Monday 24th September – With Pat (Patricia) Todd, coach driver of Travel Wright, Newark it was a 9.10am start for 41 residents of Winthorpe and friends as we set off, with threatening rain, for a five-day holiday to the county of Suffolk. Suffolk, whose county town is Ipswich, borders onto Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east. This charming and rural backwater of England was once a rich place that amassed great wealth from wool. The magnificent churches and houses are reminders of the great wool wealth that paid for them. The county is low-lying and relies mainly on arable and mixed farming. It is well known for the Suffolk ram, a black-face breed of sheep. Half an hour into our journey the heavens opened up, continuing until we reached Lavenham in Suffolk for our lunch stop.
Lavenham, one of the best-preserved medieval villages in England has a wealth of surviving timber-framed buildings. Telegraph poles have been removed and the wires buried underground to preserve the Tudor appearance. One of the finest timber-framed buildings is the Guildhall of Corpus Christi, established in 1529 by one of the three wool guilds. Lavenham, prospered from the wool trade in the 15th and 16th century, with its famous blue cloth exported across Europe and beyond. Many of the timber-framed buildings have a distorted or ‘crooked’ appearance, which it is believed inspired the poem, ‘A Crooked Little Man.’
Continuing our journey, the rain having now stopped, we passed through many picturesque villages, with their colourful red brick houses. These houses had a variety of roofs, such as thatch, clay pantiles, pegs (red flat clay tiles) or the occasional slate.
It was tea time when we arrived at our final destination, the Best Western Ufford Park Hotel, Golf and Spa at Melton near Woodbridge. Set in 120 acres parkland with an 18 hole golf course, this 96-room hotel turned out to be a gem for its food and hospitality.
Tuesday 25th September – On a bright sunny morning we set off on the Suffolk Heritage Coastal Tour. A coffee stop was made at Snape Maltings. The Maltings are a set of buildings, mostly dating from the 19thcentury, built on the banks of the River Alde near Snape. Its original purpose was the malting of barley for the brewing of beer. Today, Snape Maltings is a collection of granaries and malthouses, shops, art galleries, cafés and the Snape Maltings Concert Hall. The Aldeburgh Festival, a world renowned arts festival, is mainly based here. Reed beds filled the estuary of the River Alde, a heaven for walkers and wildlife.
Continuing our journey up the east coast we came to the small seaside town of Aldeburgh. Aldeburgh, meaning ‘old fort,’ was once a thriving port and had a flourishing ship-building industry. Two of Sir Francis Drake’s ships were built here, including the renamed Golden Hind. Now, this Tudor town, a peaceful seaside holiday resort with its pastel coloured houses, is noted for its two family-run fish and chip shops. These businesses are often cited as the best in the country. Having had some for my lunch, whilst sitting on the promenade, I fully agree. On the beach ramshackle fishing huts were selling fresh catch from their nets. Along the promenade is the timber-framed building of Moot Hall. Built in the 16thcentury as a meeting place for the people of Aldeburgh, it now serves as the Town Hall and houses a museum. The Latin inscription on the building’s sundial reads, ‘HORAS NON NUMERO NISI SERENAS, 1650’ which translates to, ‘I don’t count the hours unless they’re tranquil.’ Nearby was the South Beach Lookout with a magnificent black wrought iron spiral staircase. The mainly early 16th century parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul, whose tower was used for many years by mariners to pilot their ships, is noted for the stained glass window dedicated to the memory of the English composer and conductor Benjamin Britten (1913-1976).
Leaving Aldeburgh, and continuing northwards to Southwold, we passed tall electricity pylons, like giant antelopes grazing in the fields. These are taking power from the nearby Sizewell nuclear power station to feed into the National Grid.
