East Anglia – Anglo Saxons and East is East

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Over time I calculate that I have visited forty-seven of the forty-eight traditional (ceremonial)  English Counties (often for pleasure but sometimes for work) but I am fairly certain that I have never visited the County of Suffolk and my travelling companion was rather astonished to hear this admission and saw it now as his personal responsibility to fill this glaring geographical gap in my UK travels.

We drove south almost as far as Essex and the plan was to start at Sutto Hoo and then work our way back north.

I don’t want to be accused of exaggeration but Sutton Hoo is perhaps the most important archeological site in the whole of England – an Anglo Saxon burial ship for King Rædwald of East Anglia who was in his day the most powerful chieftain/King in all of the South-East of England.

It is a great Indiana Jones/Howard Carter sort of story.  The initial excavation in 1939 was privately sponsored by the landowner Edith Pretty and carried out by a local freelance archeologist called Basil Brown and a couple of estate workers who could be spared for the task.  Unsurprisingly when the significance of the find became apparent national experts took over.

Sutton Hoo Face Mask

The most significant artefacts from the burial site are those found in the burial chamber in the centre of the ship, including a suite of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield and sword, a lyre, and many pieces of silver plate from Byzantium.

I was pleased to visit but I have to say that the story is a whole lot more interesting than the site.

There is a pleasant walk through the gentle Suffolk countryside to the site of the excavation but the reality is that there is very little to see except for seventeen burial mounds which look rather like giant mole hills.  This is a place that requires some considerable imagination to appreciate it and it really doesn’t take long to view.  The point I suppose is this, some places we visit to spend time and see things, a museum for example but some places we visit simply for the significance of the place and the Sutton Hoo burial mounds fall firmly into the latter category.

There is an interesting exhibition hall and interpretation centre but there are no original artefacts on display because these are all in the British Museum because although it was decreed that the treasure belonged to Edith Pretty she promptly presented it all to the nation which was at the time the largest gift made to the British Museum by a living donor.

Suton Hoo Guided Tour

It seemed somehow that we should be staying longer in such a significant place but two hours was quite enough and so just after midday we began the drive back towards Norfolk and Great Yarmouth.

More or less following the coast road we stopped first at the seaside town of Aldeburgh famous mostly for being the home of composer Benjamin Britten and which is a genteel sort of place where people of a certain age (my age, I confess) visit to walk along the pebble beach and pass judgment on the scallop sculpture which seems to be the most controversial thing about Aldeburgh (half the town love it, the other half hate it) and later find a tea shop for a cucumber sandwich and a slice of Victoria Sponge cake.

Aldeburgh Suffolk Beach Scallop Sculpture

I rather liked the sculpture but we didn’t stop for cake and moved on intsead to nearby Southwold.  Southwold is ridiculously picturesque and quintessentially English, a town of Tudor houses and thatched roofs, so English that it is high on the list of filming locations for English film and television.

The fictional Southwold Estate, seat of Earls of Southwold, is the country estate of the family of Lady Marjorie Bellamy in the drama Upstairs, Downstairs and the town and its vicinity has been used as the setting for numerous films and television programmes including Iris about the life of Iris Murdoch starring Dame Judy Dench,  Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway, Kavanagh QC starring John Thaw, East of Ipswich by Michael Palin, Little Britain with Matt Lucas and David Walliam, a 1969 version of David Copperfield and the BBC children’s series Grandpa in My Pocket.

Southwold Suffolk Beach Huts

There isn’t much else to say about Southwold except that George Orwell once lived there and so after only a short stop and a drive around the busy streets we continued our drive planning to stop next at the Suffolk port town of Lowestoft.

I didn’t find Lowestoft that thrilling I have to confess, it looked much like Grimsby to me where I live, a run-down sort of a place urgently in need of some investment and a make-over but there was one interesting place to visit while we here – Ness Point, the most easterly place in the British Isles.

For such a significant place I would have expected it to be something special, a bit like Four Corners in the USA but not a bit of it.  Rather like Sutton Hoo, I thought there should be more.  There is no visitor centre, no souvenir shop and it is difficult to find located as it is on the edge of an industrial estate and close to a sewage treatment works and a massive wind turbine called Goliath (it was once the biggest in England).  There is only a circular direction marker known as Euroscope, marking locations in other countries and how far away they are.  Rather like Sutton Hoo I just enjoyed being there.  I felt like an explorer about to set sail.

Goliath wind turbine Ness Point Lowestoft

I was reminded that a couple of years ago I was at the most Westerly point in the British Isles on the Dingle Peninsular in Southern Ireland where we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.

The ‘Visit Lowestoft’ web site proclaims that, No trip to Lowestoft is complete without a visit to Ness Point, the most easterly spot in the United Kingdom”  As far as I could see this is about the only reason to visit Lowestoft so with nothing to detain us longer we headed directly back now to Great Yarmouth and the Cherry Tree Holiday Home Park where we squandered the rest of the day in the unexpected evening sunshine.

