Norfolk and Suffolk was to be our touring ground for the second trip in 2016. We knew little of the counties although we did have a somewhat disastrous sailing holiday on the broads in the 60’s when I tried to fend off our hired boat of several tons from running at high speed into a moored motor cruiser. The remainder of the holiday was spent in a heavy plaster cast which no doubt would have ensured my death by drowning if I chanced to go overboard. (In retrospect it is amazing that later in life I then trusted myself to Mike’s seamanship on cruises to the Med, Greece and Turkey! See www.sundancer.me.uk) The friends who sailed with us have never gone sailing again. As usual, the plan was to mix sight-seeing with short, 3 to 4 mile, walks.
We set off for Cambridgeshire on Tues 6th September, going via Cheltenham to visit our son Jon who was in hospital after an appendicitis operation. We turned north to by-pass Coventry and got snarled up in the traffic where they are building a new underpass. The rest of the journey was fairly speedy and we stayed for a couple of nights at the very pleasant National Trust campsite at Houghton Mill.
Wedesday was cloudy but warm and we went for a couple of pleasant walks along the river Ouse and its tributaries and over the water meadows. We also looked round the very interesting mill on the site. This is built on 5 floors and though the present mill is 18th Century, there has been a mill on this site since about 800. They still grind flour here at times and it is possible to buy the produce.
On to Cambridge on Thursday via St Ives. I hadn’t realised that there are two towns called St Ives in England and that the rhyme ‘as I was going to St Ives’ actually applies to this one. There was a lot of trade through here in the middle ages when the area was very rich from the proceeds of wool.
We had planned to stop at a Cambridge Park and Ride on our way to the next campsite but hadn’t realised that all but the Trumpington Road P & R are height restricted. In the end it seemed easier to go to the Caravan Club’s Cherry Hinton site which we had booked and travel in from there. We had lunch on site and then caught the No 3 bus into the city. We checked out No 14 Kings Parade – an elegant building opposite Kings College where one of my artistic ancestors had lived and worked in the mid 19 century. It is now a very up-market art gallery. We admired the splendid Corpus Christi Chronophage (time eater). The clock face is gold-plated and there are no numerals or hands. It displays the time by opening slits, back-lighted in blue in three rings showing hours, minutes and seconds. There is a fearsome monster at the top which eats up the time while making a grinding sound. It bears the inscription ‘the world passeth away and the lust thereof’ – in Latin of course. We were then punted down the Cam along the ‘Backs’ behind the beautiful Colleges with a very competent young man in charge. Finally we clambered to the top of the Great St Mary Church tower to admire the view.
We took the bus back in on Friday. The suburbs of Cambridge are as scruffy as any other town but the centre is really beautiful, but very crowded. We were taken on a tour of Corpus Christi, Pembroke and Queens by an excellent retiree who had studied at Trinity. He told us some of the history of the University. It was founded in 1209 by some of the Fellows from Oxford who left there because there had been a couple of murders. He explained the College system. You apply to a College which is a hall of residence and most students ‘live in’ throughout their course. All lectures and the exams however are arranged by the university. Students mostly need 4 A stars at A level to get in. The buildings are very old and are all very beautiful, and of course the setting by the river is lovely. Most have central courtyards with broad green lawns bearing ‘keep off the grass’ notices. Only Fellows are allowed to walk on the grass. Fellows are chosen by the current staff. Trinity College alumni have won 35 Nobel Prizes and the whole university has over 100.
We shared a platter of delicious fattening foods for lunch and then went into Kings Chapel. Kings College was founded by Henry VI in 1441. Henry had houses, shops and wharves (Cambridge was then a port) cleared to make space. Henry also founded Eton College and for 400 years Kings admitted only ex Etonians. The chapel was unfinished by Henry before his imprisonment and murder but the work was continued by those who followed him, mainly by Richard lll, Henry VII and VIII who completed the work so the building took 100 years in total. Henry VIII’s half is much more magnificent than the half completed by his father having carvings of crowns, portculli, coats of arms and roses all round the high walls. The chapel is very splendid with lofty walls, pillars and a beautiful vaulted ceiling and stained glass.
