The insider’s guide to Suffolk
Words and Photographs
It may be often overlooked by those heading north (or south) on the rat runs of the M1 or A1 – but that only makes us love Suffolk more. Those with the wherewithal to turn off eastwards towards the coast might be forgiven for never wanting to leave this enchanting, windswept county – from heath to broad. If that applies to you, here’s a few places to delay yourselves further…
Garden of Suffolk
It seemed appropriate we start at the source on arrival at Darsham Nurseries – it’s autumn, and by the time we get there (thanks to some local help) the low sun has broken through the clouds and the vegetable garden is now illuminated with golden light. This kitchen garden restaurant is open seven days a week, with a daily changing menu from head chef Nicola Hordern. Inside it’s bustling – we’re lucky they can squeeze us in (note to self: book ahead!). The eclectic décor of rustic wooden walls, mismatched furniture, fresh flowers and multicoloured floor tiles help to create a relaxed atmosphere. With over half of the seasonal vegetables coming from the plot outside, we opted for a vegetarian lunch, rich in both flavour and the full rainbow of colour. Dishes came steadily: roasted cauliflower and herb yogurt, braised heritage carrots, charred kale with apple and miso dressing, spiced lentils, seeded flatbreads and fresh lemonade – and all delicious. There’s plenty for the carnivores too: you can view their sample menu here.
The perfect start (with Dippy Eggs)
TWO MAGPIES BAKERY, SOUTHWOLD
After an early morning walk along the coast at Covehithe and a contemplative stroll around the ruins of St Andrews church, take the short drive to Southwold and head to the Two Magpies Bakery, launched in 2013 by Jim and Rebecca Bishop: the Dippy Eggs with Focaccia Soldiers and an Allpress coffee will set you up nicely for the day ahead. Be sure to depart with one of their award-winning loaves under your arm…
Time for a jar…
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to boozers in Suffolk – and in particular proper boozers. The White Hart on the High Street in Aldeburgh boasts a good pint, a fire in the winter months and a pizza oven out the back in the summer. The King’s Head (aka The Low House) at Laxfield, with its tap room and crisp cupboard, is an ancient pub and the spot to put the world to rights – like many before you. The White Horse in Sweffling is another that is held in very high regard – check the website for opening times (sadly not something we did). Local ales and ciders change regularly – and it’s notched up a fair few CAMRA awards. We’ll certainly be checking their hours in advance next time we’re in the neighbourhood…
The Unruly Pig in Bromeswell
The Bell Inn in Walberswick
Catching a flight
We may have missed out on one of Suffolk’s noteable alehouses, but we were at least lucky enough to catch the Starling murmuration over the reed beds at Snape Maltings: one of the most stunning wildlife experiences in the UK. Appropriately enough for this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, there is plenty of manmade beauty to be enjoyed at Snape Maltings too: the nearby Lettering Arts Centre has an ongoing list of shows and events as well an established apprenticeship scheme to help keep the craft alive.
Other events worth catching:
Meeting local makers is of course always high on our agenda – and Orford (as well as nearby Sudbourne) has an interesting scene developing with ceramicist Steven James Will using local clay and foraged materials within his work, while his neighbour James Jenkins is in the process of meticulously restoring a treadle- powered Hattersley loom to weave organic tweed under the name Mabel & Co. And in the spirit of collaboration, Steven and James have developed their lighting range Jenkins and Will – a series of desk, wall and floor lamps using Will’s hand-thrown porcelain skills. (See below for James Jenkins’ personal Suffolk recommendations.)
Just a short journey down the road is the aptly named Among Trees, where Greg Mosley is quietly making a name for himself through his fine cabinet-making skills. A deep understanding and love of wood is at the heart of his work – indeed he admits he is happiest among trees.
…and into the Wilderness…
The Cartshed at Wilderness provides a good balance of rustic and luxury (more the latter in truth – with its four en-suite bedrooms and a large entertaining space complete with a hamper of locally sourced produce). Light the fire and enjoy the views of the Sibton Estate, or step up the Wilderness experience a notch by staying at Hex Cottage, a thatched former forester’s cottage with no electricity – the perfect spot to get through a few of the back issues of Hole & Corner.
