Tag Archives: Suffolk

East Anglia – Bury St Edmunds and The Patron Saint of Pandemics

Bury St Edmunds was another town that I had never visited. A few years ago I drove through it and was struck by the elegant market place with a tall cathedral and fine Georgian buildings and I made a note to self to pay a proper visit one day.
This was it.
In terms of the weather we had unfortunately picked a very bad week to be on an English staycation and we weren’t too disappointed to be leaving the holiday home (caravan) so we packed up early and headed away from the coast and into rural Suffolk and drove through villages which had seen significant overnight snowfall. I thought that I was in Alaska. Contrary to popular folklore March had roared in like a lion and instead of going out like a lamb was going out the same way.
Fortunately the further west that we drove the weather began to incrementally improve and there were even some glimpses of elusive blue sky. We arrived in late morning which was too early to book into our chosen hotel so we made instead for the centre of the town. Local folk call the town Bury but being from the North I always think of Bury as being in Manchester so I prefer to think of this place as Bury St Edmunds. It sounds posher.

After Ipswich and Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds is the third largest place in Suffolk and we liked it immediately. After tea and biscuits in the Cathedral coffee shop Kim and Mum made directly for the High Street shops and I went off to investigate the Abbey Gardens and the Cathedral.
The Abbey of St Edmund was once one of the richest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in all of England. In 869, Edmund, King of the East Angles was murdered by invading Danes when he refused to renounce Christianity. For his stubbornness he was tied to a tree and shot through with arrows and had his head cut off to make sure. No half measures in those days. I wonder sometimes about medieval torture, surely the victim was well and truly dead before the torturers had finished. Vladamir Putin would have been a medieval torturer I am sure.

His death led to the building of the Abbey to house his remains and his shrine quickly became a place of pilgrimage. The Cult of Edmund flourished during the Middle Ages and he was temporarily revered as the patron Saint of medieval England until at some point he was replaced by Saint George.
Today he has the unlikely title of the Patron Saint of Pandemics so I imagine that he has been rather busy listening to prayers for the past couple of years or so. He is said to have been given this title after the French city of Toulouse (who claimed to have some important relics of his) became ravaged by plague in the seventeenth century. Residents of the prayed to Edmund after which the plague came to an abrupt end. As Michael Caine might have said “Not a lot of people know that”.

Maybe if more people had known this the World could have saved a fortune on developing Covid vaccinations and going into expensive lockdown. I wish that I had known that because if I had I would have said a prayer to St Edmund because a few days after returning home from East Anglia both Kim and I both tested positive for Covid.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s the Abbey naturally began to fall into disrepair and lots of stone was taken for alternative building projects around the town. I was quite surprised therefore to discover that so much of it remained in a vast well maintained town centre park.
Near the Cathedral there are houses built into the walls which reminded of Antoni Gaudi creations in Barcelona. I don’t suppose that Gaudi ever visited Bury St Edmunds but if he had he may have got inspiration here,

I spent some time in the Gardens, walked every path and read each and every information board.

Towards the end of the afternoon I made my visit to the Cathedral. Free admission by the way. Up to 1914 Suffolk didn’t have a Cathedral and was part of a wider diocese of East Anglia with the Cathedral in Norwich in Norfolk but it was then decided that it required one of its own. This presented the Church with a dilemma.

Ipswich is the biggest town in the County but Bury St Edmunds had the most famous church thanks to the St Edmund connection. The Church came to a compromise, Ipswich would get the Bishop’s House and be the base of the diocese and Bury St Edmunds would get the Cathedral and everyone agreed that that was a good idea except perhaps for the Bishop who has a hundred mile round trip every week to get to Sunday service which would have been much more of an inconvenience over a hundred years ago than it is today.

Ipswich is not unique, it is not the only County town without an Anglican Cathedral and there are others – Warwick, Cambridge (I mentioned that before), Northampton (I mentioned that before as well), Nottingham, Aylesbury and Shrewesbury are other examples. At the same time that Suffolk became a diocese so too did Essex with its own Cathedral in Chelmsford.

Not a brilliant Cathedral I have to say but it provided me with a pleasant fifteen minute visit, especially as the choir was practising which was very nice, before I left and rejoined the others at the agreed time.

I had enjoyed my afternoon in Bury St Edmunds and I was forced to concede that this was a town where half a day it isn’t long enough so I will have to make another note to self to return one day and stay longer.

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East Anglia – The Evolution of Caravans and Fish ‘n’ Chips

Warning – the post contains images that some readers might find upsetting.

It had been a glorious day weather wise but the forecast for the next few days was really rather grim and although we arrived in sunshine  clouds were already worryingly close by and the prospects were depressingly bleak.