Saturday 10th Sept. Today was very wet. We had planned to go to some gardens but decided to head up to Ely Cathedral instead. It cost £13 each to go in but was worth it because it is really superb. It has wonderful carvings, another beautiful lofty ceiling and there is an octagonal tower with a painted ceiling in the centre which was built when the original tower fell down in 1300. The stained glass is mostly Victorian but very bright and beautiful. We climbed 260 steps up the west tower to good views over the area and it had more or less stopped raining when we were up there. A wedding party arrived just before we left. I wonder how much it costs to be married here. The ‘Lost Acre’ CC CL site was a really nice stop for the night
Sunday’s weather was beautiful, lots of sunshine but not too hot. We visited Anglesey Abbey House and Gardens. The gardens have shady avenues, a glorious display of autumn flowers, topiary, statues, a working flour mill on a little river, and long, green velvety lawns between ancient trees. The house and garden were brought back to splendour by the first Baron Fairhaven who was the son of an American heiress. He spent 40 years making an idiosyncratic collection of art and artefacts. He never married and you could tell by his choices that there was no woman saying ‘I’m not having that in my house. The many artworks featuring naked men might give a clue to his interests. He enjoyed hunting, shooting and fishing and entertained on a modest scale. When he died the Abbey was left to the National Trust.
We then moved on to Thetford Forrest and eventually found Grimes Graves. This is set in a wide clearing where there are hundreds of concave circles. These are the remains of Neolithic flint mines. When a new mine was dug, the spoil was used to fill up an old one. It was possible to climb down a ladder into one of the mines and see the remaining layers of flint. We spent the night at a CCC CS campsite at Swaffham – small and pleasant but close to a goose farm. .
Monday 12th Sept. We drove a couple of miles to Gooderstone Water Gardens. These are private gardens developed around a number of natural ponds in marshy ground. Eleven little bridges take you from one area to another. It was tranquil and quite pretty but a bit lacking in colour. We then went on to Oxburgh Hall, having been warned that the house was closed because one of the Victorian windows had fallen in. The Hall is a very striking 14th Century building surrounded by a moat and said to have secret passages and a priest hole.
Castle Acre Priory which is one of the ruins Cromwell knocked about a bit was our next stop. It has one striking façade still standing and luxurious prior’s quarters on 3 floors. It was a Clunian priory, linked to the great Abbey of Cluny in France and was founded by one of William the Conquerer’a men. It flourished for 450 years. It was very rich so attractive to Henry and Cromwell. We then went on to Kings Lynn for lunch and then to the Camping and Caravan Club Sandringham Club Site. It was getting a bit sticky and hot by now. The site is very pleasant, set amongst trees.
Tuesday was another hot day with a hazy blue sky. We cycled to Sandringham to see the Queen. It cost us £12 each but she wasn’t around. We were allowed to wander through the downstairs apartments which the family use mainly at Christmas. There were lots of family photos but I didn’t see any of Diana or Camilla. There was an extensive collection of family cars – lots of old Daimlers. The gardens are pleasant with broad green lawns, old trees and a lake. We went back to the van and sweltered in the shade for the rest of the afternoon.
Mike chopped the veg for our evening meal with our new, very sharp knife and then stirred the washing up looking for the sponge with inevitable bloody results. It took us some time to find a campsite for the next couple of nights as all the big ones seem to be full.
Wednesday 14th Sept, another hot and sticky day. We drove to the north Norfolk coast and picnicked on Brancaster Beach for lunch. This is a long sandy beached, backed by sand dunes. We could not see the sea when we arrived, but one and a half hours later we could just see it in the distance. It must come in at a dangerous rate of knots here. We looked at a site at Deepdale but didn’t like it so carried on past Wells-next-the-Sea to the Blue Skies site which was adequate. We sat in the shade and struggled to find somewhere to stay for the next three days over the weekend. There is a big 40’s festival in Sheringham which, together with the sunshine, is clearly filling all the sites around. The 40’s festivals seem to be a big thing hereabouts, presumably because of the large military presence during the war associated with the multitude of airfields that had been built. If we had known about the festival we would have booked campsites well in advance but it is not a celebration we were really aware of in the Midlands. Here we have indeed already seen lots of men dressed in WWII uniforms driving motorbikes and old army vehicles. We finally found a not very good commercial site a bit inland for Friday and a site near Sheringham for the weekend.
