyland’ to Overstrand (about four miles).

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The ‘Poppy Line‘ run by North Norfolk Railway operates both steam and diesel trains and sells Rover tickets, providing a whole days travel. The route is a 10.5 mile round trip by steam or vintage diesel through Norfolk areas of outstanding natural beauty. To the south are wooded hills, glacial rises and falls and the Norfolk beauty spots of Kelling Heath and Sheringham Park whilst northwards lies the sea. Beaches and resort facilities are all within easy walking distance from the various stations.

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The Bittern Line takes you via rail from Norwich and follows the course of the River Yare before turning left towards Salhouse and  nearby Salhouse Broad, changing at Wroxham to join the Bure Valley Line. Travelling on through Worsted (named after the type of cloth woven in the village in the middle ages), you will pass through North Walsham and Gunton then continue onto Felbrigg before arriving at Cromer where the train reverses to access the last short stretch of the former Midland and Great Northern Railway from Cromer to Sheringham. If you Decide to continue onto West Runton via rail,  your children might enjoy a visit to the Hillside Animal and Shire Horse Sanctuary. On arrival, at Sheringham you will then have the option of transferring onto the Poppy Line to proceed on to Georgian Holt. The railway lines take bicycles so you can hop on and off as you like.

The Cromer Treasure Trail is a downloadable trail approximately 1¾ miles long and requiring around 2 hours to complete. Starting at Meadow Road, it takes in the beaches and is a great way to introduce yourselves to the area if you are on holiday. The North Norfolk Coastal Partnership provides information about local bicycle hire from companies offering electric bikes to child seats and trikes. The roads make wonderful cycling but don’t kid yourselves that they are flat- glaciation many centuries ago has left some very unusual contours along the North Norfolk coast!

The Sustrans National Cycle Network is designed to take advantage of safer places to cycle such as old railway path and forest tracks, passing through off road areas wherever possible and it covers the county. Some well known bike trails include the Peddars Way which starts near Thetford in the sandy gorse and heather covered heaths of the Brecks to the most northerly point of the counties coastline, following an ancient Roman pathway. With gentle gradients, the 59 miles of the Norfolk Coastal Cycleway from King’s Lynn to Great Yarmouth, passes through Cromer. Trekking through inland country lanes, it is relatively safe for children to ride. The Cromer Loop is a downloadable pdf of a 24 mile route which takes you past some of the counties most amazing and historic churches. It also passes by the lovely stately home estates of Mannington and Wolterton. 

Beestons Bump
Beestons Bump

The Quiet Lanes Explorer offers you 36 miles of a Quiet Lanes network around the National Cycleway route. Marked by distinctive signs it encourages car users to be more considerate on these back roads and offers cyclists and walkers a route around Cromer and Sheringham that darts between the coastal area and the hedgerow edged lanes. If you are planning to visit Felbrigg Hall, we’ve found this route for you so you can cycle should you so wish. More challenging than others, it takes you past the steep hills of the Cromer Ridge up to Beacon Hill for a rest and  contemplation of the views for miles around, the highest point in Norfolk. As you progress inland, you will pass the leafy lanes, flint built villages and farms surrounding Felbrigg Park and the Roman camps that once dotted the region. Twenty per cent of this route (about 12 miles) is classed as off road, taking you along loose surfaced farm tracks where you can leave clouds of dust in your wake as you rattle along soft sand, flint and loose stone pathways. Go up Beacon Hill and you’ll add two extra miles to the journey.

 

 

 

Ten reasons to visit….Bury St Edmunds

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Look up when you walk around a town. This is the upper story of the building housing WH Smith

I consider myself a home girl despite having lived in Bury St Eds less than fifteen years although I also attended two years of sixth form in the town, back at the turn of the eighties. Initially Bury St Eds appeared bogged down by an older, pretty staid and intractable right of right wing sensibility but it is changing and improving, becoming more culturally and socially diverse and we are starting to hear the voices of the next generation in planning and development. There is no doubt that it is a great place to raise a young family with green space, several large (and free of charge) parks, good sports facilities and excellent schools and Bury has great eco-credentials too with a proactive recycling policy based not on penalty but education and convenience. Businesses appear well supported too by the local Bury Free Press newspaper, thriving business forums and support via OurBuryStEdmunds. Anyway, here are ten reasons to visit and live here- there are, of course, a lot more so do feel free to add them via the comments section…

Disclaimer: We regularly update this feature but please bear in mind that businesses do close- contact them before making a special journey.

(1) The glorious market

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Martin Hart & Sons have been trading for more than eighty years

Had William the Conqueror visited Bury St Edmunds, he’d have found a market already established and today, it has grown to over 80 stalls with 1600 feet or more of frontage, from the Buttermarket to Cornhill and held bi weekly on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There are regular bank holiday, flower and Christmas markets where the selling space expands to include Angel Hill and our Christmas Market has been named one of the best in Europe, rivalling the famous German markets. You will find local food producers and stallholders from further afield selling fruit, vegetables, freshly cooked foods, coffee, books, clothing and a lot more: the market is diverse and especially fun for children. Many of the stallholders are third and fourth generation, have established close relationships with their customers and will go that extra mile to source produce. Ask them if you don’t see what you want on their stall- I have ordered and got bergamots, tomatillos and chiles from my favourite fruit and veg stall.

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BuryBeach

Particular favourites are stalls selling freshly cooked Japanese breakfasts (try Yakitori Suzuki), the Filipino stand with crockpots brimming with savoury beef stews, the Mexican food truck and the guy selling almonds roasted while you wait. Al Chile sell freshly-made tacos, burritos and quesadillas, including nopales-stuffed ones for non-meat eaters whilst Souvlaki Shack’s kebabs are made with meat from Blythburgh Pork. Buy a bag of fresh cinnamon ring doughnuts or fruit in season, a cup of fresh coffee, a porchetta-stuffed roll, pint of prawns or a pattie from the Caribbean food stall, have a wander or sit down by Moyses Hall Museum to eat them and people watch. Keep an eye out for stalls selling the produce of South Africa or the USA. Look out too, for Bury Beach where sand and deckchairs are brought in to transform part of the town during bank holiday fairs- you can find details of when these extra events are held at Our Bury St Edmunds.

 (2) Plenty of green space

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Ickworth Park and gardens

From the manicured precision of the flower beds and lawns, punctuated by ruins in the famous Abbey Gardens to the rambling Nowton Park at the edge of the town, Bury definitely qualifies as a green and leafy town. Take a picnic to the Abbey Gardens as suggested on twitter by Sophie in the Sticks or eat an ice cream from its kiosk: the nearby cathedral Refectory cafe is great should you want a more substantial meal. There’s an adventure playground, tennis courts, ducks to feed and aviaries plus plenty of smooth tarmac paths for little people to run and scooter and it’s free. We often walk the dog at the Spring Lane nature reserve next to King Edward VI School and Hardwick Heath along Hardwick Lane with its fabulous Cedars of Lebanon has long been a refuge for the staff working at the hospital next door and is home to weekend football and rugby games.

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The entrance to the Abbey Gardens

A few miles away can be found Ickworth Park, a National Trust site with acres of park with magnificent views over the Suffolk landscape, manicured and walled gardens and the famous house to visit plus cafe and plant nurseries. The Trust organise lots of family orientated events and exhibitions in the house, detailed on the website or just go, park up and walk. Or visit Lackford Lakes a few miles out of Bury. Run expertly by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, this reclaimed gravel pit landscape is home to miles of woodland walks and trails, lakes and wetlands, all with bird hides to sit in and watch the Kingfishers, otters, bitterns and egrets. There is an extensive programme of family events including bird ringing, art and crafts and conservation days plus the visitors centre sells cake, drinks and Alder Carr ice creams.

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Fullers Mill

The nearby Fullers Mill Trust gardens are so lovely, perfect for plant fanatics- seven acres of woodland, streams and lakes, sensitively planted with rare specimens. Open April- September, you can see them over the meadows as you walk by the streams in Lackford lakes. In the town, the Greene King flood meadows have a well maintained system of tarmac paths that cross the water meadows with a wildlife conservation area, part of the flood meadows of the river Linnet, popular with dog walkers and runners. Dogs on leads please because sheep graze here.

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West Stowe

Finally, West Stow Anglo Saxon village is somewhere to spend the larger part of a day with miles of trails to explore, bird hides, indoor galleries and the stunning recreation of an Anglo-Saxon village. The adventure playground is well designed, safe and a great place for kids to work off energy. There is a cafe and toilet facilities, parking charges will apply. The village has a brilliant calendar of events, many themed (RingQuest) and offering the chance to fully immerse in the time period through dress up and reenactment.

