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!
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
Some well known, others not so, here are some of the loveliest places to visit either en famille or for some much needed down time alone by the water, in it, above it or doing things on it.
(1) Blakeney Point in Norfolk
The best way to arrive at Blakeney Point, a sand and shingle spit stretching out into the sea from the heart of Blakeney national reserve, is on a boat trip from Morston Quay. You not only get a chance to see grey seals basking on the sandbanks, but you leave the boat at the blue Old Lifeboat House, home to National Trust rangers and now a visitors centre packed with information. From there, you can explore the rare habitat and its inhabitants, which range from sandwich terns to otters and yellow-horned poppies. The more energetic might opt to walk back to Morston , a worthwhile though demanding tramp across four miles of shingle back. Nearest train station: Sheringham, then get the CH3 bus to Morston. There is restricted access to the western end of Blakeney Point from April to mid-August, to protect birds nesting on the shingle, and from November to mid-January during the seal pupping season.
(2) Lackford Lakes, Nr Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
A man made landscape of reclaimed gravel pits in the valley of the river Lark, Lackford Lakes is owned and managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and boasts a year round programme of family events. Walk around this ever changing landscape of reed beds, meadows, pastures, woodlands and wetlands and watch Kingfishers, bitterns, otters, cormorants and many other creatures as they go about their business from one of the bird hides cleverly positioned to give access to different habitats. The sailing club SESCA is based here too should you wish to learn in one of the UK’s most beautiful environments. We often come here at dawn or dusk, a time of great animal activity and sit quietly watching bats pour in and out of their converted pill box home overlooking meadows full of grazing cattle and Jacob’s sheep. A well equipped visitors centre offers drinks, cakes and ice creams plus a bird viewing window and also sells bird food and other equipment.
(3) The Little Ouse at Thetford & Santon Downham, Norfolk and Suffolk borders.
The River Little Ouse, a tributary of the Great Ouse, once had more than one natural course and runs alongside a popular walking trail that runs between Thetford and Brandon and traverses Thetford Forest via Santon Downham. To the North is Grimes Graves, the amazing Neolithic flint mining site which is reachable via forest tracks or from Santon Downham Village. These same forest tracks lead to High Lodge and Go Ape!, both popular places for activities, picnics and family fun.
The Little Ouse runs through the Brecks, one of the most fascinating and unique habitats in the country- tranquil forests, open sandy heaths ablaze with sulphur yellow Gorse in the summer and a patchwork of agricultural land. The Brecks cover 370 square miles, has the rare nightjar and stone curlew as residents and bears the marks of the Ice Age that created this landscape of Pingoes and scrubby low growing plants, ancestors of those which were once all that could grow in the Permafrost that characterised the Ice Age.
Alternatively, stay in Thetford and sit or walk by the river from St Mary’s Priory to the fishing lakes (photographed above), watching skeins of electric blue dragonflies dart above the riverbank. Occasional kayaks and row boats pass by too, trailing ducks in their wake. A beautiful place to take a picnic, a sandwich and a book, we often come here just to relax and get away. Ten minutes is all it takes to recharge.
(4) The Lido at Beccles, Suffolk
Sadly becoming an endangered species, outdoor pools are something to treasure and we encourage not only their patronage, but donating whatever spare change you have to their funds for upkeep. We have such warm memories of the sadly defunct Sudbury swimming pool with its competition height diving boards, pool side tiers of concrete sun decks and hut selling post swim cups of hot cocoa.
Beccles Lido is run by a community run charity who bought the Lido from Waveney District Council and re-opened it in 2010, restoring the 1m springboard, installing a slide, all-weather awning and a fun giant inflatable aquarun. Canoe hire is also available and there are separate toddler and paddling pools, also heated. With paved and grassy areas for sunbathing, as well as picnic tables, chairs, sunloungers and a covered outdoor eating area, families are well catered for and a well stocked Splash Pool Bar sells hot and cold meals and snacks, cold drinks, icecreams, delicious Fairtrade teas, coffees and hot chocolate.
(5) The Kings Lynn Ferry Ride, Norfolk
Got a boat mad child or fancy a trip across river yourself? A trip on the Kings Lynn Ferry after exploring the towns maritime trade, its fishing communities and its famous navigators via the Maritime Trail, will give you a different take of the architecture of the town from the west bank of the Lynn. This town with its royal links was originally known asLin and in 1101, Bishop Herbert Losinga (the same Bishop that established Norwich Cathedral) founded St Margaret’s Church and the town became known as Bishops Lin.
Trade built up quickly around the waterways and a few years later a second settlement was established to the North, each with its own church and marketplace. In 1537 King Henry VIII decided he would take control of the town from the Bishop of Norwich and it became known as King’s Lynn; the town growing rich from trade within Britain and abroad. By the middle ages, the town ranked as the 3rd port of England and was considered as important as Liverpool. Although the town’s importance then declined, King’s Lynn today is a still an important regional centre for a largely sparsely populated part of England.
Fishing has always been a strong part of Lynn’s history. Queen Elizabeth I granted Lynn fishermen the right to “free and uninterrupted use of the Fisher Fleet for ever and ever.” Lynn’s whaling ships would sail to Greenland every March and return back here in July with their catch. On their return this quay would be full of excitement; today it is an attractive place to sit and watch boats sail by from wharfs converted into bars or restaurants and a visitor centre. Mid-way along King Street you will find Ferry Lane leading to the ferry service.
(6) Sea views from the summit of Muckleburgh Hill, Norfolk
Got children who enjoy a physical challenge? The hill may only be a few hundred feet high, but it is a spectacular view from the summit of the coast and glorious Norfolk countryside in all directions, making it a great adventure to climb for people of all ages. Dense woodland, at the base of the hill makes finding the path to the top a bit of a puzzle, but when you do find one of the network of woodland paths and climb it, you are rewarded with views over Weybourne andSheringham to the east and Salthouse and Cley next the Sea to the west. Immediately below Muckleburgh Hill is the Muckleburgh Collection, a museum of military hardware.
Nearby Weybourne, a pretty village, is home to the North Norfolk Railway station and goods yard. The station has a workshop and is home to various railway vehicles that adults and children will enjoy looking at. Steam trains regularly pull into the station and you can ride the “poppy line” to Holt in one direction and Sheringham in the other. It is easy to stop off at the villages and towns along the route, catching a later train back. This means adults can leave the car behind and enjoy some libations at some of the excellent village pubs, many spectacularly beautiful with corresponding views.
(7) The Rodbridge Picnic Grounds, Nr Long Melford, Suffolk
A proper river side tramp where kids can run amok over the scrubby grassy paths and fields, splash through the muddy woodland tracks and paddle, it is best to put the littlest one in the back carrier or fit mudguards to the all terrain buggy when you come here. Walking boots or wellies are also advisable. Rodbridge Corner is a place we adored as kids where we’d hurtle up and down the hummocks dotted with rabbit warrens (a kind of mini race track), eat our fish and chips in the car park then walk the river path, stopping to smell the scent of the river as it bumps over the weirs. A wonderful place and free to use. Might be an idea to avoid the car park from dusk where local people have reported a problem with it being used for more nefarious purposes (dogging) although we haven’t had any problems yet, have seen nothing and wouldn’t advise walking along an unlit river path at night anyway.
The nearby towns of Sudbury and village of Long Melford will provide those fish and chips should you not have brought a fancier meal!
(8) The Croft in Sudbury, Suffolk
An embarrassment of riches awaits the river lover in Sudbury, embraced in a loop by the famous river Stour. Captured so often by famous artists and possessed of many bucolic stopping off points for paddling, boat sailing, water sports or simply musing or walking along the path, the railway walk (the railway line follows the river for many miles) or water meadows also offer hours of outdoor exercise and beauty. Just keep an eye on the cows that graze the common lands and don’t let your dog worry them.
The Croft offers an old boating lake, the ‘washing machine water’ aka Weir, a cow pond around which you will find groups of picnickers and the old bridge populated by generations of ducks kept fat by generations of locals. Park quality grass for sunbathing (although keep an eye out for duck poop before you sit down), stands of trees and bench dotted tarmac paths make this popular because it is less then 400 yards from the town centre. A short walk down the riverpath leads you to The Mill, now turned into a hotel and complete with walled up cat (an ancient practice), or you can walk along the Railway walk in the other direction to Brundon Mill where the swan feed, resplendent with a hundred or more swans, awaits. The meadows around Sudbury are the oldest continuously grazed land in England and are crossed by many footpaths, making them excellent for walking.
The Croft is just off the Sudbury one way system, past the fire station and St Gregory’s church and can also be reached from North Street. Turn left at Argos, pass the short stay car park and turn right by the entrance of the Waggon and Horses pub. The Croft is across the main road. As you cross the bridge at the Croft, keep an eye out for the poignant memorial to the left, set with flowering plants. A tribute to a family from nearby Great Cornard who died in the Yugoslav air disaster in May 1971, we always stopped here to lay flowers because our grandmother taught the children at playschool. Roger and Margaret Green and their sons, Simon and Ian, were on board the Tupolev-134 which crashed at Rijeka airport when attempting to land in a heavy rainstorm; 78 of the 83 people on board were killed. Simon was a member of the Round Table and his fellow Round Tablers cleared the land of bushes and scrub.