Thursday dawned misty and we drove to Wells-next-the-Sea, explored the Quay and then took some atmospheric pictures of boats beached on the sandbanks in the harbour. At low water it looks as though a river runs along the town edge, but when the tide comes in most of the far banks are covered. We walked the mile down the raised sea defences to the beach where there are hundred’s of holiday homes to the left of the path. We had coffee by the beach and then walked back. There is a little train you can catch for most of this journey if you haven’t the energy to walk. We then had a look at the town which has a long street of quite attractive shops. There is still a fishing industry here, mostly for crabs, mussels, lobsters and prawns.
Our next visit was Holkham Hall, a 18th Century mansion built by one Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester, a lawyer. He wanted to build an Italianate mansion on the windswept Norfolk Coast. At the age of 15 he had gone on a European tour, bringing back many Greek and Italian statues and busts. The ancestors of the present family have lived in the mansion since the 1750’s and now run the estate as a thriving farm, with other enterprises as well. We were nearly put off by the £12 entry fee (plus £3 to park) but were glad we decided to pay up. On the outside the hall is fairly plain, if not ugly. Inside you enter through a magnificent hall with a beautifully ornamented ceiling picked out in gold, pink alabaster pillars and an imposing stone staircase. The house contains a huge collection of portraits and other paintings by painters such as Titian and Rubens. Room after room is splendidly decorated. The estate has had its ups and downs but is now flourishing. Outside there is a large deer park with lake, a wonderful recently restored fountain featuring Perseus and Andromeda, many lovely trees and a large walled garden. There is also an interesting exhibition on the farming of the estate where they grow maize, potatoes and sugar beet, using lots of expensive agricultural vehicles. We were pretty tired after all the walking and got a lift back from the walled garden at high speed in their small, rattly trolley bus. We then went on to the Woodlands Camp near Sheringham Park This was large and a bit disorganised but had good facilities and was fairly quiet.
We had very heavy rain next morning so that there was standing water on the campsite when we left at 12.00. We drove to Blickling Hall which is a handsome redbrick building, built at the beginning of the 17th Century on the ruins of the family home of Anne Boleyn. Two arms of the house reach out as you walk up the drive. One held the bakery and offices and the other the horses. The stable now houses the cafe and a good exhibition of painting and sculptures, and a section showing the history for RAF Oulton – one of the many local airfields from WWII which was based here. In the house there is a enormous library of leather bound books which are gradually being catalogued by the NT. They have already found several Jane Austen first editions. There are also some exceedingly ancient books. Philip Kerr, the 11th Marquess of Lothian, and a previous owner of Blickling Hall was instrumental in the NT taking on many of Britain’s large estates and subsequently gave Blickling to them.
The garden looked interesting but too damp to explore. There were photos in the house (and a painting in the exhibition) of beautiful bluebells in the spring. We drove down wet splashy lanes to a CC CL, Hevingham Lakes, which fortunately was flat and well drained. It was a fair hike to the loos from the pitches but otherwise an excellent site!
Saturday 17th was a grey day but not raining until late afternoon. We drove down to the Park and Ride in Norwich and caught the bus to the town centre. We went into the castle which is now a museum. There were interesting displays about the use of the castle as a jail and the potted histories of people transported from there. We then went on to the large market and enjoyed very nice roast pork baps for lunch before moving on to the Cathedral. This was commenced by a local man who had committed the sin of Simony – buying religious preferment to become Bishop of Thetford. He went to the Pope to ask for forgiveness who gave him it on condition he built a cathedral. It was started at the end of the 11th Century, built of local flint and cement and lime with cream coloured Caen limestone and was occupied by Benedictine monks. It has huge and beautiful cloisters and some fine stained glass. Apparently they were rich enough to pay off Henry VIII so it didn’t get knocked about, though Cromwell in the Protestant Reformation did smash the medieval glass windows and remove many of the popish ornaments from the graves. It was bombed in WWII but survived.