Before travel I had rather recklessly accepted a challenge from Kim to sometime this week take a dip in the North Sea and although this was only mid March I had rashly accepted.  There was a £10 bet resting on this and as I was not about to part with £10, even to Kim, especially to Kim, so I decided that it had to be done straight away.

Bloody Hell it was cold.  It reminded me of family holidays sixty years ago.

Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach in those days and even if it was blowing a gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to to enjoy the sea.  If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm.  Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.

As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is these days considered even too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.

It was rather like being submerged in liquid nitrogen and whilst swimmers in Australia were worrying about sharks we were busy avoiding bits of iceberg that had broken off in the Arctic Ocean.  I can remember one holiday at Walcote, Norfolk, in about 1965 when it was so cold that there was a penguin on the beach!  That is seriously true and being so far from the South Pole I can only imagine that it had escaped from a nearby zoo or aquarium.

I claimed the £10 bet but Kim reneged saying that I hadn’t fully submerged so it didn’t count and the bet was off.  I was too cold to dispute the finer points of the claim.

As promised in the weather forecast the next two days were desperately awful with rain, sleet, snow and high winds whipping in from Scandinavia so for much of the time we were confined to the caravan which was painful but not as bad as swimming in the North Sea.

I have horror memories of caravan holidays.  When I was a boy the family went to caravan holidays all of the time.  Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which,  I seem to remember was most of the time .

They  had no bathroom so we had to use the communal camp washroom facilities, it had no electricity so we couldn’t watch TV, it had no kitchen so we couldn’t cook breakfast and it didn’t have heating so when it was cold it was really cold.  The only thing it did have was a bottle of Calor Gas and a one ring hob for boiling a kettle and for lighting hissing gas lamps at night which attracted insects and created so much condensation that after an hour or two, water was dripping off the ceiling onto our sleeping bags on the floor and we were sleeping in a puddle.

As I get older I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me.  They took us for a seaside in a tiny caravan and I can only imagine that they hated it, it must, after all, have been mind-numbingly boring, spending endless hours in a biscuit tin with only the popping of the gas lamp and the smell of  Calor Gas for evening entertainment, especially when it was raining. 

I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and our accommodation had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.  So we we filled the fridge with wine, cooked a Shepherd’s Pie that Mum had prepared previously, closed the doors and hunkered down for a couple of days in the comfort of our caravan.

As it turned out it wasn’t bad weather all of the time, only about 95% of the time  out so in between blizzard like Arctic showers and savage North Sea winds we did manage to get out for an hour or two.

I especially wanted to go to Aldeburgh because last time that I was there I had a mind to have some fish and chips from a highly recommended chippy but this was in August and there was queue which lasted well over an hour and however much I like fish and chips I wasn’t prepared to line up for that long.

Today there was no queue so I breezed in and ordered and took them away to the beach to eat them. I sat myself on the sea wall with an uninterrupted  view out over the North Sea, the colour of a day-old bruise, rippling away to the horizon under gunmetal skies. I unwrapped with anticipation and immediately received the anticipated aroma which, once released smells of all the good things in life in the same place at the same time.   The very warmth of it felt like a reassuring defender against the chill wind coming off the sea.

As it happened, the fish was good, the chips were poor, I enjoyed them but I wouldn’t queue for over an hour to buy them.

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East Anglia – Ely to Kessingland

The city of Ely is not only famous for its Cathedral and for eels but also for the fact that it was home in in the 1640s to Oliver Cromwell.  That is his house in the picture above.

Ever since my Dad bought me an Airfix model kit of Oliver Cromwell in about 1960 I have always been fascinated by the English Civil War.  I think this was a defining moment in my life, I immediately became a Roundhead, a Parliamentarian and later a socialist, on the side of the people fighting against wealth, influence, privilege and injustice.  Today I despair that we have a wayward Cavalier liar as our Prime Minister.   The shame of it, the shame of it.

There was also an Airfix model of Charles I but I had Cromwell first.  Charles came with a detachable head.

I have always considered the English Civil War to be the most important conflict of modern Europe because this was a revolution which provided a blueprint for those that followed, principally the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The revolution begins with the moderates calling for reasonable and restrained reform for the exclusive benefit of the aforementioned wealthy and privileged who wanted even more power and wealth.  The problem with moderates of course is that they are on the whole reasonable people but by beginning a process of reform they provide an opportunity  for radicals and agitators to go much further and the English Revolution like those that followed swiftly gained pace.  After the radicals came the extremists, then war, then terror, then regicide.