St Mary's churchyard
St Mary’s churchyard

(3) Our chefs & cooks punch well above their weight

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Photo by Cafe Kottani

Just lately, Bury St Edmunds has become a bit of a destination for those of us who love our food. We have bistros and cafes, delicatessens with take out or seating, burger bars that pre-date and beat the recent metropolitan craze for ‘designer’ things in buns and some seriously accomplished ‘faine dining’ that has attracted the attention of the Observer awards, The Telegraph and The Times. I asked Twitter for some recommendations and Helen Johnson, organiser of the Bury St Edmunds Clandestine Cake Club rates Gastrono-me and @Graceparetree loves the burgers at No4 at Abbeygate Cinema. I cannot argue with their excellent taste having eaten at both places and I was delighted to discover Poutine (oh joy!) and Hawaiian poké on the menu at the latter, a gorgeous bistro and coffee shop next to Abbeygate Cinema where the Canadian chef has brought in a menu heavily influenced by the eating places of Vancouver. There’s Hawaiian-inflected lunches, bowl food and he bakes real Cuban bread (fluffy crumb, light crunchy crust) which is incredibly hard to find anywhere else in the UK. Gastrono-me in St Johns St has a window display piled high with fresh bread and pastries, cakes and tarts alongside slabs of cheese, charcuterie and salads and a new menu. The French toast, syrup and strawberry breakfast plate is Disney on a plate, theirs the ever-popular shakshuka for a hit of heat and their brownies will slay you. Further along you’ll find the Bay Tree Bistro and Baitong Thai Cuisine, the latter serving both well known and less familiar regional Thai dishes. They operate a small food market next door too should you wish to replicate what you ate there at home and Faraway Foods nearby is where I go to buy Brazilian Pão de Queijo (cheesebread), pomelo, dragon fruit and plantain, the best blood-oranges in town, fresh herbs including turmeric tubers and creamy miniature Thai aubergines and all the salt-cod, flats of shrimp and cotton sacks of rice you could want.

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Pasteis De Nata

Castle Torrejano is the place to buy authentic, fresh Pasteis de Nata and other Portugese foods, served in the cafe and take-out or from the basement market. Buy a bag of their orange scented pastries and nip into the Abbey Gardens via the Mustow Street entrance nearby to scarf them but stick your nose inside the brown paper bag first and inhale that glorious scent. Cafe Kottani on the Buttermarket makes a cinnamon spiked Pasticcio that is eye-rollingly good, among other Greek and Levantine goodies and keep the scions of the town going with real coffee. A take-out box of their baklava is our weekly treat. I particularly like the take out sandwiches from Toppers also on the Buttermarket and lost my heart to the Italian gelato it sold last summer…I seem to remember a pear flavour….

Out of town on the Moreton Hall Estate can be found the Coffee House on Lawson Place: do take a trip there because it is a little gem and they don’t shove you out on the end of a broom after twenty minutes. Honey comes from the hives in the grounds of a nearby prep school, the meat is from the butcher father of one of the owners and the menu is small but creative and most of all, tastes great. Sofa’s, a bookshelf and newspapers make this a good place to meet, work or relax.

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Dark chocolate & pistachio tart- photo by Gastrono-me

For a total blow out, visit the recently refurbished Pea Porridge where chef owner Justin Sharp knocks out honest, modern food from parsley soup to local game (muntjac, rabbit and hare) and also studs the menu with international delicacies such as nduja. Then there’s that hardy perennial of great restaurants- Maison Bleu. Justifiably famous, this seafood restaurant on Churchgate St continues to impress. We have decent pub food too: the Cannon Street Brewery is over the road from Pea Porridge, has its own micro brewery and rooms if you cannot roll more than ten yards after feasting. They aren’t snobby either. We have rocked up covered in mud from our allotment which is in the next street and they didn’t blink. For more luxury, both in food and accommodation, drive a little way out of town to Tuddenham Mill where you can eat chef Lee Bye’s top notch food and then walk it off afterwards in the lovely grounds and surrounding countryside. Oakes Barn is an award-winning community pub with the best cheese-board around and a small, but perfect menu which is basically soup, a charcuterie board and a few other specials. Their beer is expertly kept (doesn’t matter how good the list of ales is if a place doesn’t know how to look after them) and sourced from the best small, and not so small, breweries around. We’re real fans of Shortts Farm Brewery in Thorndon whose ales are usually on at Oakes Barn. They’re named after bands and Strummer, their first beer, received the seal of approval from the family of the late Joe.

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Food by Maison Bleu- from their website

When we want a fix of Indian food, Orissa in Risbygate Street  is our choice because alongside the usual suspects, it serves beautifully plated modern interpretations. The Abafado de Camarao shows its Goan-Portugese heritage in its name: a plate of saffron infused giant shrimp, chilli hot and jazzed up with palm vinegar or go for the spiced apple and salmon or Imli duck with tamarind. Finally, if you are on a budget but want to eat food cooked by student chefs at a high standard, then head over to the West Suffolk College and book a seat at Zest, their student training restaurant which serves lunch and evening meals including catered banquets and special events. There’s a newly-opened coffee bar there too.

(4) Great local food producers and gastro related businesses

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Photo by the Bury Chocolate Shop

It’s getting better and having a market and a few good independent food stores helps promote the lovely local foodstuffs that living in a predominately rural and agricultural region results in. I buy my lamb from Justin Hammond who grazes his flock of Jacob sheep in the fields around Bury. Try his mutton and hogget which has all the flavour that very young spring lamb can lack- the website details the local markets he sells at and Lackford Lakes sells his meat frozen. You can also see his sheep ambling around the lakeside there too- just remember to disconnect your guilt gland beforehand. For ingredients less ordinary such as specially blended loose tea and fresh coffee in bean and ground, Butterworths in the Traverse is the place to go. I pined for fresh rooted herbs, Caribbean ingredients and niche veggies after leaving London and this shop with roots of fresh turrmeric, bushels of coriander and decent sized sacks of rice and pulses is an absolute tardis and where I go to find interesting items for food hamper gifts. Holders of a 5 star Which? rating for customer service, they richly deserve it. Another very welcome addition to the food store scene here are the shops selling Eastern European produce and the one I use the most is Europa Maxi on St Andrews St South. Rammed with an eclectic and excellent range, their cooked and preserved meats are superb. My last haul included a tub of freshly pickled cucumbers, high quality speck, fresh carp, frozen pierogi stuffed with wild mushrooms and chocolate coated plums. They also sell Cheeto’s twirls (Not Eastern European I know) which makes me want to fall at their feet and worship them.

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Spinach, Red Onion and Goats Cheese Quiche from Friendly Loaf Company

The Bury Chocolate Shop on the lovely St John’s St stocks a wide range of fresh truffles, diabetic treats made with stevia and other candies and the street it is on is one of the nicest parts of retail Bury, well worth a stroll down. Further down is the International Food Shop where I was able to buy Far Eastern, Brazilian and other South American ingredients, fresh exotic fruit and veg such as yams, custard apples, bunched herbs and durian. Mark Proctor of the Friendly Loaf Company is a friend but I’d still recommend his bread and pastries whether I liked him or not. Made and baked in his farm premises in Risby, they can be bought from Bury market and any leftover loaves are sold in the Dove pub. Hospital Rd on Wednesday evenings. For freshly milled local flour, try Pakenham Mill and the windmill at Bardwell and if you want cheese to go with that loaf, Suffolk Cheese makes a lovely blue and a hard ‘Gold’ cheddar style- both are sold on the market.

Infusions 4 Chefs is based a few miles from the town in Rougham and stocks the most amazing range of ingredients, equipment and tools for professional and domestic cooks. They do mail order, can be visited and I lose myself for days on their site. If you want to pootle around a cook shop, Bury has quite a few from Palmers Homestore and Steamer Trading to the little Kitchen Kave (not named by the Kardashians) on Brentgovel St which is a treasure trove of equipment at pocket money prices for the kids and a brilliant range of cake decorating products. If you are in search of quality eggs for your baking, then the egg man, Dan Schlpher sells high quality ones from ducks or chickens alongside meat and game on the market. Finally, if you can get out to the Risby Farm Shop and Nursery you won’t be disappointed. There’s a nursery stuffed with plants at ridiculously low prices plus seasonal and local fruit, veg, eggs, chutneys and jams plus a range of biscuits. Chickens and a pair of Spaniels roam at will and they also stock animal feed.

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Risby Farm Shop.

(5) Greene King, micro breweries and all matters alcohol

Obviously Bury is the home of Greene King and even if you don’t drink ale, a visit and tour around their headquarters visitor centre, museum and brew house is pretty interesting and you can always give the pint included in the admission price to the one who accompanies you (unless it is your kid-wouldn’t recommend that). Other local brewers include the Old Cannon Brewery and independent brew pub; drink a pint of Gunners Daughter on a brew day (usually mon/tues) and watch them make the next lot. Adnams have recently opened up a kitchen shop which also sells their complete range of ales and spirits alongside an in-store cafe. It. is a beautifully designed space.

Wander along to Tayfen Road (not the loveliest part of town, sadly) and visit the Bury Beerhouse, home of traditional cask ales, spit roasted pork from its own fires, a small changing menu of snacks and bar food and its own festival, all done so well that the Observer Food Monthly named it runner up for the best place in Britain to taste craft beers. For a stripped back to the ale drinking experience, try The Dove in Hospital Rd, a CAMRA recommended six pump pub selling mainly East Anglian ales and wicked pork scratchings plus some pork pies. The pub hosts folk nights, a men’s book club and a quiz night, details on the website.

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Wingspan Bar

Oakes Barn is a beautifully decorated (award-winning) community pub selling quality ales, ciders and other drinks. A small menu of pies, cheeseboards and other simple meals keeps you going in between drinks, all freshly-cooked. The pub is home to Bury Folk Collective, quiz and music nights, a book and crochet club, French and Spanish conversational evenings plus paella evenings, sausages and ale nights and food tastings. For something more intimate, try the Wingspan Bar at the Angel Hotel, located in the 12th Century vault that runs underneath the hotel, part of the system of tunnels fashioned out of the chalk that the town is bedded upon. The bar created from half an aircraft engine, tables are designed from aeroplane doors and the sofas upholstered in German flour sacks. Not particularly salubrious, the Con Club on Guildhall St is home to Kevin Cawsers guitar club, held monthly and getting very popular now. The bar sells the usual variety of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks but it is the astonishingly accomplished musical ability of those attending that is the draw.

