To two people whose hearts leap at the sight of rolling hills and rugged mountains, Suffolk can feel like a bleak country at first glance. But Suffolk is a county that guards its gems.
One of those is the place where we stayed: Belle Grove Farm. From an unpromising cluster of farm buildings, owners travel-writer Jo and master recycler Nick have created something truly unique. A dragon perches on the chimney of their own house – a cross between a stave church and a hobbit’s hideaway, complete with a watch tower – keeping guard over the guests beyond and – at night – the star spangled skies above. www.bellegrovebarns.com
Who would know, if it were not for a visit to the Upper Holton Airfield Museum (open from 2- 5pm on Sundays) that it was from here that Joe Kennedy, brother of the American President, took off on the mission that killed him?
At Dunwich we discovered the story of a ghost town, lying underneath the seabed; a single gravestone clinging to the cliff edge one of the only clues that this was once a major port. Photographic evidence tracks the disappearance of All Saints Church, already abandoned in 1750, as it finally fell away between 1904 and 1919.
In the small church at Framlingham we stumbled upon the graves of Thomas Howard – whose personal ambitions eventually led to his beheading, but not before he had introduced two of his nieces to Henry VIII – and Henry’s bastard son, Henry Fitzroy and his wife Mary, daughter of Thomas Howard.
Henry VIII’s hand was also in evidence at the ruined abbey at Leiston where we wandered to an accompaniment from the music school who have made their home in its grounds.
I thought I knew what I would find at Sutton Hoo. Instead, I found something far more personal: the most tragic of love stories between Edith Pretty and her husband, Frank. I won’t spoil it for you.
Orford, famed (but quietly so) for its oysters – a castle, a church, a sleepy market square and Orford Ness, its nature reserve to the far of the River. We walked through fields of sunflowers and across marshland with only the hiss of the reeds as our soundtrack.
It was Aldeburgh rather than the much-lauded Southwold that stole our hearts: the Moot Hall the only part of the Tudor ship-building town not lost to the sea; the simple pleasure of buying fish from a hut on the beach – ‘anything fresher is still swimming’ (for Bakewell tart to die for try Lawson’s deli); nearby, Snape Maltings.
Suffolk has several fights on its hands. The coast is eroding. As the county’s history proves, this problem is not a new one. Neither is the fact that farmers battle to produce quality crops from soil as dry as desert dust. What is newer – and what I grew to respect the locals for – is their battle to keep the Costas and Tescos of this world out, preserving the character of their historic market towns and villages.