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County-landscape

. On its North Sea front it is gentle, with shingle shores, sandy beaches or low cliffs, though King Neptune has not always been kind for here the sea can storm in to take away as much as it gives in other parts of Britain. However, birdlife thrives along parts of this coast, especially at Minsmere Bird Sanctuary where avocets and other wading birds seek refuge.

. Inland the softly undulating land is cut Into fields and farmsteads, enfolding old, often picturesque villages sunkinto flowery meads bordered by slow-flowing streams. The soil base is a soft, friable loam, sometimes clay, over a base of sand. It is a largely agricultural county with belts of woodland; several kinds of crops are produced here alongside cattle farms and smallholdings, with many of the fields still enclosed in low hedges.

. To the west the land breaks up somewhat with high pine-wooded heath around the racing town of Newmarket. There is even some fen. Little dramatic scenery here, but plenty of surprises lie in store in the secrets of Suffolk.

County-facts

Origin of name: Of Anglo-Saxon origin meaning "Southern people", to distinguish them from the "Northfolk".

Name first recorded: 895 as Suth Folchi.

COUNTY TOWN

IPSWICH A rich trading port in the Middle Ages. Despite insensitive urban planning, the Ancient House (1567) with its exceptional decorative plasterwork andChristchurch Mansion are well worth a visit.

Other Towns

ALDEBURGH Reputedly the best sprats and herring are caught in November and December along its famous long, straight and somewhat desolate shore.

BURY ST EDMUNDS A busy market town manufacturing agricultural instruments.

FELIXSTOWE Seaside resort and container port with Edwardian buildings and a handsome promenade nearly 2 miles long.

FRAMLINGHAM An impressive castle ruin with square towers rather than round ones set in a market town with many attractive buildings centred round the market square. Many film and TV programmes have been shot here.

GORLESTON Seaside resort with a long sandy beach.

HAVERHILL In the far southwest by the border with Essex the centre of Haverhill has been buried by modern development.

LAVENHAM Hardly changed since its heyday as an important Middle Ages wool town, it is one of the most outstanding places in the county. The popular antiques

sleuth show Lovejoy has been filmed here.

LONG MELFORD A stately village because of all the stately manors and other residences that dot this impressively wealthy area.

LOWESTOFT A centre of fishing from the 14th century and the fleets still unload their catches for the busy fish market. The scores are narrow alleys going down steeply from the High Street to the shore where the herring curing houses stood.

NEWMARKET In a small shepherd's crook of the county, Newmarket offers a handsome and spacious red-brick town that has been a centre of racing for centuries The Jockey Club's H.Q. since I750

WOODBRIDGE This compact town near Bury was a thriving shipbuilding port, now more famous for antiques and yachts. Along with old houses it has several half- timbered inns.

. Bungay . Halesworth . Leiston . Little Yarmouth . Lakenheath . Stowmarket

COUNTY RIVERS

Deben, Stour, Waveney, Lark.

HIGHEST POINT

Rede at 420 feet.

county-calendar

. The Suffolk Agricultural Show, the Military Tattoo in Ipswich and the Southwold Fair take place in June.

. Founded by Benjamin Britten (who was born in

Lowestoft) in 1947, the Aldeburgh Festival takes place each year for three weeks in June.

. Framlingham Castle hosts events from Civil War battles to Shakespeare plays and dog trials.

. Flat racing at Newmarket in spring and summer.

. Power-boat racing at Oulton Broad and Lowestoft.

. Late August: Felixstowe Fuschia Festival.

. July: Bungay Festival, drama, music, parade. Music and fireworks at Bungay Castle.

famous-names

. Outspoken theatre director Sir Peter Hall is a native of Bury St Edmunds.

. Author and critic V. S. Prichett was born in Ipswich.

. BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson spent much of his childhood in crumbling Dunwich.

. King John was brought to book by the barons at Bury St Edmund's and a butcher's son, later Cardinal Wolsey, from Ipswich achieved the high office of Chancellor under Henry Vlll.

. The Merry Monarch, King Charles II, made Newmarket famous, lending his name to events.

. Gregory Peck came to Alpheton and its American air base to star in the film Twelve O'clock High.

local government

A two-tier system of Suffolk County Council and then seven district councils: Babergh, Forest Heath, Ipswich, Mid-Suffolk, St Edmundsbury, Suffolk Coastal and Waveney. Around Suffolk's Gorleston and Little 'farmouth, Norfolk County and Great Yarmouth District Councils take control.

intro

EVER SO TRANQUIL, ever so beautiful, Suffolk is a county where few main roads mar the essential peace of the home of the 'Southern people'. No wonder Constable was drawn to the place. It is also a land with a rich wool tradition; wealthy merchants set up shop in the exceptionally pretty small towns of Kersey Lavenham and Long Melford, where many fine timbered houses and large churches testify to the prosperity of this thriving medieval industry. Suffolk is a serene, seductive land of low hills, salty sea and wide open skies where I can commune with the infinite and have done so at Gislingham.