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The Nutshell

Should you want to buy alcohol in an informative, non chain atmosphere, Beautiful Beers stocks products from all over Europe whilst Thos Peatling stocks fine wines and offers wine tasting sessions which make sensible presents for the person who has everything. Finally, how could we leave out The Nutshell, Britain’s smallest pub with a bar that measures just 15ft by 7ft, as confirmed in the Guinness Book of Records- especially after I was reminded by @TWoollams on Twitter. A major tourist draw, nonetheless you should be able to find a perch on the padded benches lining the walls and the beers are great.

(6) Street sports

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Bury skatepark

Bury Skatepark has recently been redeveloped and as a result is one of the best skate and BMX parks in England, The local council has been very supportive of street sports in the town and helped establish a planning and steering committee manned by users of the skatepark to help in the process of acquiring funding. With its own Facebook page, the park is the venue for frequent fundraising events (Skatejam) and is a registered charity. Located on Olding Road, this new concrete facility replaced the popular wooden structure and is suitable for bikes, scooters and boards with a mixture of both street and transitioned based features. For kids in need of both equipment, advice and another place to meet fellow street sport enthusiasts, Hardcore Hobbies on Risbygate Street is an excellent resource. The owners and staff are seriously connected in the street sport world and can offer help with safety and tuition alongside competitions and sponsorship guidance.

(7) Help and support

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Cavern Four

According to St Edmundsbury Borough Council, the local area is  recycling approximately 9000 tonnes of dry recyclable material through the blue bin scheme and 13,000 tonnes of compostable waste through the brown bin scheme each year. In total, we are recycling and composting approximately 50% of the household waste we produce and it is in part due to campaigners like Karen Cannard from the Rubbish Diet that we are doing so well. If you want to find ways of reducing your household waste and cut down also on food waste, Karen is an amazing first point of contact and a local treasure. For help with food poverty, the food bank at the Gatehouse is a voluntary group formed of local people and organisations. They need donations too. Cavern Four is a gorgeous little shop in Whiting Street that exhibits and sells the work of regional artists and craftspeople alongside its remit of showcasing the skills of people who attend Workwise, the work based training and rehabilitation service for local people with mental health problems. Selling high quality furnishings, art, crafts and jewellery, the shop is run by Workwise staff and employees-I have bought some stunning pieces from here.

I have always thought it scandalous that our government does not entirely fund hospice and palliative care services and the wonderful local one, Saint Nicholas has to raise £10,000 every single day of every single year to provide the right type of care for its patients. To this end, the local community is involved in a myriad of fund raising events and there is also a hospice charity shop on St Johns St. Although there are many valuable charities in the town, all deserving of our help, palliative and bereavement care is something that WILL touch us all and out of self interest alone, we should all get involved in supporting St Nics and maybe enquire of our government why such a vital service is not fully funded from the public purse.

(8) Theatre, antiques and galleries

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Theatre Royal

The exquisite Georgian Theatre Royal may be small but it is mighty, putting on a varied programme of entertainment in the face of Arts Council and other cuts. From well known comedians, national touring ballet companies and childrens entertaimnent to the popular pantomime, the theatre works hard to represent the myriad tastes of the town. The educational programme works with local children, there are opportunities for work experience and summer schools plus the ‘Costume Creators’ sessions offering an authentic and supportive work experience for young people with mild to moderate learning difficulties. At the much newer Apex, inside the Arc shopping centre, comedy, dance, live music and performance finds a home in a venue known for its acoustic excellence. There is a foyer cafe, an exhibition space and pre concert dining whilst Saturdays sees regular craft sales via the March Hare Collective.

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The Apex

St Edmundsbury Cathedral is an extraordinarily dramatic home to a programme of musical entertainment, home to the Bach Choir and and boasts two superb musical instruments: the Cathedral organ is a large four manual instrument and a Steinway grand piano. Major stars such as Philip Voss and Robert Hardy have performed here in recent years, and the Cathedral has been a venue for musical productions by the Suffolk Young People’s Theatre and various talks.

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John Dilnot – Moth Collection, 2013. Printed papers, wood and glass from Smiths Row

For art lovers, the Smiths Row gallery in its town centre setting is a free of charge setting for art that doesn’t shy away from challenging audiences and exploring new avenues of artistic expression. Contemporary crafts including jewellery can be purchased alongside a good range of prints and there are regular talks and chances to meet the artists in a pretty impressive setting. The gallery is located on the first floor of an elegant Grade 1 listed building originally designed as a theatre in the 1770s by Robert Adam, which has retained its high ceilings, Georgian façade and elegant arched windows and is lit by a pair of magnificent Venetian crystal chandeliers. There is a disabled lift to the gallery. *Update* The Gallery is in the process of being moved to a new location by the rail station and is closed. However their website is regularly updated with information so do keep an eye on it.

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Blackthorpe Barns at Christmas

Blackthorpe Barn near to the town is a wonderful multi use space with an art gallery and exhibitions, a Christmas shop and craft fair in the medieval thatched barn plus a cafe. The Christmas festivities are pretty cool here- kids love them. Start a family tradition of choosing a tree from the piles out back, meet the reindeers that sometimes appear and chug down mugs of spiced apple and hot toddies. The surrounding Rougham Woods are a great place to walk off that cake and jacket potato you ate in the cafe. Don’t forget the end of year and graduate art shows at the West Suffolk College and University College, Suffolk on Out Risbygate either. Contact the art department for information about when they are held and if you are lucky, you’ll score yourself an original artwork or get to commission one. The last time I attended, a haunting piece of art based upon the effects of Dementia stayed with me for months: unavailable for sale it is, for me, THE one that got away.

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Past and Present at Risby antiques barns- photo by Risby Antique Barns/Past & Present

The internet has decimated the antiques trade: Lovejoy would barely recognise Suffolk now as the antiques trail has kind of trailed off. Fortunately the antiques barns at Risby, near to the town appear to go from strength to strength: both barns are rammed with all manner of items from big ticket items to pocket money pieces. Open seven days a week, including bank holidays and with a cafe opposite, find clothing, vintage garden furniture, household furnishings, silverware and shelves of books alongside a fabulous collection of paste and real jewellery. I recently bought a rare Thierry Mugler cream wool and cashmere jacket from here for less than £30, a thirties dragonfly brooch of semi precious stones, Kosta Boda crystal candleholders, milk glass, a set of mid century modern chairs and vintage French pastis glasses., I love it here. Check out the plant nursery and Cosy Cabin, a sewing and quilting emporium and The Vintage Shack towards the back of the site and purveyor of vintage clothing, reclaimed Swedish style Gustavian furniture and some very cool geometric printed fabrics and vintage linens. The owner will restore to customers specifications.

(9) Sport and wellness

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St Edmunds wolf on the Southgate roundabout wearing the scarf of the rugby club. Photo by the East Anglian Daily Times

Home to its own Rugby, football and cricket clubs, these are just some of the sporting opportunities available in the town and you can even learn to fly over the town or drive a hovercraft at Rougham Airfield. Prices to attend local matches are reasonable, the clubs all have a lively social calendar and active youth and community programmes. Curvemotion is an indoor interactive venue offering activities for all the family including roller skating, soft play, slides and a bistro. Zorbing is also on offer. The Bury Foxes are the local female rugby team or if netball is more your bag, try the Jetts Netball Club. Located on the Moreton Hall Estate, the Wellness Centre is somewhere to go to unwind with a programme of yoga, tai chi and other complementary therapies for all ages. Run as a social enterprise, there is also hair and beauty therapies available and a vegan cafe called The Happy Cow selling smoothies, salads, tea, coffee, snacks, and cake.  For really competitive hair and beauty treatments go along to the In Vogue training salons at the West Suffolk College where well supervised (and appropriately competent) students offer everything from cuts and colours to facials, sports massage and hair removal. A fraction of the cost of normal salon prices, they may take a little longer, the surroundings are more utilitarian but the results are just as good. Call or email for appointments during term time. Lastlye, stroll down Risbygate Street and you’ll find the Body and Mind Studio which offers all manner of therapuetic massage and other treatments. From Indian head massages to healing and nutritional advice, they’ll sort you out.

(10) Festivals and fairs (or fayres if you prefer)

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We have quite a few of these now from the (relatively) venerable Bury Festival and its ten days of mixed arts and entertainment to the newcomers such as Homegrown which had its inaugural festival at Rougham last Summer (2014). In addition, the town puts on various market based events on bank holidays and in the run up to Christmas, the latter being one of the loveliest and most evocative I have been to in the UK and named by Buzzfeed as one of the best in Europe in a guide where Bury St Edmunds is the only town to be chosen among major cities and European capitals. Situated on Angel Hill in front of the Dickensian Angel Hotel, the combination of food, stalls, music and carols is lovely. Heralded by the Christmas light switch on event, the usual street market becomes turbo charged with an evening mini fairground, late night shopping, free parking and other attractions. It gives me an excuse to eat roasted chestnuts until I can barely stand the sight of them-until next December anyway.