(9) Sea Views at Wiveton Hall Cafe in Norfolk
Slip off your shoes, sit yourself down on one of the candy coloured outdoor seats, exhale and look out to sea from this playful cafe which is nonetheless deadly serious about the quality of food it serves. The views out over the marshes to the sea are superb and, under the pine trees; sand and pebbles underfoot, you will think you are in the Med. Take a walk along the beautiful Norfolk coastline before or after your meal, pick fruit on the estates fruit farms or wander around flint faced, Dutch gabled Wiveton Hall, built in the 17th century on what had been monastic land where the sea once came almost to the door. Should you decide never to go away again, the hall offers accommodation in either its spacious wing or self catering farm cottages.
(10) Wild Swimming in the river Waveney, Suffolk
The Waveney was much beloved of the nature writer Roger Deakin who used to live in Mellis and who was one of the ‘pioneers’ of the new Wild Swimming movement. A two mile loop around Outney Common starts and returns from Bungay, one of Suffolk’s tiny towns where you will still find independent stores and good places to eat. With its own river meadows at the bottom of Bridge Street that are ideal for a swim and a riverbank picnic, there is also canoe hire at the Meadow Caravan park, next to the river itself. Should you swim at dawn or dusk, keep an eye out for the otters- they live happily here. Grid reference: 52.4572, 1.4413
(11) Peer at the view from a Pier
Fly over the coastline of East Anglia and you will see venerable examples of the quaint Victorian habit of building out to sea; a perfect example of follies on a grand scale for what else would you call a pier- those curious testimonies to holiday frivolity on stilts? From Cromer and Gt Yarmouth in Norfolk to Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Aldeburgh and Southwold in Suffolk, our counties have worked hard to maintain and develop their piers resulting in yet another generation of coastal visitors who enjoy their very British charms.
Southwold Pier boasts the the famous ‘Under the Pier Show’, an assortment of bonkers Tim Hunkins creations- Steampunk crossed with Victoriana; a penny arcade, the Clockhouse cafe and pizza place plus those wide planked boardwalks to walk along and sit on, looking out onto those stupendous Suffolk sunsets and sunrises. Tasteful to attract the Notting Hillers, this pier doesn’t have that brash gaudy seaside appeal of other resorts (which we also love) – think Enid Blyton as opposed to the local fair.
Gt Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier carries on another great British seaside tradition- that of the live show, amusements and carney style food- candy floss, doughnuts, rock and hot dogs and is none the less enjoyable for it. Attracting hordes of visitors all year round, the piers original wooden structure was designed by A.W. Morant, opening in July 1858. A wooden construction leaves piers at risk of fire and Britannia Pier has certainly had a fair share of these- the first in 1907 and the second in 1914, badly damaging the newly built pavilion. Ironically, both the ballroom and pavillion survived the war, only to be both destroyed by yet another blaze in 1954 and subsequently rebuilt where they thrive to this day. Felixstowe Pier is very similar with amusement arcades, a lovely boardwalk, plenty of food and proximity to safe clean beaches.
Cromer Pier boasts and end of the pier show and claims this to be the last remaining true show of its kind. Opened in 1902, Cromer Pier was damaged by the 2013 storm surge and is newly repaired in time for summer where the famous Cromer crabs can be caught from the sides. The decks are lined with buckets and lines and on fine days, fringed with children and adults all hoping to net the big one!
Lowestofts Claremont Pier can be found between Lowestofts Award winning beaches to the south of the town and has an award winning restaurant, a family-orientated amusement arcade and luxurious casino area. The latest additions include a large wooden floored roller skating rink and a contemporary multi-purpose venue. Like all piers, it was seen as a possible security threat during the Second World War and in 1940, with the Axis Forces sweeping across the Continent, the Royal Engineers blasted a hole in the pier to stop the Luftwaffe using it as a possible landing place. Visitors will be relieved to know that this hole is now repaired!
(12) Or look out from high from a Lighthouse
Due to its long coastline, East Anglia has always had a strong connection with the sea, and this has led to the building of some fine lighthouse. Many of these have been adapted over the years and not all have survived. Some lighthouses have been converted to private homes and are no longer available for public viewing from inside. However, some classic examples of these famous seaside icons still exist and they are well worth seeking out.
Although Happisburgh Lighthouses (there are a pair of them) are privately owned, they do open on particular weekends to the public – Easter and Bank Holidays. Built in 1791, the pair formed leading lights marking safe passage around the southern end of the treacherous Happisburgh Sands but it was not always effective, as the graves in the churchyard show. Inside, the 96 stone steps wind their way up the inside to the light at the top (134 feet above sea level) and when you reach the top, you can see the working lamp, some 500 watts of light, and visible for about 18 miles. The views of the coast and village are spectacular – on a clear day you can see for about 13 miles.
Other great lighthouses to visit are Southwold Trinity Lighthouse which can be explored and one in Hunstanton which is now a private holiday home and sits near to the ruins of St Edmunds Chapel on the cliffs.
(13) A steam launch ride through the Broads
The lovely Museum of the Broads offers rides in their own steam launch down to Barton Broad, giving visitors a taste of Arthur Ransome style nostalgia. The only museum to be actually located on the waters of the Broads, the museum can be found at Stalham Staithe. Find out about the boats of the Broads and see how peoples working lives shaped the landscape with activites for all the family and a cafe to keep them well fed too. ‘Falcon’, their Victorian steam launchruns hourly from 1030 – 1430, conditions permitting and because she is an open boat, you will need to dress warmly in waterproof clothing. Booking ahead is advisable and toavoid disappointment, please telephone 01692 581681 to book seats. The photo is courtesy of the Museum.
(14) Or be ferried across a Suffolk river
The Walberswick to Southwold Ferry is a much loved Suffolk institution, carrying locals and visitors across the mouth of the River Blyth for decades. The route is understandably a seasonal one and the timetable is available on the link- dogs go free of charge too and adults only pay a pound. The seaside here is backed by a thousand acres of heath and marshland and is protected as an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB). The seaside town of Southwold is a short stroll away with its quirky cinema, ice cream and cake hut by the dunes and a plethora of independent shops. Walberswick is famous for its crabbing and used to hold a well attended festival. Both will provide you and the kids with an unforgettable day out.
Reading What Katy Did Next by Susan Coolidge as a child, I was struck by Katy Carr’s determination to embark upon a literary tour of England and Scotland in 1886, when she came over here via steamer on a trip given as a gift from a benevolent family friend. Describing us as ‘storybook England’ Katy paid tribute to our great writers by planning pilgrimages to many places associated with them. Visiting the grave of Charles Dickens in Westminster Abbey and travelling to Winchester Cathedral so that she might have the privilege of seeing the grave of her beloved Miss Austen, Katy’s chance meeting with an oddly Dick Van Dyke like cockney verger by Austens grave, deals with a favourite cathedral legend- that the staff had not a clue who Jane Austen was, although if they’d read their own 1854 handbook all would have been clear. Katy’s outrage at our lack of appreciation for a writer she deemed the greatest of all was very amusing to me and a great twist on the popular misconception that Americans have little awareness of anything outside of their own national boundaries.
Our beautiful, historic countryside under wide East Anglian skies have seduced many a writer and artist. Writers such as Rafaella Barker claim the peace of the Norfolk countryside allows her a creative space she would struggle to find anywhere else “I live near the sea and I like the limitlessness of the horizon and being on the edge of the British Isles” and many local artists have placed East Anglia firmly as subject and theme of their work (Constable and Gainsborough). Cedric Morris, the famous painter and horticulturalist was co-founder of the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing at Dedham in Norfolk. Morris took over the lease on The Pound, Higham, Suffolk, in 1929, and acquired the freehold in 1932, creating one of hismost accomplished gardens. A number of artists stayed there, including Francis Hodgkins, Barbara Hepworthand John Skeaping and their costumed parties were legendary. They remained there until 1940 when, after the fire at the Dedham Art School, they moved to Benton End. Morris inspired and supported Beth Chatto to develop her beautiful garden in Elmstead Market, now world famous and was a collaborator and peer of Ronald Blythe, writer of ‘Akenfield’ who now lives near Wormingford.
Blythes subsequent body of work draws deeply upon his surroundings, his home ‘Bottengoms Farm’, his position as lay reader at local churches and love of nature, history and theology. Meditative, opinionated and thoughtful, his “Word from Wormingford” diary for the Church Times has been written every week for two decades. Blythe was born in Suffolk. His family has lived here for centuries; even his surname comes from one of its river’s, the Blyth, and his farm was once owned by the painter John Nash whose wife invited him to see the place in 1947. In ‘Akenfield’ Blythe gave voice to a people previously neglected by nature and social history writers- the working class countryside folk. Blythe stated; “If you read John Clare, he makes you realise that they weren’t just lumpen creatures, even if they couldn’t read and write. They had dreams and visions which we don’t know about.”
