Six days in Suffolk

SONY DSC As seen on the prom in Southwold…

We’d have liked to spend more time in Suffolk, but the original plans were scuppered thanks to a business meeting back in Yorkshire. Fortunately, we saw enough to make us want to revisit the area and ensure that the time was devoted to pleasure rather than business.

Neither of us had been to Suffolk before, but taking a look at comments made in Lonely Planet’s Great Britain guide and the National Trust handbook, there was more than enough to take a look at at least once, if not twice in some cases.

As the forecast was in our favour, accommodation and food costs plummeted as we decided to use a trusted Vango backpacking tent for the trip. No, you can’t stand up in it, but there’s plenty of room inside, especially when the rest of the kit is stored in the Skoda next to the tent.

The first day was a mix of travelling, eating and finding our way as we still use road books rather than rat nav. Campsite choices had been made via www.ukcampsite.co.uk. The first was Mill Hill Farm Caravan & Camping Park near Darsham (£13 a night for two people, that small tent and a car) and the second was Brighthouse Farm near Lawshall (£8 a night plus £1 each for shower tokens).

After a decent night’s sleep, some good coffee and a couple of bacon butties, we set off with the intention of heading to Southwold for a wander around and Sunday lunch. That didn’t happen.

The Southwold part did, but lunch ended up being coffee, scones and ice cream at a beach cafe after a front tyre punctured and the wheel nuts wouldn’t budge.

I’d taken my phone with me to deal with business matters, but it took a while for the road rescue operator to a) confirm that I did have cover with that insurer and b) realise that we were over 200 miles from home and didn’t know what was in the village apart from the much repeated road name attached to a road sign and a post box that were in plain sight…

When the rescue service turned up, everything was sorted in five minutes. The local tyre provider was closed for the day, so we headed off in search of a new tyre elsewhere and/or lunch. The tyre search was abandoned after an hour, so we headed for Southwold.

Once parked, we headed onto the pier Southwold Pier is one of those that has been looked after and whilst the shops along it were a bit on the pricey side for us, the views, Steampunk style features and more meant we spent time looking rather than glancing and wandering off to somewhere else.

Like the prom… Well, I was on the prom and Caroline was on the beach as I have problems walking on soft sand or snow. While Caroline made the most of the waves upon the sand, I sauntered along taking photos of the pier, beach huts and Southwold’s famously inland lighthouse. SONY DSC The town itself is reminiscent of town centres of old (well, the sixties and early seventies before developers turned towns into identikit locations) with only a few names that I recognised from home.

With Sunday trading hours and the earlier puncture time-bombing our exploration of Southwold, we only had time to take a look around a couple of places. We did make a promise to ourselves to make a return visit at some point, even if it was just to take a longer look around the Adnams shop and to book a place on the same company’s brewery tour.

It could be pure coincidence, but in the ten days prior to posting this piece, Southwold has been spotted in a repeated edition of Coast and on the DVD of Tony Benn: Will And Testament...

With a sudden rain shower putting a real dampner on things, we headed back to the car and onwards to Aldeburgh. Yes, it was Sunday after 5pm and it was still raining, but there were a few places open and as we’d been cheated out of lunch, a decision to go for a sit down fish supper was made.

With Caroline choosing the Mid-Shipman’s Choice at The Upper Deck Diner, I decided to go for The Admiral’s Choice and went for mushy peas as a side order. Big mistake. I know I have a healthy appetite, but the portion size almost got the better of me! The coffee went down well, but any thoughts of having a dessert went right out of the window…

After getting the tyre replaced on Monday morning, one place that wasn’t in the guide books beckoned – Flixton Air Museum. A poster in the washing up area at Mill Hill announced its presence to one and all and the low key approach to promotion paid off, because it was a gem that was both free to enter and worthy of a couple of hours wandering around.

Now I have been to some air museums which charged admission fees that weren’t worth the money, but with displays including classic planes such as the Lightning, Sea Harrier, Canberra, Meteor, Hunter and Javelin, there was enough to make me want to put a decent donation into one of the collecting boxes around Flixton’s hangers. SONY DSC MIG fighter at Flixton… Fortunately there were a host of other items in the museum to keep Caroline’s interests up. One display in particular fascinated her as it caught the attention of her artistic eye. Some exhibits were recovered parts of crashed aircraft – part ghoulish, but also with that previously mentioned air of fascination too. My thoughts went in a different direction as my late father apparently survived forty-odd missions onboard Lancaster bombers.

