So what would you include in a scratch ‘n sniff guide to Suffolk?

 

Hawkedon by Rosemary Jessopp
Hawkedon by Rosemary Jessopp

I recently contributed to a BBC Radio Suffolk feature about the recent launch, by the York tourist board, of what is claimed to be the UKs first scratch-and-sniff travel guide designed to attract visitors with a real time evocation of the scent of the county, The guidebook is a sensory journey across all aspects of regional life, from the centre of the city to its wildest and most isolated places.

We know how important smell is in the formation of sense memory as Kate McMullen, head of Visit York, says: “Countless scientific studies prove that the human sense of smell is one of the key facets in forming strong memories. We commissioned this scented guidebook to give potential newcomers to York a fun flavour of the many lasting memories that a trip to our historic city could provide.”

Produced with the input of a team of scent “engineers” who analysed a range of smells before recreating them in a laboratory in a process identical to that found in the perfumery industry, the smells were then turned into a printing varnish and applied to the photographs on the pages. A good old scratch will release the scent.

There’s the spooky sulphurous smell associated with one of the city’s smelliest ghosts and an evocation of coal, steam and oil from the Victorian railways (“a nostalgic infusion of coal, steam, engine oil and iron”); an olfactory reminder of its antique shops ( “a musty infusion of leather, old books, gold, silver, wood and dust”) and the smells of horses galloping to the finish line at York Racecourse ( horse hair, hoof oil, grass and fruit punch). Visitors are reminded of the time when the air was enriched by an aroma of chocolate, mint and vanilla as the great chocolate making families of Terry’s and Rowntree worked their magic. The scent of loose leaf tea and cream cakes from Betty’s of Harrogate and strong Yorkshire cheeses such as Wensleydale and Swaledale rounds off the culinary tribute.

It might be the UK’s first odiferous guidebook but it isn’t the first worldwide as that honour belongs to New York City which chose to commemorate sewer steam, hot dogs and pizza alongside the garbage that, no doubt, the latter two scents make up a goodly amount of.

By Cheryse Caba
By Cheryse Caba

So, asked BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Mark Murphy on his mid morning show, “if we were to do the same here in Suffolk, what smells would you include?” Many of the respondents displayed those well known Suffolk traits of pragmatism and practicality, mentioning traffic smells and the salt, fish and industry of local ports, whilst others waxed lyrical.  Here’s some of the most interesting replies sent to me when I canvassed some suggestions, accompanied by a bit of background information.


(1) “Fields of oil seed rape and freshly cut wheat and corn on country runs” says Labour’s parliamentary candidate, Jane Basham when I ask her for her favourite Suffolk smells. The rolling fields of the county grow dense with the smoke blue of borage, acid yellow froth of rape plants and acres of cereal crops. As late summer approaches, the scent of hot straw baled and left in the fields settles low in the air and towards the end of the day, the sun gets low on the horizon and its rays catch the dusty straw motes as they hover in a thick, golden light. The only sound is of crickets hiding in the verges and the bells of the great wool churches of Sudbury, Lavenham and Long Melford as they call the failthful of South Suffolk to prayer.

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Some of the loveliest walks can be found in Jane’s constituency along the South Suffolk valley on the north and south sides of the river Stour. The north and east sides take you from the south side of Long Melford to the north side of Sudbury and onwards through both Little and Great Cornard to Bures. The steep lanes that rise up sharply from Bures Road are thickly hedgerowed and climb to the high points of the county at Arger Fen, surrounded by fields of crops and patched by thickets of mixed broadleaf trees and shrubs. The A134 Rodbridge Corner to Borley road takes you past Long Melford Country Park which borders the Stour and lies to the south and west side of the river from Ridgewell in the west. Rodbridge Corner was once the site of a Roman villa, a vestige of the nearby Roman settlement which once underlaid nearby Long Melford. Continue to Borley, site of the notorious rectory hauntings or travel onwards to Foxearth, Bulmer and Twinstead, ending up on the outskirts of Mount Bures which abuts the county of Essex. The views around Foxearth and up to Borley are panoramic because this is a gentle and undulating landscape, in part due to the clay plateau upon which Foxearth is perched at its western end.

The tree cover is minimal affording walkers a good view of the entire valley and the signposts are engraved with intriguing place names. Don’t be fooled by the French sounding names of the hamlets of Belchamp Otten, Belchamp St Paul and Belchamp Walter. Yes, the modern form  of ‘bel champs’ means ‘beautiful field’ in French but they are actually Old English placenames that refer to ‘the settlement on the baulk or ridge’.