Sunday again began cloudy but dry. Mike decided he wanted to see Clay-next-the-Sea on the north coast expecting it to be like Wells-next-the-Sea. This proved a bit of a mistake because there was a traffic jam in the narrow streets, probably caused by the extra traffic from the 40’s festival in Sheringham and although a pretty village, it is now quite a long way from any sea, We explored on foot but dodging traffic, we missed the only coffee shop. We drove on through Sheringham where there were lots of people dressed in army uniform, and forties dresses topped with a fox fur like my mother used to wear. We carried on to Cromer which is a somewhat faded seaside town but does a really good fish and chips. We carried on to Overstrand and had a very nice walk along the beach, up the cliffs via some very steep steps and then on up to the lighthouse. from where we walked back through the golf course.to our van. Mike’s Other Woman then found us our campsite despite Mike complaining we were going round in circles. The site was another CC CL, Brick Kiln Bungalows at Skeyton and proved to be a huge, flat field with adequate loos and only 3 other units present.
19th Sept. It was a lovely bright but cool morning when we drove to Ranworth, a little village with an enormous church which they call ‘the Cathedral of the Broads’. It is built and ornamented with the usual flint, has a very high ceiling and a medieval painted rood screen’ It was completed in about 1450, and paid for by riches earned from the wool trade. There is a beautifully lluminated manuscript on display. We climbed up to the top of the tower via 87 steps and a ladder to get a great view of the river Bure and Ranworth Broad. We then went on the the Broad for a coffee and a boat-ride. It is a protected area so only the one small electric powered boat is allowed on it. Sadly we are at the wrong season to see many birds but it was a pleasant trip. We were told that terns come all the way from Africa to breed here on rafts placed on the water. When the young are almost fully grown the parents set off back to Africa. The young birds stay another three weeks and set of after them. It is wonderful that they can then navigate their way by some built in GPS.
Our boatman told us one surprising fact that the Broads are man made. Vast quantities of peat were dug out in the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries to feed the fires in London and locally. They were later filled with water and channels were dug to join them to the rivers. Norfolk and Suffolk had a very large population in the 16th and 17th centuries and the rivers provided transport for wool, reeds and trade from Holland. Their transport use changed with the arrival of the railways and they became used for leisure. We were also told how the broads have to be maintained by cutting back the rushes regularly otherwise the edges gradually solidify, become strong enough to support bushes and then trees and gradually move inwards to block the water. We finally took a pleasant short stroll along the boardwalk at the side of the broad.
We drove on to Fairhaven Water Gardens. It was green and jungly – not the best gartden we have seen but there were a couple of marvellous ancient oak trees called the king and the queen. We settled for the night at a small campsite, Causeway Cottage, near Potter Heigham. Convenient but not one of our favourites although we stayed 2 nights.
Tuesday 20th Sept. My book of Norfolk Walks suggested walking east from Potter Heigham old bridge. The sky looked threatening as we set out but Mike’s weather forecast had said it wasn’t going to rain so we ignored the black clouds and set off without our macs. The walk proved to be along the backs of about 100 fairly decrepit ‘riverside rentals’ cottages which were mostly shacks and completely obscured any view of the river. After about a mile it started to rain so we gave up and retreated, picking up a nice bit of cake comfort from a café on route. Eventually the rain cleared and we headed for How Hill Nature Reserve on the river Art. This was very pleasant and also featured a small water garden which was much prettier than Fairhaven. We drove on to the pretty village of Horning on the river Bure where Mike snarled at a little yappy dog which spoiled the ambience for our afternoon tea.. The village has a medieval pub and lots of thatched cottages. In the evening we walked round to the local pub. Despite someone having told us the loos were not very clean and they wouldn’t eat there (they looked fine to me) we enjoyed a good meal for £25.
Wednesday was another lovely sunny day and we droved to Winterton on Sea where the golden sands stretch for miles in both directions. We were told we might see seals but there were none in evidence. We walked along the beach and back along the dunes. It was hard going and we earned our coffee in the Beach Café. We then went to the coastal watch station and Mike chatted technical stuff with the volunteer in his little lookout hut on stilts.
