27 reasons why Suffolk is amazing
PUBLISHED: 19:01 07 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:00 11 February 2020
These ‘Suffolk Marvels’ make our hearts sing. What would be on your list?
We all have them: the things that make our spirits rise whenever we see them (or hear, touch, taste or smell them, come to that). Views, stately homes, parks, places to eat, the crashing of waves on the shingle...
We thought we'd put together a list of Suffolk Marvels. If you feel something has been missed that deserved to make the cut, do tell us - and explain why.
Sudbury Water Meadows: When the town council calls them "perhaps the jewel in the town's crown", it's not hype. These beautiful lands inspired artists Gainsborough and Constable, and do the same with us today.
It goes to show what can happen when ground is never ploughed to grow arable crops or treated with chemical fertiliser. The meadows are home to insects, flowers, birds and other animals. Cattle grazes. It's a place where time appears to stand still.
The Orwell Bridge: A kilometre of off-white, pre-stressed, reinforced concrete, it doesn't quite have the aesthetic appeal of its cousins in Dartford and over the Severn, with their metal cables and good views. However, it still inspires awe when seen from below, close up - and keeps much traffic out of Ipswich. Usually. Horses at Newmarket: You're driving along a regular street on a regular day and then see something that takes your breath away. Thoroughbreds on the gallops, hot breath "steaming", or a chain of racehorses waiting at their own light-controlled crossing for the traffic to stop.
The colour, grace and power of horses at the "Home of Racing" really is a fillip for the senses.
Public art: Pound for pound, public art punches above its weight in massaging our mood. Take Rick Kirby's "Formation", the first sculpture installed on the then-new Ravenswood estate in Ipswich.
The site used to be Ipswich Airport, so it's fitting his stainless-steel-plate work is an interpretation of a Second World War poster of planes flying in formation, tracked by searchlights. Honourable mentions for Sean Hedges-Quinn's statues of Ipswich Town and England football managers Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson outside the Portman Road stadium - reminders of such great days at the ground.
Constable Country: The view from the brow of the hill on the A12, as you drive south towards Stratford St Mary, makes you want to stop the car and stroll through the countryside. It delighted artists such as Constable and Gainsborough before a dual carriageway was carved through it and it thrills us now.
We might share Dedham Vale and the Stour Valley with Essex but, happily, there's plenty to go around.
The coast: Pick a place. They've all got their plus-points - from the well-tended sand at Lowestoft and the crabs at Walberswick (be gentle if you catch them) to attractive seafront gardens at Felixstowe and the austere beauty of Shingle Street.
We might have cloudy brownish sea rather than Mediterranean blue, but a paddle and an ice-cream are still seasonal "musts".
West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village & Country Park: Pay a visit and you'll never again moan about your leaky double-glazing. West Stow shows us how we lived more than 1,000 years ago - when we wouldn't have had time to worry about the triviality of Love Island.
Visitors can experience the re-created village (right) - perhaps dress as an Anglo-Saxon and meet pigs and chickens - and enjoy 125 acres of unspoilt countryside.
Ickworth House, park and gardens: Something for everyone - from the history buff to the lover of Italianate gardens. We adore, particularly, the authentic servants' quarters, with their flavour of (near enough) Downton Abbey-type days.
The "Willis building": The Architectural Review described the black-glass insurance building in Ipswich, completed in 1975, as "like some Spielbergian spaceship that has settled into the weave of the town. Opaque and visually silent by day, transparent and winking with ethereal light after sunset".
About 45 years on - and with occupant Willis Faber & Dumas having morphed into Willis Towers Watson - it's still visually modern (and a listed building to boot).
Designed by Foster + Partners, it wowed us with a swimming pool downstairs and a restaurant and garden on the roof. (The garden was superb insulation.) And vivid green flooring indoors. Thrilling then, and now.
Holy Trinity church, Blythburgh: If you're driving down the (rural) A12 in north Suffolk, and a low sun is shining through the windows of this imposing church, it looks amazing. Actually, it's amazing at any time - inside and out. Little wonder it's been dubbed The Cathedral of the Marshes.
The church is known for its "angel roof" and the big storm in the summer of 1577. Lightning damaged the church and, according to an account, left the scorch-mark fingerprints of the Devil on the Great North Door. A man and teenage boy were found dead, too.
Castles: Three for the price of one, here, for how can we separate Framlingham (once owned by Bloody Mary; nowadays beloved of Ed Sheeran), Orford (its polygonal tower is one of a kind, and was designed to keep East Anglia's barons in line) and Bungay (early-medieval remains; the castle was, like Framlingham, once in the hands of the Earl of Norfolk)?
RSPB Minsmere: One visitor called it "the crown jewel of RSPB reserves", this wildlife haven with its reedbeds, lowland wet grassland, shingle vegetation and lowland heath. It's valued by some of the UK's rarest wildlife, in fact.
For three years, Minsmere hosted the BBC's Springwatch programme, with presenters Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan. It proved a great ambassador for the county, and for the vital message of wildlife protection.
Henstead Exotic Garden: Suffolk has some wonderful gardens - from small domestic courtyards to Fullers Mill on the banks of the River Lark and the 12 acres-plus of Somerleyton Hall. But Henstead Exotic Garden really puts the W into Wonder.