The landscape is loam and chalky clay, a leftover from the great Anglian glaciation, fully fertile and edged by well maintained hedgerows of elm and hawthorn, field maples, oak and ash. Ancient holly bushes loom deep in woodlands thick with cherry, oak and hornbeam. Roadside plantings of old limes cast dappled shade and drip honeydew and sooty ash from the many ants that grow fat on sap whilst modern shelterbelt plantings of alder girdle horse paddocks.The roads and pathways bisect and skirt clusters of hamlets and villages with their mixture of Medieval, Jacobean, Victorian and Georgian architecture: colour washed, buff local brick or tar pitched; beamed, thatched or red clay tiled roofs and estates of solid brick built to house a post war population.

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Around Long Melford

(2) The scent of hemp and algae covered rusting metal- the great ropes and  clanking chains of our Suffolk shipbuilding industry” reminds Edward Miller of our watery history. Suffolk, more than most other counties, has a shifting and permeable boundary, subject to the vagaries of time, tide, wind and water along its coastline. The watery fimbrels of creeks and rivers piled on the pressure for invading forces and made navigating the county so very challenging in times past. Crossed by five estuaries with diverse terrain and features, the Suffolk coast is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and its watery nature has made road building virtually impossible, protecting it from the thoughtless development that other coastlines have been subjected to. From drained marshes, managed reedbeds and deep creeks filled with dark waters to shingle beaches, striated cliffs, heathlands full of tumbled bushes of gorse and forests that march right up to the waves, the landscape is at its best chartered by boat or on foot.

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The intriguingly named Johnny All Alone Creek is one such place, halfway along the river Stour and surrounded by nothing more than grazing marsh to the west and a stretch of shingle beach to the east. Walkers along the Stour/Orwell long distance path which follows the river wall are few; river crafts here are far more prevalent in a landscape pockmarked with brackish rindles and mud flats which are home to avocets, godwits and curlews which stalk the waters and scoop up beakfuls of tiny shrimp.

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Explore Pin Mill between the rivers Orwell and Stour where both estuaries run relatively straight between deep wooded cuts or travel to Woodbridge on the river Deben with its gently curved trajectory which nonetheless requires its sides banking to keep the rising tide from the surrounding farmland. Then there’s the river Waveney and the two other northern estuaries, the Blyth and Alde, with a mild rise to their valley slopes and less assertive flood defences or the river Stour between Mistley and Flatford Mill. Pleasure craft, working fishing boats and the old hulking Thames barges can be seen marooned at Pin Mill during low tide. Winds catch the gorse and pine which grows along the bluffs rising up from the river and carries their scent down to the boatyards where it mingles with estuarine mud and salt, the iodine of the seaweed encrusted rills and gullies and bloody iron tang of the chains as thick as your arm, tethering the crafts to the shore. Jane Watson is another fan of the sealubber scent of Woodbridge from her years spent living there: “that salty sea water from Woodbridge…I love it.”

Run by Des Pawson, one of the world’s leading authorities on knots and sailors’ ropework and a researcher and historian on the subject, the Museum of knots and sailors ropework is one of those niche museums that is both labour of love and repository of centuries of skills and knowledge. As Des says, “Rope and knots are my life and have been since I was a boy” and alongside his business ‘Footrope Knots’ which sells handmade knotted items, Des is determined to ensure that Suffolk rope making is not consigned to the footnotes of history.

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Shipbuilding may sound romantic but it is an industry darkened by sweat and graft and marked by waves of immigration and importation, resentment and assimilation. By the 13th century the industry was flourishing in the county town of Ipswich and by the late 16th century, sailmaking was hugely profitable too although the latter declined as the 17th century waned. Timber and iron came here from the Nordic north and chandleries acquired their hemp for ropes from Latvia. Dockers greeted the import of coal and iron from other parts of the UK and waved goodbye to holds packed full of goods made from this iron. By 1842 a wet dock had been constructed although Ipswich was no longer an international port of importance but this domestic to-ing and fro-ing kept the place alive. Down river, Woodbridge too had been a centre for boat building, rope and sail making since the Middle Ages: both Edward III and Sir Francis Drake had commissioned the construction of fighting ships in the town.

