Suffolk’s Magical Wool Towns
Published: Sunday 30th Mar 2014
Written by: Betheny Ellis
In a corner of west Suffolk lies a cluster of villages and towns known collectively as Suffolk’s Wool Towns. The name harks back to the 16th century when the booming global trade in textiles created a host of prosperous merchants from the region who liked to show off their wealth through the buildings they constructed. Much of this medieval architecture remains preserved today – offering visitors a remarkable journey back in time to Olde England. Here are some of the must-visit destinations in the area.
Of all Suffolk’s Wool Towns, Lavenham is widely regarded as the most stunning. Over 300 listed buildings can be found in this sleepy village – one of the UK’s most perfectly preserved medieval communities. Everywhere you look there are crooked houses, exposed timbers and walls washed in traditional colours dating back almost 500 years. Perhaps the finest building is the magnificent Guildhall - now a National Trust property - that takes pride of place in the market square. Cafes, independent shops and delicatessens abound – and don’t miss the cream tea at the famous Swan Hotel.
So called because of its mile-long high street, Long Melford is the perfect village for strolling around. Lined with beautiful period buildings, the attractive avenue is host to an array of antique shops, pubs and art galleries. The high street opens out onto a gorgeous village green where lovers of heritage will be spoilt for choice. In one direction is Melford Hall – another National Trust property and a favourite haunt of children’s author Beatrix Potter. Across the green is the stunning Holy Trinity Church - look out for the stained glass windows and one particular etching said to be the inspiration for John Tenniel’s famous drawing of the Duchess in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Today a bustling market town, Sudbury is full of points of interest. It was the birthplace of world-renowned portrait artist Thomas Gainsborough, whose elegant statue dominates the marketplace. His family home is now a museum that contains many of his works plus a rolling programme of visiting art collections. Another jewel in Sudbury’s crown is the splendid water meadows with glorious riverside walks and natural beauty or as a stunning backdrop while you enjoy a drink at the nearby Mill Hotel. Sudbury comes alive on Thursdays and Saturdays when the market is in town – a great opportunity to stock up on provisions while exploring some of the historic streets and back alleys that give Sudbury its undoubted charm.
Suffolk’s smallest town is characterised by a collection of streets lined with listed buildings and medieval architecture. Prime among these are the Ancient House, a museum full of items from Clare’s past, and the grand St Peter and St Paul’s Church - one of the most impressive churches in East Anglia.
There’s shops, pubs and eateries while the nearby country park with its Norman castle ruins and the attractive grounds of the 14th century Clare Priory next door are both well-worth a visit.
Kersey and surrounding villages
With its main street sloping down toward the river that crosses the road, picture-postcard Kersey is one of the prettiest villages in the county. Park your car, stroll round the village and surrounding countryside and end up at the Bell Inn – a great pub for both food and drink. There are many other beautiful villages nearby including Boxford, Monks Eleigh and Stoke-by-Nayland – take a tour and enjoy the green rolling countryside and vast blue Suffolk skies that make this part of the world so special.