The wheeling gulls and tandem cries of children; the eddying of water through sandy rills, fingered inlets and maram grass covered islands at low tide…. Arthur Ransome has a long association with both counties, first visiting the Norfolk Broads in the thirties and using it as inspiration for his children’s books Coot Club (1934) and The Big Six (1940). These two books centre upon the Broads village of Horning and touch upon the coming of change with the increasing use of motorised boats. In Coot Club, the ‘Hullabaloos’ on their motorised craft The Margoletta’ are the villains in the story and Ransome makes no bones about letting us know his opinion of their actions. Spending too much time in the riverside pubs, they ignore speed limits,make a lot of noise, are racketty and uncouth as they chase the gentle wind powered boat, ‘Teasel’.
“‘And so, rejoicing in their freedom, the outlaw and his friends sailed on their way, through a country as flat as Holland, past huge old windmills, their sails creaking round, pumping the water from the low-lying meadows on which the cows were grazing actually below the level of the river. Far away over the meadows, other sails were moving on Ant and Thurne, white sails of yachts and big black sails of trading wherries.’
We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea and Secret Water are set in coastal Suffolk and Essex, with the former involving a voyage to Flushing in the Netherlands and the latter the exploration of the islands of Hamford Water near Walton-on-the-Naze. Made famous in ‘We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea’ the Butt & Oyster Inn on the banks of the River Orwell overlooks the smugglers haven of Pin Mill, one of Suffolk’s most romantic landscapes where time and tide meet twice daily. This pub serves local, seasonal food, good ales and provides a resting place for walkers, tourists and locals who still earn their living off the river. The landscape appears little changed from Ransome’s time and thank goodness for that- we all need to feel we can go back to a less complicated time even if the beer prices are a sharp reminder that we are no longer in 40’s England.
Occasionally Julia Jones, the owner of Ransome’s boat ‘Peter Duck’ brings it to Suffolk for events (Felixstowe Book Festival on 28th June being one of them) and people can see for themselves the craft that inspired his writing craft.
The very famous I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith has its origins in her glimpse of an ancient medieval moated castle in 30’s Wingfield, Suffolk and her love of the classic Suffolk pink wash thatched cottages, the ruined manor houses that were once the heart of our villages and the families living in gentile penury- trying to maintain an appearance of a life they can no longer afford. Describing life for these families as one where ‘the past is like a presence, a caress in the air’, presumably a comfort in the hard times of the present, all is ‘drear, dank, depressing, boggy and raining’– an image of Suffolk we have little truck with. Even in the colder months, there is a seer, monochromatic and dramatic beauty; the moving tracery of bare tree branches as the unforgiving winds straight from Siberia swipe across the fields; the standing black edge of copses on a ridgeline beneath a dome of slate sky; the soft swells of fields and deep cuts carved into the earth by the many rivers and streams feeding them. It is a different kind of beauty to the bucolic and abundant green of summer but it is still beauty nonetheless.
We East Anglians have found easier and more functional ways of living with a past that is often wrought vividly upon the present- our surroundings are full of history which still impacts today. We find it less oppressive than Smith’s protagonists although accounts of beaurocratic skirmishes with local planners are writ large upon our regional newspapers each week. Does anybody recall the saga of the lilac painted house in the village of Clare which went on for months, divided villagers and caused no end of fury among historical purists?
Many places in Suffolk are atmospheric enough to require little by way of embellishment. Their stories tells themselves, stories so fantastical and magical that they defy belief. Sutton Hoo is one such place. In 1939 a Mrs Edith Pretty asked archaelogist Basil Brown to come down and investigate the many Anglo Saxon burial mounds on her property near Woodbridge in Suffolk. He went on to make one of the most spectacular discoveries of all time- the imprint of a 27-metre-long ship. At its centre lay a ruined burial chamber packed with treasures: sumptuous gold jewellery, Byzantine silverware, a lavish and complete feasting set, and most famously, an ornate iron helmet which is now the iconic symbol for the burial site and museum. Tiny fragments showed that rich textiles once adorned the walls and floor, along with piles of clothes ranging from fine linen overshirts to shaggy woollen cloaks and caps trimmed with fur. The dead man’s body had dissolved in the acidic soil, but he was clearly a person of great standing in the kingdom of East Anglia. He may even have been a king.
The Sutton Hoo ship burial provides remarkable insights into early Anglo-Saxon England. It reveals a place of exquisite craftsmanship and extensive international connections, spanning Europe and beyond. It also shows that the world of great halls, glittering treasures and formidable warriors described in Anglo-Saxon poetry was not a myth. This story forms the inspiration for the children’s story Gravenhunger by Harriet Goodwin, a sinister story about a house inherited by Phoenix after the death of his Mother. The house and grounds hint at the secret buried within and the reason why their existence was kept secret from the boy and his Father. This idea of things not being what they seem and of small secrets growing into huge, life changing ones have clear parallels with the amazing Sutton Hoo discoveries-a Suffolk treasure visited by thousands of school children from all over the world.
The dry and sandy Brecklands yielded treasure of their own, inspiring Roald Dahl to travel to Mildenhall to interview the Ploughman who unearthed the remarkable find of Roman silver, now displayed in the British Museum. This formed the basis of a subsequent story ‘The Mildenhall Treasures’ where Dahl creates a narrative around the discovery of the hoard of late Roman silver in the winter of 1942 at the height of the Second World War by local farmer, Gordon Butcher, subsequently excavated by Butcher and his boss Sidney Ford. The curator of the British Museum, Richard Hobbs writes about his association with the story and the treasure- “I recalled Dahl’s story when the Mildenhall treasure was mentioned during a lecture on the archaeology of the later Roman Empire, taught by the legendary Richard Reece. Richard also alluded to a conspiracy theory surrounding the discovery of the treasure, saying that many believed it had been flown in to the military airbase at Mildenhall from somewhere in the Mediterranean, perhaps North Africa. I remember saying to him: ‘But what about Roald Dahl’s story? Surely that describes very plausibly how it was discovered?’, or words to that effect. My comment was met with a blank look. It only occurred to me afterwards that Richard had never come across Dahl’s ‘account’: it was, after all, published in a book for children.” Dahl’s account is now accepted as a true account of their discovery.
Arguably the most famous visitor to Aldeburgh, (even more famous than Sir Michael Gambon who tried to solicit one of my chips whilst sitting next to me on the benches of the White Hart Pub next to the famous chip shop), Orlando the Marmalade cat was the star of a series of books written for children. Written by Kathleen Hale, who spent holidays in the town, Aldeburgh is renamed ‘Owlbarrow’ and many of the illustrations in the books feature landmarks in the town, most notably the Moot Hall. In this charming series, based in 1952, Orlando brought his wife Grace and their kittens to stay on the beached ship the Iona, now no longer in existence but depicted in the illustration below.
Kathleen Hale’s books have been treasured by children and grown-ups since they were first published; the illustrations being rich in detail and painterly enough to appeal to parents too. Only two of the many titles are still in print: A Seaside Holiday and A Camping Holiday, both stocked by the Aldeburgh Book shop which now owns the merchandising rights from Kathleen Hale’s publishers Frederick Warne at Penguin.
With its setting in the deepest reaches of the mysterious and watery Norfolk Fens, The Future Homemakers of America’ is the story of six young women in postwar Norfolk by Laurie Graham. Five are US Airforce DWs (Dependent Wives) living on the Crampton base, baking cookies, cakes and pies while crew-cut, square jawed All American husbands master the skies in fast and horribly unsafe machines that were deemed to be at the cutting edge of war machine technology. With dependable narrative tropes in its women, including Kath, a doughty Fenland woman alongside an historical background of those turbulent post-war years, illustrated by facsimiles of newspaper pages including some scarily lurid Jello salad and cake recipes, this is an easy read of a book that does manage to capture some of the culture shock felt by our USAF influx and those who came into contact with them. The Future Homemakers of America officially began in June of 1945, working to combine and unify hundreds of home economic clubs in high schools across the US and sought to unify young Americans across the land to become strong leaders in their families, careers and communities.
In 1945, when the first Future Homemakers of America chapter was founded, the mission and curriculum were basic: preparing young women to be homemakers. In recent years, more males have become involved and interested in the organization and finally, in 1999, the organization’s national chapters voted to change their name to Family, Career and Community Leaders of America to more accurately reflect the organization’s mission and to disassociate its leadership-building programs from societal stigma that the term “homemaker” has developed over the previous five decades. .