The English Civil War swept away the supremacy of the Church of England, ended the Divine Right of Kings and embodied the principal of Parliamentary Sovereignty into English politics.  It was the end of medieval feudalism and paved the way for the agrarian and industrial revolutions of the next century.  At its most radical period it introduced the principals of socialism and even communism through the power of the New Model Army and the social ambitions of the Diggers and the Levellers, both proto-socialist political movements.

It is a shame that King Charles had his head cut off but even after sixty years or so of being given that Airfix model I confess that I remain a loyal Roundhead rather than a Cavalier.

So we left Ely and continued west towards the coast but made two short stops along the way along the River Waveney which at nearly sixty miles is the longest river in East Anglia and forms the natural boundary between Norfolk and Suffolk so many times along the route we switched from one county to the next.

We were heading towards the neighbouring towns of Bungay and Beccles both south of the river and in Suffolk.  The region is called East Anglia because the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the East Angles, a tribe whose name originated in Anglia, in what is now northern Germany.  The names of towns are different to where I live in Lincolnshire which instead of the Angles and Saxons was invaded and settled by the Vikings.

Fifty years or so ago my Dad had a car called a Ford Anglia.  Later car manufacturers used continental names and  we had the Ford trio of Corsair, Cortina and Granada, Triumph had the Toledo and the Dolomite and the Seat the Ibiza and the Cordoba.  The Anglia was considered too English for continental markets and in 1967 it became the Escort.

This is what we call East Anglia even though this map includes Essex which is a bit common…

At Bungay we stooped long enough to walk the disappointing High Street and to explore the back streets of this languid market town, a distracting jumble of alleys, back lanes that lead nowhere, elegant Georgian houses and the remains of an unexpected castle.

From Bungay we drove the short distance to nearby Beccles where we stayed a little longer, walked another disappointing High Street and made our way down to the river, busy today with pleasure boats where we enjoyed an afternoon cup of tea.

Like grains of sand through our fingers the day was beginning to slip away now and we were close to booking in time at the Parkdean Caravan Village so we left and completed our journey.

On arrival Mum declared the caravan to be completely suitable for a four night sojourn…

… and after approving the accommodation, settling in and unpacking Kim and I went for an early evening walk along the beach.  It was rather wild and cold I have to admit.  We had come to Kessingland fully intending to take a dip in the North Sea but for now that would have to wait.

While we were out Mum prepared her speciality Shepherd’s Pie that she had made earlier…

 

 

A to Z of Cathedrals – E is for Ely in Cambridgeshire

When I was a boy my parents took us on caravan holidays.  I only had bad memories of caravan holidays and refused to ever consider them again until 2006 when my pal Dai Woosnam persuaded me to give modern caravanning a chance.  I did so and now I am happy to have a once a year holiday in a tin shed.

I had been to Kessingland in Suffolk before but we were taking my Mum and she liked it there so we happily selected it again.  I have only been to Suffolk twice before so have missed a lot and cannot claim to be an expert so when I planned the itinerary from Rugby (where my Mum lives)  through East Anglia I looked for new places to visit.

Historically East Anglia consists of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and maybe Huntigdonshire.  Essex occasionally aspires to be included but has never been admitted for not being posh enough.  On the positive side however it does have a First Class county Cricket Team and the others do not.

I most associate East Anglia with “Sale of The Century”, the quiz of the week with Nicholas Parsons.

We started at Ely in Cambridgeshire.

I have never spent much time in Cambridgeshire, I have only ever been to Cambridge once (not to the University) and missed it out again this time as we took the by-pass and headed deep  into the Fens.  After a few miles of flat, featureless landscape we spotted Ely Cathedral rising majestically from the fields and soaring into the heavens.

I used to believe that every County in England had just one Cathedral but now I know different because Cambridgeshire has two.  Yorkshire has five cathedrals, Lancashire has four and as well as Cambridgeshire, Kent and Hampshire also each have two.  Cambridgeshire has two because of the changing geographical status of Peterborough.  Peterborough used to be in Northamptonshire and then in Huntingdonshire but in 1974 was transferred to Cambridgeshire which gave the County two Cathedrals but left Northamptonshire with none.

Other English Counties without (Anglican) Cathedrals are Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, East Sussex, Isle of Wight, Rutland and Shropshire.

The Fens are drained and reclaimed now for agriculture but  a thousand years ago they were a soggy, waterlogged sort of place and as a boy I grew up on stories of Hereward The Wake who fought the Norman invaders and based his army on the Isle of Ely because only he knew the safe paths through the bogs and safe channels.

