It having been a long 16 months since my last guided art-history trip, and Italy being practically unvisitable still, I thought I'd try a trip in my own country. My current enthusiasms for archaeology and the medieval suggested that a Travel Editions trip called Medieval Suffolk might be a treat, especially with the further encouragement of David and Jenny, old friends from the aforementioned trips abroad, living nearby and offering to show me more of Suffolk if I stayed on a couple days more.
I'm not used to being at holiday destinations in just over two hours, door to destination, so getting to the 11.30 train from Liverpool Street and arriving at 12.40 in Ipswich was barely travel-stressful at all. Nearly four weeks after England's return to post-covid normality masks are still required on the tube in London, although it's not now illegal not to you may be refused travel. In practice the majority of people on the tube are still wearing them. Those not complying are the same individuals as before - young males mostly, with blackness and Eastern Europeaness very common. On the train the instruction to wear was low-key and just via the announcements. As I was the only person in my carriage I cast mine off. I also drank coffee and ate a flapjack, as the fruit cake has been cancelled - a tragedy of which regular readers will already be aware.
Staying with cake concerns, I had checked and found that Brown Bread, a bakery I discovered on my cathedral trips last year that have stalls in certain S.E. England towns on certain days have one in Ipswich every Friday! That it pitches up outside a Waitrose that no longer exists was a bit off-putting but I found it easily, which is more than can be said of the Ipswich branch of Pret, which may or may not exist, the Internet being hazy on this point. So I ended up chomping on a cheese and tomato toastie in a joint called Bakers and Baristas in some shopping mall, and feeling young. And relatively sprightly. Ipswich initially seemed an OK place, in an unsurprising county-town way. The trip company bumf said we should arrive independently at the Holiday Inn from 15.00. It's a way out from the centre but I had time to kill and a yen to prove said sprightliness so I decided to walk it, which tested the limits of good sense, shall we say. Checking in was fast and smooth and my room at the end of a network of long corridors and overlooking an empty car park and a new Wimpey housing estate, which is not something you get in Venice. Quiet though, with just the distant hum of traffic with the window open, which I'm sitting by, in a comfy chair, typing this, with a cup of vanilla redbush tea and a cinnamon and almond twist. Sigh!
At 6.00 we had a welcome reception and talk on how historically and archaeologically interesting East Anglia is, from Ben Robinson, aka the one in the helicopter on the BBC Alice Roberts archaeology programs. And very convincingly and entertainingly did he make this point. I was surprised at how big our party is. Being used to groups in the low twenties one nearing fifty is a bit different. We then dined and chatted and had an early night. The buffet arrangement resulted in my somewhat carb-heavy meal of veggie cannelloni with boiled potatoes and bread.
A good night's sleep, with the window open even. The breakfast featured a good selection of cereals in boxes but only limited pastries, but the pain au raisin was fresh. A buffet of the full English was available. I had trouble connecting to the WiFi on my tablet, addressed by a very helpful woman on reception, but persisting. Then poking around desperately in the connection's advanced settings I found something called MAC address type which was set to Randomised but could be changed to Tablet. I did so, and bingo!
A coach at 9.30 took us for a morning in Lavenham, beginning with the famous and fine church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (see top right) and continuing with an enlightening tour around the streets of medieval timber-frame houses which are the town's big thing, and ending at the Guildhall. The place has a reputation as the best-preserved medieval village in England, with about 240 listed buildings. After we were set free for lunch I had a photographic wander, and wound up buying cinnamon fudge and blue and white coconut ice from a tea shop called Sweet Meats, having a tasty lunch of sweet corn and lentil fritters in a mango coulis, with salad, there too, and leaving with a cornet of their coffee and cinnamon and coconut and ginger ice creams, also mighty tasty. The blueness of the coconut ice being in tribute to the Lavanham Blue cloth that made the town its fortunes during the medieval period, and which signalled the town's fall when it went out of fashion, losing out to patterns and variety from the Low Countries. A mixture of woad and wee were used to get the right colour.
The coach then took us to Sutton Hoo, where the mounds of the famous dig can be admired, from the top of a new observation tower even. There's also a visitor centre, mostly taken up by the National Trust shop and cafe, but with some museumy content, which is also to be found in Mrs Pritty's house - tape measures mostly.
Our 6.30 talk before dinner was The Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk from Mike Ingram, our other esteemed guide, and personally I didn't realise that the medieval period in England was spent by the aristocracy fighting among themselves, pretty much the whole time, and certainly more than just during the big-name wars involving roses etc. My buffet selection tonight was a little eccentric again, consisting of Thai veg curry with rice and chips.
This house featured in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as the house where
Harry was born and where his parents were killed by Lord Voldemort.
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