The historical connections between Norfolk and North America began in the 17th century, when a large number of migrants moved together to the newly-created colonies including the family of US president Abraham Lincoln who came from Hingham. Actors James Stewart and Walter Matthau were both stationed in Norfolk whilst serving for the United States Army Air Force (USAF) during World War Two and Reis Leming, a member of USAF personal based at RAF Sculthorpe, saved the lives of 27 people in the Norfolk Floods of 1953. He was awarded UK and US medals for bravery. The Eighth in the East’ project was established to document the story of the 8th United States Army Air Force in the East of England and is a great place to start should you wish to find out more about this fascinating period of history.
In complete contrast to this cosy tale of young American women going about their domestic (and not so) lives is the ghost story “Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad” by the writer M. R. James. The story tells the tale of an introverted academic who happens upon a strange whistle while exploring a Knights Templar cemetery. When blown, the whistle unleashes a supernatural force that pursues and terrifies its discoverer.
From the age of three (1865) until 1909 the home of MR James, if not always his residence, was at the Rectory in Great Livermere, Suffolk. This had also been the childhood home of another eminent Suffolk antiquary, “Honest Tom” Martin (1696–1771) “of Palgrave.” Several MR James ghost stories are set in Suffolk, including “‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad'” (Felixstowe), “A Warning to the Curious” (Aldeburgh), “Rats” and “A Vignette” (Great Livermere). The wild, unearthly and limitless skies, beaches and horizon of the Norfolk and Suffolk coastal areas are effective backdrops for what James described as “putting the reader into the position of saying to himself, ‘If I’m not very careful, something of this kind may happen to me.” The shifting clifftops and shingle beaches, eroded by winds and tides and dunes that appear and disappear as if they were in the Sahara, often form the most incongruous of obstacles to total annihilation by the waters. Danger is covert and safety is illusory on the literary frontier of the British continent- the shoreline.
This oddly porous and shifting boundary between land and sea inspired author Jeremy Page to write ‘Salt’ and set it among the Blakeney saltmarshes of North Norfolk and the fens near the Wash. What forms a person, the surge and ebb of family history as it reaches into each new generation, shaping and eroding, forms the broad theme of this novel. Here, the sea gives up the half drowned body of a young German soldier after the Second World War where he is rescued and sheltered by Goose, a reclusive and mystic who predicts significant events by cloudwatching. Fed on Samphire, a coastal plant with spears that carry the essence of the sea, he impregnates her and sails away on a boat after she gives birth to their daughter. The repercussions permeate the story as do the other worldly descriptions of a landscape that gets under the skin of all who encounter it with its tangled and indistinct boundaries between land, water and sky.
Saturated with another kind of Norfolk- that of an 80’s childhood in the neon brashness of a seaside resort is ‘Weirdo’ by Cathy Unsworth, believed to be based upon the popular holiday destination of Great Yarmouth with its thin veneer of holiday gaiety. Think gaudy funfair, amusements and wide promenades festooned with bags of candy floss and racks of striped rock; the Harbour, model village and the dunes; Bernie Winters, Tarbuck, Orville the Duck and Jim Davidson appearing on the pier. Gaggles of teenagers fizz with the anticipation of kissing under the pier and can be found dotting the sea, top halves visible as they sway, buffeted by sand brown waves and cries like seagulls; their limbs yet to be bronzed by the sun and held aloft the water, pale and supplicant.
There is another side to all towns though and revisiting Great Yarmouth through Cathi Unsworth’s narrative introduces us to the seamier aspects of seaside life – the pubs, the bed and breakfast DWP benefit residents, the bail hostels, drugs and the prostitution. This crime story, switching between events in the early 1980s and 2003 where a former cop turned private detective, Sean Ward, is hired to look into a brutal murder that occurred two decades previously, really hits home. Seaside towns have always attracted a transient, migrant population and Gt Yarmouth is no better or worse than any other British town in this respect where hard working residents have just the short summer season to earn enough to sustain them economically through the other six months of the year. When you find yourself living in a town on the edge of the country, the sense of having nowhere else to turn is brought into even sharper relief and, should life not have gone the way you intended it to, the sense of being washed out to sea by rivers or washed up onto the shoreline by the tide is intensified. This is depicted perfectly by Kazuo Ishiguro’s in his novel Never Let me Go, which ends with Kathy in a Norfolk field, “thinking about the rubbish, the flapping plastic in the branches, the shore-line of odd stuff caught along the fencing, and I half closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up.”
Themes of migration, strangeness and change lie at the heart of ’22 Britannia Road’ by Amanda Hodgkinson, set in Suffolk because the writer loves the area, having spent much of her life here. “Living in France and writing it, I had a kind of mythical Ipswich in my head. I’ve never actually been to Britannia Road but the title, with its sense of place and pomp and circumstance for a foreign family, has a level of irony I really liked. It’s a poignant address.” With a well established Polish community, Suffolk (and the county town, Ipswich) provides a backdrop to the story of Silvana and eight-year-old Aurek who board a ship to England, where her husband Janusz is waiting in Ipswich. However, after years living wild in the forests – simply surviving, and also nursing a dreadful secret, Silvana is no longer sure quite who she is inside. Suffolk saw large influxes of immigrants and Londoners after the war, displaced by bombing and bad economics and the promise of a bucolic life in the countryside. The reality was rather more complex though as Amanda says; “I’ve always felt a real empathy with that generation, and seeing how people coped. What you do when you’re suddenly told you can go back to ‘normal’ – how you pick up the pieces – has interested me.”
Appropriately for such a watery region, swimming and immersion in water forms theme, metaphor and subject for many books set locally and in ‘The Swimmer’ by Roma Teague we are thrown straight into the tale when 43-year-old Ria (who lives alone in the cottage she loved as a child) spots a young man swimming in the river at the bottom of her garden in the moonlight. Ben is a Sri Lankan doctor seeking asylum in Britain. While he awaits news from the Home Office, he works illegally on a local farm in return for food and lodging. Despite an 18-year age gap and their cultural differences, the friendship swiftly blossoms into a passionate affair. When tragedy strikes, the repercussions are felt far beyond this small corner of East Anglia.
The delicate tensions that exist between her characters reflect the currents and eddies of the marshlands and tidal brackish waters around Orford where the book is set with this becoming a stunningly beautiful and brooding backdrop to the story. Shaped by conflict, affected by political forces in lands far beyond their surroundings, the characters learn that loss, love and regret can eddy, ebb and flow and that no actions exist in a vacuum.
Former resident of the tiny Suffolk village of Mellis, situated on the ‘High Suffolk’ claylands where Oliver Cromwell once exercised his troops on the largest English area of unfenced common land, Roger Deakin was one of the Worlds most respected nature writers. Part of a distinguished group of East Anglian writers, artists and aesthetes that includes Richard Mabey, Adrian Bell and author of ‘Akenfield’, Ronald Blythe; J A Baker (author of ‘The Peregrine’) ,Cedric Morris the artist and plantsman based in Hadleigh, Robert MacFarlane, Mark Cocker and Patrick Barkham, Deakin sadly died in 2006 leaving a wealth of archived material and three stellar books- ‘Waterlogged’, ‘Wildwood’ and the posthumously published ‘Tales from Walnut Tree Farm’.
In Waterlog, he writes of his watery journey around Britain: an attempt to discover the country afresh by swimming through its seas, rivers, lakes, fens; its swimming pools and secret bathing holes in a manner both earthy and highly aesthetic. Deakin has the soul of a poet and writes so beautifully that I grieve his loss afresh with every word. Inspired by a rain splattered early swim in the moat surrounding his Mellis home, he experiences life through a ‘frog’s eye view of rain on the moat” and watching each raindrop as it “exploded in a momentary, bouncing fountain that turned into a bubble and burst” which inspires this watery odyssey.
Deakin swims the Hampstead swimming ponds also frequented by an eclectic group of dedicated wild swimmers from ladies left over from more genteel times and people having a pre or post work swim to young university students. He recounts a chasing off by an angry Winchester College river jobsworth and crawls along the brackish creeks of Cornwall like a cross between a mudlark and a catfish. And weeps over the brutal concrete incarceration of the River Lark upon his arrival in Suffolk ‘I stood outside the Bury St Edmunds Tesco. Here, the Lark had been treated with something less than reverence as it flowed through the forecourt car park […] The hapless Lark, which once meandered gently through water meadows here, had been neatly packaged in an outsized concrete canyon. No water vole would dream of venturing here, nor otter, purple loosestrife or figwort’.
From dreaming about water to dreaminess once in the water, Deakin expounds upon an alien and magical environment within which we are all at sea despite having spent forty weeks gestating with no need of lungs or gills. As he says “No wonder we feel such sympathy for beached whales; we are beached at birth ourselves. To swim is to experience how it was before you were born.” Then he contemplates the strangeness that can be found in the water as opposed to our strangeness within it- ‘In the night sea at Walberswick,’ Deakin observes, ‘I have seen bodies fiery with phosphorescent plankton striking through neon waves like dragons.’ This other worldliness and an existence of which we retain no conscious memory of is shot through with a more practical acceptance of these mysteries- “Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one,but there is also a third thing, that makes it water and nobody knows what that is.” He is content to not know.