With NAFFI scones and coffee for lunch, we headed back to Aldeburgh for an afternoon of wandering along the beach (or the shingle in my case as fishing boats and other items provided interesting photo opportunities). With Caroline investigating a large sculpture she’d seen further along the coast, I decided that it was time for an ice cream and a cold drink and a chance to wonder why I’d not listened to more of Benjamin Britten‘s music. SONY DSC One better day – fishing boat on the shingle at Aldeburgh The following day saw us striking camp and heading off towards Brighthouse Farm, but there was a major stop to be made.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Caroline’s the history buff and I’m all for Horrible Histories, but when you have a brace of National Trust cards between you and one of their crown jewels isn’t far away, then yes, you do spend best part of a day exploring Sutton Hoo. SONY DSC With the main finds on display in The British Museum, it’s good to know that the replicas on show at Sutton Hoo don’t disappoint. That large version of the iconic Sutton Hoo helmet (as seen above) is above the door of the main visitor interpretation centre, but the smaller version inside is exquisite.

I didn’t go on the tour around the burial chambers, but Caroline did and was rather enthusiastic about the experience afterwards. Would we go back to Sutton Hoo? Oh yes, but we would ensure it was out of term time or early on before any school parties arrive.

With two days and nights left, we made our way up to Brighthouse Farm to find that the site fees were smaller than those mentioned on their website, so we paid that £8 per night instead of £12 and found that we could spread out and even have our own picnic table to cook by and eat at.

Although we’d taken some food with us,  we did buy locally too and found some local ales and cider to help the meals go down. Although we have cooked from scratch in the past whilst camping, we were being lazy this time and most of our food came from packets or tins in order to save money and gas.

With no sore heads the following morning, it was time to head out once more and give our National Trust cards another outing or two. It’s not often that there’s two properties so close together, but the plan had been hatched to head to Lavenham to look around Lavenham Guildhall and to have lunch before heading out to the much larger Melford Hall.

Lavenham is almost like the land that time forgot. The roads are relatively quiet, the car parking is free, the place is peaceful and the only signs that you’re not in the land that time forgot are cars, the modernised innards of the Co-Op and the name of a well-known chef that’s at the top of one of the pub signs near the Guildhall.

The Guildhall is quite small, but it tells the story of the area and the local blue cloth too. The platter on offer for lunch in the small cafe was more akin to a posh ploughman’s lunch, but both plates went down well, as did the coffee and soft drinks.

What we didn’t realise when we went to Lavenham is that it has been the location for major feature films such as Witchfinder General and the last two Harry Potters whilst the area (including Lavenham) was used as the setting for a television series that’s still being shown today- Lovejoy.

We didn’t get the chance to explore the village of Long Melford, but Caroline took time out for a wander around Melford Hall, although parts of it were closed at the time of our visit as the roof had leaked and some damage to carpets and furnishings had occurred. SONY DSC The gardens at Melford Hall (a National Trust property).

We did however wander around and take a couple of relaxed drinks in the garden, but as closing time beckoned, it was time to head back to the campsite and a chilli that benefitted from the addition of red wine from the bottle that had been bought to accompany that evening’s meal.

After packing up the camping kit the following morning, we headed off in a northerly direction once more, but we did have one major stop to make along the way. Ickworth near Bury St. Edmunds is suitably grand National Trust property with the house only open on certain days of the week.

The grounds are more accessible however with the gardens, shops and restaurant being open virtually all-year round. I decided to sit outside and chill whilst Caroline explored the main house, but it was one of the hottest days of the year and with little in the way of shade available, I headed back into The West Wing to find somewhere cool to sit before heading in for lunch and then back to the car for the drive home.

Our five nights and six days in Suffolk were relaxed, peaceful and very pleasant. As we headed home, we reflected on the fact that we’d never been there before and could quite easily have spent at least another five days on a more thorough exploration of the area.

We’d like to explore Southwold some more and have more time on the beaches or the chance to head over to Orford Ness National Nature Reserve and the associated remains of the adjacent Atomic Weapons Research Establishment

We’d also spend more time at Aldeburgh and explore more of the towns and villages that we missed as we drove around. Oh, and might even call in at IWM Duxford Air Museum on the way there to see whether Guy Martin’s Spitfire is still there…

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About Keith Rickaby

Fiftysomething writer and occasional photographer who has worked in the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and whilst I'm originally from the North East, I'm now firmly based in't Yorkshire...
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