On this sunny blue-sky day, with a breeze running its chilly fingers through my hair, I’m thinking this is an inspired idea to step away from the bustle of Bury Market and enter a world with no traffic and little noise. Just for a while. A line of ducks are taking a short-cut across a manicured lawn; completely ignoring the ‘keep of the grass’ signs and I admire their focus and temerity.
Joining other strollers in this beautiful haven and reading my leaflet as I walk, I learn that work on the Abbey of St Edmund began in 1065. The remains now form part of a complex which includes the church of St James – consecrated a cathedral in 1914 – and the beautiful Abbey gardens which run down to the River Lark, where I think those ducks are heading.
Fat pink blossoms shaken by the wind fall like confetti where there is no wedding. I’m snapping away with my camera as I amble past the Sensory Garden that has yet to burst into life and then on to the Aviary. You can hear the birds before you see them and there are small children pressed up close to the cages, heads bent backwards better to see high up. Mothers text and talk and waive encouragement in that slightly distracted way that people have when there are so many demands on their time.
An Easter Egg hunt is being planned and staff are pinning clues to bushes and trees. This really is an all-age experience. There are plenty of benches to stop and rest and eat your lunch and access is good for disabled folk as the paths are flat in most places. The ruins themselves are not so easy to access as, where there are paths, they are narrow and lumpy and this area is uneven and slightly hilly. Having said that, I did see someone being pushed in a wheelchair and looking a bit sweaty too.
The smell of cut grass and the last of the narcissi competes with the aroma of coffee coming from the Abbey Garden café as I head off to explore the ruins themselves and then on to the Cathedral itself.
Work on the Cathedral began in 1503; the stunning Nave was built by John Wastell in that same year. A magnificent Millennium Tower made of Barnock limestone, flint and lime mortar was completed in 2005 and the vault was added in 2010. The Cloisters and the Chapel of the Transfiguration opened in 2008 and the new Treasury which exhibits church plate and the Bury Cross, opened in 2011.
The welcome at the entrance of the Cathedral was warm and the staff were friendly and knowledgeable. I felt an incredible sense of awe at the sheer height of the Nave and the hushed atmosphere that hung in the rays of sunlight and dancing specks of dust. I asked permission to take photographs before snapping away (always wise to do this) and was told that was perfectly O.K. As we were into Holy Week, the Cross on the altar was shrouded. The myriad of colour coming from the stained glass windows was fabulous and stripes of blue and green and red and yellow fell onto floors and pews, changing all the time as the sun worked its way round the Cathedral. What a shame to have to leave! Entrance is free but donations to the upkeep of the Cathedral are always most welcome.
As an aside, the Treasury is hosting an exhibition in May this year (2014), where it will display the Lincoln copy of Magna Carta, marking the 800th anniversary of Bury St Edmunds’ role in the historic document that was sealed by King John at Runnymede. Entrance is free, but by timed tickets, which must be booked in advance. More information at: www.westsuffolkdiary.co.uk. Bury St Edmunds Tourist Office is also a good source of knowledge: 6 Angel Hill (opposite the Abbey Gardens) Telephone 01284 764 667, or key in Bury St Edmunds Tourism and that should lead you to a very comprehensive site.
The attached pictures really do speak louder than any words I could hope to cobble together and I hope you enjoy looking at them.