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A Musical Soiree

A Musical Soiree

Pamela has been a very good friend of ours for many years and she has a birthday coming up which will mark yet another decade so she decided that a celebration was in order which she described as 'A musical soiree'. She lives in Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk and plays the bassoon.

So it was that last Saturday we headed 50 miles north to Bury St. Edmunds first on the A12 then the A14. The A14 approaches Bury St. Edmunds from the east and about 7 miles east of Bury St. Edmunds is the small village of Woolpit where we decided to stop to have lunch and a look around.

Woolpit's history goes back at least two thousand years and this shows the centre of the village with some of the ancient, timber-framed buildings and the church tower showing over the top.

This is a closer view of the old village water pump shown on the left in the previous picture.

There were other rather nice buildings scattered around the village.

After our walk round we went into the Teacups Tearooms, the red building, in the next photograph, partly hidden by a silver car. They provide light lunches such as salads and sandwiches, which can be toasted, as well as tea, coffee and cold drinks.

Amanda had a savoury flan salad which she said was very nice and I had a toasted sandwich which I liked very much. We followed that with some cake which was delicious.

There were cars parked everywhere in the village today which may be partly due to it being the weekend when a lot of the residents will be at home and also because there was an art and crafts exhibition in the church. Under those circumstances it wasn't really worth me taking photographs inside as the interior was covered in stands of various types.

It didn't, however, stop me taking a few pictures outside.

Woolpit is a very small village with an extraordinarily large and impressive church with what must have been some very expensive features. Take the porch as an example.

That chequered pattern on the side wall is known as Flushwork and must have been expensive to create. Look at the numerous carvings and embellishments on the porch and the top of the tower. They wouldn't have been cheap. Just below the roof line there are small windows using flushwork again. Here is a closer look.

This money would probably have come from the very wealthy wool merchants which were prevalent in Suffolk during the medieval period. The roof inside was also exceptionally well decorated but we will have to make a return visit to photograph that.

Having had lunch Amanda decided that she would like to have a look around the art and crafts exhibition in the church and I decided to walk to Drinkstone to see if I could find the two windmills.

The walk entailed going down Rag Lane to the end, along a public footpath across some fields then along a country road. This is the veiw I had going across the fields.

Can you see the post mill on the right (without sails) and the smock mill on the left (also without sails)? I was obviously on the right track. Those black cows with a white band round their middle are Belted Galloways.

I was, eventually, able to get this close to the smock mill.

The post mill was further back on private property so the best I could do was this.

Not quite so good. It's a shame that neither mill has its sails. I started back for Woolpit and as I came back along Rag Lane I caught these two views.

We decided to head for Bury St. Edmunds but instead of taking the easy route along the A14 we chose to meander through the country lanes. As we were passing through Beyton we saw this church and so stopped.

We could see inside that it had obviously been renovated, probably in Victorian times, and decided that there was not much of interest. WRONG!

It turns out that, for example, although all the quire stalls look fairly modern some of them are actually medieval and some are modern reproductions. In the next photograph the stalls on the left are medieval and the one on the right is a Victorian reproduction. There is a noticable, although not marked, difference in colour.

We moved onward and stopped again in the village of Rougham. They also had a large imposing church although not quite of the same standard as Woolpit.

There was some noticable decoration around the top of the tower. That panel in the centre appears to be text but we couldn't read it. Latin perhaps?

We decided to move on to Bury St. Edmunds. Pamela was holding her soiree at the Manor House, Nowton Court on the outskirts of Bury St. Edmunds and we were also staying the night at the same place which was very convenient.

It turned out to be a lovely 19th century building in large grounds with some exceptional trees. It was also very quiet.

In the second picture above we had our breakfast the next day in the lower part of the two storey bay window on the right so that we were looking out into these grounds.

However back to today. We were shown to our room which was very nicely appointed, settled in and then went outside for a quick look round.

It'll do.

An hour or so later we went down the rather imposing staircase, which I suspect they had built especially for us, to join the reception.

