25 free and cheap things to do in Suffolk this winter
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This could be as simple, cheap and easy as looking out the window. Make a cup of tea, grab a biscuit, find a comfy spot...and get your binoculars out if you have them. There’s something really quite wonderful about watching nature. And you can make a bit of a family game of it too – who can spot the most species in a one-hour timeframe? At this time of year you could see a robin, chaffinch, goldfinch, goldcrest, nuthatch, blackbird, waxwing and many others, either at home, or out on a nature walk. The RSPB and BBC Winterwatch websites have good information and education to help you identify any feathered friends you happen to spy.
Take the pastime one step further by going out along the Suffolk coast, especially at Minsmere or nearby, where spots could include a wigeon, lapwing, bittern, bearded tit or marsh harrier. Oh, and it’s a good time of year to look out for otters too.
2. In search of snowdrops
These pale beauties are a welcome sight from January to March, heralding the beginning of a new year, and the promise of new growth to come – as they are swiftly followed by bluebells, daffodils and tulips. You should be able to see them on any country woodland walk, but they are especially prolific at Kentwell Hall, Ickworth, the Thornham Estate, Sotterley Estate, Nowton Park, Glevering, A Place for Plants and Daws Hall, which begins its Snowdrop Sundays events from January 30 (charges apply).
3. Flatford to Dedham walk
Park up at National Trust Flatford (open dawn to dusk) for £5 and head out into wide, open Constable Country. Flatford hosts a free Constable exhibition, and has a shop, café, and nature garden, but even if these are shut (opening times are seasonal so check ahead) there is still a magical quality to visiting this place – the home of the famous Hay Wain painting. Pull on your wellies and take a riverside stroll through meadows along to Dedham. Play Pooh Sticks off the bridges. Take in the quiet serenity of the landscape. Sip a flask of hot cocoa to beat the cold.
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4. Alton Water
This popular site encompasses the enormous reservoir, walking and cycling trails (with cycle hire available), a café, campsite, water sports facilities, fishing swims and even a miniature golf course (which really is teeny). Parking is from £1.70 up to an hour, to £6 daily, or you can buy an annual pass for £50. Alton Water is open from dawn to dusk and is a welcome escape that’s perfect for blowing away the winter cobwebs. Pack a warm picnic and set off on a very enjoyable stroll here.
5. High Lodge at Thetford Forest
There’s something for all ages at High Lodge. Four running and walking trails, three cycling trails, archery, Segway, Go Ape, superb play areas – even a Gruffalo Spotter’s trail. The site is open from 9am to 5pm, and also has cycle hire and a café - although there are picnic areas if you’re taking your own grub. Whether you want to rip across a trail on a mountain bike to get the adrenaline pumping, or try a bit of forest bathing amongst the tall, ancient trees – you'll find all you’re looking for and more here.
6. Hadleigh’s Railway Walk
A little-known (apart from to locals) off-road nature walk that will take you two miles along the town’s former railway line, to Raydon. There’s a small car park either side of the walk (Station Road on the Hadleigh end), or park for free in Hadleigh town centre – grabbing a picnic at one of the delis, or from the Friday morning market. The route is linear, straightforward and ideal for dogwalkers or families with young children. You can extend the route by turning right at the ‘mile marker’ and following the marked pathways south up to Raydon, through fields and copses. In season the walk is a bounty for foraging – you'll find elderflowers, wild garlic, blackberries and rosehips depending on the time of year.
7. Ipswich Museum
Meet Will-I-Am the woolly mammoth. Discover everything you need to know about Ipswich’s history from the very first settlements, through civil war, to World War I and II. See real-life mummy Lady Tahator in the Egyptian Gallery. Admire objects uncovered at Sutton Hoo. And more! Entry to the museum is free from 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, and 11am to 5pm on Sundays.
8. Go wild swimming
Much has been made of the benefits of wild swimming and being in cold water. It’s said to improve circulation, boost mental health, and even to increase your body’s immunity. While we can’t speak for the science, we do know that more people than ever are braving the cold to swim outside. Many Suffolk folk like to sea swim at Felixstowe and Aldeburgh and we advise caution – making sure you wear the correct wetsuit for the time of year, that you tell someone where you’re going or, better, swim with someone else. Never swim in a storm or rough seas.
Beginners might like to join the Chilly Dippers in Halstead at Gosfield Lake, for beginners cold water swimming sessions. They usually take place from 12.30pm to 1.30pm on Fridays and between 8am and 9am on Sundays and booking is essential. Find out more via gosfieldlake.co.uk
9. Smuggler’s Bay Adventure Golf
It’s only £19 for a family of four (with two adults) to play this fun, themed course over at Stonham Barns – a day out that won’t break the bank. Pre-book your slot online at stonhambarnsgolf.co.uk
Beyond golfing the site is home to Suffolk Owl Sanctuary where you can see raptors, red squirrels and meerkats, the shopping village, an escape room, Carter’s Tea Pot Pottery, where you can paint your own creation, a soft play barn, restaurant and more. Stonham is open seven days a week.
