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Days out: Have a good time at these National Trust locations in Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 16:00 15 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:04 16 January 2020

It's not just humans who enjoy the great outdoors at Ickworth Park, Horringer. This is from one of the Great British Dog Walks   

Picture: RACHEL EDGE

It's not just humans who enjoy the great outdoors at Ickworth Park, Horringer. This is from one of the Great British Dog Walks Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Rachel Edge

The National Trust is 125 years old. Here are some of its jewels in the crown

The austere beauty of Orford Ness, where the lighthouse has long lived a precarious existence as the water moved ever closer. This was taken in 2016   Picture: SIMON PARKERThe austere beauty of Orford Ness, where the lighthouse has long lived a precarious existence as the water moved ever closer. This was taken in 2016 Picture: SIMON PARKER

Grand houses with stories imprinted in their walls... glorious landscapes... unique historical sites known around the world - the National Trust has a bit of everything in Suffolk.

Here's one place making the news in 2020, with tales of smugglers, shipping and even the Suffolk coast's key role in the success of the D-Day landings. These stories will soon be told as never before, as it's going to be a summer to remember at Dunwich heath and beach.

A £20,000 National Trust project called Turbulence to Tranquillity, due to be unveiled this year, will explore the history of Dunwich Heath through guides, trails, events and fresh experiences.

National Trust volunteer Richard Symes is owed a major vote of thanks. His three years of research has unearthed stories of brandy and tobacco smuggling in the 1700s, details of the families living in the coastguards' cottages in the 1800s, and more besides.

And then there was the 1943 exercise that helped the military gear up for the D-Day landings the following year. Operation Kruschen was a way of showing how Nazi defences might be penetrated, so allied forces could flood into occupied Europe.

A false German defensive position was built for the purpose - minefields, anti-tank strategies, pillboxes and trenches. And plenty of barbed wire.

The Georgian splendour of the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds   Picture: GREGG BROWNThe Georgian splendour of the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds Picture: GREGG BROWN

The project to tell all these stories has been funded by £10,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, £5,000 from a private donor, and with money from National Trust members and supporters.

Other National Trust interests in Suffolk include:

Flatford: We can walk in the historic footsteps of artist John Constable, who was inspired by the landscape of the Stour Valley and Dedham Vale. Visitors to Bridge Cottage can see how the home would have looked in 1881.

Ickworth: Billed as an Italianate palace in the heart of the county, it boasts an ancient deer park, formal gardens, pleasure grounds and woodlands - ideal for walking, picnics and bike rides.

The house near Bury St Edmunds is noted for its domed Rotunda that contains one of the finest silver collections in Europe, paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, artistic work by Titian and Velázquez, and Neoclassical sculpture.

Re-created servants' accommodation and workplaces give a real flavour of what life was like "downstairs" in the 1930s.

Tranmer House - part of the Sutton Hoo estate near Woodbridge     Picture: GEMMA JARVISTranmer House - part of the Sutton Hoo estate near Woodbridge Picture: GEMMA JARVIS

Lavenham Guildhall: One of the most awe-inspiring timber-framed buildings of medieval England, in a village said to have more than 300 buildings of historic note. The Guildhall of Corpus Christi is a tangible reminder of one of Tudor England's richest towns.

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Melford Hall: Full of history and intrigue, including Beatrix Potter sketches (she used to stay there) to Chinese porcelain and naval paintings.

The hall was badly damaged by a blaze during the Second World War years, but the Hyde Parker family (who still live there) restored it to its rightful position.

Orford Ness: The wildest imagination couldn't invent this place. A fragile shingle spit that's vital to wildlife and flora; and used for decades as a top-secret military experiments site.

Past and present combine, as the internationally-important nature reserve is dotted here and there with military debris.

A path through the heather at Dunwich Heath    Picture: Pamela BidwellA path through the heather at Dunwich Heath Picture: Pamela Bidwell

The spit, known for its sinister "pagodas", was an offshoot of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in the 1950s. Specially-made facilities were built to test the components of nuclear weapons.

Later, during the cold war, the area was at the heart of a secret radar project called Cobra Mist.

Even if you know the story of Sutton Hoo and the 1939 discovery of a royal Anglo-Saxon burial site and its treasures, nothing beats a visit to the 255-acre site by the River Deben. Without getting too other-worldly about it, you can feel the atmosphere; and a visit to Tranmer House really does take you back in time.

There can't be many theatres that share top billing with their actors (or even upstages them!) but the Theatre Royal at Bury St Edmunds is one.

It's the only surviving Regency playhouse in Britain - which means visitors can easily imagine themselves back in the 1800s...

For details about visiting these places, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Majestic Melford Hall, at  Long Melford   Picture: Barry Pullen/citizenside.comMajestic Melford Hall, at Long Melford Picture: Barry Pullen/citizenside.com

Hooray for Octavia!

The National Trust was founded in January, 1895, by Cambridgeshire social reformer Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley.

It came about after Octavia was asked to help preserve Sayes Court garden in London.

Within weeks of the National Trust launching, it was given its first site: five acres of cliff-top in Wales. It bought its first building - Alfriston Clergy House in Sussex - the following year, for £10.

It's now one of the UK's biggest charities, looking after historic places and some lovely countryside.

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