Suffolk is one of England’s less touristy regions, yet we’re not sure why as it is easy to reach from London and is chock-full of beautiful English villages, gorgeous countryside dotted with thatched cottages and sweet churches, plus some impressive ancient abbeys and forts. Here are 5 highlights from the county. Ssshh – you might just be on to a secret…
1. Explore the amazing gardens of a moated manor house
The first bricks of the moated manor house Helmingham Hall were laid in 1490 by John Tollemache, and the Tollemache family have owned it ever since. Wander round the perfectly manicured gardens designed and tended to by Lady Xa Tollemache, an award-winning garden designer who’s won more than a few medals at the renowned annual Chelsea Flower Show. How to: The gardens are open every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday May-September. The nearest rail station is Ipswich (just over an hour from London Liverpool Street) from where you can then take the number 119 bus.
2. March along the battlements of a medieval castle
One look at Framlingham Castle’s tall battlements and it’s easy to see why Mary Tudor chose to gather her troops here before marching to London to claim the throne. Walk along its precipitous outer walls to get beautiful views over the gentle Suffolk landscape. How to: The nearest rail station is Ipswich (just over an hour from London Liverpool Street) from where you can then take the number 119 bus.
3. Walk round a picture-perfect village
Often revered as England's Best-Kept Medieval Village, Lavenham ticks all the boxes. Ancient half-timbered merchants’ houses hang over winding streets, now populated with enticing gift shops and tea rooms, as well as fine restaurants such as The Great House and the 800-year-old Swan Hotel. You might also recognise Lavenham as Godric’s Hollow, the magical village where Harry Potter was born, in The Deathly Hallows Part 1 & Part 2. How to: The nearest rail station is Sudbury (Suffolk) (around 1hr 15mins from London Liverpool Street) from where you can then catch the 753 bus.
4. See a view unchanged for more than 100 years
This riverside cottage looks exactly the same as it does in one of the most famous landscape paintings in art history: John Constable’s The Hay Wain, which was completed in 1821. Constable painted many other scenes of British rural life in this area, which is now known as Constable Country. You can join painting classes to see if you can capture the same scenes, or simply take pleasant walks, visit old cottages and churches, and even take to the river by boat or canoe. Find out more about Constable Country. How to: There is a car park and visitor’s centre at Flatford for you to visit Willy Lott’s cottage. The nearest rail station is Manningtree (55mins from London Liverpool Street), which is just a mile to Flatford with taxis available.
5. Step inside ancient abbeys
Suffolk is home to several famous abbeys, such as the picturesque ruins at Leiston, where you can take part in an ongoing archaeological dig. Then there’s Bury St Edmunds Abbey, where pilgrims once flocked to pray at the shrine of the martyred king, St Edmund, and where in 1214 a group of barons held a secret meeting that led to the signing of the Magna Carta. Lesser known and yet achingly beautiful is Butley Priory, the only remnant of an extensive medieval abbey. How to: You can reach Bury St Edmunds by rail via Cambridge (1hr 40mins from London); to get to Butley Priory you can take a train to Woodbridge (changing at Ipswich; 1hr 30mins from London) and then the number 71 bus. Start planning your trip now at visitsuffolk.com.