When we began to plan our roadtrip back in 2020 it was to be a tour of the Spanish Pyrenees, but like thousands of other would-be travellers, we had to rethink. We decided instead to explore East Anglia and planned to travel when Covid restrictions eased on 21 June. Despite the lockdown release being delayed, we bravely carried on.
It seemed strange to pack a suitcase at last, never an easy task for me and now even harder as I am so out of practice. Once loaded up, we set off on a wet and windy June morning. Our first stop was to the pretty market town of Hadleigh in Suffolk.
Hadleigh is a working town with a long high street where you will find a selection of shops and pubs. Adnams Brewery of Southwold have a large outlet offering their award-winning beers, wines, spirits, and attractive tableware. Behind the high street you will find a cluster of listed buildings and by following the circular town walk map (free from the Tourist Information Centre) you can read up on the history. Hadleigh was once a very prosperous wool town, and the buildings showcase the wealth of the times. The Guildhall complex (Grade 1) is a collection of medieval buildings comprising the Market House, Guilds Hall and New Town Hall and situated opposite the Church of St Mary. Many churches in Suffolk are famed for their sheer size and St Marys is one of the largest in East Anglia.
Other attractive walks are along the river Brett which runs alongside the town, or the Railway Walk, also a national cycle trail, along the disused rail track to Raydon (2 miles each way).
From Hadleigh, it’s easy to visit Lavenham, also boasting a magnificent medieval Guildhall now owned by the National Trust. This impressive building is over 500 years old and was built with the wealth from the wool trade. Over the years it has served as a workhouse and prison, and you can discover some of the grim tales from the past when you tour the property. The garden behind the house is now part of the NT tearoom and a sunny spot to enjoy tea and cake.
Hadleigh is close to Constable country and a visit to Flatford Mill, just a few miles away, is a must. Once you have photographed the iconic scenery from the ‘Hay Wain’, made famous by John Constable, you can walk across fields and along the river to Dedham, an easy stroll with far reaching views. Back at Flatford the RSPB have an educational wildlife garden showcasing the many bird and insect species in the area and passing on ideas and information for visitors to incorporate in their own garden.
After a few days we moved onto North Norfolk to stay just outside the popular town of Holt. The weather was against us so many of our walks were curtailed but we did enjoy the windswept trail between Blakeney and Morston Quay. The trail was part of the North Norfolk Coastal Path and easy to follow. This is bird watching country, so have your binoculars ready. The Morston salt marshes are home to many migratory birds and early summer is a good time to spot them. Morston Quay has a National Trust coffee kiosk, a welcome sight on a cold morning. At Morston and Blakeney you can book a seal trip for when the tides are right. We returned later in the afternoon for a scheduled 5.45pm seal trip with Temple Boats. There are a handful of companies offering these trips once or twice a day when the tide allows. They all cost around £20 per adult and last 1-1/2 hours. Our skipper was full of information about birds, wildlife, and geology of the area. We were lucky to see a flock of terns diving to feeding on a shoal of fish brought in by the rising tide, quite a sight. A group of seals were basking on the spit at Blakeney Point and many more were enthusiastically feeding in the water. On the return journey our skipper pointed out sandwich terns feeding their fluffy young on the shingle banks, hard to spot without direction.
We noticed this part of Norfolk was much busier than Suffolk and some of the seaside resorts such as Sheringham and Cromer do attract the crowds, but if it is sandy beaches and a fresh crab sandwich that you are after, you won’t be disappointed. For us the weather put paid to any beach fun so instead we enjoyed a touch of nostalgia on the North Norfolk Railway known as The Poppy Line. We chugged through the countryside from Holt to Sheringham, had an hour to look at a very cold North Sea town and then returned on a 1960s diesel train. The following day we walked around the National Trust Sheringham Estate and were lucky to see one of the steam trains draw into Weybourne Station. I actually find it more exciting watching these old timers chugging through the countryside than being on board, such an impressive sight.
Gardens can be enjoyed even if skies are grey, and we were not disappointed at the dazzling displays at Felbrigg Hall. The 17th century English Country House is surrounded by over 500 acres of park, woodland, and delightful planting. Much of the Hall was off limits for visitors due to Covid restrictions but the walled garden made up for that. Grassy footpaths led through arches covered with hydrangea and clematis and along flower beds bursting with summer colour and perfumed by swathes of lavender. The kitchen garden had orderly rows of summer vegetables and herbs and led into a mown area with beehives and fruit trees.
A visit to Sandringham sadly didn’t include their famous walled garden as it is a private part of the estate. We could wander through the park and along the lake and of course we visited the house itself. A thoroughly enjoyable and interesting tour of the ground floor rooms with the odd Royal anecdote thrown in.
Finally, we called into Norfolk Lavender which is near to Sandringham. A great place to see the many varieties of lavender and maybe bring some home. There is also a children’s play area and café if you have grandchildren with you.
Our last stop was to the pretty city of Ely where we only had a few hours. I wish it could have been longer as there is so much to see. Not least the imposing cathedral which dominates the flat fen countryside for miles. The riverside is particularly pretty and was bustling with narrow boats coming and going and vying with the local swan population for space. Ely has a rich history which includes being the home of Oliver Cromwell. The house has been refurbished to look as it would have been in the 17th century and includes a civil war exhibition, timeline, and family tree.
Both places offer a high standard of accommodation, excellent breakfasts using local produce and friendly hosts.
If you would prefer to sit back and let someone else work out an itinerary, then our partner Alfa Travel offer a range of tours around Eastern England and beyond.