Sadly not all have found the watery, flat and strikingly desolate scenery of the Fens inspiring or feel their peculiar beauty. Author Anthony Trollope painted a grim and unforgiving picture of them in his novel ‘Beltons Estate’ (1866). His heroine, Clara Amedroz, has to chose between a wealthy suitor and a distant cousin called Will Belton. Belton owns a farm near Downham Market but is keen to leave the Fens and take up his inheritance in the West Country. Trollope was familiar with the fens through his work as a surveyor for the Post Office but was not enamoured by the landscape. In the book, Belton walks to Denver Sluice and back and Trollope writes ‘a country walk less picturesque could hardly be found in England’.
Historically the Fens were regarded as a disease ridden place, haunted by witches and Will o’ the Wisps, rippled through with superstition that barely went challenged because of a largely intransigent and static population, hampered by the difficult undrained marshes, reeds and drains. Travel had to be by water or along roads that could be treachorous at night. Even today the Fens have retained a reputation for witchcraft. In his series of books, Phillip Pullman sets some of the action in the Fens (‘Northern Lights’) where at a great gathering of the Gyptians, they decide to mount an expedition to head to the Arctic where they have discovered the missing children are being taken. He clearly sees the potential for gatherings going unnoticed and undisturbed in such an isolated landscape; in addition it would be most easy to see threats appearing on the horizon from afar. The flat light and relatively few trees render movement difficult to hide.
In the prelude to ‘Hereward the Wake’,Charles Kingsley (author of ‘The Water Babies’) highlights the sky made larger and more dramatic because of the stubbornly flat topography- no hills or mountains interrupt the vast watery terrain and dark silty earth is punctuated by sere reeds and ink black slow moving waters:
‘Overhead the arch of heaven spread more ample than elsewhere, as over the open sea; and that vastness gave, and still gives, such cloudlands, such sunrises, such sunsets, as can be seen nowhere else within these isles.’
The poet Edward Storey is equally appreciative, noting that;
“You walk the roof of the world here. Only the clouds are higher And they are not permanent. Trees are too distant for the wind to reach And mountains hide below the horizon. The wind labours through reed As though they were the final barrier. Houses and farms cling like crustations To the black hull of the earth. Here, you must walk with yourself, Or share the spirits of forgotten ages.”
His books include: Spirit of the Fens (1985) and In Fen Country Heaven(1996). In Fen Boy First (1994) he gives an account of his childhood growing up in Whittlesey (which is actually in Cambridgeshire). Fen Country Christmas (1995) is a collection of stories, legends and Fenland superstitions in which he takes a look at skating; a popular sport in the region and one which Roger Deakin mentions in ‘Waterlog’. The speed skating races held along the long and straight dykes and inlets of the region were hugely popular and the blade sharp winds fresh from the Russian Steppes and Siberia froze the water hard. Heads low and well muffled against the cold, skaters sped along, cheered by locals who gathered at accessible points along the way and warmed afterwards with mugs of spirit spiked tea. Graham Swift’s novel Waterland (1983) is also set in the Fens, influenced by George Elliot’s ‘Mill on the Floss’, with a narrator Tom Crick, who lives in a lock keeper’s cottage on the bank of the (fictional) River Leem flowing out of Norfolk. It may be that the river Leem is modelled on the Little Ouse which flows between Thetford and Brandon, discharging into the Fens and is possessed of some truly beautiful banks along which many locals picnic and paddle off in warmer months. The names of local villages, of the Fens themselves and rivers are curious, poetic and usually explanatory of their location and their people who lived among them: Prickwillow, The Hundred Foot Drain, March, Ely (‘Isle of Eels’), Crowland (One of the five Fen monasteries) and Black Sluice.
As a child of sixties and seventies Suffolk and Norfolk, I can attest to just how off the beaten track it was. Although a map from 1766 shows a route from London to Great Yarmouth which follows much of the current A12, there was a sparse transport network and communities therefore remained nuclear, remote from each other and the rest of the British landmass. Added to this the network of marshes, waterways and fens and you can see why travel was difficult and transport development expensive when you take into account the population- which remains small to this day. In her novel, ‘The Twins’, Saskia Sarginson talks of her decision to set the book in a Suffolk forest (Rendlesham or Minsmere are the most likely inspiration) and about her love of our county; ” In 1972 there was little TV and no computer games and at that time Suffolk was off the beaten track and unspoilt – the perfect place… for the girls to run wild” The dense pine forests, starkly shingled beaches that are difficult to traverse and the mythology and history all drew her towards Suffolk as a setting and into this pot, she set the story about another of life’s mysteries- twins.
Forests are a trope that gives on giving. Their psychogeography is magical, foreboding, filled with threat, promise, light filled glades and crepuscular mysteries. From fairy tale filled childhoods, we are conditioned into an overwhelmingly emotional relationship with these disappearing habitats: they are both familiar in the nightly telling of stories set in them and terrifyingly strange in their potential for causing us to become lost and disorientated. Rendlesham Forest compounds this with an additional history of strange nightly events when a group of American servicemen stationed at military bases in Suffolk went into the forest to investigate mysterious lights.
What occurred next has been the subject of debate, but some of the servicemen have since said they saw an alien spacecraft, with one of those involved later claiming to have touched it. Attempts have been made to explain the incident, with theories ranging from an elaborate hoax, to the men being confused by lights from a nearby lighthouse. The closure of the woods at the time of the incident only added to the conspiracy theories among locals who have the most familarity with the forest and are therefore well versed in detecting usual happenings from unusual ones. However, it remains a source of fascination for Ufologists and among the newly released National Archives files is a document – which the MoD says insists is a fraud, describing aliens encountered in the forest.
The document, on what appears to be official departmental paper, reports that the “entities” were “approximately one and a half meters tall, wearing what appeared to be nylon coated pressure suits, but no helmets”.They were apparently “hovering above ground level” and were recorded speaking in an “electronically synthesised version of English, with a strong American accent”. They were said to have had “claw-like hands and with three fingers and an opposable thumb.” Whatever happened (or not), the forest authorities have not been slow to capitalise on something that sets them apart from other British forests, setting up ‘UFO walking trails‘ and other seasonal attractions designed to appeal to the thousands of tourists to the region.
Benjamin Britten had a long and productive association with Aldeburgh, inspiring artist Maggie Hambling to design the Aldeburgh Scallop on the shoreline with an edge pierced with the words; “I hear those voices that will not be drowned”, taken from Benjamin Britten‘s opera Peter Grimes. Not without some controversy (the Scallop has been defaced with paint thrown over it in the past) we nonetheless think it is moving and dramatic; we cannot imagine Aldeburgh beach without it. Christine Nash, wife of artist John Nash found Ronald Blythe a cottage near Aldeburgh and Blythe was introduced to Britten, becoming friends and editing festival programmes for Britten while trying to write his own first novel. Blythe recalls returning home one day to find a note pushed under his door inviting him for a drink at Britten’s house. It was from EM Forster.
Charles Dickens has stayed at the Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds while giving readings in the nearby Athenaeum, inspiring a mention in ‘The Pickwick Papers ‘ (the hotel offered a resting place to main character, Samuel Pickwick) and the hotel retains the room with the original bed in which Dickens slept;
“The coach rattled through the well-paved streets of a handsome little town, of thriving and cleanly appearance, and stopped before a large inn situated in a wide open street, nearly facing the old abbey.”
Around 1910, Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, the Barrister-Playwright owner of nearby Sizewell Hall had a brainwave. He bought an area of coast and dunes and in 1910 set about establishing a purpose-built resort based on the fishing hamlet of Thorpe, changing the name to Thorpeness. The Meare, a man made lake covering 64 acres with scattered islands, is no deeper than one metre at any point and is a very popular place to sail boats upon whilst on the shore, black clapboard buildings cluster the edges of a village green. The islands feature playhouses and characters from children’s books, in particular ‘Peter Pan’ because Ogilvie was a friend of J M Barrie. The tiny islands contain locations found in J. M. Barrie’s novel such as the Pirates Lair, Wendy’s home and many others which children are encouraged to play on. Thorpeness, like Aldeburgh is described as having ‘it’s back to the sea’ and this is deliberate. Ogilvie deliberately used the Meare as an alternate focal point for his seaside town and rejected the Victorian/Edwardian fondness for promenades which he thought were vulgar.
Opened in 1913, many of the original boats are still in operation. The author made regular visits to the village and was pictured outside the country club in 1919, even helping to design parts of Thorpeness. His model resort might have been influenced by Ebenezer Howard, creator of the Utopian garden city movement, but it became an exclusive home away from the main home for the wealthy and artistic. The famous ‘House in the Clouds’ was one of Ogilvie’s creations; an attempt to disguise an utilitarian water tower as a house. It is now a private holiday rental although the child in me will always imagine Peter Pan swooping in through the front door at dusk. What better home for a flying boy than a house in the clouds?
