Diary of a fun educational trip, 11-15 May 2023
by Ianthe Cox, with photos by Paul Smith
The weather was decidedly unsettled as 25 members of Dorking & District u3a set out for the journey to Suffolk. The coach was comfortable and warm and the driver, John, seemed friendly.
Since the pandemic things have changed with these trips. The National Trust now insists on card payments in advance for groups and limits the days that group visits are accepted. Consequently, our planned itinerary had changed with very little notice, resulting in us heading to Woodbridge for our first stop.
Woodbridge is a delightful small market town situated on the River Deben. People have lived in Woodbridge since the Neolithic Age and it was occupied by the Romans after the defeat of Boudicca in 59AD. The area is famous for the Sutton Hoo burial ship, of which a replica is being built by volunteers in the Longshed.
Having a contact at Art Safari, I managed to arrange a short guided tour for us of the historic Tide Mill and the Longshed. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit the museum. After a fascinating tour we were able to have lunch at Whisstocks Square in sunshine, before heading back to our coach.
Our next stop was further up river to Waldringfield for a delightful two-hour cruise on the River Deben. John, our driver, was able to join us.
We reached our hotel – the Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Ipswich – around 5pm. In this area some hotels are being used to house refugees, which is limiting choice for tourists.
After breakfast Claire, our Blue Badge Guide, joined us for our visit to Ickworth House, a National Trust property located in 70 acres of stunning gardens and 1,800 acres of Capability Brown parkland. Dominated by its huge central Rotunda, dating from 1795, the house has a fine collection of paintings and regency furniture. Dismal weather did not encourage extensive garden exploration.
After lunch at Ickworth we set off for a visit to the Beth Chatto Gardens, near Colchester. Started by Chatto in 1960 on overgrown wasteland, gravel and bogs, the land has been transformed into beautiful gardens harmonising with the local area. Fortunately, the weather had cleared to make the visit very enjoyable.
Saturday dawned dry and bright, although cool with the wind. Claire arrived and we headed off to our tour of Constable Country. We visited East Bergholt, where Constable had his studio and worshipped at St Mary’s Church, which dates from the 15th century and does not have a tower. Consequently, the bells are housed in a cage on the ground and are still rung to this day. While in the church we were treated to a wonderful rendition of the sung Gloria by one of our members. This just added to enjoyment of the visit.
We then went on to Flatford to see Flatford Mill, Bridge Cottage, Willy Lott’s cottage and Valley Farm. Bridge Cottage houses a collection of Constable paintings.
This was a lovely visit to a lovely area. Four of our intrepid members decided to walk to Dedham across the fields, despite the wet ground! The rest of us went by coach to Dedham, where we had lunch.
The afternoon was spent visiting Bury St Edmunds. Claire regaled us with much detail of the history of this fascinating city, which is dominated by the cathedral and has royal connections dating back to St Edmund, who was brutally murdered by the Danes. Legend has it that he was beheaded and a wolf protected his head so his followers were able to bury him intact. On a roundabout in the city there is a carving of the wolf and St Edmund. There was so much to see.
Sunday dawned bright and clear and we headed off, with Claire, to Sutton Hoo, where there is a sculpture of the original burial ship. Again, Claire gave us a detailed history of the site and Tranmer House, home of Edith Pretty, who was the owner of the area and responsible for arranging the excavations that led to the discovery of the ship.
We walked in the footsteps of Anglo Saxon royalty to the burial mound of the king, believed to be Raedwald, the most powerful man and King of East Anglia. He died in about 624. The burial ship is 89 feet long and was unearthed in 1939.
This visit tied in nicely with our visit to Woodbridge and the Longshed, where the replica of the ship is being built. The treasures discovered at the site are housed in the British Museum.
John and Claire then took us to Snape Maltings for lunch, followed by a tour of the Red House, where Benjamin Britten lived and composed his music.
Our final visit of the day was to Aldeburgh on the coast, where we enjoyed a beach walk and ice creams. That evening we said farewell to Claire, who had proved to be such a good guide.
After checking out of the hotel, we headed for Lavenham, known for its beautiful medieval timbered buildings and impressive church and guildhall. This was a coffee stop.
John then drove us to the Wimpole Estate, near Royston in Cambridgeshire. Owned by the National Trust, it is a unique working estate with acres of parkland, a farm, walled kitchen garden and an impressive mansion and chapel at its heart. We were able to lunch here and enjoy a visit of about three hours before setting off for Dorking.
We had a good run home and everyone was safely returned after an enjoyable few days. A further trip is planned for 1-5 October to Northumbria (details here).