10. Landguard Point
It’s hard to describe what it is that makes this location on the far southern end of Felixstowe so attractive to visitors. Some like to watch the shipping containers come in from the car park with a bag of chips. Others will have visited the incredible fort (closed through winter), exploring its dark nooks and crannies. But a main pull is the otherworldliness of the landscape – listed as a place of Special Scientific Interest. This stretch of shoreline and its nature reserve encompass shingle beach scattered with wild plants, and sandy mounds that dogs (and kids) love to bound along. It’s a regular haunt for birders, with some rare spots having been discovered here over the years.
11. Farmers’ Markets
Suffolk’s friendly farmers’ markets are quite the experience. As well as bringing together phenomenal local producers, they are little communities in themselves. In amongst the stalls of bread, beer, meat, fish, chocolate and more, you’ll find pockets of visitors catching up on the week with a natter over coffee (some have cafes). Families stocking up on treats before tackling a local walk. They are all fabulous. Regulars include Hadleigh (Fridays), Bury St Edmunds (second Sunday of the month), Ipswich (first Sunday of the month), Lavenham (fourth Sunday of the month), Sudbury (last Friday of the month), Beccles (first and third Saturday of the month), Wyken (every Saturday).
12. Christchurch Mansion
A handsome property, surrounded by landscaped parkland in Ipswich’s green oasis (one of many). The mansion is open 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday until February, and from 11am to 4pm on Sundays. As well as being able to explore the historic rooms (from the Queen Anne Room to the kitchen) of this property, there’s the Suffolk Artist’s Gallery (where works from the likes of Gainsborough and Constable hang), and you’ll uncover collections of anything and everything, from toys to instruments. The mansion has hosted some excellent exhibitions in recent years, including Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk. Its current show is Creating Constable (until April 24) shining a light on what made the artist tick, with loans of work from the V&A, and four, never-seen-before, pieces on display. Entry is free.
13. Walk the Suffolk Coast Path
Why not set yourself the challenge in 2022 of walking this 60-mile route of waymarked pathways stretching from Lowestoft to Felixstowe? You won’t make it to the end without a little detour (the Bawdsey Foot Ferry is closed until May) but you can have a pretty good crack at the journey, which takes in shore, heath, river and sea. Walk it in sections...or book a few nights’ accommodation along the way. There are various maps and guides available for the route online, and it’s marked by blue discs.
14. Lose your spare change at the arcades
It doesn’t matter how old we get, there seems to be an endless appeal to 2p slot machines, and spending a few hours at the arcades in Felixstowe with a bag of coins found under the sofa is a cheap way to have fun together. There are amusements over at Mannings (where you’ll find good, inexpensive food at Beach Street), or head for the UK’s newest pier, which is found on the town’s seafront, boasting a bar/restaurant, fish and chip shop, ice cream parlour, modern amusements, 2p machines and even a miniature bowling alley. It’s usually open daily from 10am to 11pm but hours may change in the off-season.
15. Watch an indy film
Suffolk has several independent cinemas – from the Abbeygate in Bury, to Leiston Film Theatre, Woodbridge’s Riverside, and Aldeburgh. The biggest of them all is Ipswich Film Theatre – recently rebranded as King Street Cinema. Found in the centre of the town, it offers two screens, and presents a line-up of excellent independent films and documentaries, with student screenings, and events including talks with producers/writers/directors and actors. Tickets are all under a tenner. Coming up this month are C’Mon C’Mon from January 5 to 6, West Side Story from January 7 to 13, The Lost Daughter from January 10 to 12, Licorice Pizza from January 14 to 20, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain from January 21 to 27, Lamb on January 27, and The Mains from January 28 to 30.
16. Go for an award-winning hot chocolate
Ice cream maker Jane Hadley of Hadley’s Dairy owns The Parlour in Lavenham, which sells Great Taste Award-winning hot chocolate that really has to be tried to be believed. Jane uses local milk and two local chocolate brands to conjure up the thick, sweet, decadent drink, with visitors able to choose from Pump Street 60% Equador, Tosier 70% Haiti or Tosier 70% Belize chocolate. The crowning glory is the addition of a ‘mega marshmallow’ made in Suffolk by Yaffle House. Buy a cup to takeaway and admire Lavenham’s galleries and shops, or stroll along the old railway walk.