Much speculation can be found as to the possible real life location of Hell Hall, home to Cruella De Vil and the place where the abducted puppies were taken in Dodie Smith’s book, ‘The One Hundred and one Dalmatians’. We know that Smith was a frequent visitor to Suffolk and Sudbury is mentioned in the book and Hell Hall is described as in the village of ‘Dympling’. No village of that name exists or ever existed although the hamlet of Shimpling can be found at a rough midpoint between Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds, just off the A134.
“Just before midnight they came to the market town of Sudbury.Pongo paused as they crossed the bridge over the River Stour. ‘Here we enter Suffolk,’ he said, triumphantly. They ran on through the quiet streets of old houses and into the market square.They had hoped they’d meet some dogs and hear if any news of the puppies had come at the Twilight Barking, but not as much as a cat was stirring. While they were drinking at the fountain, church clocks began to strike midnight.”
A memorial plaque on a water fountain by St Peter’s given by Alice Mary Brown features an excerpt from the book as above and the original Johnstone Twins illustrations from the book are owned by Ipswich Art School. Sudbury also has some charming Dalmatian topped posts marking the Old Marketplace behind St Peters as you face the end of North Street and has staged festivals celebrating the book.
We hold the animal characters in our favourite books from our youth close to our hearts- ask any adult what his favourite book was as a child and you will be able to pinpoint his decade of birth with relative ease. Some books transcend the generations though, either because they are continually reprinted and turned into films (Roald Dahls canon) or parents pass them onto their own children. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell is a case in point in a country that is both horse and dog mad -this story of a horse and its child owners has timeless themes. Sewell was born in Great Yarmouth into a devoutly Quaker family and it is possible that her determination to feature an equine hero was born of her own accident in childhood that left her unable to stand without a crutch or to walk for any length of time. For greater mobility, she frequently used horse-drawn carriages.
Sewell’s only published work was Black Beauty, written during 1871 to 1877, after she had moved to Old Catton, a village outside the city of Norwich. During this time her health was declining and she was often so weak that she was confined to her bed, making writing a challenge. She dictated the text to her mother and from 1876 began to write on slips of paper which her mother transcribed. Sewell sold the novel to local publisher Jarrolds on 24 November 1877, when she was 58 years of age. Although it is now considered a children’s classic, she originally wrote it for those who worked with horses. She said “a special aim [was] to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses”.
She died aged 57 and was buried on 30 April 1878 in the Quaker burial-ground at Lammas near Buxton, Norfolk, not far from Norwich, where a wall plaque now marks her resting place. Her birthplace in Church Plain, Great Yarmouth, has been the home to a museum and, as of 2014, a tea shop.
We will leave it to Norfolk writer Malcolm Bradbury to have the last word:
“A sense of place is fundamental to the writer. Sometimes our place is our real subject, the basic material we work with, providing our vision, setting, landscape and theme. Sometimes it is a culture which stimulates our writing and lets it happen.”
Adaptable, succulent and THE taste of an East Anglian Summer, the crab is one of our great local delicacies and also provides children with hours of entertainment along the beaches and jetties of the Suffolk and Norfolk coast. Although the famous Walberwick Crabbing Festival had to be shelved because it grew too popular, it is still an easy and inexpensive way to get close to nature as long as you remember to put the crabs back.
The old Suffolk name for it is babbing, derived from the bab, a weight tied to the end of a line. As dialect expert Charlie Haylock writes in his book, Sloightly On The Huh, “He caught hell ‘n’ all th’uther day when he went a’babbin” and the whole practice has its roots in practicality and the provision of free food for the family.
The edible crab, or brown crab, (latin name Cancer pagurus), is the most abundant and largest crab you’ll encounter along the Suffolk coastline and they are commonly founf near to our piers, jetties and wharves, hiding under rocky outcrops on beaches and clustered around harbour walls. Crabs need shelter in bad weather and somewhere to escape predators and our seaweed-strewn coastlines is home to plenty of crabs, hastily scurrying away when they are disturbed. The flinty, chalky seabeds of the Norfolk coastline makes for excellent ‘gillying’ (crabbing in the local dialect) because the softness of the seabed literally gives crabs something to get their claws into as they haul themselves along, fighting the strong currents of the North Sea. This Cretaceous chalk underlies the whole Norfolk coast and is permanently visible at West Runton at low tide and it forms the largest chalk reef in European waters, some 25 miles in length. This underwater seascape called the Cromer Shoal Chalk Reef has arches of chalk 3 metres high and gives life and shelter to an amazing array of marine life now has protection after being designated a Marine Conservation Zone. It is here that those famous Cromer Crabs are found.
The old jetties of Felixstowe Ferry and Walberswick and the quay next to the Ramsholt Arms Pub are some of the best crabbing spots in Suffolk and Cromer, Wells Next the Sea, Old Hunstanton, the east promenade in Sheringham, and Blakeney Quay are their equivalent in Norfolk. We have heard good reports about the Bridge off Stiffkey Marshes where the shallow brackish tidal water both attracts crabs and is easy to dangle your line into and crabbing under the road bridge at Oulton Broad on the eastward side is productive because it also has salt-water tidal surges. If you want to visit Walberswick to crab, then all you need do is drive along the road past the small triangular village green and the villages oldest pub, the Bell Inn, and you’ll soon arrive at the wooden bridges where generations of us have perched, lines baited with rancid bacon, and then hopped onto the ferry over the River Blyth to Southwold and its pier for more seaside fun.
The best time to crab is on an incoming tide because this is when they naturally come in to feed. At high tide the water can be fairly deep and wharves quite high up – using safety aids such as arm bands or a life jacket might reassure you a little when you see your young children sitting at the edge of a drop into deep water. I have (less than fond) memories of taking twelve adolescent boys from an approved school alongside twelve service users from a rehab facility to crab at Walberswick on the hottest day of the year- a busy afternoon spent constantly head-counting amid the nagging fear that we had lost several off the quay- in fact some of them seemed engaged in a permanent attempt to push each other off when they weren’t smacking their fellow crabbers over the head with stinking, out of date streaky bacon. The return journey home in a mini-bus full of hot, festering teenagers, the air redolent with the smell of crab, bacon, seawater and strawberry ice creams will never leave the memory.
Use a crabbing line sold from most seaside shops which is weighted and has the bait tied on at its end- if you are in Blakeney you can buy them at at Stratton Long Marine or at the Blakeney Spar. Don’t use hooks as these are seriously harmful to marine life including birds should you drop them into the sea by accident.You’ll see some crabbers using a fishing net to land their crabs but serious crabbers do frown on this as it gives an unfair advantage and doesn’t reward the dexterous and the patient. The crabs will cling onto the string and bait so be careful pulling the line out of the water when you retrieve them and get them into your bucket (which should be filled with seawater and be spacious- crabs don’t like to be too close to each other). Using smelly bacon rind, squid or sand eels, available from seaside shops and bait shops tends to work the best in our experience. Other devoted crabbers get fish heads from the local fishmongers or swear by frozen sand eels, described as caviar for crabs. When you have finished, carefully release the crabs back into the sea. Don’t keep them for too long and keep the bucket covered too and out of direct sunlight.
Should you prefer to go rock-pooling instead, the two counties have a plethora of places to choose from and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust runs rock pool rummaging events on West Runton beach (5 miles wets of Cromer) throughout the summer. Shore crabs, beadlet anemones, starfish and squat lobsters are the most commonly encountered species although there are many more. The rock pools at West Runton are on top of an extensive flat platform of chalk which is slippery because of its seaweed covering- the non-agile of foot will usually find themselves slipping and ending up flat on their butt at some point so wear decent footwear. Children who take part in rock pooling can also get involved in fossil finding, and these sessions not only help children to understand the natural world around them, but also how their actions affect wildlife and habitats. The striated cliffs of Old Hunstanton where multiple layers of sandstone and carr-stone have formed a wonderful habitat studded with fossils and rock pools are another prime location for exploring the hidden world of rock pools. The pools that form between the groynes on the beach by the Lifeboat House in Wells allows you to catch a good size crab or two, even at high tide, and solves the problem of toddlers teetering on the edge of a high jetty.
We couldn’t end this feature without adding one of our favourite recipes featuring crab- Grilled Crabs from Cromer with Parmesan and Heat. Cromer crabs can be brought from fishmongers all over the region plus Bury St Edmunds market and Mummeries fish stall on Diss market too.
Grilled Cromer Crabs with Parmesan and Heat
1 shallot (finely chopped)
1 clove garlic (crushed)
1 tsp salted butter
50 ml sherry
1 in shells
1 handful chopped parsley (finely)
1 handful breadcrumbs (fresh)
pinch of chile powder or cayenne
1 handful parmesan cheese
1. Gently fry the shallot and garlic in butter until softened. Pour in the sherry and bring to a simmer.
2. Add the crab meat, reserving the shell. Stir in the chile/cayenne then warm through for 4-5 minutes then stir in the parsley.
