Sutton Hoo's new tower gives visitors a unique view of burial mounds

Sutton Hoo tower

The viewing tower at Sutton Hoo has opened to the public - Credit: Paul Geater

The £4m lottery-supported redevelopment of Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge has finally been completed with the long-awaited opening of the viewing tower which gives visitors a new perspective of the burial site.

Almost two years after it was due to be opened, visitors were first allowed on to the viewing tower towards the end of last month as the National Trust opted for a "soft launch" to test how it would operate.

Since then there has been a steady flow of people heading up the steps to three platforms - one overlooking the burial site and two looking looking towards Woodbridge.

Sutton Hoo tower

Visitors can look over the burial site from the viewing platform. - Credit: Paul Geater

The platform gives an amazing new perspective on the burial site - including the site of the ship unearthed by Basil Brown and Charles Phillips in 1939.

The imprint of the ship can clearly be seen from the top of the tower - it is difficult to see that from ground level.

Sutton Hoo mound

From the viewing tower the position of the Anglo Saxon burial ship can easily be seen on the ground. - Credit: Paul Geater

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Markers have been placed in the ground to show the position of the two ends of the ship that King Raedwald of East Anglia was buried in - and these can be seen from the viewing tower.

Sutton Hoo markers

Markers on the ground show the position of the Anglo-Saxon burial Ship. - Credit: Paul Geater

it also gives a clear view of the other mounds on the site - mounds which were investigated in two subsequent digs in the 1960s and 1980s.

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At this time of the year it is a good viewing site for birdwatchers who might see something interesting in the canopy of the trees - but the view is limited by the leaves. In the winter, however, it should be possible to see across to the River Deben.

The highest platform also faces Woodbridge and is high above the canopy - giving superb views all around. On a clear day it is possible to see the cranes at Felixstowe docks.

Sutton Hoo view

On a clear day it is possible to see the cranes at Felixstowe Docks in the distance. - Credit: Paul Geater

There is no extra charge for the viewing tower and on the weekend afternoon we were there, there was no queue - although there was a National Trust steward on site to ensure safety measures were being observed. 

Dogs are not allowed on the tower, so if you are taking your pet for a walk around Sutton Hoo someone will have to take turns going up.

The viewing tower itself is a metal structure with wooden slats cladding it - but it is very much open to the elements - you feel you are outdoors as you climb up.

It is well hidden in the trees as you approach it from Tranmer House and the Sutton Hoo Visitor Centre - and because of its design most visitors feel it isn't out of place.

Sutton Hoo tower

The tower has been built to be as unobtrusive as possible and is designed to blend in with its surroundings. - Credit: Paul Geater

The viewing tower is the last piece in the £4m redevelopment of Sutton Hoo by the National Trust that was partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As well as the viewing tower there were major changes to the exhibition hall and to Tranmer House which now tells the story of the discovery of the treasure and the subsequent digs on the site.

There were also new paths created - including one that is believed to follow the route that would have been used by Anglo Saxons to reach the burial mounds from other settlements.

Sutton Hoo path

New paths have been created to the burial mounds. - Credit: Paul Geater

Sutton Hoo has been especially popular this year after the success of the Netflix film The Dig which was a dramatised re-telling of the 1939 discovery - attracting tourists from the UK who have visited the area and looked for interesting places to spend time.

The National Trust did not want to make announcement about the opening during the high season because it feared the site could be overwhelmed with people during the last weeks of the school summer holiday - but they are planning an event to mark the official completion of the project later this month.

The tower should have opened in late 2019, but that was delayed to allow some work to be completed near it - and then it was delayed by Covid because of the issues with observing social distancing on the steps up to the platforms.

However the new rules that came in during July mean that is now considered safe for people to pass on the way up and down to get amazing views of the burial site.

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