There was champagne which I tried (it's a long time since I had any) and it confirmed my previous memory of it – I can't see why anyone would get excited about it.

After a lot of chatting we moved off to the function room. I should point out that Pamela, being a musician, has a lot of musician friends so she had arranged a group of her friends to form a small orchestra of about 20 instruments which was the musical part of the soiree. The main piece was a serenade by Brahms in five movements, which I hadn't heard before and was very nice indeed.

I was very interested, as I'd never sat quite so close to an orchestra before, to see how the musicians played each of their instruments. There were violas, cellos, a double bass, flutes, oboes, bassoons and french horns. Amanda and I both thought that it really was very good.

There was then a long break where we all descended on the buffet like a plague of locusts which we did very well. One thing about this place is that they do know how to produce good food.

By now some of the musicians had had to leave but there were enough left to form a 'wind' octet of pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons and french horns. We were then treated to two short pieces the last of which was the Teddy Bears Picnic.

It was now about 11:00 PM and the Soiree had now ended so we went to our room and went to bed after a very, very enjoyable evening.

Next morning we had our breakfast looking out of the window onto the sunny lawn – super.

Our plans were that after breakfast we would set off for home going via Sudbury where we would stop to have a look round. By the time we'd arrived in Sudbury the sun had gone and we found that we were both feeling rather lethargic so we cut our visit short. We'll go again another time. I did take a few photographs as a taster.

The last picture is the Mill Theatre.

We'll take you another time.


Tudor Turrets and Topiary

Tudor Turrets and Topiary

(Note: Click on the pictures for a larger version)

Last Thursday it was raining, overcast and gloomy to the extent that I needed a light on in my study to be able to see properly (this is August remember!). Friday dawned with a clear sky and was forecast to be a sunny day. This is English weather.

We took advantage of the good weather to visit a place that we had been meaning to visit for some time – Kentwell Hall in Long Melford, Suffolk. The current owners bought Kentwell Hall when some of it was in a ruinous state and have restored it to its current condition; that of a lived in Tudor mansion.

Long Melford is unusual for a village in that it boasts two Tudor mansions. Melford Hall, run by the National Trust, and this one and, having been to both, we think that Kentwell Hall is the more attractive of the two.

Although both mansions exhibit some similar features, such as the typical Tudor turrets, Kentwell Hall has a notable feature that Melford Hall doesn't have and that is a moat which completely encircles the house.

This is a 'moat of note' in that it contains a lot of Carp and these are MEGA carp. If you touch your forefinger and thumb together to form a circle it will be about the size of the mouths of these fish. They seem to congregate near the bridge at the front of the house and as soon as visitors look over the bridge parapet they come to the surface with mouths agape hoping for food. Carp ain't so dim.

Alongside the moat at the back of the house is some unique topiary.

This is known as the 'Pied Piper Topiary' and one can distinguish figures of people, children and dogs.

To the east of the house is an unusual sculpture made from a still standing tree stump.

This is a 60 foot high storm-damaged cedar sculpted by Colin Wilbourne into his interpretation of the Tower of Babel. An absolutely amazing piece of work.

Kentwell Hall has extensive grounds which include some very attractive gardens.

The Pied Piper topiary shows up well against the moat and the walled garden beyond looks very impressive.

I thought that I would photograph this detail in the walled garden in order to 'urn' my keep only to find that the Pied Piper topiary has sneaked into the background once again.

Kentwell Hall used to have two moats, apparently showing it to be of vey high status, although only part of the second moat now remains. It has, however, been used to good effect as part of the gardens.

The inside of the house is equally impressive and includes the expected such as the Great Hall

and the unusual – duet anyone?

I suppose that this is what must be meant by 'toilet humour'.

We decided to finish by looking around the grounds outside of the gardens. I wasn't the only one taking photographs and Amanda took this one of a couple of old donkeys having a chat. I'm not sure which one has the most untidy hair.