17. Southwold Pier
Open from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Thursday, and from 10am to 5pm, Friday to Sunday, Southwold Pier is a bit of a Suffolk institution. It has shops. A restaurant. A café. A fun arcade. There’s even a new retro 80s games room complete with Pacman and Space Invaders. But something people flock to see is the Under the Pier Show. Inventor Tim Hunkin’s weird and wonderful interactive creations allow visitors to take a virtual stroll through Southwold, invite them to ‘whack a banker’, and to get fit by...laying on a bed!
18. Visit a mock Tudor village
Some resorts have ‘miniature village’ attractions. The wonders of the world cast into tiny parts. In Suffolk we do things on a much grander scale. This ‘make-believe’ fantasy hamlet is the real deal. Built by the wealthy Ogilvy family as a holiday retreat, while it may appear to be an ancient clutch of Tudor and Jacobean dwellings, the majority of the properties in Thorpeness were actually built around 1910. If you’ve never been, a walk here, taking in sights such as the House in the Clouds water tower, is a must. There are several places to eat, including The Dolphin Inn, and the tearooms by the Meare boating lake where, on a good day, you can take out craft, from boats to kayaks.
19. Climb a castle
Well, almost! Head for Clare Castle Country Park and you can traverse the 60ft motte, where the remains of a castle keep can be discovered. The park is open every day. You’ll just need to pay for parking, which starts at £1 for an hour up to £3 for a full day during the week, or £5 for a full day at weekends. The park is the jewel in Clare’s crown, offering walking and cycling routes stretching from one to around nine miles. There’s a visitor centre, and a café in the location of the old railway station booking centre (open until January 2 and closed from January 3 to 17). Make sure you visit the village itself during your time here. There are some lovely independent cafes, shops and pubs.
20. Go mountain biking
If you’re a thrillseeker with a decent mountain bike, have you discovered the 10-mile track at Tunstall Forest yet? Hidden amongst the trees, the track is maintained by a local off-road group, and incorporates loads of technical features for advanced riders (it’s graded ‘red’). There are no parking charges and the forest is accessible all-year-round.
21. Search for amber
The stretch of shoreline between Felixstowe and Southwold is often called the Amber Coast. Visitors to Southwold will have noted the town’s amber museum...and often thought nothing more of it. But loads of this precious fossilised gem has been found washed up on beaches here. The resin, which appears dull and brown, but polishes up to various shades of yellow, hails from the trees of a 40 -million-year-old forest, once located where the Baltic Sea now flows. Go for a winter walk and see if you can spot any around Shingle Street, Aldeburgh, Dunwich or Southwold. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for shark teeth too. As ever, it’s safety first. Never go looking around or under cliffs, and pay attention to the tide.
22. Go on a UFO trail at Rendlesham Forest
In late December 1980 a number of USAF personnel in the forest near RAF Woodbridge saw a series of unexplained lights, giving life to what would soon become one of the most heavily analysed UFO incidents in the world.
The UFO Trail - an easy three-mile walk perfect for families - pays tribute to those sightings and goes through some of the areas that were part of the investigation. The forest is open every day from 9am to 4pm and parking is £3 for up to two hours or £5 for the whole day.
23. Go for lunch at a garden centre
Visiting the local garden centre became a new hobby for many of us at the height of lockdown while they remained open. A whole new generation of gardeners was created. And that trend hasn’t tailed off. There is something quite soothing about pottering around a garden centre, imagining what your borders could look like in spring, or perhaps designing a new succulent display for a sunny window. You can grab some real bargains at this time of year – plants that will perform beautifully in spring and summer, but need a bit of TLC right now. Keep your eyes peeled. And Don’t miss out on lunch. Suffolk has some excellent and largely inexpensive garden centre cafes, where you can pop out for a cream tea, a slice of cake, or even a full Sunday roast. Favourites include Perrywoods at Sudbury. Laurel Farm near Ipswich, Stumer Nurseries at Haverhill, The Place for Plants at East Bergholt, Urban Jungle in Beccles, Notcutts Woodbridge, and Nareys near Stowmarket.
24. Use your local sports centre
You don’t have to be a fully-fledged gym member to use your local sports facilities. Across Suffolk there are loads of swimming pools, tennis, badminton, football and squash courts and more you can pre-book. Get in touch with your nearest centre to find out more. It’s a very inexpensive way to get fit, or to spend an hour or two with your family.
25. Fish and chips by the beach
One of Suffolk folks’ favourite things to do – and at any time of year. Come rain or shine, you’ll always find people propped along our sea walls, wrapped up against the weather, with a steaming paper bag of salt and vinegar-scented goodness in-hand.
Favourite haunts include the two chippies in Aldeburgh, Mrs T’s at Southwold Harbour, and The Regal at Felixstowe.