Chris Gutteridge's Suffolk break. September 2019


For some years now, Suffolk has mainly been somewhere we travel through on our way to somewhere else. We decided to rectify this by taking a short break in the county.

On our way there, we stopped in Framlingham to visit the castle, which we had been meaning to do for some time. This was the first real holiday we’ve had with Dexter the dog, so logistics were an important consideration.

We decided to start by walking round the mere to get rid of some of Dexter’s excess energy. The mere, below the castle, was originally five times the size it is now, but it’s still quite impressive, and Jayne spotted several dragonflies, including one she’d not seen before – a Willow Emerald Damselfly.

Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle

Inside the castle, a pair of storytellers were doing the story of Richard III, involving their audience, both children and adults. In the town, we found a market stall which sold us a couple of very nice pasties and a round of Scottish Brie which was delicious.

We entered the parish church, which brought memories flooding back for me. I conducted a West Gallery workshop there years ago, with a Georgian style service the following morning. West Gallery was where I learned my craft of conducting. In the service we performed an 18th century version of the Old 100th which had a long voluntary at the end of each line. The congregation, of course, were not expecting this to happen, so I had to turn my back on the quire, and hold up my right hand to halt the congregation at the end of each line, whilst conducting the band with my left hand behind my back.

My other memory of the occasion was that one of the quire members, in full Georgian dress of breeches, tailcoat and topper, walked into the town pond. It was covered in green weed, which, in the dark, he mistook for grass. He spent the night drying out his clothes, and just made it to the service in the morning.

We stayed in a “log cabin” on the outskirts of the village of Wickham Market. It was just under the A12, but the noise from the road was not too intrusive, and there were some nice woodland walks. At night, there was hardly any light pollution. There were so many stars that Jayne couldn’t find Ursa Major or Orion’s belt amongst them!

Sutton Hoo
Sutton Hoo

Sutton Hoo and Orford Castle

One of the places in Suffolk I’d never visited was Sutton Hoo. But first, we went for a walk through the woods where we were staying. The River Deben flows through the wood, and it’s all very nice. Then back to sit on the veranda and drink coffee.

After that, we set off for Sutton Hoo, which was not far away. I must admit I wasn’t expecting much – after all, the graves have been robbed and dug out over the centuries, and the treasures are in the British Museum. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. The site is very dramatic, with its hills and valleys, and you can immediately see why a Saxon king would make it the focal point of his kingdom. The River Deben, which is not much more than a stream at Wickham Market, is broad and imposing here, giving easy access to the sea.

The burial ground was far more extensive than I’d imagined, and the National Trust volunteer on duty was very informative and helpful. One of the excavated mounds has been reinstated to its original height, which gave you some idea of how imposing the mounds must have been. It was all very atmospheric.

We went for a walk, which became extended until we’d walked right round the whole estate, so then we went to the cafeteria for lunch. After that, we took it in turns to visit the exhibition, as dogs aren’t allowed in there. Apart from some original artefacts, there are superb replicas of the king’s helmet, sword and shield, and various pieces of jewellery.

While one of us viewed the exhibition, the other walked with Dexter. After that I had a quick look in the house, where there were some interesting original photos of the excavation. The skill involved in exposing the impression of the ship in the sand without destroying it was amazing.

We then walked some paths that we hadn’t already walked. Dexter was beginning to think this was no holiday, but his natural curiosity meant he couldn’t resist finding out what was round the next corner.

We always find that we finish doing what we planned for the day by early afternoon, so we decided to go and have a look at Orford Castle, a remarkably well preserved polygonal keep with splendid views of Orford Ness from the roof.

We’re not normally wine drinkers, but for the four nights we were away, we drank a bottle of wine with our meal, which felt very decadent!

Orford Castle Orford Ness
Orford Castle and Orford Ness - the view from the top of the castle.

The Grindle
The Grindle

Pin Mill and Woodbridge

Another place I’d never visited was Pin Mill. It was known to me only as the starting point for Arthur Ransome’s book, “We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea”, and I was curious to see what it was like. I had imagined a quaint and pretty riverside village, but the reality was a bit disappointing. The dominating building is the famous 17th century Butt and Oyster pub, which presents a fairly modern square extension to the public view.

The hard (an area of foreshore that isn’t knee-deep in stinking mud) has a stream running beside it, called the Grindle. Dexter leapt delightedly into this, decided it wasn’t as pleasant as the River Nar at home, and leapt out again, spattering me with mud.

Pin Mill used to be a centre for the repair of Thames Barges, and it’s where a lot of them came to die. Many have been converted into houseboats, sitting in the mud, which Jayne later discovered can sell for around twice the value of our three-bedroomed house. Many more have been left to rot.

There is, however, a very pleasant woodland walk along the river. Having done that, and explored the footpaths through the meadows on the other side of the village and got lost, we went looking for lunch.

Derelict boats
Derelict boats

The Butt and Oyster was the only place open, so we approached it with caution, and were pleasantly surprised to find the interior much more pleasant than the exterior, the staff helpful and the food excellent and reasonably priced.

On our way back, we visited the town of Woodbridge on the river Deben, which has the only remaining working tide mill. This operates by collecting the incoming tidewater in a lagoon, then releasing it via the mill wheel as the tide retreats.

The miller was alone and a bit bored, as the tide was coming in, so the mill wasn’t operating. He explained that the water entered the lagoon via a pipe with a non-return valve, and that you could sometimes see it bubbling up into the lagoon. He then seemed astonished and delighted to find that was precisely what it was doing, and ruminated on what might be causing it.

Southwold and Leiston

Dexter the Pirate
Dexter the Pirate

For the final day of our mini-break, we decided to visit Southwold, which is one of our favourite places. The town was full of dogs, and almost every shop had a water bowl outside, none of which came up to Dexter’s very high standards. However, one shop had also foolishly left out a bowl of dog treats, and Dexter made a good attempt at hoovering up the lot in one swift mouthful as we passed it.

We went on the pier, which is delightfully eccentric and well worth a visit, and then had a Cornish pasty for lunch. Regardless of the competition from all the pedigree dogs and trendy cross breeds, Dexter received several complements from passers-by, including one man who was heard pointing Dexter out to his friend, and saying he had a “gorgeous coat”.

On the way back we followed a sign to a “steam museum” in Leiston. This was The Long Shop Museum, formerly Garrett’s. Garrett was a blacksmith who came to Leiston in the late 18th century and started making sickles and other farm tools. He built the business up and ended up making traction engines, steam rollers and just about anything else. The firm lasted until the 1930s. Coming out of the museum, I noticed the Friends Meeting House across the road, and realised it was where Norfolk Gallery Quire once gave a concert.

After four days of sunshine, the next morning we were woken by the rain drumming on the roof of our cabin. I took Dexter for a walk in the rain while Jayne packed the car. We have bought a handy little fridge that you can plug into the mains or into the car, to keep Dexter’s food in on journeys (he enjoys a raw food diet).

As we had very little dog food left on the way home, Jayne packed our cheese and butter in the fridge. A feature of this fridge is that you can also use it to keep things warm, and when we stopped for fuel at Diss and I wanted something out of the back of the car, the fridge got nudged and it switched over from chill to heat! The cheese was a bit melted, but no real harm done.