towns-and-villages

There are many remarkable settlements in Suffolk, and anyone getting off the beaten track and onto quiet country roads will stumble across any number of alluring little places, often grouped around a green and with an impressively stone-towered church or a handsome mansion standing in a spreading park. It is small wonder that this bucolic Suffolk scene provided such inspiration to one ofBritain's great artists, for John Constable painted his masterpieces around his father's boatyard, influenced by the French painters Claude and Poussin, Constable's magical views of ordinary English scenes such as The Corn Field sum up this heart-warming county of Suffolk. With its heritage of fine buildings from cottage to castle, its odd that Suffolk possesses no great town of architectural style and beauty, like Norwich in Norfolk, no real cultural centre of the county. People argue for Bury St Edmund's, once a great centre of pilgrimage and with a fine abbey church, a venerated place that because of its past may be responsible for the soubriquet 'selig' or saintly Suffolk, though this appellation has also been more rudely thought to be the origin of 'silly Suffolk'.

Bury prospered enormously in the medieval period, but it dwindled rapidly in importance after the suppression of the abbeys under Henry VIII. It has wide streets and Georgian houses as well as a period playhouse. The county town of Ipswich may be ancient, and a busy place, but it's hardly worth going in and getting caught up in its crowded streets. Nobody can seriously pretend that workaday Ipswich is on a par with neighbouring Norwich. To be fair to the minster-less Ipswich a dozen medieval churches survived 19th-century redevelopment, in this case destruction, and it does have Christchurch Mansion with a collection of Suffolk antiques and paintings. In the White Horse Inn Dickens provided Mr Pickwick with some adventures. The busy harbour of Felixstowe is the undisputed king of container cargo and with its ferry services to other European ports and its modern buildings it is in a different league altogether to cliffy Lowestoft, though the latter is also a seaside resort and an ancient place with curiosities to see. From its main street steep alleys called scores go running down to its still used fishing quays and the smokehouses where kippers are made from North Sea herring.

So it is the smaller towns and villages that command attention here, and they richly deserve it. Suffolk has a thick scattering of agricultural settlements, and many of them are worth not just a pause or a passing look, but astopover to wander round and view their treasures. Wool was a moneymaker here so go to Kersey, a single street dipping down to a ford and up again with thatched and colour-washed houses, its name given to a certain woollen cloth. It's worth warning you: a visit to Suffolk may take much longer than you plan! Villages begin in the south with a cluster of diamonds. Long Melford is a handsome place with a wide main street, old inns like the Bull and many antique shops as well as two stately homes. Sudbury has a moot hall, medieval houses and a market. It's best known for being the birthplace of painter Thomas Gainsborough, and his house

with its imposing doorway can be visited. Clare, a large village in the Stour valley, has many old houses and inns, and it is famed for its pargeting. This is very much a local form of decoration in which panels of plaster on house fronts are raised, mounded and moulded into complicated patterns. Some are white, others colour-washed. Lavenham would have pride of place in any other county, for it is spectacular. Folded in soft countryside, this groupof medieval houses and a grand church is a silvery-grey procession of ancient buildings from guildhall to pub.. It merits a long walk of discovery, and best of all it is a living place too.

There are fewer settlements in the high and healthy west, but you should add Glemsford and Wickhambrook to your list. Kentford, Mildenhall and Elveden with Victorian cottages occupy wide open county. The Waveney valley in the north is part of the Broads, since it's a river crowded with pleasure craft. Beccles is an attractive town with several streets of Georgian brick houses. Somerleyton Hall has sumptuous furnishings and there's a maze in the gardens, Fritton has beech trees and a secret lake. Red-brick and tile Orford has a castle with a circular many- sided keep and ancient church, while at Aldeburgh a small Victorian resort still shows its charms. This is true also of Southwold, and Lowestoft is flanked with beach resorts at Kessingland and Corton. Inland off the main road and across an eerie inlet of tidal flats erupts the surprising church of Blythburgh with its high windows and carved angel roof within.

local-history

There is an iron Age encampment near Clare. Ipswich has a good collection of Stone Age and Saxon treasures in its museum, which also contains replicas of the fabled Mildenhall and Luton Hoo treasures which are now in the British Museum. Southwold's museum contains local relics and fossils in a 17th- century house. Brandon, famous for flint knapping, is on the site of an Iceni village. Along the eastern shore, Dunwich was a prosperous medieval port with a trade in woollen goods to the Low Countries, but after a series of violent storms it was eaten by the greedy North Sea 700 years ago, and bits still keep falling into the water, for the erosion is constant. They say if you stand on the crumbling cliff near the fragment of town that is left you can still hear the lonely tolling of bells under the waves if you listen hard - for Dunwich had eight churches before the storms began their work.

 

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