The establishment of Woodbridge’s Custom House followed the increased prosperity that followed the religious settlements under Elizabeth I and the wool trade saw local merchants in Hadleigh, Sudbury and surrounding villages grow rich. The tensions that arrived with Dutch refugees and the competition they posed to local labour forces have strong parallels with present times as the county sees the arrival of migrant workers from Poland and Eastern Europe. They settled across South Essex (Colchesters Dutch quarter bears witness to their aesthetic input) and Suffolk and then, in the 19th century, competition from the northern English factories with their cheaper mass produced yarn and cloth saw the end of boom times for Ipswich and other ports although the silk weaving industry in Sudbury benefited from companies moving out of Spitalfields in East London.

By Rhodie Ike
By Rhodie Ike

Now, with the increasing importance of the leisure and tourist industry and the consequential redevelopment of the marina at Ipswich and Woodbridge’s Tide Mill, we are seeing new life breathed into our old Suffolk ports alongside the huge importance of Felixstowe, just down the coast which is one of Europe’s most important commercial ports and never fails to remind locals of its presence: “the malted smell that drifts from Felixstowe docks when the winds in the right direction”. The spectacle of humongous cargo ships steered into port by floodlit tugs and pilot boats whilst crowds gather at Languard and Shotley to watch is something that particularly delights children.

Ipswich Marina
Ipswich Marina

(3) “The smell of fish and chips in Aldeburgh”; “the smell of the sea” are among the most frequently cited smells of Suffolk and definitely some of the ones that stir up the most nostalgia and longing. The Aldeburgh fish and chip shop is one of the most famous takeaways in the UK, scene of queues down the street and conveniently next door to a well regarded pub with benches out front so you can sit and drink an ale with your chips. There’s a sister restaurant, The Golden Galleon, with a plaster mermaid at its prow and sit down space inside.

Fact is, fish and chips by the sea is an example of food in context, eaten just steps away from one of the best store cupboards in the world- the North Sea. Tidy rows of black pitched and weatherboarded huts along the shingle beach chalk up details of the daily catch on blackboards; sole, lots of crab, skate, plaice and decent lobster with shells tinted hypoxic blue. The fish comes twice daily and locals buy what arrives, eschewing an over reliance on the pre planned shopping list.

Yes, we’ve probably had our fill of food blogs and articles from over excited out of town food writers who are excited by ‘local colour’ and an interminable wait in a chip shop queue, punctuated by swigs from a mini bottle of champagne. Rapturous prose follows their route along the seafront alleyways down to the water where they eat their meal straight from the paper. I’m not going to tell you how the air sizzles with iodine-like inhaling an oyster- nor go on about the pleasure of licking salt and vinegar from your fingers in a brisk on shore wind because I will sound like one of them. Also, contrary to received knowledge, this isn’t the best fish and chip shop in Suffolk but it is really good nonetheless; fish from the neighbourhood cooked in fresh bubbling hot oil. It is Mark Murphy’s quintessential Suffolk smell and he knows what he is talking about, I reckon.

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(4) The sickly sweet nostril prickling scent of scorched sugar from candy floss and sugar beet: the latter is transported to the British Sugar factory on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds. Belching great gouts of steam into the sky and visible for miles around, the factory acts as sentinel, telling locals that they are home- it is the steam, as garden designer Janey Auchincloss points out, that they have the association with. Despite the appalled reaction of nature writer Roger Deakin, many locals are pretty tolerant of the factory, smells and all, and manage to live alongside it: “sugar beet: not lovely, not awful” as Jane Watson says. Deakin really was pretty hard on the sugar beet factory, in part because back in the 80s, toxic effluent was leaked into the river Lark and sugar is a particularly malevolent contaminant, deoxygenating water by encouraging a massive overgrowth of bacteria. Interestingly this is one of the reasons why people with diabetes who have poor blood sugar control may also struggle with lingering bacterial infections, especially of the skin.

Anyway, Deakin reminds us that lorry drivers refer to Bury St Edmunds as ‘sugar city’ and finds it easy to see the factory as a “giant conspiracy against the nations health…it looks at its most satanic at night, when clouds of evil smelling smoke and steam billow like candyfloss out of e forest of steam chimneys and high tech ducting, floodlit in lurid pink and orange.” He continues…“The place looks like a missile launching site…with a system of deodorising mist sprays…perfuming the evil smeling air…a gleaming new spinney conceals vast lagoons full of rotting beet sludge” then ends by referring to “a pot pourri of perfume and stench [which] assails the puzzled nostrils of the traveller.”