We wanted to to see Horsey Windpump but sadly when we got there it was covered in scaffolding with the sails taken off. Nevertheless we managed a short riverside walk and then drove to Watcham where there is a medieval barn – which is shut on Wednesdays!. At least our next stop was a success, at East Rushton where the Old Vicarage Gardens proved to be a delight. Alan Gray bought the property in 1973 when the Vicarage was in poor condition, surrounded by 2 acres of jungle. The garden now covers 32 acres. Thick, manicured hedges surround the garden creating a microclimate in which tender shrubs and trees can flourish. There is a huge collection of hydrangeas – looking good at this time of year – roses and unusual shrubs. The garden is set out so you move from one ‘room’ to another. Some rooms have smooth lawns with feature sculptures. Others are bright with autumn colour.
There are no signs saying ‘exit’ so wandering round we had completely lost our sense of direction and eventually had to ask someone for guidance. We then moved on to the CC Club Site on Great Yarmouth Racecourse as I needed a washing machine.
Thursday 22nd Sept. In the morning we visited Somerleyton Hall which is very handsome outside but we had a 45 minute tour with a guide who talked mainly about the family and we thought the visit was a bit expensive for what it was.The present house is Victorian with an imposing staircase and a lot of family portraits. It was bought by Sir Samuel Peto who built a more imposing house outside the older one and re-modelled the interior. Sadly for him he became bankrupt and sold it to a carpet manufacturer, the Crossley family who made money out of manufacturing carpets with modern machines. The first Crossley married a servant and their son inherited the fortune and bought the manor house. His son then married into the aristocracy and bought the Somerleyton title. The present owner is the fourth Lord Somerleyton. He is no-longer in carpets but runs the large estate and several businesses and allows visitors to the house and gardens on three days a week. The gardens have many old trees, a bit past their best.
We moved to a pleasant flat site CC CL near Beccles, the H E Hipperson boatyard. It was on the edge of a river and had good loos but no shower. Although it is next to a busy road it wasn’t noisy. In the afternoon we walked along the river and got a bit lost in town on the way back. Mike’s leg was hurting so he was a bit grumpy with me. As chief navigator I get blamed when my sense of direction fails me.
The site was fully booked for the weekend so on Friday we moved the short distance to Outney Caravan Park just outside Bungay . This site is flat and spacious with reasonable facilities. Bungay is a nice little town with an excellent coffee shop (wonderful flapjacks) where we picked up a leaflet of local walks. We investigated the remains of the castle before returning to the camp to sit in the warm sun for a couple of hours while the laundry ‘did’. Finally we took a pleasant walk from the site round the riverside and back next to the golf course. Dinner was very good in a Thai restaurant in Bungay.
Saturday 24th Sept. We drove west through Diss to Bressingham Steam Museum and Gardens – rather an odd combination but it works. It represents the twin interest of one Alan Bloom – steam locomotives and horticulture. The museum has a fascinating collection of reconditioned steam locomotives, pumps and rollers, some old fairground carousels and rides on three little miniature railways which steam through the grounds. We chugged round on a couple of them breathing in the steam and smell of coal. There is also an interesting Dad’s Army exhibition including Frazer’s funeral directors shop. There is also a Royal Mail post sorting carriage and some royal train carriages.
Next door to this are several acres of very beautiful gardens which have been designed by Alan and his son Adrian. There are long, bright green lawns which roll up and down some small hills with colourful island beds and others which snake in from the sides to break up the vistas. They specialise in conifers so there are dozens of varieties in colours from yellow, through all shades of green to blue, so there is colour all year round. We thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
After lunch we drove north to Wymondham Abbey, founded in 1107. Very little is left of the Abbey, courtesy of the usual culprits but the church is splendid with a very high wooden ceiling with angels gazing down at the congregation and an ornate gold altar screen. The angels are actually part of the structure. An amateur orchestra was rehearsing for that night’s performance of the local .Last Night at the Proms. organised by their Rotary. From somewhere they had recruited about 50 musicians who made a tremendous noise, most of it very tuneful. There was a pot full of Union Jacks ready for the audience to wave so it was probably great fun . We returned to Bungay for one more night.