3. Spoon the mixture back into the crab shell. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and grate over a little parmesan and add a grind of black pepper. Place a few dots of butter on top.
4. Put under a hot grill for 1-2 minutes to crisp the bread and melt the cheese. Serve with hot toast.
The chance to hear unplugged live music played by local musicians in a small traditional Suffolk pub drew us to The Cock Inn located in the tiny village of Brent Eleigh. Formerly known as Brent-Ely, it was once a market town under a grant by Henry III and is now part of the parish of Cosford. Typically Suffolk in its character, there’s a village green and a row of red brick alms houses dating back to 1731 and an even more ancient timbered hall; lots of Germolene pink and ochre plaster, thatch and studwork; a white weatherboard mill style building and a pub, clustered deep within a fold of land near the river Bret, seven miles from Sudbury.
According to Eilert Ekwall, the possible meaning of the village name is Ilega’s meadow, which was burnt before 1254 and the village is mentioned in the Domesday Book, at which time it and neighbouring Monks Eleigh had a population of 61. The two settlements, Brent and Monks Eleigh reached their peak of prosperity in the 14th and 15th centuries through the cloth and wool trades which endowed the region with great wealth resulting in some magnificent churches, guildhalls and other public buildings- nearby Lavenham is the best known example. The church at Brent Eleigh is of typical Norman structure with perpendicular tower and dedicated to St. Mary. Inside its chancel can be found a parochial library of 1,500 volumes, founded by Dr. Colman, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
The church of St Mary was built in the 13th century on a steep-sided hill beside Brent Eleigh Hall, of flint and stone construction and internal fittings that span several centuries and architectural periods. You will find benches from the fifteenth century, Jacobean box pews and some additions from the nineteenth century too. A font dated to the early part of the fourteenth century has a Jacobean cover and a carved pulpit from the same period whilst the manorial pew, enclosed by a parclose screen with tall panelled walls has been dated as the oldest screen of its kind in the county, sit or kneel in prayer and the rest of the congregation disappear from view. Walking over to the chancel we admired a monument to Edward Colman (d. 1739) and crafted by Thomas Dunn, who worked with Nicholas Hawksmoor, the renowned architect. Colman is draped dramatically in carved, folded bedcloths, surmounted by a cherubic angel bearing a crown.
The jewel in the crown of the church though is the series of early medieval wall paintings on the east wall, next to and underneath the large east window. Discovered in 1960 under a coat of whitewash, they have been restored by Eve Barker and have been described as one of the finest collections of wall paintings in England and together probably span the years 1270-1330 . One painting features a pair of censing angels flanking a now no longer there statue of the Virgin Mary against a brilliant blue and gold starry background. Beneath the east window, directly behind the high altar, is a horizontal strip depicting the Crucifixion in a vibrant and fluid depiction. This probably dates to the early 14th century and has the figure of Christ on the cross flanked by figures of Mary and St John. Finally on the south side of the altar is a scene depicting the Harrowing of Hell and despite the harrowing of time upon it- rendering it badly faded- it is arguably the most important of the Brent Eleigh paintings, dating to the latter half of the 13th century. The figure of Christ is positioned next to a kneeling Adam and a smaller figure bearing a tonsure kneels below and to the right, looking up at Christ. This ‘priest’ may well be the donor or patron responsible for the painting and this figure is accompanied by a Lombardic inscription ‘+RICA’.
Come out of the church, walk over the bridge and along meandering banked hilly roads and you will come to the Cock Inn, alongside a signpost directing you back to the village proper along the A1141, the old Lavenham Road. In the latter half of the 19th century, the inn was owned and run by five successive generations of the Underwood family and the first quarter of the 20th century, the landlord was appropriately named Walter Beere.
With its thatched hairstyle and Suffolk Pink plaster, two tiny bars, log fire warming stone floors and small yet well stocked bar, the village pub is a convivial space, the epitome of what a village pub should be. Three resident cats complete the setting- on our visit the Tortoiseshell was sat behind the bar with face and ears peering between the pumps – a small and hairy bartender. Entering into the pub is to go back in time to 1982 and the pubs of my late teenage hood; all lock ins and lack of pretense: Suffolk friendliness and a contemplative walk home (stagger) at the end of the evening through country lanes bounded by hedgerows frilled with Cow Parsley, ghostly in the moonlight. You really do see those big starry Suffolk skies out in this part of the county with minimal light pollution and a sense of being a traveller back in time, following well worn paths home as thousands of travellers must have done over the centuries.
The Cock is praised for its food, offering Sunday roasts and traditional puddings (Spotted Dick, Jam Roly Poly), ploughmans, sandwiches, soups and jacket potatoes for not a lot of money and a nut roast for non meat eaters. The menu is not extensive- for such a tiny place it will never be- and that is a strong point because large menus generally indicate bought in catered frozen food. We had a ploughmans and a simple cheese and pickle sandwich, the latter made with doorstop fresh local bread and a good nose clearing Cheddar.
Tuesday evenings are known as’ Cheese Night’ where locals bring cheese, bread and other foods, laying them out on the bar for all visitors to eat. We were initially a bit bemused as to whether that included us (strangers) but apparently it does so next time we will bring a contribution. One of the regulars had brought his own home made sheep’s cheeses and was also an expert water dowser happy to show us his skills- potentially very useful in dry East Anglia, parts of which get some of England’s lowest recorded rainfalls.
The left hand bar comfortably holds twenty people no more and last night many of them had brought their instruments including a stunning Double Bass. Three hours of Roots, blues and folk ensued interspersed with cheese eating and cig breaks for some of the musicians. The pub regularly hosts bands in a small marquee in its small roadside raised garden with enough room for a few wooden benches, the band and the audience. We have seen the bluegrass band Blind Fever play here, the music drifting out across fields and lanes as locals sprawl across the grassy banks outside the pub, pints at their side, or dance in the marquee during the warmer months. All you can see and hear as you walk up the lane is the red tipped glow of cigarettes as people sit outside, the low murmur of their Suffolk inflected voices and the lamplight from the pub shining out of the open top half of the stable door. The pub is not lit with bright electric lights of an evening and there no overhead harshness to offend the eyes and pollute the night sky, just low watt wall lamps.
Pubs like these need our support but in a manner that doesn’t destroy their essential self- the pub as village hub where older residents can come and sit in company with others and the noticeboard serves as a model of pre-internet community information . The last thing small authentic places like this need is an influx of tourists come to visit the ‘Locals in their natural habitat’, but if you love music or play it (and cheese) or want a decent home cooked roast, this pub is perfect.
We are delighted to see that the talented Henrietta Inman is being recognised in our national press. The following recipe appeared in the Sunday Telegraph’s ‘Stella’ Magazine and shows everybody else what I already knew- that she is destined for culinary greatness. Having originally been fans of her delectable Facebook page and recently her new online pageswe found Henrietta at the monthly Snape Maltings Food Market earlier this year. Henrietta trained at the Lanesborough Hotel (among others) and whenever possible cooks with local ingredients, combining them with classical techniques and a fresh take on ingredients, many of which are locally sourced when not grown herself. Feast your eyes on some of these sumptuous treats then feast in real life by baking her lovely fruited loaf cake.
The new baker: Berry, banana and oatmeal loaf-cake by Henrietta Inman
Rapeseed oil gives this cake an earthy and a nutty depth, but for a lighter flavour sunflower oil works well too.
Makes one loaf
120ml (4fl oz) rapeseed or sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
65g (2¼oz) medium oatmeal
25g (1oz) pumpkin seeds
25g (1oz) sunflower seeds
20g (¾oz) brown linseed
40g (1½oz) rolled oats
75g (2¾oz) white spelt flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ tsp baking-powder
¾ tsp ground Maldon salt
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
finely grated zest 1 orange
2 medium eggs
140g (5oz) soft light-brown Muscovado sugar
150g (5½oz) ripe banana
60g (2oz) dried cranberries
60g (2oz) blueberries
60g (2oz) raspberries
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5. Grease a 19x12x8.5cm (7½x4¾x3½in) loaf tin with oil, and line the base with baking-parchment. Flour the sides with 20g (¾oz) oatmeal, leaving the larger grains to fall to the base.
On a small tray, toast the pumpkin and sunflower seeds for about six minutes. Mix in the linseed. Toast for a further three minutes. Meanwhile, cover the rest of the oatmeal and 30g (1¼oz) of the oats in a bowl with 150ml (5fl oz) boiling water. Stir well and leave for five to 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking-powder, salt, cinnamon and toasted seeds. Mix together the zest, eggs, oil and sugar, then whisk in the porridge. Add to the flour mix. Blitz the banana and cranberries for seven seconds in a food processor until the banana just begins to purée, leaving some lumps for texture. Scrape into the flour mixture and combine well.