Southwold, home to Adnams Brewery, is a charming seaside town and is almost an island. It has only one road in and out of the town and being surrounded by water on three of its sides. Coaches were not allowed to enter the main part of the town so we had to alight close to the pier. Built in 1800, the pier has suffered many mishaps due to gales over the years. These gales have caused its original length of 810 feet to be reduced to 100 feet. The pier’s handrails are covered with hundreds of small brass plates, all side by side, inscribed with the memories of departed families and friends. These remind me of the ‘Love locks,’ attached to bridges and railings, seen worldwide and are now appearing in this country. The pier’s Water Clock is a gem. Built of recycled materials with figures squirting water at each other, it gives a false impression that the clock’s movement is water-operated. A bit of cheating has been done here as its movements are turned by electricity. Situated near the centre of the town, amongst rows of small houses, is the round white tower of the lighthouse. Built in 1887, the lighthouse emits two coloured lights. For navigation purposes, a white light that can be seen out at sea, whilst as a warning, red lights are seen at its sides, these warn shipping of shoals to the North and Sizewell Bank to the South. The lighthouse became famous in the BBC children’s television series ‘Grandpa in My Pocket.’
Close to the lighthouse is The Sailors Reading Room, Southwold’s hidden jewel. Built in 1864 for fishermen and mariners, when not at sea, as an endeavour to keep them out of the pubs and encourage them in Christian ideals. There were displays of a seafaring nature which lined the walls and filled glass cabinets, pictures and portraits of local fishermen and seascapes, model ships and maritime paraphernalia which offered a fascinating history of Southwold’s connections with the sea. It is now a museum. Alongside the beach are rows of beach huts gleaming in their vibrant multicolours.
Wednesday 26th September – Following overnight rain we set off, on a bright sunny morning with blue skies, to visit the internationally acclaimed Beth Chatto’s garden, near Colchester in Essex. Beth Chatto is Britain’s most eminent gardening writer and winner of 10 consecutive Gold Medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. With the aid of her late husband she has transformed an overgrown wasteland, gravel soil and boggy hollows into an informal garden. Beth was testing her belief that it is possible to create a garden in the most adverse conditions. The garden supports an array of plants that are best suited to that particular environment. This harmonises with the surrounding country side. Rain showers, whilst we were there, gave the garden a magical appearance.
Our lunch stop was at Flatford Mill, a National Trust property, on the River Stour in the heart of the beautiful Dedham Vale close to the Suffolk-Essex border. The Centre's buildings, particularly the Mill and Willy Lott's House, are instantly recognisable since they feature in many paintings by John Constable (1776 – 1837). John Constable made the mill and its immediate surroundings the subject of many of his most famous paintings. The Hay Wain, which features Willy Lott’s house, was painted from the front of the mill.
Our final visit of the day was to the Tudor town of Long Melford on the border of Suffolk and Essex. This old wool town has a long broad main street filled with antique shops, bookshops and art galleries. One or two of the town’s timber-framed houses have pink coloured plaster. The origin of this colour was chalk mixed with pig’s blood. Pink houses were also to be seen in Woodbridge. The Bull Hotel, a fine timbered building, was built as a home for a wealthy wool merchant in 1450. Later it became a coaching inn. At the northern end of the main road was the Church of The Holy Trinity. Built between 1467 and 1497, it is one of 310 medieval English churches dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Newark also has a church with the same name, but it isn’t medieval.
Thursday 27th September – On a bright sunny morning we set off to visit Woodbridge, one of the jewels of the East Suffolk coastal area. The various buildings from the Tudor, Georgian and Victorian eras looked splendid in the bright sunlight. Just past St. Mary’s Church in front of the Market Square stands the majestic Shire Hall. It was built in 1575 by Thomas Seckford, Master of the court of Requests to Queen Elizabeth 1. The Town Council purchased the building in 1987 and it now serves as the town’s administration centre. It also houses the Suffolk Horse Museum. These heavy working horses are the oldest breed in the world. The town has been a centre for boat building since the middle ages. Down on the quayside stands The Tide Mill. The Tide Mill could be considered to be the symbol of the town and is an inspiration to artists and photographers. Operating for over 800 years, it has been owned by the Augustinian Canons, Kings and Queens. It is now privately owned and opens to the general public. One of the first tide mills in the country, it harnesses the power of the tidal River Deben, through a five metre English oak waterwheel to turn the machinery for grain to be milled producing flour and animal feed.