As Alan Titchmarsh said, Andrew Brogan has basically created a tropical rainforest in Suffolk - like a corner of Belize, near Beccles. Amazing.
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Bury St Edmunds Abbey Gardens: They're beautifully kept, and - somehow - there's always a relaxed atmosphere.
As well as the fascinating ruins of the 11th Century Benedictine monastery, there's a large rose garden; stunning borders and beds; a youngsters' play area (complete with sand, water and treehouse); a herb garden including
medicinal plants, inspired by a manuscript written at the abbey in the 1200s; an aromatic and tactile sensory garden; a calm water garden; aviary; and chances to play sports, such as crazy golf and putting.
Let's hope the monks can look down and see how much fun people are having.
East Anglia Transport Museum at Carlton Colville, and Ipswich Transport Museum: Hope they don't mind being bracketed together, but both do a wonderful job showing what transport was like in days gone by - when vehicles had more character than today.
The former's claim to fame is being the only place in Britain where visitors can ride on the main forms of public transport from the early part of the 20th Century: bus, tram and trolleybus, and light railway.
Ipswich boasts more than 100 generally-static objects, including buses, bikes, lorries, a police car, fire engines, lawnmowers and even a hearse. On special-event days, there's sometimes the chance to ride on a vehicle.
Maison Bleue: Pascal Canevet's light and modern shrine to French fine dining is often lauded as one of the best luxury restaurants in the world. The business in Churchgate Street, Bury St Edmunds, was named best restaurant in the 2019 Eat Food and Drink Awards. It's also cited regularly by TripAdvisor as one of the UK's top 10 fine-dining restaurants in the UK.
Scallop: Maggi Hambling's sculpture was metallic Marmite from the moment it arrived on Aldeburgh beach in 2003. Those in favour loved it (as did children clambering on it) while some detractors daubed it with graffiti. Now, it's part of the scenery.
The Suffolk Show: THE highlight of the year for many people, reflecting everything Suffolk is.
The county's entrepreneurial zeal is there to see (people who have good ideas, make and sell) but it's still primarily a traditional agricultural show - its focus on farming, food and agriculture. It gets the balance right - and that's why it's the biggest two-day visitor experience in Suffolk.
Museum of East Anglian Life: The value of the past is that it helps us cherish and retain the good things (such as co-operation and a sense of community) as well as recognising aspects that need to change (such as poor housing).
MEAL helps us see what we were and how we might want to be.
Mid-Suffolk Light Railway: The "Middy" was late to the party - missing the halcyon days of rail, never getting its head above water financially, and not even being fully finished. How did it manage to survive for half a century?
There wasn't much left when enthusiasts sought to revive it in 1991, a section of railway being recreated at Brockford and featuring original station buildings.
Now the Middy has its day in the sun: not only as a museum but Suffolk's sole standard-gauge heritage railway - operating steam trains on some days.
Lavenham: Pretty much the whole town is a treasure, but especially the area around Market Place, with the Guildhall and Little Hall Museum. Visiting Lavenham is like stepping back to medieval times, when the town was one of the richest in England.
Its enduring beauty has caught the eye of filmmakers. Vincent Price came in the mid-1960s for The Witchfinder General, for instance.
A decade ago Lavenham found itself in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as the place where Voldemort first tried to murder the infant wizard and Harry's mother sacrificed herself so he might live.
Latitude: Will July really bring the 15th Latitude festival (and thousands of visitors) to a country estate deep in rural Suffolk?
It's easy to underestimate its importance in not only showcasing the delights of the county to folk who had never heard of Henham but also bringing galaxies of top names to a field near us. Not just Grade A music acts but performers from across the spectrum of the arts. Sometimes, we still wake up and think it's all been a dream...
Air Raid Shelter Museum: Built under the playground of Clifford Road Primary School in Ipswich in 1939 and able to take about 200 people, it's still a bit of a hidden treasure.
It was forgotten about after the war, until children working on a school pond project in 1989 discovered there was something underground.
Today, it's an amazing series of tunnels housing a treasure-trove of artefacts and decked out in Second World War mode.
Millicent Fawcett: We need some people in this list, and can't get better than this campaigner for women's rights. Born in Aldeburgh in 1847, she was part of the go-ahead Garrett family and became president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.
Millicent lived to see women win the vote. In 2018, she was the first woman commemorated with a statue in Parliament Square, London. A marvel? No question.
Blythburgh Free Range Pork: Its mission is to give pigs a life worth living. Jimmy Butler helped put higher-welfare British pork back on the menu in the UK. Little wonder he was crowned East Anglian Daily Times Suffolk Food Hero.
The House in the Clouds: There's no doubt about it - our hearts sing at the sight of something bonkers. And this folly is that. It was once a camouflaged 50,000-gallon tank, holding water for the holiday village of Thorpeness. Today, it's rented out as holiday accommodation.
There are 68 stairs, but the views are worth it.
Snape Maltings: Once a set of workaday commercial buildings; now a combined arts/retail centre in a beautiful rural setting.
Music is its beating heart. The original vision and drive of composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears has since been nurtured by others. Snape Maltings has made this unlikely corner of the county one of the leading centres of music in the world.
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