This is Hereward the Wake, a sort of eleventh century Brexiteer who would today have a seat in Boris Johnson’s anti Europe government or be writing a column in the Daily Express…

Ely is a small city because the land was previously unsuitable for development so at just twenty-five square miles it is the second  smallest in England after Wells in Somerset and just ahead of Ripon in Yorkshire and Truro in Cornwall.

The Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe is geographically the largest diocese of the Church of England covering nearly a fifth of the entire World including North Africa, Europe (but not the UK obviously because this is split between Canterbury and York), a bit of Asia (Turkey) and the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Despite this immensity it has only one cathedral, the Diocesan Cathedral is the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar  and it is headed by the Bishop in Europe, Rob Innes.  Except for having to live in Gibraltar* that sounds like a rather good job to me.

We arrived in Ely and to my delight discovered that the City has free parking.  Free parking is something that is virtually unheard of in the UK.  The previous month I was in Yorkshire where every open  available space has a parking meter.  I am told that in Yorkshire you need a parking ticket when waiting at traffic lights.

Kim and Mum were not desperately keen to visit the Cathedral which was a good job because there is an entrance fee of £8.50 which is normally way above my budget so they slipped into the town to find a coffee shop and I searched the bottoms of my pockets in search loose change.  I still think £8.50 is a lot to pay but have to take into consideration that the annual maintenance budget for the Cathedral is £5m and has to be funded from visitor fees and public donations.

Once inside I had to agree that the admission fee was well worth it.  Not the biggest, tallest or oldest Cathedral but certainly on of England’s finest.  The Cathedral was begun in the seventh century but completed its first build under the Normans once they had dealt with the pesky Hereward The Wake.  It was built in stone quarried in Northamptonshire which is a bit ironic because they might have chosen to build there own but still don’t have one.

The stone was paid for not in gold or coin but in eels in a contract worth eight thousand eels a year.  (The name of the City is derived from eels).  A thousand years ago it seems people were rather partial to eels.  In 1135 King Henry I of England famously died after eating what the chronicler Henry of Huntingdon described as a dinner of carnes murenarum – the flesh of eels.

The king’s doctors had advised against him eating eels, but Henry took little notice and died later of food poisoning.  It turns out that eel blood is poisonous to humans if not cooked correctly.  Rather like the Japanese Puffer Fish and interestingly Japan consumes 70% of the World’s eel catch.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ely Cathedral and after an hour or so discovery returned to the streets to rejoin my travelling companions who had thoughtfully bought me a snack, thankfully not eels but a sausage roll.

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Sunset Sunday – Kessingland in Suffolk UK

A to Z of Statues – G is for George Mainwaring

The statue of George Mainwaring (the actor Arthur Lowe) can be found in the Norfolk town of Thetford.

Arthur Lowe was one of the stars of the TV comedy Dad’s Army. It is set during the Second World War and is a story about the British Home Guard which was a amateur defence force army made up of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service either because of age (hence the name “Dad’s Army”) or by being in professions exempt from conscription. Their job was to defend Britain against a German invasion force of Panzer Tanks and battalions of crack Wehrmacht troops. This was most unlikely and is the real basis of the whole series of programmes.

The show called the fictional town they defended Walmington-on-Sea which was said to be on the south coast of England but it was actually filmed in Thetford in East Anglia.

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On This Day – Aldeburgh in Suffolk

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

Just a couple of years ago on 7th August 2018 I was in East Anglia in the UK visiting the town of Aldeburgh in Suffolk…

Aldeburgh Family

After a visit to the seaside resorts of Southwold and Lowestoft we travelled a little further south today to the town of Aldeburgh pronounced Awl borough, famous most of all for being the home town of the English composer Benjamin Britten.  Place names are like this in East Anglia – Mundeslea is Munslea and Happisburgh is Haze-brrr.

I wondered if my grandchildren would like it because Aldeburgh is an old fashioned genteel sort of place where people of a certain age (mostly my age, I confess) visit to amble along the pebble beach.  The objective for most is to pass judgment on the scallop sculpture which seems to be the most controversial thing about the place (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

Aldeburgh is that sort of a place, a bit upmarket, a bit fond of itself, snobby really.  In 2012 the residents fought an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to prevent working class Tesco from opening a supermarket in the town because they didn’t consider it appropriate, they probably would have preferred middle class Waitrose.  Tesco got its approval and is still there but in nearby Southwold the town objected to Costa Coffee, it opened in 2013 but closed down in 2019 citing local opposition.

I confess that I like the sculpture (I also like Tesco) and it seems that a lot of other visitors do also because they are drawn to it like moths to a flame.  I would welcome something like it in my nearby seaside town of Cleethorpes for sure. Local people  claim that it spoils the beach and regularly petition to have it removed.

