Medieval
Suffolk

August 2021
More photos here

Friday 13th
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.

Saturday 14th
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.

Sunday 15th
A very full day today, beginning on the coach at 8.30. Firstly to Saint Peter’s Church Wenhaston which has a rather special doom painting (see above), discovered in 1892 when the panel was left outside with the rubbish during restoration work. It rained during the night and the whitewash was washed off revealing the painting. Then on to Dunwich and the ruins and fascinating story of Greyfriars Monastery and the boggling truth and many myths of Dunwich itself, a big and thriving town now under the sea, with the help of the town Museum. Then to the church of the Holy Trinity Blythburgh, known as the Cathedral of the Marshes, and it sure is big (see right) with an angel roof and pew end carvings of the seven deadlies.

Then to Southwold, for lunch (which several of us took in the Cornish pasty joint, as you do, and an afternoon visit to Saint Edmund's church, before which I explored Southwold, which is like Hampstead on Sea, and borderline twee. But the church, and especially its graveyard, was a peaceful treat after my stroll along the busy front. Our final stop was Framlingham, where I fortified myself with excellent ice cream (coconut ruffle paired with lemon sorbet) before a circuit of the castle walls, followed by further fortification from coffee and a frangipane slice, and then a visit to Saint Michael’s church in Framligham, which has far more than its fare share of important and impressive tombs inside, and a pretty extravagant one out in the churchyard too (see below). Back to the hotel just after 18.00, feeling pretty whacked and glad that I wasn't having to travel home tonight as I'd booked an extra night at the Holiday Inn.

 




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.




 




Monday 16th
When I told them I was coming on the trip you've just read about David & Jenny, long-standing chums from previous Travel Editions trips on these pages, swiftly and fearlessly offered to personally show me more of the delights of Suffolk. Hence me booking two nights at the more central and swish Salthouse Harbour Hotel and, freshly checked-out of the Holiday Inn, getting picked up by D&J and taken into Ipswich to appreciate that it has some nice old bits and a variety of medieval churches, some open, some not. One was open if you knew the right people, Saint Margaret's, which it turns out I did, as D&J are connected, especially by singing in the choir their. After lunch at Isaacs, a place in the developed harbour very near my hotel, I was taken to Woodbridge, a sweet little place with another good church, St Mary's, with some fantastic flushwork, followed by some evening seaside strolling at Felixstowe. After dinner at D&J's your correspondent was flagging and so got driven back to Ipswich to his new hotel by the harbour It's a boutique hotel and my room had decor best described as ethnic/nautical/1960s. So like if a South American sea captain with a sense of history went to live in the Barbican. A little overdone, then, but big and comfy nonetheless, with a bathroom featuring a separate bath and shower.

Tuesday 17th
As I'd checked in quite late yesterday all the good restaurant breakfast times had been taken, but an 8.45 room service breakfast was to be had. It came exactly on time and was fine - freshly-squeezed juice, coffee from a cafetière, toast with Tiptree jams and a fresh and flaky croissant.

A trip to Christchurch Mansion to look around the house and its paintings was cruelly cancelled for Jenny when, whilst we were being told about the safety measures, a weighted base thing which was balanced on its side propping open the door fell over and gashed her leg. Remarkable calmness reigned, despite some gore, but after on-the-spot bandaging David had to drive her to A&E. He had to leave her when she went in for treatment, due to the current covid situation, and so came and found me for some strolling and shopping around Ipswich and, just as we were about to order our pub lunches, got the call to return to A&E for home-taking. I stayed with my bean-burger and pint of Adnam's best bitter, picked up a slice of cinnamon baklava from an Italian bakery called Bonbon on the way back to my hotel, and did my afternoon tea and snooze thing for the first time in many days. On my way back I also found the Cardinal Wolsey statue photographably free of the roadwork rubble that the locals have been complaining about. It features a peeking cat, because evidently he had several and often used to take one to meetings to unnerve people, also thereby throwing himself open to accusations of witchcraft.

Afterwards I went in search of Ipswich's city cemetery, and found it, despite another annoying Google maps failure. A couple of passing locals, and their dog, helped, and revealed relatives buried there - one mother and one ex-wife. although the husband of the latter preferred the term dead wife. I only explored half - the Old Cemetery. It's huge and hilly and very well kept, being still in use, run by Ipswich Borough Council. It's a place of lawns and gravestones rather than mausoleums and undergrowth. Nice old Victorian stones mind, and with a pleasing tendency for the angels to still have their limbs and heads. I imagine that this is what the Victorians had in mind when all of these cemeteries were planned, rather than the romantic overgrown ruins elsewhere that we know and love. Having got a bit lost getting there getting back to the hotel was a quicker walk. Jenny, being a trouper, was still up for our farewell meal at the Pizza Express, which was just what we all needed, topped off by the figs in cinnamon syrup with mascarpone all round.

Wednesday 18th
My train home was not until 11.42 so, after another good room-service breakfast, I went out for an explore of the riverside, which was a bit too heavy on the pointy white boats and a bit light on the post-industrial crumble for my taste, but pleasant. A no-trouble train home, except for my sitting in the 1st class carriage by mistake. Maybe if it had been swankier I would have noticed! Home before 2.00 to two cats who seemed to have remembered me.

 







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