The Dig should put Sutton Hoo on the map for tourists

Tranmer House from the mounds at Sutton Hoo

Mrs Pretty's home Tranmer House from the mounds at Sutton Hoo - hopefully more will discover this wonderful place this summer. - Credit: Paul Geater

I've been delighted to see the great reaction there has been to the release of the Netflix film The Dig over the last week - and I hope it could be the signal that the home tourist industry could be in for a bumper time in 2021.

There is no doubt that a high-quality, and well-received, film like The Dig is a superb showcase for Suffolk in general and Sutton Hoo in particular when people are considering where to spend their summer holidays this year.

And there is no doubt in my mind that 2021 will be another year in which foreign travel will continue to be very problematic - and millions more British families will be looking to spend a week or fortnight on holiday in this country.

I don't think anyone will have put on The Dig last Friday night and immediately thought: "I must book a holiday cottage in Woodbridge," but I suspect that when people are considering where to go this year, some could at least remember the Suffolk countryside and put this area on their list of possible destinations.

Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes in The Dig

The Dig could bring more tourists to Suffolk as a whole, not just Sutton Hoo. - Credit: Larry Horricks/Netflix

And the film should also give a boost to the National Trust's Sutton Hoo estate - just as its multi-million pound makeover is completed and hopefully tourist attractions will be able to open again.

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Whether that's a family from another part of the country coming here on holiday, or a local family looking for a fun day out, Sutton Hoo (and indeed other heritage attractions across the area) has a huge amount to offer.

And this could be the year that these kind of places really come into their own.

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I am reasonably hopeful that the British tourist industry could actually have rather a good year in 2021. By the start of the main tourist season in May, I expect most of those concerned about Covid-19 to have had the jabs they need to make them safe.

Cases and, especially, hospital cases should have fallen significantly - and families will be desperately looking for opportunities to go out and enjoy themselves.

Britain's vaccination programme has put it ahead of most other countries - but no one knows what the quarantine rules are likely to be for holidaymakers hoping to fly to the Costas, Greece or the Caribbean in the middle of August.

That means many more people will look to avoid the risk and hassle of flying off somewhere and will want a holiday here in the UK - and will also be keen to explore local attractions near where they live.

As I said, Sutton Hoo is superbly placed to benefit from that. I've been a regular visitor to the site since it first opened to the public in the 1990s. It never ceases to fill me with wonder, and tells the story of the early English people far better than a few relics in museum cases.

I have heard criticism from some, well actually only two people that I can remember, that the National Trust is "Disneyfying" Sutton Hoo and encouraging thousands of visitors to a piece of Suffolk wilderness.

The new pathway shows the burial route of the Anglo-Saxon ship

The nearest you'll ever come to a crowd at Sutton Hoo as visitors use one of the new paths near the mounds. - Credit: GEMMA JARVIS

That's elitist poppycock. Our history should be accessible to all - and having made many visits to Sutton Hoo, often on summer weekends, I don't ever recall the huge estate ever feeling anything near crowded!

And no one should dismiss the importance a place like this. As a child brought up in East Suffolk I'd heard about Sutton Hoo and knew there was something important to do with the Anglo Saxons there. 

But it was always sealed off, with big notices telling people to keep away. I've always loved history - but it was only when the National Trust took it over and opened up the estate that I truly appreciated what it was and the importance of the site to the English story.

I hope this year thousands more flock to see what The Dig was all about - and I'm certainly looking forward to going back again and climbing the tower to get a bird's eye view of the mounds.

The new viewing platform at Sutton Hoo.

The new viewing platform at Sutton Hoo should give a fresh perspective on the burial mounds. - Credit: Paul Geater

Sutton Hoo is, of course, just one heritage site that is likely to benefit from a summer with low Covid numbers, the vast majority of vulnerable people vaccinated, and a real desire by most to get out of the house and do something.

Coupled with the difficulties associated with leaving the country, that could be really good news for many sites.

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