Suffolk is a county with a wealth of attractions to delight the visitor: rural beauty, rivers and nature reserves, windmills and watermills, ancient wool towns and villages, churches hardly touched by the Victorian ‘improvers’, stately homes, thriving ports and holiday resorts, a conservation coastline standing defiant against the North Sea.
Suffolk is very much a maritime county, with over 50 miles of coastline. The whole coast is a conservation area, which the 50-mile Suffolk Coastal Path makes walkable throughout. With all the miles of meandering rivers and superb stretches of coastline, it is only natural that watery pursuits are a popular pastime, and many of the local museums also have a nautical theme; the Suffolk coast has been a source of inspiration for many of the nation’s most distinguished artists, writers and composers.
The sea brings its own dangers, even in human form, and it was against the threat of a Napoleonic invasion that Martello Towers were built in southeastern Suffolk, in the tradition of Saxon and Tudor forts and the precursors of concrete pillboxes. The marshes by the coast have traditionally been a source of reeds, the raw material for the thatch that is such a pretty sight on so many Suffolk buildings. Reed- cutting happens between December and February, the beds being drained in preparation and reflooded after the crop has been gathered. Thatching itself is a highly skilled craft, but 10 weeks of work can give a thatched roof 50 years of life.
Inland Suffolk has few peers in terms of picturesque countryside and villages, and the area of central Suffolk between the heathland and the coast is a delightful place for getting away from it all to the real countryside, with unchanged ancient villages, gently flowing rivers and rich farm land. The little market towns of Stowmarket and Needham Market are full of interest, and in this part of Suffolk some of the best-preserved windmills and watermills are to be found.
Much of Suffolk’s character comes from its rivers, and in the part of the county surrounding Ipswich, the Orwell and the Stour mark the boundaries of the Shotley Peninsula. The countryside here is largely unspoilt, with wide-open spaces between scattered villages.
John Constable, England’s greatest landscape painter, was born at East Bergholt in 1776 and remained at heart a Suffolk man throughout his life. The Suffolk tradition of painting continues to this day, with many artists drawn particularly to Walberswick and what is known as Constable Ccountry.
Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, the A134 and the A14 frame the northern part of West Suffolk, which includes Bury St Edmunds, a pivotal player in the country’s religious history, and Newmarket, one of the major centres of the horseracing world. Between and above them are picturesque villages, bustling market towns, rich farming countryside, the fens, and the expanse of sandy heath and pine forest that is Breckland. The area south and west of Bury towards the Essex border contains some of Suffolk’s most attractive and peaceful countryside. The visitor will come upon a succession of picturesque villages, historic churches, remarkable stately homes, heritage centres and nature reserves. In the south, along the River Stour, stand the historic wool towns of Long Melford, Cavendish and Clare. And, of course, Sudbury, the birthplace of the painter Thomas Gainsborough, and the largest of the wool towns, still home to a number of weaving concerns.
The most easterly town in Britain had its heyday as a major fishing port during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when it was a mighty rival to Great Yarmouth in the herring industry. That industry has been in major decline since the First World War, but Lowestoft is still a fishing port and the trawlers continue to chug into the harbour in the early morning with the catches of the night. Guided tours of the fish market and the harbour are available.
Lowestoft is also a popular holiday resort, the star attraction being the lovely South Beach with its golden sands, safe swimming, two piers and all the expected seaside amusements and entertainments. Claremont Pier, over 600 feet in length, was built in 1902, ready to receive day-trippers on the famous Belle steamers. The buildings in this part of town were developed in mid-Victorian times by the company of Sir Samuel Morton Peto, also responsible for Nelson’s Column, the statues in the Houses of Parliament, the Reform Club and Somerleyton Hall.