A self-guided cycling holiday in Suffolk during a global pandemic
I’ve never been on a cycling holiday before.
I’ve never been on a cycling holiday with our neighbours before.
And I’ve certainly never been on a cycling holiday with our neighbours during a global pandemic before.
What could possibly go wrong?
To be fair, the first couple of those points were really no concern at all. We’ve all been covering a few miles in the saddle this year, almost since the day lockdown started. Our neighbours on both sides of us in Godalming, in leafy Surrey, are good friends and have been members of Cranleigh Cycle Club for a while, so we knew we were in amicable and safe hands.
We had originally booked to cycle in Puglia in April, but of course that was postponed. We’re hoping to escape there next April or May, but in the meantime we thought we’d explore a few roads and tracks in this country. Somewhere reasonably close. Somewhere reasonably flat. And somewhere interesting, with things to do out of the saddle as much as when lycra-clad.
Step forward Suffolk. Especially when my wife Gill found an intriguing place to stay through Airbnb. The Round House in Framlingham is a beautifully converted thatched windmill, and an ideal base from which to explore countryside and coast, whether on two wheels or four. ‘Fram‘, as the locals call it, is a charming market town, with an impressive church and the imposing 12th century ‘Castle on the Hill’ that inspired a young Ed Sheeran when he was growing up here.
Factor in a wine shop, a curry house and the excellent Station Hotel – serving local ale from the Earl Soham brewery and top-class food – a few wobbly steps from The Round House and Gill was almost weighed down with brownie points. Owner Mark had given the whole property a deep clean before our arrival, with other Covid-aware steps very prominent, and was only too happy to share interesting stories about both The Round House and his own regal life.
But what about the cycling?
There are guided cycling holidays around Suffolk, but we were pedalling independently. Gill had mapped out a few routes to give us some structure, and techy pro cyclist Simon had uploaded them to his Garmin to lead out the peloton on the road. We cycled for six consecutive days, averaging around 30 miles each day. Not huge distances, but perfect for the different bikes and levels of fitness in the group. And it always seemed to be quite windy, adding an extra challenge. And although it’s not Puglia, it’s definitely a myth that Suffolk is completely flat.
Our routes gave us the opportunity to enjoy idyllic, quiet lanes en route to peaceful villages and interesting towns. We stumbled across ancient churches, quiet pubs with verdant gardens, and far more tea shops than can be healthy for any athlete. And we rolled back to Fram every day with tired legs, empty water bottles and ruddy cheeks, but always safe in the knowledge that a hot shower, the Tour de France highlights and comfortable beds were waiting for us at The Round House.
Here are a few highlights to include on any tour of east Suffolk, whichever mode of transport you’re using:
Woodbridge – a vibrant market town on the banks of the river Deben. Make sure you explore the River Walk and Tide Mill.
Southwold – a thriving seaside town and almost an island, defined by the mouth of the River Blyth, Southwold Harbour, Buss Creek and the North Sea. Check out the intact 120-year-old pier and make sure you don’t miss the Adnams Brewery.
Minsmere – a 1,000-acre nature reserve, managed by the RSPB. Choose your time of day and year to maximise opportunities to see some very special wildlife in this serene, natural setting.
Dunwich – in Anglo-Saxon times, Dunwich was the capital of the King of the Angles, but the harbour and most of the town have since disappeared due to storm surges and coastal erosion. Now a popular heathland and seaside village set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings – Snape Maltings is now home to the annual Benjamin Britten inspired Aldeburgh Festival, its concert hall a reminder of a previous industrial purpose. Performances are sadly curtailed during the pandemic, but the Maltings are still a worthwhile destination and be sure to take the gentle boat ride down the River Alde, spotting wildlife across the mudflats and reeds.
Bungay and Beccles – we drove north one day, cycling a rewarding loop from Bungay to Beccles – ‘Gateway to the Norfolk Broads’ – and back again, seeing a different landscape to other days and enjoying a rather long lunch in the Wherry Inn, in the small village of Geldeston and straddling the Suffolk/Norfolk border.
There is much else for Silver Travellers to explore in this timeless part of England, but hopefully that’s given a flavour of what is achievable for independent Silver Cyclists.
Silver Travel Advisor partner Cycling for Softies don’t yet provide a Suffolk option, but if you like the sound of spending a gentle week in the saddle (lycra optional) they will guide you around the Cotswolds and Sussex, with many other options in Europe, whenever normal life returns. They also offer e-bikes which are a great alternative for less enthusiastic cyclists, or those whose knees or hips have seen better days. Enjoy all the benefits of cycling without the strain!
And by the way, we’re still talking to our neighbours. And we’re all healthy, if a little saddle-sore.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Cycling for Softies.