Suffolk man launches walking trail to get people exploring Ipswich again

John Royle, pictured with the Thomas Wolsey statue in Ipswich

John Royle, pictured with the Thomas Wolsey statue in Ipswich - Credit: Jessica Coppins

As lockdown restrictions slowly lift, people are itching to get back outside and explore their town centres once again – and one man has come up with the perfect way to help people do just that, by combining exploration with education. 

Meet John Royle. An avid social historian and local entrepreneur, John has lived in Suffolk for most of his life, and for as long as he can remember, has had a keen interest in the stories that a local area has to tell.   

So interested in fact that he has spent much of lockdown developing a new historical walking trail for Ipswich - which he has just launched through his free app.   

John Royle with the cat on the Thomas Wolsey statue

John Royle's walking trail tells the story of many of the animals hidden in Ipswich's architecture - including Thomas Wolsey's cat - Credit: Jessica Coppins

Explaining the idea behind his tours, John says: “It’s all about uncovering stories, looking at local memories and exploring how stories connect people to places. The best way to describe and experience a place is through the stories of local people, and that’s what the local walking trails are all about.   

“I hope to build a sense of community, and give people a connection to the place they’re visiting or living in.”  

His most recent trail, Ipswich Animalia, tells the stories of some of the animals hidden in the architecture across Ipswich – the first digital trail of its kind.   

"You’ve got the cat on the Thomas Wolsey statue, Butch the dog on the Grandma Giles statue, and the golden lion atop the roof of the former hotel of the same name.  

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“These are all hidden in plain sight around the town, so we thought it would be fun to bring out the story of these animals, and delve into the history behind them. 

“Thomas Wolsey, for instance, was a great character of his day and worked closely with Henry VIII. He was really putting Ipswich on the map, but unfortunately fell from grace and lost it all. He was very fond of his cat, but there was a lot of mythology surrounding cats and their connection to witchcraft at the time.

"Rumour has it that while Wolsey was advising the king, his cat was potentially advising him. How much of an impact was Wolsey’s cat having on the decisions he was making and telling the king?” 

To help source all of these stories, John worked with local historian Caleb Howgego in order to collate the information and put the trail together. “Caleb was a real help on developing the content for this trail,” he explains. 

With the trail laid out and ready to be explored, how does it work? 

Once the user has downloaded the digital walking trail app to their smartphone, a rangefinder compass will guide them to the next location until they have completed the tour.   

“You’ve got to uncover the spots, and once you arrive at them, you can unlock the content associated with that location. Most of it is onscreen, with text and pictures, but some of the spots do have audio on them.”  

John's historical trails can be done via a smartphone

John's historical trails can be done via a smartphone - Credit: Jessica Coppins

John’s historical trails vary in distance and duration, but typically feature around 10 spots each.   

“At the moment, what with the impact of Covid on town centres, I think it’s especially important to help get people back into their towns, and a digital trail where you learn something new is great way to do that. It’s all about new experiences for people. We also hope people doing the trails will support local retailers and businesses at the same time”.  

“The great thing is that you can go at your own pace, so they’re family-friendly and great for all ages. Our aim is to get people back outside and encourage conversations along the way.”  

Other historical walking trails currently available across Suffolk include another tour exploring the heritage sites across Ipswich, and a trail around the market town of Eye – with many more currently in the works.   

“We developed the Ipswich Heritage Trail in partnership with the Suffolk Archives and it includes sites that I, even as a local, wasn’t aware of, like the ruins of Blackfriars monastery and the old Jewish Cemetery. 

“We’re in the process of putting together digital walking trails for other places around Suffolk too – we're currently researching historical tours for Playford, Aldeburgh and Felixstowe, in partnership with the Suffolk Archives.”  

To find out more about John’s walking trails, visit his website.