Sunday was another lovely day. We drove to Blytheburgh, to see the Holy Trinity Church, a splendid medieval building, known as the Cathedral of the Marshes. Huge windows line each side with beautiful scrolling under the arches. Above them is a a balustrade, also with lovely carving on it. Inside there is a stone floor and plain walls but the high tie beam roof has 12 angels looking down which used to be very brightly painted. There are some intricately carved figures at the bench ends. The village is tiny but there was a priory here once which probably attracted a lot of money to the area to pay for the church.We visited on a Sunday and the parishioners were preparing to celebrate the installation of some medieval glass fragments and the bells were being rung.
We carried on to Walderswick , through the village which was crowded with tourists, and parked by the sea. The nearest café was over the other side of the river Blythe so we took the little rowboat ferry over and had coffee. Boats line the river, many of them small fishing craft and their catch is sold in stalls on the quay. We then drove back inland and out again on the other side of the river – some 12 miles – to the council campsite in Southwold. When we eventually found it is was about 400 yards from where we had had coffee that morning. My book had recommended it but it proved to be fairly scruffy. After lunch we walked the mile back into Southwold along the dunes and the beach which is golden and long and straight, interspersed by groins. We passed the brightly painted beach huts to the lighthouse. 92 steps took us to the top for a good view. We walked along the famous pier which boasts a House of Games, and Under the Pier Show, a water clock designed as a feature about water recycling and several other delights. We returned along the promenade eating ice-creams. Very seasidey.
Monday 26th September. The day started cool and we drove to Aldeburgh where a big music festival is held each year founded by Benjamin Britten who was born here. There is a fairly monstrous sculpture of a giant clam shell commemorating him on the shingle beach inscribed with words from Peer Gynt “I hear the voices that will not be drowned”. We walked along the path beside the beach to Thorpeness .
Thorpeness was built in the early 1900’s by yet another wealthy barrister Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie who inherited his estate from his father who had made a fortune from his work around the world as a railway engineer. Ogilvie was an Edwardian architect and playwright as well as being a barrister and was a friend of James Barrie. Ogilvie’s plan was to create a fantasy, holiday haven for the upper middle classes.The village has lots of mock Tudor houses surrounding a large boating lake, complete with Peter Pan islands,. There is a Country Club and a Golf Club. The original water tower is three stories high and was converted into a very smart residence called The House in the Clouds. It is now available for rent at a charge of up to £800 a night.
After lunch we went on to Orford Castle, built by Henry II to keep and eye on the neighbouring Bigod family. Only the keep remains standing on a mound above the village. It is managed by English Heritage which provides a very good audio guide. The keep has five floors plus turrets. There are rooms off the staircase where the constable and the priest had relatively comfortable quarters. There is a room on the fourth floor for important visitors and several garderobes with lavatories which drain down the castle walls. The constable’s bedroom also had a small waist high hole in the wall through which he could relieve himself at night without having to go downstairs.
Our campsite for the night was a Caravan Club CL at Sutton Hoo. Nice and flat but £20 for the night which we thought was a bit expensive.
27th September. We spent the morning exploring Sutton Hoo. This is the site of 7th century burial mounds where wonderful treasures were found in the remains of a 90 foot ship in 1939. The treasures include armour, swords and jewellery in gold and silver. The originals are in the British Museum but good replicas are exhibited in the museum on the site. These show the original condition that the items would have been in when new. Remarkably there are coins from all over Northern Europe and jewels from India showing just how far people travelled in those early days.
We went on to Framlingham Castle which was built in the late 12th Century by the Bigods and for 400 years was the home of the Earls and Dukes of Norfolk, passing at times to other people when they were out of favour and then back to them. It has a massive stone curtain wall which you can walk around. Some of the interior buildings were demolished in later centuries and a poorhouse built in the 167th Century. Mary Tudor lived here for a while and was proclaimed queen here. It passed to English Heritage in 1984.
