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Brought up on the Essex-Suffolk border, travel writer Francesca Harper has long been surprised how Suffolk manages to keep off Britain’s main tourist trail. Aware of just how diverse this county is in history, culture and nature, we asked Francesca to put together a list of her favourite things to see and do in Suffolk.
Visit an ancient burial ground at Sutton Hoo
There is no-where else in the country where you can explore a 7th Century Anglo-Saxon king’s burial ground whilst a 1930s archaeologist reveals the secrets of its past. Not just for kids to experience the myths of the Dark Ages, adults too can appreciate the craftsmanship of the recovered artefacts (the real artefacts are in the British Museum but there are some excellent replicas in the on-site interpretation centre) as well as enjoy a stroll around the colourful estate on which the site stands.
Take a walk through Constable Country
The appeal of Constable Country and the Dedham Vale should not be underestimated. In fact, its designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is perhaps unnecessary (but still warranted) proof that the stretch of countryside that follows the River Stour between Manningtree and Bures is one of, if not the most, beautiful places in Suffolk. As the setting for the majority of John Constable’s most famous paintings (the landscape artist was born and bred in East Bergholt, Flatford and Dedham) visitors can enjoy a quintessential British day out boating along the river and picnicking on the bank, both hopefully without our classic wet-weather.
Go back in time in Lavenham
The medieval village of Lavenham is one of Suffolk’s biggest tourist attractions, and it is easy to see why. The high street is lined with half-timbered (and often slightly wonky) cottages which house traditional cafes, pubs and tardis-like antique and craft shops you can spend an entire day rummaging through. The grand church of St. Peter and St. Paul is well worth a visit, as is the National Trust owned 16th Century Guildhall where visitors can learn all about Lavenham’s wealthy cloth merchant history.
Step inside the legendary Gainsborough’s House
Although another prosperous wool town, Sudbury may not be as attractive as Lavenham but its history is equally as fascinating. One of Britain’s most important portrait and landscape artists, Thomas Gainsborough, lived and worked in Sudbury and today Gainsborough’s House is a museum and gallery where visitors can appreciate many of his original artworks in the setting of his own home.
Get off the beaten track in Thetford Forest
Straddling north Suffolk and south Norfolk, Thetford Forest is a vast pine woodland where you can either enjoy one of the gentle recommended walks or face your fears on the Go Ape rope assault-course. During the summer months the forest is plagued with family picnickers and mountain bikers, during autumn photographers come to capture the changing colours of the fiery trees and in the winter visitors get into the festive spirit by enjoying the forest’s annual Christmas event.
Enjoy being by the seaside at Southwold
Southwold is a charming seaside town where you do not have to particularly ‘do’ anything. Spending a couple of hours simply strolling along the pleasant promenade past the colourfully painted beach huts, along the turn of the 20th Century pier and around the harbour is an enjoyable way to take in the seaside atmosphere. But if you want to spend a full-day in Southwold then there’s time to fit in the 15th Century Church of St. Edmund, the Southwold and Maritime museums and the imposing lighthouse to get a better idea of Southwold’s social and maritime history.
Scream to go faster at Pleasurewood Hills
Perhaps the county’s most surprising attraction is Pleasurewood Hills; the rather grandly named rural theme park located just north of Lowestoft on the north Suffolk coast. There are rides to please all levels of thrill seeker, from the carousel and miniature railway to a corkscrew roller-coaster and the plunging flume ride, as well as parrot, sea-lion and circus performances that the entire family can enjoy.
Sightsee ‘til you drop in Bury St Edmunds
Although undeniably great for shopping, there is much more to this Suffolk town than retail therapy. Bury St Edmunds is home to some of the country’s finest and oldest buildings including the 16th Century St Edmundsbury Cathedral (although a church has been on the site since the 11th Century), the ruins of the 11th Century Bury St Edmunds Abbey, the 12th Century St Mary’s Church and the Regency period Theatre Royal. After exploring the many exquisite examples of medieval and Georgian architecture located throughout the town, there is always time to sample one of the locally brewed Greene King beers, perhaps in the (allegedly) smallest pub in Britain, The Nutshell.
Horse around at Newmarket Racecourses
Right on the western border of Suffolk is Newmarket, internationally famous for its horseracing. If you are lucky enough to visit the racecourse on a race day, then you cannot help but appreciate experiencing a traditional that’s been held on the same site since the 1174. If you can’t make it to an actual racing event then The Newmarket Experience is a great way to go behind the scenes and witness the stables in action on one of the guided tours.
Get back to nature at Orford Ness
This east-coast peninsular is the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe, which although may not sound terribly exciting, actually means that it is an incredibly important site for conservation. Protected by a grand total of seven designated conservation bodies (including SSSI and AONB) Orford Ness – reachable only by boat – is an important habitat for vulnerable nesting birds. Orford Ness is also an ex-military testing ground and home to two military ‘pagodas’ as well as the Orfordness Lighthouse.
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