Leaving Woodbridge we travelled to the historic town of Colchester in Essex. Colchester, whose Roman name is CAMULODUNUM, is claimed to be the oldest recorded town in Britain and was the capital of South East England when the Romans invaded in AD43. Colchester was an important weaving town, mainly by the immigrant Flemish weavers. They settled in the town and built tall houses in an area which is now known as Dutch Quarter. The town has many museums. Castle Museum, which is inside Colchester Castle, houses an extensive exhibit on Roman Colchester. The castle has the oldest and largest of Norman keep. Nearby is Hollytree’s Museum, a Georgian building. It is a social history museum and has many long case clocks. Across the road from the Castle Museum, in the former All Saints’ Church, is the town’s natural history museum.
Leaving the castle and walking up the High Street, the Town Hall came into view. Built in 1902, this three-storey stone and brick building is 162 feet high and has on top of its tower the statue of the Virgin Mary.
This was a wonderful afternoon for me in Colchester. A place I would like to visit again.
Friday 28th September – Today we leave our hotel to travel home. A lunch stop was made at Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill in Cambridgeshire. Formerly the home of the 1st Lord Fairhaven, this Jacobean-style house is now a National Trust property. The house has many fine furnishings, books, paintings, tapestries, silver and clocks. In one of the many show cases were 75 small crucifixes all encased in jewels. These were absolutely beautiful. In the Library were Royal signatures etched in one of the windows. This is better than an autograph album.
Of the 59 clocks owned by the house only 37 were on display. Some were under repair, while others are lent out to other National Trust properties. Three clocks, in particular, that I remembered. In the Library was a Rolling Ball Clock, dated 1800. It was fascinating to watch the ball moving and the operation of the clock’s movement. The Pendulum Clock, where the whole clock swung as a pendulum. In the room, just before the exit door, on a stone pedestal was a brass 8-day English horizontal clock, in the form of a sundial. It had country place names and was covered with a Perspex dome.
I loved all the clocks.
A quick visit was made to the Lode Mill. Although the current mill dates from the 18th century, there is evidence of a watermill being on this site since the 10th century. This watermill originally was used for the making of cement. It has now been converted to the milling of corn. I was fortunate to be there when the nine feet wide and 16 feet in diameter metal water wheel was in operation. What a privilege.
A shortage of time, plus rain showers, prevented me from a tour of the garden.
We continued our journey home, and after a tea stop at the Peterborough Services, arrived back in Winthorpe at 5.30pm.
Pat Finn. October 2012.
This has been a wonderful holiday. I have enjoyed every bit of it. At times we had the occasional rain shower, but like true English people we mustered on.
Red bricks used on the houses in Suffolk were made from rough local clay, fired in kilns heated by massive internal wood fires. Suffolk red bricks were used to restore London’s St. Pancras station.
Four days before the start of the holiday, Peter Seymour, our regular coach driver had to withdraw due to a family bereavement. Pat Todd stepped in. That turned out to be an excellent choice. Pat’s quite manner and her excellent driving skills made our journey all the more pleasant.
A special thanks must go to Peter Foden who organised the holiday and choosing this hotel, which was superb. This is a mammoth task. Then for several months, Peter has been meeting Travel Wright representatives, preparing letters which he distributes to us, collecting our money, etc. Peter has also been ably assisted by his wife Jean. Jean was sometimes, the Chief Headcounter. Peter and Jean, on behalf of all who travelled to Suffolk. Thank you.
I missed Peter’s morning jokes.
The quiz that Peter presents, whilst on our way home, was won by Bill and Eithne Thompson.
The mileage for the coach holiday was 570 miles.