The artists’ gathering
Rowe & Williams is a fine addition to Yoxford High Street, meaning that, alongside its antique shops and the recommended Mains restaurant, the village can now boast a small but carefully formed gallery. Matthew (Rowe) and Hilary (Williams) bring with them great knowledge and experience from former posts with the Tate St Ives, The Towner and the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft. It would be remiss of us not to mention their hand-written sign frontage with typography from the venerable Phil Baines.
James Jenkins of Mabel & Co / Jenkins & Will gives his personal insights into his home county…
The best place to be miles from anywhere…
The military had only just abandoned Orford Ness when WG Sebald, on his tour of the Suffolk coast that would become immortalised in his classic work Rings of Saturn, paid a local to row him across the river. Like many visitors before and since, he was intrigued by the strange pagoda buildings that from the quay seemed within touching distance. However, as he discovered, this short crossing transports you to a vast and barren landscape that stretches out before you in every direction, the shingle frozen in undulating waves, punctured only by the military remains. Today access is organised by the National Trust from the quay, or on pre-arranged tours of the soon-to-be washed-away lighthouse by the Orford Ness Lighthouse Trust. If you cannot make either of these, Shingle Street (a little further south) offers a taste of this landscape.
For coastal wildlife
The Suffolk Coast is a series of nature reserves and wild spaces, in which – unsurprisingly – the natural world flourishes. Tucked between Aldeburgh and the strange holiday village of Thorpeness is North Warren and the area known locally as The Fens. Within a few miles of walking it takes in reed beds, open heath, lowland grazing, deciduous woodland and carrs, as well as an old railway line and the open coast. Marsh harriers patrol the sky all year round, whilst in summer hobbies flash past in chase of dragonflies. Along the beach, the rare sea pea and sea kale flourish.
The best lunch
Pump Street Bakery in Orford has become almost a place of pilgrimage to visitors in the know. Its donuts have been thanked in Oscar acceptance speeches – and to sit around its communal table for brunch is to feel part of something special. To us, it’s simply the local – and their eccles cakes regularly rescue us from crisis. Other top spots at opposite ends of the spectrum include Darsham Nurseries and The Ship at Dunwich. If you have access to a kitchen or want to take some excellent quality vegetables home with you, search out the honesty stable at Maple Farm in Kelsale, whose organic produce is second to none.
Get out on the water
The Alde and Ore Estuary cuts across from Snape to Aldeburgh and down the coast to Orford, before exiting at Shingle Street over the much-revered shingle bar. At Iken the wide expanse of water and relatively safe tidal flows make it an excellent place to explore in a kayak, either bringing your own or hiring one from the hut by the shore. The landscape at this point is rich is in history, with Iken itself thought to be the Saxon monastic site of Ikenhoo mentioned in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. The Roman and Saxon remains of island communities have been excavated on the other side of the river in recent years and the strange Yarn Hill on the Iken bank has been the source of myths and legends for generations. Take the Butley Ferry, which has been in existence since the 16th century (with the odd improvement) to experience the Alde and Ore at its best.
Stay somewhere different
Whilst Suffolk has an abundance of holiday cottages (some say too many) a few stand above the rest in terms of architectural interest. The Martello Tower in Aldeburgh (or be more precise the washed-away hamlet of Slaughden) has walls one metre thick, protecting it from the North Sea that claimed all else around it. Once painted by Turner, it is now available to hire from the Landmark Trust. For a contemporary alternative, welcoming hosts David and Bruce run the Blee Halligan-designed Five Acre Barn B&B in Aldringham, whose bedrooms and communal areas are a celebration of modern design and their taste in art. Finally, for lovers of the bizarre, the famous House in the Clouds in Thorpness is a converted watertower whose exterior resembles a set from a fairy tale and inside has rooms extending up floor after floor.
Connecting with makers
Although not immediately obvious, the Suffolk Coast has a vibrant craft and art scene, with artisans tucked away in small spaces on old estates or in garden workshops. Vanil in Woodbridge showcases local makers – as do the aforementioned Rowe & Williams gallery in Yoxford and Darsham Nurseries. We’d advise a bit of prior research on Instagram to discover for yourselves the broad range of craftspeople, many of whom – like us – welcome guests and a chance to show work in progress.
With a youthful vibe, Old Jet – located on the disused US nuclear air base at Bentwaters – houses a series of studios among the old abandoned airplanes, helicopters and hangers. Look out for their monthly vintage and craft markets as well as their small gatherings where music, visual art and discussion flourish…