No cloud, no need for buttoned-up coats, just a couple of hours to enjoy one of the pleasantest small towns in the east of England: it was blissful.
There are of course some franchise outlets, but in Woodbridge these have no big store glitz. What’s more the local family businesses still thrive. The Cake Shop Bakery is one of them: never to be missed for variety of bread and cakes. Oxfam Bookshop is nearby, but across the Thoroughfare – almost traffic free even midweek – there’s Browsers, where if it isn’t in stock it will be tomorrow. Go through the portico and Budgens shares its customers across the passage with an excellent butcher, greengrocer and fresh fishmonger. The candle and stick seller if not maker is in Church Street.
If there is a glut, it’s of coffee shops: no bad thing if you want a break from shopping. Costa and Cafe Nero are the franchises but there’s a specialist coffee company or several local businesses, not to mention the hotel and others in the Town Hall area. We arranged to end the afternoon at The Fire Station, also open as a bar in the evening, but that has to wait for the end.
My first stop was a really old fashioned hardware shop, where you can buy nails or screws loose, picture wire and hooks and – the target for the day – reconstituted logs for a wood-burner. It was a good thing parking was available nearby as these logs are heavy. The shop is at the top of Church Street, very tastefully decorated for the Christmas season. At its foot is one of the oldest buildings in town, these days and perhaps much earlier a restaurant if its sign is indicative. Needless to say there is a church at the top, but not any old church, the grand late Gothic St Mary’s. Nearby is the former home of Thomas Seckford, master of requests at the court of Elizabeth I and a great benefactor of Woodbridge. The house is now a private school.
Logs loaded it was time to move the car. Station Road – there is still a working line, though the unstaffed station now serves as tea shop and bed and breakfast – has a generous car park at very reasonable rates: £1.50 for four hours allows a walk along the river towards Felixstowe, but that’s for another day. This time it was around a few more streets, the delightful park and then the towpath.
One of the highlights of Woodbridge is the tide mill, still providing flour for the bakery. In the basin nearby are some veteran boats, some of which no doubt saw action at Dunkirk. Not long hence the boathouse will also accommodate a full-scale replica of the Sutton Hoo ship, its burial site overlooking the town across the river Deben. The half-scale model, made and sailed by the Giffords, husband and wife, and given to Woodbridge, will share the boathouse.
No river anchorage is without its pleasure craft, and Deben Rowing Club – if pleasure is the adjective for what I recall as my most strenuous exercise – has almost as many racing shells as I’ve seen in the assembled college boathouses at Cambridge. Boats have to share space with water fowl, however, and apart from gulls there were swans and several ringed plover at the water’s edge. Woodbridge even has a small area of reed bed: nothing to rival Snape Maltings but a pleasant reminder.
Sunset was enlivened by a thrush singing from a treetop; the church tower was visible in the distance, and I had just time to glance at the foot of Cumberland Street, the hill that “The grand old duke of York” had marched his soldiers up and down.
Then my destination was the Fire Station for a restorative capuccino and toasted tea cake. As the image shows, it shares its youthful clientele with not a few silver coffee drinkers.
What more to do? “The Lady in the Van” was showing at The Riverside Theatre, a quirky century-old former music hall. The afternoon house emptied; the early evening one settled in, and when we left it was obvious the evening house would be as full – and no doubt just as appreciate as we, almost entirely silver, were.