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The Greene King Summer Festival, held in the gardens and grounds of the brewery is rapidly expanding from just a few stalls a few years ago to several days of events. Look out for food and drink tasting, cookery demonstrations and live music in the evening whilst the town centre itself has several food and drink festivals during the year. Speakers and public demo’s from chefs such as Brian Turner and Ollie Dabous draw the crowds. For lovers of gardens, architecture and the plain nosy, Bury Hidden Gardens is a day of heaven- the chance to explore unexpected gardens found within the historic streets of Bury St Edmunds, laid out in a grid pattern by the monks from the town’s 12th Century abbey, plus some gems from other architectural periods. Memorable for me in many ways, not least because of an afternoon spent making small talk about gunneras in a garden with the OBGYN who had operated on me just weeks before (we both pretended not to recognise each other in that very English manner), I love this event held in the Summer and a fundraiser for St Nicholas Hospice. Keep an eye out too for the Chinese New Years celebrations along Hatter Street in January with prancing dragons, lanterns and music.

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Quite a few of the walking tours that formed part of the 2014 Suffolk Walking Festival were located in and around the town. I attended the launch party and inaugural walk around Ickworth park (green and stunning despite the pelting rain) and one of the local history walks setting off from the tourist office on Angel Hill. Discovering local curiosities such as the miniature doll embedded in the flint walls near the rear entrance of the Abbey Gardens and the encouragement to look up at the architecture above shop fronts in the town centre made the small charge for these walks worth it. Other routes took walkers along the St Edmund Way, along the rivers Lark and Linnet or a walk to discover the unusual trees in Nowton Park – redwood giants, a spinning twisted yew, Indian Bean Trees that have ‘swallowed’ a fence, explosive Jeffery’s and a lightning struck Douglas. I hope this wonderful festival will be repeated next year but in the interim, Bury tourist office has details of other guided walks including the spooky ghost walks (highly recommended although when I went on it, I apparently whimpered most of the route like an oversized frightened kitten).

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The doll in the wall…..

Ten reasons to…. live in Clare, Suffolk

 

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Prince William allegedly used to tell his little friends at playschool that ‘my Daddy is a King and will get his knights to kill you” and whilst nobody should take this anecdote as a fond endorsement of the royal family (republican here), it is funny. This anecdote reminds me of my own children’s pride at having had a thirteenth century castle ruin at the bottom of their garden- or a 70 foot motte anyway- when we lived in Clare during the mid-nineties after moving to Suffolk from London. Classmates would be invited home by my daughter to see this (ruined) wonder and would then be bitterly disappointed that I would not let them climb up this vertiginous bramble tangled hill of rock and clay. Towering over our long narrow garden, the motte did not come equipped with knights, living Ladies or any of the accoutrements of power. Instead, we had various tales of ghostly grey ladies walking their eternal and lonely route along the pathway named Ladies Walk plus a battalion of locals who, on New Years Eve, would climb the nettle-infested motte in the pitch darkness and set off fireworks from its top, accompanied by hokey power anthems played on a portable stereo.

My daughter’s bedroom overlooked the motte and I would look up from the garden to see her little face pressed against the window, keeping watch for ghosts but really not wanting to see any. Sitting in our garden on fine days could prove challenging due to the constant ant-like trail of tourists climbing up and down the motte who would stand and gaze out over the undeniably beautiful vista of Clare rooftops stretching past the church and get their breath back. Unfortunately our garden also formed part of this view and, if the tourists were particularly amiable, we’d have to wave back at each and every one of them as they hailed us, as we sat on our lawn. (In the photo above, our garden is just in view at the front left, its pink pargeted rear aspect partly obscured by the tree branches.)

The little Suffolk wool town of Clare can be found midway between Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds, in the west of the county. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, it’s name is said to come from the clear water of the river Stour that flows through the town and past the Clare Antiques & Interiors warehouse, the country park and on on past the Augustinian Friars Priory (founded 1248) which is still used as a centre for retreat and also hosts regular craft fairs.

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Popular with families because of its good schools and amenities- a library, several doctors surgeries, restaurants, plenty of pubs, the Nethergate Brewery, parks and playing fields, four churches, independent shops and a  thriving social calendar including a well supported Christmas lights display and events, fireworks and New Years Eve parties, the town has a lively and friendly air. Unlike some other small towns, the older people here seem cared about with several social enterprises devoted to maintaining mobility and independence (CLASP is one). Here are ten reasons to live, love (and visit) this engaging little town-

(1) There is plenty of green space-

From the famous Clare Country Park with its flat grass parkland where the inner and outer baileys once were to the nuttery, greens, common lands given to the town by Katharine of Aragon and country walks, you won’t need to go far to remind yourself that you are in deepest rural Suffolk. Clare Castle and its surrounding country park was developed under Norman lords seeking a powerful statement of wealth and fortification. It includes the inner and outer baileys, a former railway line (the old Bury St Eds to Sudbury branch line) and station and is a draw for tourists alongside its daily use by locals. Footpaths and walks along the River Stour lead onto the Railway Walk and the Clare Circular Walk which passes through the town, taking you further afield onto the Stour Valley Path (the Bury to Clare Walk). In the park, lakes and streams run through woodlands and there are plenty of benches to sit on and enjoy the duck feeding. A well maintained adventure playground, wide tarmac paths and the platform of the disused railway station provide children with plenty to explore. St Edmundsbury Council organise activities such as den building and outdoor skills- check out West Suffolk Diary for details.

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Clare Nuttery is owned by Clare Town Council, forming part of the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley Countryside Project. Boundary hedging provides shelter for the many trees and indigenous plants that have been added and winding paths take you past the pond, connecting both glades and creating a lovely place to walk the dog, play or picnic. Opening under the national open gardens scheme, Richmond House in Nethergate St is well worth a visit too with its scented wall garden, Mediterranean planting, pleached Hornbeam trees and parterre alongside woodland informal planting. The National Gardens Scheme website has details of  its open days.

(2) Visit Ancient House Museum and the churches-

With its intricate pargetting, Grade I listing and location next to the imposing church, Clare Ancient House is both pretty and architecturally important. The West wing, on the High Street, is believed to date from the 14th century, and the more heavily decorated East wing may have been built in 1473, the date which appears in the plasterwork of the house. First established as a museum in 1979, it was revamped and then reopened in 1999. The Ancient House tells the story of the people of Clare, the ennobled and the not so.

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Alison Krohn, a resident of Clare has spent over 10 years studying the histories of Clare people who were killed in action in both World Wars and the database can be found here, just around the corner from the war memorial in the town square. The exhibits are modest and low key, ranging from Iron Age and pre-Roman through to Victorian and later. They number clothing, tools, coins and everyday domestic items. There is no wheelchair access. A town trail has been developed too-look out for the fifteen information panels on five posts around Clare, beginning in the car park of Clare Country Park and brochures can be obtained from the museum or downloaded. The church of St. Peter and Paul is one of the largest and most beautiful churches in East Anglia, built during a time of great regional prosperity- the medieval wool trade, and is a lovely example of the gothic architecture, popularised then. As you enter into the porch set into the South Aisle, take a look up as above it the 18th century sundial says ‘Go about your business’ referring to the time when parish business would be undertaken there. Clare also has a United Reform church, a Baptist church and the chapel at its Priory.

(3) Shop antiques and vintage instead of Ikea-

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Vintage fashion

 

From the glory days of ‘Lovejoy’ in the eighties when Suffolk’s villages and towns were filled with an eclectic range of antique dealers and shops to the shocking paucity nowadays caused in the main by the rise of Ebay, the rise in business rates and rents and the low cost goods and chattels sold by discount retailers, Clare still manages to hold its own. Several well established businesses in the town continue to offer high quality sourced antiques, owned by dealers who know their stuff. They have had to diversify of course: a lot of the stock is ‘retro or ‘vintage’ as opposed to solid antique but they offer a wide choice in lovely surroundings. The Clare Antiques Warehouse down by the country park is four floors of a converted mill, stuffed with goods from over 500 dealers. From vintage quilts, retro kitchen and homeware and clothing to collectible books and bona fide antique furniture, every price point is covered. My friend’s little daughter was captivated by the packs of vintage striped paper candy bags sold by the fifty for a few pounds and I once snapped up an emerald silk satin 40’s evening gown made with a couture level attention to detail. If you want the real deal leather ‘gentleman’s chair, some antique bed linens or a pair of burr olive ash chests, this is the place to come. The location is beautiful too.

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Market Hill Antiques is a smaller shop with a carefully curated selection of items and they specialise in Art Deco and Clarice Cliff. Antiques auctioning in the town has a long history over hundreds of years and many of us locals have fond memories of helping out in our youth, lifting items up as the auctioneer ratcheted up the sales. Clare Auction is based in the town hall and is a trove for people prepared to keep their eyes sharp and requirements flexible. Viewings are usually the Friday evening before a Saturday sale. This is the place I snapped up a complete set of fifties kitchen cupboards and dressers before they became retro fabulous and a solid pine art floor to ceiling cupboard for not very much. If you dedicate yourself to the pursuit of excellent vintage clothing and accessories, then 20th Century Fashion in the old Trinders building near the Antiques Warehouse is, to me, what an beech and oak forest in Alba is to a truffle hound. Not only will you find well kept pre-owned clothing, you can also find niche and serious books on fashion and costume, textiles and haberdashery, jewellery from Hermes and Chanel, Celine clothing and Roger Vivier shoes (!) at affordable prices. The Eye of Time also sells shoes, bags and collectibles alongside putting on various cabaret events in the old town hall. Whilst on this subject, I still lament the long gone ‘Granny’s Attic’ – a tiny tiny vintage goods shop next to a holiday cottage near the turn off to the library. Selling high end new make up that the owner obtained from a friend in the industry and a jumble of household and kitchen paraphernalia (Victorian steak mallets, scales with original weights and lovely silverware), a Saturday afternoon rummage in here was always guaranteed to yield treasure.