Sugar beet steam obscures Tayfen meadows in the town By John Goldsmith
Sugar beet steam obscures Tayfen meadows in the town By John Goldsmith

The thing is, although residents in Bury St Edmunds know not to open their windows when the wind blows in a certain direction or when the pits are being cleaned, I haven’t encountered anyone who vehemently objects to the smell; indeed most people were fairly pragmatic about it, recognising that this is a place that employs not only a significant amount of local people in the factory, but also in the surrounding farms and their associated agriculture. The smell is sweet with a weird vegetal note, reminiscent of the smell of decaying old rhubarb leaves as you dig them back in, exposing fresh growth at the crown of the plant or a potato grown soft and rotten at the back of the vegetable bin. Anyway, we all need to remind ourselves that before the sugar beet began to yield its sweetness, there existed, within the sugar industry, a practice that was responsible for far more unpleasantness than a bad smell.

In an address to the Oxford Symposium on Food, Cathy K Kaufman talks of the initial dream that the sugar beet would render slave produced cane sugar obsolete. Some 19th century American abolitionists saw the root as the ultimate weapon against a cruel system which enabled the southern states to undercut prices through the use of human slaves. As was said in National Era, the options for refining sugar needed toshow that the sweet may be obtained without the bitter, and that there is no necessary connection between bondage and Muscovadoes.” Those early dreams of ending the plantation system via sugar beet sugar came to nothing at that point as commercial production only became viable in 1870 after the American Civil War had done away with the Confederacy and the slavery which was its social and economic foundations.

Sugar beet factory viewed from Barton Mills by Andrew Ridley
Sugar beet factory viewed from Barton Mills by Andrew Ridley

Previously the post Enlightenment and early industrialization periods saw huge demand for sugared hot drinks which caused prices to skyrocket. Initially sugar sweetened tea, coffee and chocolate remained costly luxuries for the wealthy in the 16th and 17th centuries but over the next 200 years, these libations became more democratically available and by the 19th century, the British, French and American working classes routinely drank coffee and tea. The sweetening came from tropical sugar cane from Asian and other colonial outposts. Hence slavery and, of course, the great wealth which it generated in the United Kingdom. The battles between various colonial empires meant that imported supplies of sugar were vulnerable to all manner of economic and political vagaries- a simple shipwreck of a vessel loaded with cane was a potential disaster- so European scientists started experimenting with the extraction of sugar from a variety of plants, via an edict from Napoleon to cease reliance on imports of British sugar cane. Eventually they began to be successful and cane sugar started to lose its monopoly.

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As for that other sugary scent….the bags of bum pink candy floss festooned from kiosks along our seaside promenades are in rude contrast to all that Arthur Ransome seaside stuff and those burned sugar whiskers, spun as you wait at fairgrounds, are the focus of much nostalgia from those of us d’une certain age. From the fairs of our childhood on the ‘Rec’ in Great Cornard to the arrival of those brightly painted trucks on Long Melford Green in the shadow of its great church, candyfloss and the other fairground smells never fail to evoke the sheer excitement of the this gaudy extravaganza coming to town- or trips to the sea. As Pauline said, “candyfloss was something that mum could afford- we were a family of five kids- and I loved the fact that it lodged in the corners of your mouth. I’d sit in the back of the car, travelling home and still be able to taste it hours later. That is, perhaps in hindsight, NOT a good thing for teeth!”

The waltzers always had a dangerous looking youth spinning them; sporting a gold hoop in his ear, a wicked grin and super tight jeans, he would leap onto the fast moving cakewalk and spin the car. His attentions were fuelled by our flirtatious screams and plenty of backward glances as we staggered around dressed in our best clothes because the fair coming to the town warranted a full day of Getting Ready in the seventies. Our hair would stick to the thick cherry flavoured Bonnie Bell lipgloss we wore: we left contrails of Charlie and Jovan Musk oil in our wake and made a deafening racket in our wooden heeled platformed sandals. Our teenage flirtations made us feel, as Margaret Atwood says in the Handmaids Tale, “like cotton candy: sugar and air. Squeeze me and I’d turn into a small sickly damp wad of weeping pinky-red.”