I liked Suffolk but I have to say that I won’t be rushing back and this probably explains why it has taken me over sixty years to go there in the first place.

Ness Point Lowestoft Suffolk

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30 responses to “East Anglia – Anglo Saxons and East is East

  1. Ah but it’s the hidden Suffolk you need to explore!

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  2. Have you seen “the mask” in the British Museum? Worth a trip. Agree that the Museum of the artefacts is often better than the site….. About 5 years ago we visited Azincourt in France of battle fame. The actual site was ….. just a field but the visitor centre in the village of Azincourt is one of the best we have seen. The French certainly know how to take defeat well!

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    • I too was surprised by that. I didn’t expect to find a museum in France dedicated to a famous English victory…
      https://apetcher.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/northern-france-the-battlefield-and-museum-of-agincourt/

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      • A good post from 2013 Andrew, we may have been there at the same time! Your village photos are good reminders, I didn’t take any it was peeing down. I thought the visitor centre was really good for school groups being able to try things out. Did you have a go on pulling the bow system, a weights and pulley system inside a glass case? I could hardly move it so those archers must have been incredibly strong!

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      • I did try that Brian, about six inches was my limit. I read that the drawing action comes from the spine not the arms and hence so many archers ended their lives with deformities.
        I have always thought that archers might have been more effective at Waterloo or in the First World War Trenches!

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      • I recently watched the film Waterloo again with Plummer and Steiger, stirring stuff. I think you may be right about archers here because all they seemed to do was stand off half a mile apart and shoot. A shitstorm of arrows might have been devastating. By the way, if the “wrong” party wins the election today which country are you emigrating to?

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      • I become more and more convinced that English archers and a volley or two of arrows would have meant that neither Ney’s cavalry or Napoleon’s Old Guard would have got nowhere near the British Squares!

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      • Wrong Party? I don’t know. I don’t believe whoever is in power makes jack shit difference to someone like me!

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      • I agree at a personal level, but I’m starting to feel a real split in the country between two factions who will just not accept the opposite side being in power. One camp includes people like Blair, Miller, Branson, Geldof, Grayling, plus Farron, plus House of Lords, who will do anything to undermine. It reminds me of Aristocrats/Cavaliers vs Roundheads and I might blog about it!

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  3. It’s a shame that the artefacts aren’t maintained on site, isn’t it, though I suppose more people can see them in London? Nevertheless I enjoyed my genteel stroll with you in Aldeburth and Southwold. 🙂

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  4. With twitching rare birds I have been to every English county, but only a few of the others in Britain. Wales I’ve probably been to nearly all of them. With chasing rare birds, it means you always have either heartache or a wonderful memory. Suffolk is not the most interesting of counties, but I remember it for Aldeburgh, the home of an Ivory Gull from the Arctic. He was very lost!

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    • I was once on holiday with my parents in Norfolk and I swear this is true, although it was mid-summer it was so cold that a penguin walked up the beach, I realise now that it must surely have escaped from a zoo or wild life park somewhere?

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  5. Ness Point makes me think of Orford Ness where there was all sorts of radar and other secret stuff done during the war, or the Cold War…..most eerie.

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  6. I would love to visit Sutton Ho just once. There are still many parts of England I haven´t been to.

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  7. I have been to Suffolk twice to watch football at Ipswich. Saw nothing of the town or surrounding areas though! Constable country and the real Suffolk are on my list but I think it will be a few years before it happens. That mask at Sutton Hoo is amazing.

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    • My pal wanted to take me to Ipswich but I have to confess that the prospect didn’t thrill me so we agreed to leave it off the itinerary.

      Suffolk is nice enough but not terribly exciting, full of BBC luvvies of course and people from London selling their properties, cashing in and moving to the country.

      I don’t think it would ever become a favourite of mine, I would much prefer to head North!

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  8. To Dr B: I know the answer. It is Spain. Isn’t it, Andrew? 😃

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  9. Suffolk is a place I know well from childhood. My grandparents lived in Sudbury and we used to go and stay at Thorpness just down the road from Aldeburgh when I was little. Later we stayed in Bury St Edmunds where my grandmother moved to following my grandfather’s death. I do vaguely remember Southwold and a tall house in the clouds, which I think might have been a folly. I have clear memories of the area though I haven’t been back for many many years!

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  10. Dear Andrew, or whatever your name is, I am none other than Detective Tony Pastry of New Scotland Yard. My informant has told me that you are the Red Herring, the notorious art thief. And my informant is very reliable: He recently sold me the Moon for £500 and a pint of mild. He’s very big in NASA, you know. He has also informed me that the Pink Panther films are not fictitious but are in fact a series of documentaries about a real Inspector Clouseau. Since then I have modelled my entire career on Clouseau’s achievements and it has not been easy, I can tell you. If you do not immediately hand yourself in at the nearest police station, I will have to come and put you under arrest.

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