(4) You can still buy books here-

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A town with its own independent book shop is a rare thing these days, especially in Suffolk which has seen them decimated by the online book trade and the end of the net book agreement. These days, they have to adopt the commercial spirit of the age- diversification, and often become all singing, all dancing coffee and food selling emporiums. That is why we must treasure Harris & Harris because this pretty little book shop is, pretty much, all about THE book-albeit with a few literary related gift items and handmade pottery by Jean Knowles too. With a mix of new and pre-loved books on two floors, a great ordering service and an owner who knows her stuff, the range is intelligent, clearly well thought out and deserves to be appreciated so please go there and support it by actually, um, buying or ordering a book. Seriously though, by the time you have paid Amazon’s £2:80 postage and packing, you haven’t saved that much so buying from Amazon is less of a bargain than you think and once they have driven book shops out of business they’ll put their prices way up. <End of rant>

(5) They were brewing artisanal beers before everyone else got in on the act-

Established in Clare High Street by by Dick Burge and Ian Hornsey back in 1986, Nethergate Brewery is now an internationally renowned brewer of fine ales, porters and blondes and the 2012 winner of the Good Pub Guide Brewery of the Year award. Sold from their little shop in the nearby village of Pentlow (68 different Belgium and American beers plus other products) as well as many pubs nationally, their beers have long perfumed the town in all their stages of brewing and are redolent with the flavours they use- coriander, lemon and ginger. Coming soon will be Old Growler ice cream and chocolate, infused with their most famous ale. Alongside the brewery, you can also find the quaint little off licence shop ‘The Jug and Bottle’ selling all manner of libations from an old and tiny premises.

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(6) Clare is all about independent shopping rather than being a clone-town-

Independent shops come and go but Clare has always had a nucleus of shops that serve locals as well as tourists and visitors. With a farm shop, fresh bread from the deli, the Co-op and a butcher, post office inside the newsagents and a pharmacy next door, plus a fantastic ironmongers and plenty of gift stores, locals and those without transport are able to grocery shop locally. If you are looking to buy art from knowledgeable dealers, the Sea Pictures Gallery on Well Lane stocks original, contemporary maritime related art from artists across the UK, with particular emphasis on East Anglian artists, all in a pretty Georgian building.  Over the road, Hudgies the iron mongers has been in continuous business since 1835 with a welcome and service as warm as the stove which heats the store alongside a huge range of products. Blue Dog is one of the pastel pretty shops along the High Street, beautifully stocked with carefully chosen gifts and accessories- bags and jewellery, home wares plus my favourite Steam Cream and nearby is Number One Deli and Cafe, on the corner of the High Street in the old post office building specialising  in Suffolk ham and cheese and seller of lovely ice cream from a doorway cart in the warmer months. Another gift store, Hares Tail, offers a changing stock of garden gifts plus patio and conservatory accessories.

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Humphries Butchers on the Market Hill have been offering meat reared and slaughtered to the highest welfare standards (they have their own slaughter house) decades before the rest of the UK caught on. Find their own sausages, Suffolk black bacon, local game and Sutton Hoo chickens, freshly made pies and pastries plus pate, cheese, a full range of deli goods and local eggs. There is no website, sadly. Fruit and vegetables are available from the farm shop on Market Hill,, an open fronted store near the butchers and look out for Turners Fish Van making its weekly visit on the market Hill every Friday. The independent pharmacy in this age of Superdrug and Boots (pay your taxes, Boots!) grows ever more elusive but the Clare Pharmacy remains in business, on the site of the old bakers with a fully qualified pharmacist and a good range of toiletries and gifts alongside the usual products. Should you wish to seek alternative medicine, Naturally You offers Reiki, cranial sacral therapy, accupuncture and stop smoking treatments alongside various products and foods.

(7) Retreat to Clare Priory or simply walk around it

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The grounds of Clare Priory can be reached via a footbridge over the river Stour in the country park and make pleasant walking. The priory itself was built in the 14th century, although extensively remodelled and has a shrine, housed in one of the oldest parts of the priory. This shrine contains a relief of the Mother of Good Counsel by the well-known religious artist, Mother Concordia OSB, and is based on the original fresco at Genazzano near Rome. The house contains a number of original features, including the Little Cloister with the Shrine, the vaulted porch, and impressive stone and stained glass work throughout the house. Guests on retreat are welcome to stay in the accommodations for a suggested contribution – £45 per person per overnight stay, £10 day visit, £12 day visit (with soup & roll lunch), or £15 day visit (with full lunch – Mon-Fri only) although the priory will accept what retreaters can offer- nobody is excluded on the basis of fiscal misfortune. There is also a full programme of courses such as Mindfulness and spirituality, meditation and yoga based activities.

(8) Eat and drink-

From pubs that offer full meals to tiny cafes and restaurants, Clare has a number of great establishments offering variety and quality. Cafe Clare and Number One Delicatessen and Cafe are good choices. A family run business set in a teeny tiny 14th century house near to the country park, Cafe Clare serves food and drinks across two floors and a courtyard garden- cream teas, Pudding Club evenings, local ingredients and children’s menu’s plus a soup and salad bar means this little place punches well above its weight. Number One deli & cafe serves light meals and fresh ground coffee all day from the deli or their coffee trike that pedals around the town in the daytime. Supper evenings are timed to coincide with local events (such as the auctions) or are themed. These require advance booking. Our recommendation? If its too lovely a day to sit inside, why not ask the deli or one of the cafes to make up a picnic lunch, accompanied by a retro bottle of Suffolk lemonade and an ice cream?

(9) A choice of pubs and hotels-

The Bell Hotel, on Market Hill, Clare

Where so many towns and villages have seen all their pubs closed from lack of custom, Clare continues to support quite a few of them. From the prominent Bell Hotel on Market Hill as you round the corner into the town from the direction of Sudbury, to the Cock Inn along Callis Street, Bury St Edmunds bound. there are pubs to suit all tastes, serving good beer and food. The Bell Hotel is a fifteen bedroomed half-timbered Tudor style coaching inn dating back to the 16th century and originally a Coaching Inn. A refurbishment in 2013 retained these features whilst bringing comfort levels up to date whether you want a drink in the bar, sitt in a fireside chair or eat a meal in the Tudor restaurant, garden room or the lounge area. With its large beer gardens and rambling bars, the Cock Inn is a good choice for families, serving food (allergies and special diets catered for) and Adnams beer. The Globe offers sports TV and some live music and The Swan boasts ownership of the oldest pub sign in England going back to the 13th century. Real fires, real ale, cask ales, freshly prepared food and a take out menu of pizza and pasta keep this pub a popular choice. Special menu’s and themed evenings are a pre-bookable option. Accommodation can also be found at the Ship Stores in Callis Street and at the Red House, a Georgian home with large gardens and highly regarded breakfasts.

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(10) Plenty of sports facilities-

Clare Park Lake golf course is just outside the town along Stoke Road has been described as the prettiest and friendliest golf course in Suffolk and comprises a 9 hole, par 3 parkland course landscaped around the natural beauty of the river Stour with tree shaded lakes and woodlands nearby. Relaxed but still challenging, the course takes around one and a half hours to play and is not members only. Course and carp fishing can be enjoyed at Hermitage Fisheries for NRA licence holders and day permits are set at £7 per day in 2014. One of the many circular and country trails passes through the lakes of the Hermitage: this region offers beautiful walking for the whole family- routes are not challenging (no mountains in Clare!) and late Spring sees the Suffolk Walking Festival with many of its events focusing upon this region. The Clare Lions junior football club enjoys the use of extensive football pitches on the playing fields on the outskirts of the town and play three teams across local leagues whilst the Clare Carpet Bowls Club enjoys playing in the stunning surroundings of the country park where their headquarters are based. Should you develop a sports injury, physiotherapy is available from Clare Physiotherapy based in the town centre. The nearby village of Stoke by Clare is home to an equestrian centre offering tuition, part or full time livery and a floodlit indoor arena and a tennis club. We have mentioned the abundance of green spaces and easy access to the surrounding countryside already but it needs to be said that the country park is a superb place to power walk, jog or run. We have also seen people geocaching there too.

For more information, please contact the Clare Business Association or the Clare Town Council website.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council (for info about the Country Park and other public spaces)

Clare Castle Country Park

 

 

Ten Reasons to Visit… Suffolk

Our’Ten Reasons to Visit’ series focuses on Suffolk this month and we have had a great time researching and compiling some fabulous local attractions for you to visit. Let us know what you think!

