Ye olde England

22:03, May 26 2009
PERMANENT LEAN: Buildings in Lavenham seem to defy gravity as they lean into one another.

The picturesque Suffolk countryside is tranquil and uncrowded and inspired famous artists such as Constable and Gainsborough.

On a bitterly cold Suffolk day, with a snow-laden wind blowing in from Siberia there's only one thing to do go walking.

It's what the English do and, as we've got dogs to be exercised, we might as well join them.

The wonderful thing about England is the marvellous access to privately owned farmland, public commons and woodland areas thanks to numerous well marked walkways and bridlepaths.

It means the glorious countryside is accessible to everyone.

We head off over rolling green pastoral lands watching deer, pheasants and hare scramble out of our way. An hour later we find ourselves outside a 14th century pub, The Bull, in the main street of delightful Kersey.


And, as we are doing the English thing we can't possibly walk past. So we do what the English do and take the dogs inside and find a table where we can sit and watch the world go by.

The Bull was built in 1417 its brick floors have sagged as have the thick blackened ceiling beams.

The open fire roars, helping to keep the inside warm despite the best attempts of the wind coming in through gaps under the doorway and around the draughty windows.

For centuries English pubs have been the heart of village life and these days with the smoking ban in force they are a wonderful place to while away an hour or so.

We enjoy a hearty bowl of soup with thick crusty bread before heading back outside to take a different route back.

Suffolk is stunningly beautiful. This is Constable country. You can stand at the exact point where he painted The Hay Wain. And in nearby Sudbury, Gainsborough's life and works are on show at a special museum.

Suffolk is England's oldest settled county and the many historic towns and villages are well worth exploring.

One of the most famous is Lavenham, considered to be the finest surviving example of an English medieval town with its storybook buildings, character pubs and quaint shops, many dating back more than 500 years.

A prosperous and thriving wool market town, Lavenham was the 14th wealthiest English town in Tudor times and today it's a popular bolthole for city dwellers who come to enjoy the hospitality at five star boutique hotels hiding behind medieval facades.

The charm of Lavenham is its authenticity.

There are no High Street chain stores and the main street is a delightful mix of old English pubs, art galleries and restaurants.

Lavenham prospered in the 12th century when it began exporting wool.

The buildings were built on the strength of that wool trade and the ones visitors enjoy today date from the 14th and 15th century.

Rumours has it that Lavenham was about to suffer the fate of many other English towns and succumb to the developer when it was rescued by a wealthy local who bought the entire village.

He only sold it when the law restricting alterations to historic places came in, meaning Lavenham remains as it was many centuries ago.

Buildings lean, beams groan and twist, low and narrow doorways allow only short and thin people through, and nothing will change because of the laws banning alterations on listed buildings. This is true old world England at its very best.

Nearby Long Melford is another wonderful Suffolk town and is where the popular television series Lovejoy was filmed.

Suffolk is dotted with a number of large stately homes. Some are owned by the National Trust and others are in private ownership but the owners open the doors in an effort to bring in much needed funds to enable them to maintain the homes.

Driving through the gently undulating Suffolk countryside is wonderful. Thatched roof cottages of dusky pink and mustard yellow sit surrounded by charming rose and lavender gardens.

The tranquil valleys and little hamlets are a refuge from the bustling city of London, an hour's drive away.

Sophisticated cafes, excellent restaurants, trendy boutiques, eclectic art galleries and antique shops make sure you are never bored.

Villages such as Woodbridge, Clare and the gorgeous coastal towns of Southwold and Aldeburgh are all worth visiting making Suffolk a fantastic destination if you are visiting England.

The Marlborough Express