Finally we drove on to Debenham, a pretty village with lots of medieval houses and another striking flint church. We settled in another CL at Stonham Aspal. This was excellent, a nice flat field with good facilities, although these were some 100 yard walk from the field.
Wednesday was an absolutely beautiful day. We drove to Ipswich and parked near the football ground and then walked into town. The centre is pedestrianised with all the usual shops although many of them are in very old buildings including a Lakelands inside the ‘Ancient House’. This has panelling and old windows and very uneven floors. You ramble through several floors of small rooms. It is very attractive but I would think it is a nightmare in which to try to run a business. There are several medieval churches decorated with attractive patterns in flint. We went to the Christchurch Mansion in the park. This was begun in the 15th Century and subsequent owners have added to it. The warren of rooms are panelled and lined with portraits of family, royalty and friends, many by famous artists. The rooms are furnished in a variety of period styles and there are a couple of splendid dolls houses. There is also one gallery containing paintings by Constable and Gainsborough who were born locally. The building was being renovated so there were a lot of people moving things about which made it all pleasantly chaotic.
Wolsley was also born locally and used the proceeds from the breakup of some small abbeys to found a school which Henry VIII later closed. We walked down to the waterfront where there is a big marina surrounded by older buildings converted into flats and some smart new blocks.
We shared an excellent pizza in Pizza Express for lunch and then drove on to a lovely quiet CL at Brantham near the Shotley Peninsular and the river Stour. We tired ourselves out walking down to the river and back.
Thursday 29th September was Mike’s 79 birthday. It started a little damply but cleared up and we did some grocery shopping in Manningtree before driving down to the Shotley Peninsular where we had lunch overlooking the cranes and container ships in Harwich. We had a very nice walk along the Orwell, back across the peninsular and down the Stour to the tea shop next to the Bristol Arms for tea and carrot cake. We returned to the same camp site and went out for a celebratory meal round the corner at the Bull. We had an excellent steak and a good fish and chips (though not as good as Cromer).
We feel we have been so lucky with the weather this September and Friday was yet another beautiful day. We drove just some 4 miles to Flatrford Mill in Constable country. We enjoyed a good coffee in the NT restaurant and then walked across Flatford Bridge and along the meandering riverside path. It is pretty countryside with green fields full of cows and lots of willow trees. We eventually arrived in Dedham, a very upmarket village, built on the profits from the wool trade. Dedham Mill is now converted to some very attractive apartments. We explored the Craft Centre – four floors of painting, pottery, jewellery, clothes, scarves and handicrafts in enormous profusion. So much choice that we left without buying anything. The problem is that our walls are now crammed with our own paintings and we really don’t need anymore ‘stuff’.
We went back to Flatford Mill for more photos as by this time the schoolchildren getting in the way had gone. We then went through East Bergholt. We stlopped at the church where they ran out of money in the 16th Century and couldn’t afford a tower so they housed several huge bells upside down in a bell cage in the graveyard. These are still rung on Sundays. We went on by rather narrow bye roads to Nayland, another medieval village but not as pretty as some we have seen. We made the mistake of driving via Stoke by Nayland and turning down the wrong road which got narrower and narrower. We had to turn back but eventually we found our way to an excellent CCC campsite at Polstead. It is nicely laid out with little hedges fencing off the hard standings and had excellent showers and loos. We were given a corner pitch which got all the afternoon sun. We booked for 1 night but ended up staying 4.
1st Oct. Today was only our second day of real rain. We did laundry and not a lot else..
On Sunday the early rain soon cleared so we drove to Long Melford. It certainly warrants the name ‘long’ as the wide, straight high street stretches for about a mile or more. There are a number of medieval buildings. We started a walk at The George and Dragon, then along the Stour and then across country. At one point I think we lost our way but eventually got back to town, through a couple of small housing estates and back to the G and D. We drove on the short way to Melford Hall. The Hall didn’t open until 1.00 so we walked around the gardens and looked at the Beatrix Potter exhibition in the tiny banqueting house set away from the main building. Beatrix’s relatives owned the Hall and she was a frequent visitor and did a great many drawings, four of which, previously unknown, have recently turned up tucked into a book in the library. We went back to the van for lunch and then round the Hall. It was built in the 16 century, changed hands a couple of times then in the 18th century it was bought by the son of Admiral Hyde Parker. In 1960 it was passed to the National Trust. The last owners now live in the refurbished servants’ quarters.