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Crinkle Crankle Walls

(1) Best Thing About the Area

With its crinkle crankle walls, a House in the Clouds and the Nutshell – the smallest pub in the land, Suffolk is no ordinary place and we don’t do things by halves. Bucolic scenery we have in abundance – miles of heritage coastlines stretching from Lowestoft in the North East to Felixstowe, acres of forests and watery wildlife reserves such as Minsmere – home to BBC Springwatch and our scenic country walks, eulogised by many of Britains best nature writers. We also do culture well too with historic small towns packed with independent shops, theatres and other arts activities and the larger county towns of Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds doing it all on a greater scale. Sports fans are well catered for from the sport of kings and queens at Newmarket; geocaching and orienteering on the rise; rugby clubs and excellent running, fishing and cycling facilities- Suffolk has miles of well maintained cycle trails.

Prime territory for foodies with our famous bacons, hams, local vegetables and fruit; the breweries and bakers plus a raft of award winning places to eat, the very best of Britain can be found under these wide Suffolk skies. This is the county for castles and stately homes with many fine examples and ruins of important residences from times past. Framlingham Castle is one of the most spectacular with a packed timetable of events for families year round and Kentwell Hall is internationally famous for its Tudor Recreations.

Suffolk is a fabulous place to bring a family up in too with easy access, not only to all that Suffolk offers but also to London and Cambridge- the former is only an hour away by car or public transport, putting a working commute within reach. Local community organisations work very hard to welcome new families and we’d love you to contact us if you are looking to put down stronger roots here- we can help you settle in with our network of local Mumsnetters, meet ups and other groups.

(2) Best Child Friendly Cafe

Tucked away inside one of our great museums, the Osiers Cafe is heavenly for families with broad grassy seating areas, lots of ride on tractors, ducks to play with and a simple menu of freshly cooked meals, snacks and kids lunchbox specials. The Wild Strawberry Cafe in Woodbridge is a pretty little place to stop for a coffee whilst kids occupy themselves with free colouring and if you are in Sudbury, the Honey B has a play area, breastfeeding room for Mums who want more privacy (although they are welcomed with open arms everywhere in this lovely cafe), free Sunday papers and WiFi. Oh and the food ls super tasty.

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Osier cafe

(3) Best Child- Free Night Out

Our restaurants have really raised their game. From modern Indian at Orissa , the amazingly creative food at Darsham Nurseries – praised by Marina O’Loughlin, to The Crown at Bildeston, a highly rated pub with bar food and more formal dining that still retains a warmth of welcome, we eat well here. We are spoiled for the arts in Suffolk too. The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich offers a cornucopia of events and a customer service second to none. We’d follow a show with a night time stroll along the Ipswich docks with its floodlit marina, late night bars and stunningly romantic views across the River Orwell. Finally, an evening out with a difference- The Cock Inn at Brent Eleigh is a tiny roadside pub that offers THE authentic and timeless Suffolk pub experience. Go there on a Tuesday evening for cheese night where the bar is filled with cheeses bought by locals who then proceed to play roots and blues music for hours on end. In the Summer the doors and windows are thrown open to the dark country night skies. It is beautiful.

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Neptune Marina

(4) Outside Space

Stunning parks, nature reserves and playgrounds makes it rather hard to choose but we’d have to single out Clare Castle Country Park for its Norman castle ruins, disused railway track walk, lakes and water birds to feed, playgrounds and the nearby gorgeous town of Clare to explore. If you want classic woodland then we’d suggest a trip to Arger Fen, especially at bluebell time. The Suffolk coastline offers miles of sandy beaches, dunes and heathlands to explore plus plenty of organised activities for all the family- Covehithe is one our our favourites for its sheer dramatic beauty and isolation. The glorious Pin Mill. estuary in Woodbridge with a stunning sunset backdrop to the miles of riverside walking is another popular beauty spot as is the village of Ramsholt. Sit by the estuary of the Deben and eat seafood at Winkles at Felixstowe Ferry after a long walk along the riverside, looking out to sea. The famous Sudbury Water meadows with swan feed at Brundon Mill, captured by many an artist and the landscaped Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds, packed with town park features are both classic Suffolk tourist attractions. Brandon Country Park with a walled Edwardian garden and the nearby forests at Thetford and Santon Downham are paradise for walkers, horseriders and cyclists. We recently spent a holiday at Sweffling and walked the five heaths around Wenhaston followed by a meal at the Wenhaston Star. The undulating paths through bracken and ferns which children love to run up and down, all within a few miles of the sea make this a wonderful place for a day out or longer.

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Covehithe Beach

(5) Hidden Gem

The wonderful Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket deserves to be far better known as it provides hours of fun, education and entertainment in the most perfect and beautiful setting. Surrounded by acres of shaded green lanes, woods and meadows with windmills, rare breed animals and steam engines to explore, the exhibitions cover all aspects of local life from displays of toys throughout the ages, Romany wagons (and an amazing Airstream caravan) to the history of the former local asylum and a walled garden. Kids can drive mini tractors round a fenced grassy track, play with interactive displays scattered everywhere and eat in the lovely cafe and gardens. There are buggy friendly trails, babychanging and breastfeeding is welcomed and there is a programme of baby yoga and storytime mornings year round. Knowledgeable and friendly guides are there to help enhance your experience.

(6) Community Venues

The Stomping Ground supports Ipswich families via a programme of events, a community cafe and breastfeeding support whilst the Synergy Cafe in Haverhill helps families affected by Dementia -something that is very important when you consider that many of us are caring for both children and elderly parents. Workwise in Bury St Edmunds runs its own giftshop called Cavern 4. Packed with covetable items, my Father in Law was central in establishing this local Mental Health enterprise so we are very proud of it and of the amazing artists who contribute such beautiful work.

(7) Free Visitor Attraction

The whole of our amazing coastline counts as a free visitor attraction, especially if you take a picnic and steer clear of the traditional seaside amusements. The Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum in Southwold offers free entry although donations are appreciated to go towards upkeep. Helping install an idea of how important the sea is to people in Suffolk and how it must be respected, parents can then walk the length of Souhwold Pier and admire stunning Suffolk sea views. The pier also has free entry although the exquisitely maintained Vintage Seaside arcade games are not free to play. Walking in the Rendlesham Woods with its history of possible ‘alien spaceship ‘landings is another quirky Suffolk thing to do; follow the alien trail markings and get your children’a imaginations working overtime, especially if you walk in the late afternoon when the sun slants through the forest and gives everything a lovely spooky edge.

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The Ship at Dunwich

(8) Best Day Out

The classic Enid Blyton- esque seaside experience is there to be had in Suffolk. We recommend a drive to Dunwich where you can explore the mysteries of this drowned town and be charmed by stories of the bell apparently being heard chiming under the sea. Lunch (and a swift beer) can be had in either the rambling former smugglers and fishermens pub The Ship at Dunwich or the super traditional seaside fish and chips, eaten right next to the dunes of Dunwich Heath and pebbles of the beach at the Flora Tearooms. Spend the afternoon on the beach, wandering along Dunwich Forest or visit the tiny Dunwich Museum which tells the story of this amazing place. The drive home passes through plenty of beautiful villages packed with stores selling local foods and produce. Keep an eye out for the road side stalls full of fruit, veg, eggs and local honey too.

(9) Place to Live

Although the Suffolk school system is in a state of flux with changes from three tier to two tier education, we still boast wonderful schools and teachers including an abundance of smaller village primaries and great, supportive communities around them. Small towns like Clare, Eye, Framlingham, Beccles, Newmarket, Hadleigh and Woodbridge all really good great facilities and possess community pride with a busy calendar of events and promotions and active business organisations dedicated to protecting independent shops. The larger towns of Ipswich, Lowestoft, Haverhill, Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds have good shopping facilities, leisure centres and improving transport networks; they are vibrant and increasingly multicultural with hard working organisations such as Bid4Bury and local chambers of commerce driving towns forward. Many towns are within one hour of London via rail, routed through Ipswich, Cambridge or Colchester and quite a few villages are connected to the network too.

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The Arc

(10) Places to shop

Great effort has been made to protect the local and the independent and small towns and villages like Clare, Lavenham, Framlingham, Halesworth, Aldeburgh, Woodbridge Sudbury and Hadleigh excel at this- we love shopping in Suffolk. Bury St Edmunds has a large new shopping centre called The Arc but boasts ancient streets of independent shops- St Johns, Risbygate and Abbeygate St alongside one of the UKs best bi-weekly markets. Other markets can be found in many Suffolk towns alongside newer farmers markets – the Snape Maltings market being one of the best. Ipswich boasts the largest shopping centre and winding streets of shops over a larger area although the tiniest of Suffolk villages offer a surprising range of eclectic stores which manage to provide an online ordering service too. Check out our many antiques barns too- Clare, Long Melford and Snape all have them still although they have declined greatly in numbers since the heyday of ‘Lovejoy’, the TV series set in and around the Suffolk antiques trade.

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Ramsholt

 

Ten reasons to …..visit…. Felixstowe

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The town of Felixstowe curves along the beach

Often neglected in favour of its Suffolk cousins with better PR, Aldeburgh and Southwold, we think Felixstowe is a great place to spend time in, full of interesting family attractions and things to do. Good transport links with its location at the end of the A14, just past Ipswich makes it easy to get to and the safe, clean beaches, both in the town centre and at Old Felixstowe means that there is still fun to be had even if your budget is limited. Bring your bathing suit in the summer or wrap up warm for a colder weather bracing walk along the seafront with its broad buggy friendly promenade and warm your hands up with a tray of hot freshly fried fish and chips. Here’s our round up of the best things to do, some suggested by our followers on Twitter and others chosen by us. Do let us know if we have left your favourites out.