Pour into the tin and sprinkle over the remaining oats and fresh berries. Bake for 30 minutes then rotate the cake and reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Cook for a further 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Place on a wire rack and leave to cool in the tin completely (it will slice better cold). Serve with yogurt for breakfast or on its own for tea.
This is the open letter to the Trust board of the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust that kicked off the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in our two counties.
This open letter is being presented to the directors of Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) by members of the campaign at the NSFT Board Meeting in Bury St Edmunds today. We are doing what we agreed at our first meeting and challenging the Board to change or be removed. The Board has lost the confidence of service users, staff and the public. Our opinion poll shows that 96% visitors to the campaign website believe that the NSFT Board is incompetent.
Print this letter, give it to friends and colleagues, put it up on noticeboards, in cafés and on the back of the bathroom doors. Forward a link to this page to everyone who will be concerned about the crisis at Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). Contribute in our forums and help us expose the crisis in mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk.
OPEN LETTER TO NSFT BOARD OF DIRECTORS
There is a serious crisis in the delivery of mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk. Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has challenged the use of the word ‘crisis’ but in so doing has shown how far out of touch it is with the views of its own service-users, carers and front-line staff. The recent extensive media coverage, both local and national, dating back to at least last August, also gives the lie to the Trust’s official statements. The warnings from the emergency services and professional bodies such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists should be heeded. Over 300 people attended our launch meeting on 25th November (many more could not get in) and a resolution of no confidence in the management of the Trust was passed unanimously. Given this, the NSFT Board of Directors should either take urgent action to rectify a situation which is in danger of spiraling downwards, or resign.
In order to restore some degree of confidence, the Trust needs to act quickly in six key areas:
Call a halt to the policy of bed closures and reopen wards wherever possible, until community services can actually show in practice that a number of inpatient beds are not needed.
Withdraw the proposal to reduce the number of qualified Band 6 staff in the Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment (CRHT) teams. Continue with the proposed policy of boosting the home treatment capacity by employing more support workers. Give priority to providing a sufficient level of medical input to CRHTs so that access to a psychiatrist is readily available in a crisis.
Restore link workers and carry out an urgent review of the role of Access and Assessment teams, especially in relation to CRHTs.
Restore Early Intervention In Psychosis (EI) teams in Suffolk, in line with the Department of Health and Schizophrenia Commission recommendations.
Establish a caseload management system so that care coordinators and lead professionals in community teams do not carry individual responsibility for excessive workloads.
Carry out an urgent review of the prevention of suicide strategy, which should include a major rethink around the abolition of specialist assertive outreach and homeless persons’ teams.
The Trust board members need to ask themselves why there is such a gulf between their perception of the state of affairs and that of front-line staff and service users. Denying that a problem exists will not bring about a solution. The Trust, the CCGs, Health Minister Norman Lamb, have all been in denial for some time. It’s no longer good enough to blame one another. We need decisive action from all. If you cannot provide it, you should go!
On behalf of the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk on 19/12/2013
We visited just after Christmas on a frigidly cold afternoon and walked in to a decidedly un-frigid welcome- friendly and enthusiastic. The vibe is NYC diner in an old building minus the trad Brooklyn pressed tin roof yet there is nothing staged about this place.
The choice offered on the menu is not overwhelming, seemingly predicated upon the catering principle of offering less and doing it better. (The best indication of freshly cooked food being a small menu anyway.)
The hotdogs and burger meat come from highly regarded local sources, the chile relish is from the local Black Dog Deli and all food appears to be freshly prepped and cooked to order.
We chose some pretty authentic sounding pure beef hot dogs (The Pimp Steak) w/ sauerkraut, onions, chile relish, mustard and skinny fries. There are optional extra toppings and few limits on customisation other than the size of your mouth when trying to fit the hot dog into it. The burgers come with the best type of bun- a Brioche, lightly grilled with salad, pickles and cheese spilling out from underneath. The fries are the crunchy skinny type (in size only) and can be ordered with blue cheese, Cajun spices or Howlin’ Hot chile. We wimped out and had them straight up.
Sadly having to drive home meant we had to bypass the decadent sounding ‘Hard Shake’, a malted milkshake with shots of Kahlua, coconut rum and golden rum. We also had to bypass the seductive cocktail menu full of variations on a Mojito, Margarita and Martini theme. A range of craft beers are sold too including ‘Thunderstruck’ from local brewery Hellhound in Hadleigh, Suffolk and the incredibly popular Brooklyn Beer. There are juices, sodas and some voluptuous sounding malted shakes- millionaires shortbread and the more usual vanilla, chocolate and strawberry made with malted milk and dairy ice cream. You can go left field with these with an added shot of Nutella or Banana.
East Coast Diner also has a fine range of pizzas with toppings both usual and less so. We have never had a Pizza with walnut, beetroot and Binham Blue cheese but are going back to have one washed down with a Bumbleberry Slushie style Froz-Z-zen. We haven’t seen the Bumbleberry mentioned outside the West coast of the USA before and only heard about it because Pascale Le Draoulec mentioned it in her road food book ‘American Pie.’
This lovely 15th century coaching inn is located in the heart of Suffolk and surrounded by the most beautiful walking and touring countryside, making it a great pit stop. We stopped here quite by accident whilst driving through en route to Hadleigh one cold January afternoon which made the wooden floors, inglenook fire and requisite dog waterbowl all the more alluring. Hessian upholstered sofas, rich heritage paints and a mixed bag of relaxing and comfortable seating plus more formal dining areas offers plenty of choice for the mud splattered walker or those intent on the Big Night Out.
Bar snack are available including a haute-bas Fish finger sandwich but we decided to eat from the lunch menu in the smoke painted dining area, stripped back in design although not in service and welcome. The menu is modern English in style with classical French underpinnings and has a carefully edited selection of starters including smoked haddock and hens egg fishcakes with chive veloute, potted shrimp with Melba toast and English snails with parsley butter. I ordered Jugged hare with chestnut gnocchi adding in a less usual side of Rocket salad with Parmiggiano which although a starter, proved substantial enough. Sticky, reduced and intense enough to coat the back of a spoon and clearly finished with a good scoop of butter, the Hare melted on the tongue and was as rich and wintry as everything jugged should be.
Gnocchi can be leaden little carb bombs but these were fluffy and bosky, referencing nearby woodlands and damp hedgerows. The dish was strongly reminiscent of the rich Hare stews of the Italian Le Marche region, the Rocket salad cutting any tendency to adipose richness and further riffing off Italian bitter greens. My husband had the curried parsnip soup accompanied by spiced apple and walnut bread. Like a frothy, spiced vegetal milkshake, the soup was delicately spiced to the point of being a tad under although being a salt hound I am prepared to concede that my palate may be a little warped. Husband loved it.
Much vicarious pleasure was had from observing other customers demolish piles of Crown fries served in little fryer baskets accompanied by teetering Crown burgers served with a paving slab of my favourite local cheese- Suffolk Gold. Husband ordered the fish pie with greens and smoked haddock croquette. Being Pescetarian, he often struggles to find adequate choice on a menu but actually had one this time- Wild mushroom risotto with poached duck egg; fish and chips; spinach, feta and pine nut tortilla and Eggs Benedict. The fish pie came with great waves of virtual reality piped creamed potatoes in the manner of Joel Rebuchon’s seminal signature dish- melty, loaded with butter, cream and super luxe offset by a crunch coated croquette that offered some textural contrast to all the unctuousness. Well worth a stolen taste and worth risking a stab from his fork as Husband assertively defended his plate. Always a good sign. The chef clearly intends to breathe new life into established classics be they bar food (burgers) or ‘faine dining’ (Chicken Liver Parfait) using local ingredients..Seasonal. Fresh.
The oft neglected skills of the Patissiere and Chocolatiere are finally making a comeback and The Crown has some spectacular themed puddings (Tropical) alongside the more trad; Creme Brulee, Pots De Chocolat and Crumbles. Being rammed to the gills we chose Petit Fours and coffee and were duly presented with four little morsels of such cuteness that I wanted to name them and take them home as pets. Pate De Fruit was pure essence of grainy pear and showed a light hand with the gelatine. No Melton Fruit style gelatinous bounce in the mouth here. Dark chocolate Bon Bon filled with icy berry sorbet, a brandied cream chocolate encased square and a block of peanut butter fudge were all perfectly made and presented with the understatement that always accompanies the spectacular. It just knows it needs no extra fanfare.
Pretty disgusted with ourselves that it took so long to discover this place. Early adopters we are not. The prices are good considering they charge similar to what many chain ‘Bistro’ places charge- those establishments nicknamed ‘Maisons’ De La Casa House’ by Calvin Trillin with their bought in melange of cucina rustica. This place is the real deal and the Chef Zack Deakins and his team are to be congratulated.
We paid for our own meal and the restaurant neither solicited this review nor knew we were coming.