(5) The washing machine water was my grandfathers name for the weir at the Croft in Sudbury and he told gruesome tales to rival the Brothers Grimm of a current strong enough to suck a child down and hold them permanently in the embrace of the green jellified ribbons of river weed. This was a most effective way of keeping a curious child from getting too close and even now, decades later, as I walk the towpath I hear his voice.

Any scratch n sniff book of Suffolk would have to include the odour of fast moving river water ; dank, notes of ozone and muddy mildew that hunker over the flood meadows on a misty morning. Walking along the river, it is possible to identify the point at which its sluggishness, marked only by the dents made by the weight of pond skaters and the occasional fish burp, change into a sudden tugging then a brown watery rush to the weir. The weight of the water pushes it through the grille and flushes it through pondscum and decaying water lily leaves trapped in the iron bars. It churns over a ledge into the cow pond a few feet below then spreads out into a shallow basin whose muddy margins are tromped down into a mess of hoof prints. Hovering over the towpath is an aerosol mist of scent warning walkers of the weir well before the waterway does.

The Stour is well used by ‘wild swimmers’ and there are some murmerings about starting a campaign to redevelop the neglected Victorian swimming pond near the Croft which was closed in 1937 after an outbreak of Diptheria. Pictured below, in 1923, the pool came with changing rooms and the surrounding fields made it a perfect place for stretching out with a book in the sun.

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The ornamental stone steps and rusting foot ladders still remain, close to the footbridge where ducks gather. Walking along the river from the meadows on Melford Road to the Mill Hotel. I can imagine the rope swings that would have hung low over the water and local kids jumping from the bridge on a hot summers day. The water is silky and brown and slow moving here and the frogs eye view is of nothing but fields and the tree line.

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The Sudbury Museums site tells of the affection American airmen posted nearby had for the town and its river during the Second World War. “Americans had fallen into the swing of Sudbury life and few Sudbury homes were lacking in American friends. At Sudbury the meadows are broad and green, and the river flows close to the edge of the old buildings that spring up from its eastern bank. You can walk down to the river across the green in front of St. Gregory’s church, cross a little bridge and sit on a bench under the plane trees, and look out across the meadows to the fields that rise beyond them, and the line of tall trees crowning them. You cannot get much closer to the heart of England anywhere.”

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“You would never have known that there was a war being fought on this island and elsewhere in the world. Or that this was the twentieth, and not the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Not until you looked across the meadow again, and saw, white and ugly under a copse of willows, like one monstrous overgrown white mushroom, a concrete pillbox.”  Although the swimming pond closed before their arrival, local GIs did swim in the river and afterwards they would saunter through the town, damp trunks bundled into a towel and go for a coffee at the cafe in Station Road (later known as The Bongo).  Run by Basil Gates, it had a very popular snooker table at its rear.


(6) Oil paints squeezed onto a palette; that sharp and rich chemical scent as the knife scrapes through represents Suffolk’s great artistic legacy eau d’atelier maybe?  Imagine how the studios of Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, Cedric Morris, Maggie Hambling and other great painters smell: a melange of turpentine fumes soaked into rags and wooden floors; of freshly shaved pencils, primed canvas and crushed stubs of charcoal scattered on floors; clove oil as thinner, cigarette smoke and sweat and old bottles of solvent with their layers of greenish sediment…and not all the scents are harshly ‘chemical’ either. Leonardo Da Vinci apparently used oil of lavender to regenerate a dry canvas and the Early Dutch painters ( Hubert Van Eyck, Rembrandt) added great sweeps of it across their entire canvas as a diluent. After the 14th century spike lavender became the artistic fashion and added another olfactory layer to a scene already replete with them and the work of the artist themselves.

Suffolk provides inspiration for many artists and its literal and metaphorical depictions can be seen on the walls of some of the worlds most important galleries. To walk the Stour valley and the Suffolk coast between Southwold and Aldeburgh is to see the county through the eyes of its greatest artists and to gaze upon an iris is to experience what inspired Cedric Morris (Hambling was a protogeé) who painted in the garden of his Higham Farm home and at Benton End, near Hadleigh.

Listening to Maggi Hambling talk about painting in oils is a visceral experience in itself where she describes oil paints as “very sexy stuff… which you have to love to work with.” Hambling discovers new things in oil all the time and has to juggle the weird telescoping of artistic time where an oil painting can take forever to make then requires bringing together in one moment. “ Things happen that have never happened before when you paint… Oil paint has a great life force of its own.” 

Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough
Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough

The fact that art is about commingling of all five senses should not be forgotten either, despite the focus on scent. Get up close to a Constable, Hambling or Gainsborough and there’s the studio right in front of you, saturating the canvas with aroma but there’s so much more too. Constable paints Suffolk hay and Suffolk punches and Suffolk fields. Gainsborough painted portraits and landscapes and you can smell the blue of the sky and the starch of the blue dress that Mrs Andrews wore in her eponymous portrait. There is a sense of self embedded in the art and that self is built from terroir- the land and people- and the spirit of each piece springs from this. You can smell the salt spray and wild grey fury of the North Sea in Hamblings’ wave paintings too. and you can hear it all: great gouts of water smashing the sea wall, each wave different: made up of rivers of silver, turquoise and gold and the darker grey of its trough. In that same interview, Hambling talks of other oil painters and the way their work transcends time: “Oil painting can make you feel as if you’re there while it’s being made. Somebody looking at it can feel, with a late Titian or with a Rothko or a Van Gogh, as if they are there with the work being created in front of them. That’s something oil paint can do. So, yes, I suppose all these marks are energetic. They jump about. It’s all physical,” but equally, she could be talking about her work too.

Lovejoy filming in Clare from Sarah Barrington
Lovejoy filming in Clare from Sarah Barrington

(7) The smell of old books, of antique filled barns and tiny shops and our great libraries- old things”. Suffolk used to be the county of antique shops and book shops, both new and antiquarian, and whilst this might no longer be the case, this past casts long shadows over the present. Our library service has also endured cuts although at the time of writing it has prevailed, with branches in the smallest of towns and a mobile library which reaches the tiniest of hamlets. The libraries of my childhood are no more though as nowadays the stock is replenished more often and you do not see tatty books. I mourn the loss of those stiff pieces of cardboard tucked inside each book and the heavy ink stamp which friendly librarians allowed me to do myself. Upstairs in Sudbury library was a reference section with a giant atlas with its many maps telling of the worlds crops and rivers, the modern political boundaries and olden days when half the world was coloured pink. The inks smelled sharp and medicinal and they left smudges on the pads of my fingers. There is a wonderful quote by Ray Bradbury, “Every book has its smell. A new book smells great. An old book smells even better. A really old book smells like ancient Egypt.” which says it far better than I could. So where does that smell of old books come from? A paper surface acts as a magnet to dust particulates, all three sides of the book will preserve these as long as they are not cleaned. When you open an old book, the deposited particulates are stirred up and pushed up towards your nose because of the currents of air.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Matija Strlic of University College London described it as “a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.” Hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) comprise this scent, from the paper, inks, bindings and adhesives alongside the skin oils from readers. These all break down over time. Benzaldehydes lend hints of almond and vanillin imbues the pages with a powerful emotional resonance as vanilla is associated with babyhood. The sweetness of toluene and ethyl benzene and floral notes from 2-ethyl hexanol add to this olfactory soup.

Sltrlic led a study published in Analytical Chemistry in 2009 that found 15 VOCs which break down more rapidly than others and this may assist librarians and conservators on identifying those books most vulnerable to degradation. What can be done about the degradation in book and antique shop numbers and library services is a point of debate. Lovejoy did much to promote the county of Suffolk as an antiques filled haven and there is much talk of a new series which is currently being written.

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Lovejoy filming in Clare- from Sarah Barrington

The BBC show ran between 1986 and 1994 and starred actor Ian McShane in the lead role as a roguish antiques dealer with around 15 million viewers regularly watching his iwheeling and dealing in Clare, Long Melford, Cavendish and Lavenham, giving the region its name of Lovejoy Country. There has been rumours that Tony Jordan, creator of TV hit Life on Mars, is developing a remake with his company Red Planet Pictures and will use the original Lovejoy novels as a basis for a new series. But where will Lovejoy wheel and deal now? The growth of online auction sites such as EBAY and rising business rates and rents has led to the demise of many of our antiques centres although Long Melford and Clare still have some; the latter has a thriving auction room too as does Bury St Edmunds. When Lovejoy first filmed, Long Melford had over twenty antiques shops and this number has more than halved over the last fifteen years meaning that Lovejoy may have to branch out. Clare resident Sarah Barrington, owner of a gift store in the town called Blue Dog was not living in the town when Lovejoy filmed but sent the images shown above of the original series filming nearby.

 

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.

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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…..