We moved on to the large village green and went into the Holy Trinity Church which is small cathedral size and very beautiful inside and out. There is some medieval glass and a very elaborately carved wooden rood screen. We then did some shopping and went back to our campsite to sit in the sun for a couple of hours.
3rd October, Monday, had a very cold start but later turned into yet another lovely sunny day. We drove to Chelsworth which is a small village full of pretty thatched cottages, a fairly expensive place to buy I would imagine. We did a two mile walk round the countryside, mostly ploughed fields and corn stubble. It was a pleasant walk but probably prettier before the harvest.
Our next stop was Lavenham – a medieval village stuffed full of half timbered buildings, many leaning considerably from the vertical and painted in a variety of colours. It would be truly wonderful if they banned car parking! We had a plateful of unusual and delicious sandwiches in ‘The Crooked House’ and then explored the 500 year old Guild Hall in the market square. This in its time has been used as a guild meeting house, a storehouse, a Bridewell and a poorhouse. There was an exhibition telling interesting stories of former residents. Lavenham’s riches were based on the production of a blue cloth which was exported all over the known world in the 16th century. Woolmakers, dyers and weavers all became rich. When this trade diminished there was a bit of a lull and then a well paid trade in horsehair and hessian weaving restored the village to better times. We went back to the van to sunbathe and had a delicious meal of fish for supper.
4th Oct. We went to yet another NT stately home, Ickworth House, a neoclassical building set in parkland. It was started at the end of the 18th century by Frederick Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, and designed by an Italian architect. It has a central rotunda and two wings. We got the inside story on family scandals from our guide. The Bishop was not much interested in being a bishop and spent most of his time touring Europe and amassing a huge art collection using the large stipend he received from the chirch. Unfortunately, Napoleon confiscated most of his collection and sold it at auction. The Bishop died before the building was finished and, as his son had displeased him by marrying beneath him, he left him a run down estate, a partly finished building and not much money. Fortunately for the son, an uncle was more kindly disposed and left him a fortune which he spent on completeing the house and filling it with pictures, sculpture, silver and ceramics bought during his own European tours.
The 4th Marquess subsequently saved Ickworth financially by marrying a railway heiress. He enjoyed working with his farm workers in the woods and fields while his wife spent her money doing up the house and installing central heating and electric lighting – even for the servants. After her husband died there were a lot of death duties to pay. The grandson who would eventually inherit was into a number of vices and a bit of crime on the side, so to protect the estate from him she gave it to the NT in lieu of death duties. The bequest included paintings by Velazquez, Gainsborough and Titian and many others and a silver collection worth several millions. Her judgement was proved right it seems since the 6th and 7th Marquesses spent various periods in jail for gun-running, jewellery theft, drug-smuggling and posession. John Hervey the 7th Marquess was reputed to have blown a fortune of £21 million on drugs and high living before selling his remaining family possessions and moving out of the east wing of Ickworth in 1996. What a story!!.
The garden included a couple of stumperies, lots of roots and stumps and dead branches of trees set about with ferns, underneath shady trees – all rather fetching.
Our next stop was back for a couple of nights at Houghton Mill NT campsite from which there is a pleasant walk along the river and back through the pretty village of Houghton. They do a nice cream tea back in the NT café by the mill.
We were now on our way home and decided to return via Stratford where we stayed in the Riverside Campsite at Teddington, just over the river. This is a pleasant site and is on a bus route into town. Next day we caught the bus and spent more time exploring Stratford than we have before. The number of black and white buildings here surprised us though I suppose it shouldn’t have done. In the evening we went back in again to see Cymbeline at the RST. Not one of Shakespeare’s better efforts but the producer made a good job of it. It was a long wait until the last bus so we walked the one and a half miles back to the site in the dark along a good roadside path. Next morning was an easy drive home to Malvern.
We were away just a month and did 1150 miles.We thoroughly enjoyed the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk and the weather was great. What more could you ask for.