(1) Watching the Ships

By Rodney Harris from Geograph/ Creative Commons
By Rodney Harris from Geograph/ Creative Commons

The Port of Felixstowe Suffolk enjoys a unique position, perched on a peninsula between the rivers Orwell and Deben and is the United Kingdom’s busiest container port, dealing with over 40% of Britain’s containerised trade. The Port’s newer Trinity Terminal has 26 quayside cranes and spans over 2 km. along one of Europe’s longest continuous quays and is able to accommodate the latest generation of large container ships. The Port’s Landguard Terminal came into operation in July 1967 as the first deep-water facility for container ships serving the UK.

But enough of the stats- to a child (and many adults) this means really big ships, lots of clanking noises, wheeling seagulls and an amazing and dramatic floodlit night time light spectacle. The John Bradfield Viewing Area adjoining Landguard Terminal was provided by the Port in 1992 and has become one of the most popular places for local people and visitors alike along the Suffolk Coast. Whether you sit and eat in the View Point Cafe (inside the viewing area) which serves all day breakfasts, fresh fish and chips, cakes, ice creams, and a full selection of teas and coffees or outside, the fantastic close up views of one of the world’s busiest ports are a shipspotter’s heaven. From the John Bradfield Viewing Area you can enjoy mesmerising views across the estuary to the Shotley Peninsula and the towns of Harwich and Dovercourt (both in Essex). If the weather is really clear you can even see the off-shore wind turbines beyond The Naze in Walton. Back inside the viewing area, you will find interactive displays, lots of information, videos and exhibits. Decent bathrooms and babychange facilities are provided too.

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The Ferry Cafe

That’s not all though! Languard Point forms one of Suffolk’s many unique habitats- the vegetated shingle habitat of the Landguard Nature Reserve, with its rare plants, migrating birds and military history. Go bird-watching, take a cycle ride or stroll along the beach and run along the  boardwalk which is also suitable for wheelchair users and buggies.This  offers easier access to the seashore and wildlife, as well as views of the ships at the nearby Port of Felixstowe. Overlooking the Nature Reserve is the Landguard Bird Observatory which rings and records migratory birds as they pass by on their way in and out of Britain. It also identifies and records moths. Many migrating birds are attracted to the area by the lights of the nearby Port of Felixstowe, so bring your binoculars and camera and check out the board outside the observatory for the latest sightings. Don’t forget to record any sightings of your own.

Afterwards, explore the rich military and maritime heritage of Landguard Fort, one of England’s best-preserved coastal defences, with a history spanning almost 450 years. At the neighbouring Felixstowe Museum, the fascinating artefacts and collections which bring alive the military and social history of this seaside town are displayed.

DOWNLOAD the Landguard Peninsula and Felixstowe andTrimley circular walk leaflets. Please note: these documents are in pdf format, and you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view or print.

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Dramatic night views of Felixstowe Port

The Fludyers Hotel provides a cosy bar or an outdoor terrace from which to observe the comings and goings too. They serve Adnams and we can think of no better way to spend an afternoon dreaming of travel on the high seas, far removed from the unromantic forms of modern travel- Ryanair cattle trucks and atmosphere deficient modern cruise liners.

 (2) From big ships to little boats

Want to go back in time to an Enid Byton-esque childhood of fishing boats, clanking moorings and puddles of rusting chains; the smell of fresh fish and cries of sea birds and sandy kneed children huddled around rock pools on deserted beaches? Or do you yearn for Arthur Ransome style meanderings in a small boat, puttering from jetty to jetty, commandered by men and women who make their livelihood from the grey North Sea waters? Felixstowe can provide all this and more and this is why we love it so.

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Winkles at the Ferry

To the north of the town is the tiny fishing village of Felixstowe Ferry with its few houses, fishing huts built out of salt scoured pitch black boards and ramshackle leaning holiday homes on stilts. The Ferry Inn, a church and the Ferry cafe,cluster together on the land which finally runs out at the jetty. Want to eat before you go to Bawdsey? Winkles at the Ferry is a gorgeously atmospheric eating place overlooking the River Deben offering an outdoor raised terrace directly over the waters as well as indoor seating too. Serving freshly cooked food all day, the ingredients are all sourced locally, then go for a stroll along the pebbled river banks. Have a walk along the sea front, lunch at the cafe or pub and marvel at the Martello Towers that line the sea front and guarded us against sea invasions. A tiny ferry boat will then take you to Bawdsey Island, the secret WWII facility and home to the inventor of the radar. Whilst you await the boat, while away the time crabbing off the jetty. All you need is a crabbing line (crabbing kits are sold in many of the local seafront stores), some pieces of bacon (as smelly as possible) and a bucket of salt water to keep the crabs in safely until it is time to return them to the sea. Walberswick is the place many visitors to Suffolk mention when talking about crabbing but Felixstowe is just as good- the crabs like bacon here too!

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The foot and cycle ferry

The ferry operates between Easter and October, running on demand and according to the weather. Call 01394 282173 or 07709 411511 for more information.  Bawdsey Island Quay  has a good stretch of sandy beach for children to play on, and a lovely Boathouse Cafe to enjoy freshly caught local fish in and you can visit the place where the ground breaking work in radar technology took place. RAF Bawdsey, operational in 1937, was the first of a chain of radar stations to be built around the coast of Britain. During the Battle of Britain with 2,600 Luftwaffe planes to the RAF’s 640, it was the use of radar for detecting aircraft en route to the UK so they could be intercepted that saved the day.

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Felixstowe Ferry with Bawdsey Island across the water

It is also possible to pay a visit to Essex via the Harwich Harbour Foot Ferry– the only foot ferry linking Harwich, Felixstowe and Shotley. This jolly little yellow boat runs from the Ha’penny Pier in Harwich to the John Bradfield Viewing Area at Felixstowe . It also offers trips along the River Stour which forms part of the geographical border between Essex and Suffolk and the river Orwell (from which the author Eric Blair took his pen name – George Orwell) offering stunning scenes of pastures, river banks, estuaries and woodlands- the likes of which have inspired artists and authors for centuries. Booking is not essential, but is advisable during busy periods. Call 07919 911440.

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The Harwich – Felixstowe Foot Ferry

 (3) Rainy day fun at Felixstowe Leisure Centre

We are in Britain and we need to be realistic that even at the height of Summer, there are going to be days when the sun doesn’t shine, leaving us with a restless armload of kids requiring entertainment. And not of the Minecraft kind either. When we asked folks on Twitter for their suggestions about what’s best in Felixstowe, the leisure centre (and specifically the pool) was mentioned over and over. From bowling, soft play and all manner of classes and special events to the fantastic swimming, this is THE place for indoor and healthy fun that admission fees aside, won’t cause more money to haemorrhage from your wallet. Right on the seafront, it is easy to find and conveniently located for those post swim hunger pangs that tend to require immediate attention unless you’ve bought a packed lunch or can swiftly get them home before they notice the doughnuts, candy floss, burgers and chips sold across the promenade at the pier.

(4) The Pier at Felixstowe

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The pier

Completed in 1905, this was once one of the longest piers in the country with its own train running to the end but the vast majority of it was demolished after the second world war There are plans to re-develop it in 2015 yet part of its charm is that quintessential Englishness; slightly ramshackle, gaudy, all fur coat and no knickers. We have youthful memories of chasing boys, coyly hiding as we watched our chosen ones look our way then swagger off with their mates. Listening to ABBA, Baccara and Donna Summer fade in and out as the rides swirled round, staggering off them and trying to remain cool and upright- none of this has changed apart from the music which is now Robin Thicke, JayZ and Rihanna. But there are still billowing and giggling crowds of teenagers roaming back and forth, enjoying the slightly dangerous, reckless air of the fairground and often being far from home too.

The fast rides on the pier are gone now but the fast food and candy kiosks at the entrance are still lit up with illuminations that drawn you in and spit you out into a vivid world of primary coloured pinging brash arcade games, children’s rides and yet more food kiosks. Kids dart everywhere followed by parents trying to keep an eye on them, clutching bulging bags of neon bright candy floss. The relative calm of the fishing platforms and boardwalks at the end of the pier give fabulous views of the container ships and ferries en route to and from the port, calming the most raucous of kids. In Winter, the sunsets are beautiful offering us the best views of those famous, endless Suffolk skies.

(5) Hire out a beach hut

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Beach huts- photo by Joe Bridge

We were fortunate enough to have friends who had permanent use of one of these huts but it is possible to hire one by the day. A number of privately owned beach huts plus two Council owned huts are available for hire throughout the season (from Easter until the end of September) at various different locations. A list of these huts and booking forms are available from the Felixstowe Tourist Information Centre on 01394 276770 or by emailing ftic@suffolkcoastal.gov.uk 

During the winter months one of the Council owned beach huts is available for daily hire whilst in its winter location on the promenade at a charge of £20.00 per day. This can be booked by calling 01394 276770 or emailingftic@suffolkcoastal.gov.uk

(6) The garden resort of East Anglia and walking the promenade

Walk south along the pram friendly wide, tarmac of the promenade, interspersed with benches for breastfeeding or other pit stops and notice how the maritime climate encourages the growth of palm trees and healthy, floriferous borders. These are beautifully maintained by the local councils horticultural teams alongside volunteers. The promenade is wide and flat enough for children to scoot along and get a little ahead of their parents whilst remaining within sight. The area between Manor End and Cobbold’s Point is Felixstowe’s main seafront and can be walked along a two mile long promenade. This will take you past a number of the towns most famous landmarks including Manning’s Amusements, originally opened in 1933 by Sir Billy Butlin, and run by the Manning family since 1946.north beach by chris leather

The Seafront Gardens sit on cliffs between the town centre and beach, rising up and following the curve of the road which takes you to the shops. These beautiful landscaped and sumptuously planted gardens were created a hundred years ago in the best Edwardian tradition and stretch for more than a mile alongside the promenade. Take time to wander through them and uncover the many historical features, structures and colourful and unusual planting that make this such a beautiful place to visit.

