Not just a wonderful place to take the grandchildren but, if you can manage any kind of walking, an almost endless source of interest and delight. That has always been Clare Country Park for us. Strangely, though, I’d never walked to the top of the castle motte until this year and Open Day at the excavations.
There is a playground for the children; paths go for a mile or more between Clare and Cavendish (one of the prettiest greens in England, and on if you wish to Long Melford. The Country Park was created after the closure of a branch railways line, making use of the station buildings for refreshments and toilets and parts of the line for pathways that can be cycled as well as walked. It has the River Stour along one side and Clare Priory nearby so plenty of interest.
Our interest this day was the excavations that made it worth driving nearly forty miles (we had once lived only five miles away) and taking the chance climbing the great mound that is the ‘motte’. From the remains of the keep it is not only easy to see the railway buildings and excavations but also the commanding view the Normans held over the countryside of Suffolk and Essex. Today it also commands a view of the lovely town of Clare, developed under the Norman and medieval magnates of the De Burgh family, second only to the crown in those days. The account books of Dame Elizabeth, the ‘Lady of Clare’ demonstrate the wealth of the family and show the castle ruins to be worth excavation.
A half penny of William I was one special find, but current interest is in the Anglo Saxon period because Clare was significant before the Conquest and had a church before the Priory was established. One small section of flint wall has been unearthed, and this may indicate part of that early church. Many animal bones testify to the food eaten at Clare and numerous scraps of clay come from building tiles and cooking pots. Children were enjoying themselves cleaning finds under parental supervision – not something that they would consider with crockery at home. Their work place was just a step or two from the wood-sculptures of sheep that on other days might have been a bigger attraction.
There was an organised visit by members of Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History being allowed into the excavations along the railway line, which showed the level of interest in both excavations and open days. There is another day later in September before all finds are taken to the Archaeology Unit at Needham Market near Ipswich, where further volunteers for pot washing will be welcome in October.
There will be many more general visitors to Clare Country Park after that and the Priory will also welcome visitors at various times. Both are well worthwhile, and cafes of Clare and its magnificent church are also rewarding. All, apart from refreshments, is free so value for money and offers for seniors are either irrelevant or of infinite worth.