Suffolk in East Anglia is surprisingly close to London (you can get a train from Sudbury to Stratford London in around an hour) but it feels a million miles away when you are faced with half-timbered medieval houses, like I saw in Lavenham, and the winding, quiet country roads.
I used The Swan Hotel in Lavenham as my base for a few nights to explore this picturesque county.
Bury St Edmunds
The town’s name comes from St Edmund who was a king of East Anglia who was killed by invading Danes in 869 AD. A fortified town or ‘burgh’ gave the name ‘Bury’ part of the name. Just so you know, St Edmund’s Day is celebrated on 20 November.
I visited this market town to see Moyse’s Hall Museum which is on the Market Square in a building dating back to the 12th century. Displays cover local history, crime and punishment including superstitions and witchcraft, the Suffolk Regiment Gallery plus a temporary exhibition which is what convinced me to visit as it was Dr Who week! I saw the various Doctor’s outfits plus K-9, a Cyberman, a weeping angel and, of course, a dalek. It’s not a big museum but if it has specials like this in the school holidays it’s definitely one to watch.
Associated with Moyse’s Hall, the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village would have made another good stop, as would the Bury St Edmunds Cathedral and Abbey Gardens, but I had already planned my next stop in Stowmarket.
Museum of East Anglian Life
The MEAL was much bigger than I expected with many buildings and lots of outdoor time needed. There’s also a woodland nature trail and farmyard animals to meet.
Inside we learnt about the history of working and domestic life in the region – my daughter through the toys, and I enjoyed the period room sets although they didn’t come to life in the same way as a visit to Blists Hill does in Shropshire.
Even though the 1950s brought the fridge, washing machine, cooker and other labour saving devices many villages in the region didn’t get electricity until the early 1960s.
As it was getting cold I was pleased to discover the newly opened Abbot’s Hall which was a warm haven on an autumnal day in the country, Built in 1709, Abbot’s Hall has a variety of displays and it was clear how up-to-date everything was as there are QR codes scattered throughout each room.
One of my favourite rooms had a Come Dine With Me special dinner party where visitors could suggest who they would invite to dinner. With guests as diverse as Winston Churchill and Bart Simpson, Prince Charles and Spiderman I wouldn’t mind joining that dinner party myself!
Amazingly missed by grave robbers for 1,300 years, Sutton Hoo provides clues to what has been called ‘page one of English history’. Archaeologists investigating the mound in 1939 made a most spectacular discovery. Under a high mound a 27 metre long ship had been buried with a huge hoard of treasure and weapons, and this is considered to be a ship-burial of a pagan Anglo-Saxon warrior king. Sutton Hoo is set in a 99 hectare (245 acre) estate and you can go to see the burial mounds but there’s not a lot to see in all honesty.
The Exhibition Hall tells the Sutton Hoo story and, as with all National Trust locations, the staff and volunteers are excellent and there are always plenty of children’s activities laid on too.
This farm made it’s name following a BBC TV show about Essex boy Jimmy Doherty who bought a derelict farm without any agricultural experience to follow his dream to be a pig farmer. His rare breed pig farm now supplies big supermarkets and Jimmy’s Farm is a popular visitor attraction. It costs nothing to park and visit the farm shops, restaurant, and kitchen and herb garden but there’s an admission charge to enjoy the Nature Trail and meet some animals.
I got a tour of the farm from Dave Finkle, the Farm Manager, who is also a TV presenter, who hopes to encourage the public to engage more with our agricultural roots. It’s why the clocks change twice a year, and the reason for the timing of the school holidays which many have forgotten.
On the natural trail you can see – and feed – pigs, ferrets, goats, alpacas, guinea pigs, chickens, plus the 600 rare breed pigs that the farm is famous for. The different breeds include the Gloucester Old Spots, Tamworth, Middle White, Large Black, Berkshire and lots of black and white Saddleback pigs.
We also took the Woodland Trail and spent time ‘den building’. I was lucky with the weather as it had rained the night before but was bright when I visited. Dave explained, being an outdoor attraction, it can be a continual challenge to get visitors to come if the sun isn’t shining or if there’s dew on the grass.
Just 1.5 miles down the road is the Suffolk Food Hall. When Jimmy opened his farm there were mixed opinions locally with some unimpressed by his lack of farming skills and others who applauded his entrepreneurial skills. I visited the Suffolk Food Hall, a place not known for its love of Jimmy, to attempt to have lunch but the only restaurant was fully booked, and too fancy for dining with a child in reality, and there was only tea and cake on offer in the tiny cafe. I wish we’d stayed at Jimmy’s for the rest of the day.
I’d like to thank Best Loved Hotels for arranging my stay at The Swan at Lavenham, carrentals.co.uk for arranging the car hire and Visit Suffolk for suggesting attractions to visit and for arranging for admission to each location.