(7) Trimley Marshes Nature Reserve

Slightly out of town but well worth a visit, these wetland marshes have been created almost entirely from arable land situated within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are wonderful views of the Orwell estuary from here and a vast array of bird species and other creatures to look out for. The car park is nearly a mile away from the first bird hide though so younger children probably won’t manage to walk all the way and a sling or baby carrier might be advisable. There are picnic facilities and disabled access is provided too.

(8) The Palace Cinema

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Newly restored and refurbished, this classic old school and independent cinema offers two air conditioned screens with luxurious seating with food served to you as you watch the film.Taking children here to get a taste of how cinema could be is top of our list.

(9) Pick your own fruit

Situated just off the A14 at Trimley St Martin (near the Trimley Marshes Nature Reserve), Goslings Farm Shop offers another classic British Summer and Autumn experience- picking your own fruit. Open daily, hungry children can eat in the on site Strawberry Cafe and then wander around the plant centre and nursery afterwards. In our experience, children absolutely love pick your own fruit, enjoy learning about how it is grown and on a sunny day, it is hard to beat for sheer fun.

(10) Eat out and shop

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Chilli & Chives Cafe

Recommended by a Mumsnetter, The Alex has an unrivalled location, sited right across from the seafront promenade. From the ground floor cafe bar serving breakfasts and drinks to the first floor brasserie (with lift access), serving seafood, grill and classic brasserie style food plus a set menu, people seeking good food in sophisticated yet relaxing surroundings will be made most welcome. Want somewhere that’ll occupy the kids while you relax with cake and a drink? Crafty Coffee is a bright, fresh arts and crafts cafe by the sea, offering space to unwind whilst the children get busy. Kids and adults can take part in ceramics painting, decoupage and knitting workshops whilst eating cakes too, all baked on the premises. Chilli & Chives is a little tearoom which also has branches in Lavenham and Hintlesham serving cakes, teas and light meals and overlooks the seafront gardens. Mooching west along Undercliff Road in search of more ice cream we came across The Little Ice Cream Company which serves fresh artisanal ice cream made from milk produced by the cows of Adams Farm. Soups, sandwiches and other light snacks are served too although to be honest, a steep walk up the cliff road should be rewarded by ice cream and nothing else in our opinion. Want a trad fish and chips eating experience? The Fish Dish restaurant is a huge place over two floors serving boat fresh fish, masses of mushy peas and platters full of properly thick seaside chips. Black leather banquettes, tiles, Spanish style white painted arches, waitress service and stripped wood staircases and floors make this place hard to define.

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Fish Dish Restaurant

Seasides mean seaside rock and The Sweet Hut sells plenty of this in case you hit the town and missed the myriad sweet and candy huts lining the area near the amusements. Also located in the heart of the town centre is the Felixstowe Triangle Canopy, a public space with a varied events programme throughout the year from acoustic music to living statues, table top sales and more. On Sundays you’ll find the very popular market held in the grounds of Mannings Amusements. From classic bric a brac and pound an item to lovely plants, food stalls and more, there’s a lot to look at and see. We’re huge fans of the classic design of the amusement building with its twin towers, fountain, arcade and kiosks all in a sea salt faded pink. Had this building been located in Miami, it’d have a national preservation order placed upon it by now.

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A Felixstowe local keeps an eye out to sea

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Reasons to Visit the Caister Region of Norfolk

In association with Haven Caister

The big skies of Norfolk  make it the perfect place to take a holiday with your family, with mile after mile of unspoilt beautiful coastline, famous wetland reserves and the Norfolk Broads National Park. Romantic castles, windmills and forests abound, plus some of England’s most historic towns and cities, all surrounded by wildly beautiful countryside. With theme parks and zoos, museums and a myriad of festivals and fairs, plus fabulous regional food, Norfolk is the perfect place to bring your family. This feature focuses upon some of the lovely places to visit and things to do within twenty miles of Caister on Norfolk’s East Coast.

1. Best thing about the coast

The coastline around Caister has more than 15 miles of gently sloping, clean and patrolled beaches. Locals have been catering to holidaymakers since the 1700s, so they know what they are doing! From the bright lights of the Pleasure Beach to the amber-strewn cliffs near Hopton and wild dunes of Winterton-On-Sea, the coastline around Caister and Great Yarmouth offers something for everybody – and is bursting with wildlife too.

2. Best beach

Within 20 miles of Caister is the Blue Flag awarded beach at Mundesley, with wild sweeps of golden sand. It’s patrolled by its own inshore lifeboat and coast watch, so it’s very family-friendly. Ice creams and drinks can be bought from several seafront cafes and shops, and there’s ample parking. Great Yarmouth Beach offers boat trips to Scroby Sands to watch the seals basking on their own sandbank ‘beach’. The beach at Sea Palling, with its manmade coastal reef, is another perfect family beach and just a short drive from Caister.

Winterton on Sea

3. Best child-friendly café

Fish and chips taste best with a sea view, and The Old Manor Cafe at Caister-on-Sea is perfect for this, providing generously portioned, child-friendly food and surroundings. The friendly staff who are happy to accommodate dietary restrictions will keep you returning, and the efficient service means your excited children won’t be kept from the beach for too long. The Norfolk Broads are also dotted with small independent tea shops that welcome families with fresh food and baking.

4. Best pub

The Archers Eating Emporium at Reedham has a bucolic riverside setting with its own slipway, ferry and moorings, making it the ideal choice for families coming by boat! At this family run establishment -a winner of a Les Routiers Award for hospitality – you can eat, drink and watch the river and the world go by. Baby and child facilities are provided and pets are welcome.

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The Gunton Arms

5. Best child-free night out

The Gunton Arms, north west of Great Yarmouth, overlooks the Gunton Park deer estate and is a traditional pub with a modern vibe. The chef uses local, seasonal produce, like Cromer crab, Gunton Park venison and Norfolk fruit and vegetables, which you can enjoy surrounded by a collection of modern art rivalling any top gallery. After your meal, stroll around the beautiful grounds and enjoy the peace of the Norfolk countryside.

6. Best outside space

Fritton Lake Outdoor Activity Park. Kids can ride bikes and go-karts, enjoy the adventure playground with its giant inflatable pillow, play golf with mum and dad on the pitch and putt course or try out life on the river with a choice of three types of boat. Rainy days are covered too with an indoor soft play and activity centre plus a relaxing coffee shop for adults. There’s also nature and history trails, pony rides and fishing.

Hippodrome7. Best hidden gem

The Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth is described as East Anglia’s own Albert Hall, and has been staging family-friendly shows and circuses for decades in the historic building. With a variety of seasonal ‘spectaculars’ on show throughout the year, take in a show then tour its circus museum which allows you to interact with props, memorabilia and recreations of a famous Houdini stunt!

8. Best free visitor attraction

Visit the gorgeous rescue horses, ponies, donkeys and mules in their pretty seaside setting at the Caldecott Visitor Centre; an animal sanctuary near Great Yarmouth. With over 70 acres of paddocks that are home to some special animals including Prince the handsome Heavy Horse, you and your children will be both charmed and entertained. Caldecott offers tractor rides (weather permitting) and tours plus a childs play area for burning off some energy. If you get hungry, a café offers light meals and snacks. The Horse Wise Education Centre contains interactive displays telling visitors about their important work and there is a gift shop attached. Entry to the sanctuary is free but donations are appreciated.

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Bewilderwood

9. Best days out 

BeWILDerwood offers a magical day of adventure, excitement and activity in a forest setting. The woodland theme park is filled with mythical creatures, treehouses, zipwires and jungle bridges, where parents are encouraged to lose themselves and play alongside their children. The food is part of the experience, prepared from locally sourced ingredients, and all manner of dietary requirements can be catered to. If you prefer, you can bring your own food, plus buggies/wheelchairs can access most of the site. Toddlers even have their own Toddlewood – a mini version of the older rides and activities!

Explore the remains of a third century fort at Burgh Castle on the other side of Breydon Water. The fort predates the settlement of Great Yarmouth, and is a great place to enjoy the spectacular sunsets and views. For older or more active children, spend the day at Berney Arms visiting the windmills on the river Yare, then walk back to Yarmouth along the Wherryman’s Way. There’s no need for a car if you take the Wherry Line Train out to Berney Arms station. Have a look around the gorgeous scenery and eat lunch at the pub.

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Norwich Lanes

10. Best places to shop

A short drive or bus journey will take you to the historic and eclectic city of Norwich. Make sure you visit the medieval lanes area of the city – a series of alleyways and open courtyard spaces centred around the Clock Tower which is home to some of the more intriguing shops and attractions. Being mainly pedestrianised, the Lanes are family-friendly with beautiful architecture, street entertainers and food, plus many resting places for tired little legs. Museums and Norwich Castle can be found nearby.