There have been a number of new out-buildings built in the Tudor style and it gives a very good idea of what a Tudor building must have looked like when it was brand new.

Very unlike the Tudor buildings we see today with their warped and twisted timbers. Now you'll be able to return in 500 years for a comparison.

We had a very enjoyable and entertaining time here and would certainly recommend a visit if you are ever in the area. If you want to see more then you'll just have to wait until the new pages appear on the web site proper with even more photographs unless, of course, you pay Kentwell Hall a visit in person before then.

An English Summer with a vengence

An English Summer with a vengence

After last years excuse for a summer we were hoping for some drier settled weather this year especially as the Meteorological Office predicted a warmer drier summer this year. Since our last trip to Houghton at the beginning of the month we’ve been waiting for a weather forecast which would give us at least four to five days of reasonable weather (what the weather forecasters laughingly call ‘Sunny Spells’) and we’re still waiting. We have even reduced our requirements to three days (two nights away) and we’re still waiting.

We have had some sun – and cloud, and rain. The weather seems to be so unsettled and unpredictable with the weather forecasts changing even on the same day. Yesterday the weather was cloudy and rainy and today was forecast to be better with some sun and indeed when we woke up it was to a clear blue sky so we decided to have a short trip out.

When Marie was over here we went to Nayland and Stoke-by-Nayland for a brief visit at the end of one of the days and I had wanted to go back again to try and get some more photographs, particularly in Nayland, in the hope that some of the streets wouldn’t be quite so choked with park cars. That previous visit was on a Sunday and my reasoning was that more residents would be home at the weekend so more parked cars. Perhaps during the week when a lot of the residents would be at work there would be fewer parked cars? Wrong! In Nayland there were at least as many as before and possibly in some places even more so we didn’t stop but went on to Stoke-by-Nayland.

When we were in Stoke-by-Nayland before I was able to get a nice photograph of one of the ancient timber-framed buildings with the light being just right but I didn’t photograph the church because I would have been shooting directly towards the sun. This time, however, we arrived in the morning with the sun in a much better position.

So we get out of the car, the sun goes in and we feel a few spots of rain. We head for the church and arrive at the porch just in time to miss the start of a very heavy shower which then turned in to a thunderstorm. Looking out of the porch door towards the direction from which whis weather approached there are dark clouds as far as the eye can see with no sign of a break. However after about ten minutes there were signs of the clouds breaking up and soon I was able to get a good photograph of the church.

We headed further north for about a mile and a half to the village of Polstead which turned out to be a pleasant enough village but nothing special. Amanda wanted to look at the church before we moved on so we drove to a point nearby and walked up to the church gate. At first sight we both thought that it must be victorian because it was small and oddly proportioned with a very short tower surmounted by an odd little stone steeple.

Well we were both wrong and it turned out to be Norman! That was a surprise. There was quite a nice view from the churchyard with the tower of Stoke-by-Nayland church showing on the horizon to the right (you can just about see it).

This funny little church was built during the reign of Henry II around 1160 and there is a Norman archway to add to its authenticity.

Just as we were leaving we noticed that a number of sheep had gathered in the shade under a tree, laying on the grass, since we’d arrived. I don’t know why. It certainly wasn’t to shelter from the sun, it wasn’t especially warm, and it wasn’t raining. One of those mysteries of life.

Another four miles onward and we arrived in Boxford. A pleasant little village with a number of interesting buildings including these timber-framed houses stuffed into this narrow little lane called Butchers Lane.

Looking out of Butchers Lane we can see the church in the distance.

Quite an imposing church when seen up close and with an imposing South Porch.

From inside the churchyard, close to the porch, the ancient dark ochre coloured timber-framed house in Bridge Street shows up quite nicely.

Inside the church there were two, that we could see, medieval wall paintings of which this, above the Chancel Arch, was one.