When I say local people I wonder just who they are because according to official statistics second homes make up about a third of the town’s residential property.  This is an attractive and sought after location for people with lots of money that work in London.  A sort of Chelsea by the Sea.  This is the sort of thing that local people should be campaigning against.

Aldeburgh Beach Walk

So we visited the sculpture and the children climbed on it and used it as an alternative playground and then we walked with some difficulty along the blue flag beach with pebbles crunching under our feet and occasionally leaking into the space between our feet and our sandals requiring several stops to remove the offending sharp articles before we could comfortably continue.

Along the way we passed the fishing boats drawn up onto the shingle, rugged craft with peeling paint, rusted rigging and knotted nets, their work done now for the day and undergoing basic maintenance and essential repairs and the overnight catch being sold in the simple wooden huts with chalk board signs along the side of the road.  I bought some overpriced smoked fish filo pastry parcels and looked forward to them later with my tea.

Aldeburgh Boat and Beach

Eventually we reached the town, the children had ice cream and we stopped for tea and cake at the Cragg Sisters Tea Room which served a mighty fine cup of tea and some excellent cake and scones.  As I anticipated the children were tired of Aldeburgh now and anxious to get back to the swimming pool at the Kessingland holiday park so while they went back without us I found myself in a street of expensive shops with Kim and my Mother, both determined to return with an unnecessary purchase.

I left them to it and wandered the High Street until I came across a long line of people all patiently queuing for something, rather like a line of Russian housewives lining up for bread in a time of shortage.

It was a fish and chip shop, a famous seaside fish and chip shop as it turned out that is regularly voted the best in England and clearly a lot of people agreed with this judgment.  I would have liked some fish and chips but I am not very patient in a queue and I had just had a cheese scone and tomato pickle at the tea room so I declined to join the end of the line and went instead to the beach to photograph the boats.

But I couldn’t get the desire for batter and grease and salt and vinegar out of my head so later I had fish and chips in nearby Lowestoft because few things capture the spirit of the English seaside quite like the furious sizzle of a fillet of haddock in a deep fat fryer.

Chips, Crisps or Fries – How Do You Eat Yours?

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On This Day – The Dad’s Army Museum in Thetford

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 3rd August 2018 I was in the Norfolk town of Thetford in East Anglia meeting a sort of hero of mine…

Mainwaring Thetford

I visited the Norfolk town of Thetford a year earlier but didn’t do my research properly and the Dad’s Army Museum wasn’t open.  The simple reason was that it is run by volunteers who, unlike me,  have jobs to go to during the week and only opens on a Saturday so this year I made sure that we went there on the right day.

Dad’s Army was an English situation comedy which was first broadcast in 1968 and fifty years later remains one of the funniest, often repeated and most popular of all BBC programmes.  I am a huge fan and will happily sit through endless reruns of the shows.

Kim is not so keen I have to tell you.

Dad's Army

My plan was to stay in a hotel called the Bell Inn because  the cast of the show used to stay here fifty years ago and I wanted to stay there too.  I hoped I might get lucky and get the very room that Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe) used to sleep in.

Sadly the Bell Inn turned out to be a massive disappointment, yes there was some Dad’s Army mementoes hanging on the walls but the place was a complete dump and the room we were allocated was tired, uncared for and dirty.    A real shame, I was so looking forward to staying there but I had to agree with Kim that it most likely hadn’t been decorated or cleaned since Arthur Lowe himself slept there in the 1960s.  Kim refused to stay and sent me to reception to get a change of room.  I was told that this was not possible so we decided to leave immediately.

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‘Dad’s Army’ is set during the Second World War and is a story about the British Home Guard which was a amateur defence force army made up of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service either because of age (hence the name “Dad’s Army”) or by being in professions exempt from conscription.  Their job was to defend Britain against a German invasion force of Panzer Tanks and battalions of crack Wehrmacht troops. This was most unlikely and is the real basis of the whole series of programmes.

The show called the fictional town they defended Walmington-on-Sea which was said to be on the south coast of England but it was actually filmed in Thetford in East Anglia.

The little museum turned out to be a real treasure store, crammed full of memorabilia relating to the series, pictures, video clips, scrap books, newspaper articles and pictures and photographs of all the stars.  Kim is not such a big fan of Dad’s Army as I am but enjoyed this place just as much as I did.  We stayed longer than expected and then finished with a cup of tea and a cake at the Marigold Tea Room which is a recreation of one of the sets famous from the series.

Mainwaring's OfficeMarigold Tea Rooms

Thankfully the Wehrmacht never invaded!

Thursday Doors – English Beach Huts

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

East Anglia, The End of The Holiday

Suffolk 2018

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