We decided that it was now time for a ‘smackerel’ of something (apologies to Pooh Bear) and went into The Fleece for lunch. The Fleece is the cream coloured building just beyond the bright salmon pink building. Having had lunch, and bearing in mind that the weather forecast said that the weather would deteriorate this afternoon, we went home.

We are still waiting, and hoping, for at least three consecutive days with a good amount of sunshine (Sunny Spells remember?) and we may still be waiting at Christmas.

Six tired legs.

Six tired legs.

Marie and Lisa’s trip to Great Britain didn’t go according to plan. A short while before departure Lisa contracted an infection but decided she was well enough to go and they both arrived in Colchester on Wednesday 1st April as planned.

On Thursday Amanda and I travelled to Colchester and all four of us walked round Colchester and saw the castle, Timperley’s, the Balkerne Gate and the roman wall, the timber-framed cottages by the river and Castle Park. Our final location was the ruins of St. Botolph’s Priory. I haven’t included photographs of the places that we visited as they can be seen on the web site Colchester pages however just to prove that Marie and Lisa were really there I’ve included this picture.

We arrived in Colchester next morning, Friday, expecting to take them both out for the day only to find that Lisa’s infection had flared up again and she’d had very little sleep. She had decided to go back home the following day, Saturday, and to stay in their rented cottage while we took Marie out. It was such a shame that, having come all that way, she was having to go home because of some rotten ole bacteria.

We took Marie to Finchingfield and Thaxted and tomorrow, Saturday, she was going to London with Lisa and was going to do some shopping before returning to Colchester. We arranged to take Marie to Dedham Vale on Sunday.

We heard that Lisa arrived home without problems and is, apparently, on the mend. The three of us went off to Dedham on Sunday, walked to  Flatford then up to East Bergholt and back to Dedham. As we had some time to spare we decided to explore the nearby villages of Stoke-by-Nayland and Nayland and both turned out to be picturesque little villages with some very interesting old buildings including this one in Stoke-by-Nayland.

After looking around Stoke-by-Nayland we moved on to Nayland.


That person on the pavement desperately trying to look like a local and failing dismally is, of course, Marie. After leaving Nayland we took Marie back to Colchester and Marie decided that tomorrow she’d like to see Cambridge.

On Monday we collected Marie and drove to one of the Park & Ride sites around Cambridge. They do have a very well organised Park & Ride service in Cambridge with buses leaving the car parks very frequently.

Most of the places we visited are listed on the Cambridge page but one view that isn’t listed is this one:

A spy-in-the-sky view of Marie and I taken by Amanda from the top of the tower of St. Mary’s Church. We were all quite tired by the end of the afternoon and had agreed that Marie would come over from Colchester by bus to our house to do a little local sightseeing on her final day in England.

On her last day, Tuesday, Marie came over to us and we all walked on public footpaths to Layer Marney Tower. On the way we saw a lot of Wood Anemonies in flower and heard a Skylark in the distance. After looking at Layer Marney Tower and exploring the local Tudor church we came back to our house for lunch and then, after lunch, we drove the short distance to Tollesbury.

I’ll leave you with this picture of Amanda and Marie about to be run down by a very large lightship.

That was our last day with Marie, leaving 3 pairs of very tired legs, after which she went back to Colchester on the bus and left for home the next day. She arrived home without problems albeit after a long and tiring journey.

Big Sky – Small Fry

Big Sky – Small Fry

Another lovely day yesterday saw us arrive at the free car park in Dedham where we intended to walk around the area where John Constable used to paint. A short walk from the car park brought us here.

Just above the cattle you may see a horizontal line in the grass – that is the path we intend to take which follows the River Stour to Flatford.

After crossing the road bridge over the river we joined the footpath and set off beside the river. After only a short while we stopped to look at a small shoal of small fish, about five inches long, near the bank. We are no experts when it comes to identifying fish but we thought that they could be Gudgeon. The jury's out on that one.

This is the public footpath a little further on.

We soon reached a footbridge which we needed to take to get on the other side of the river where the path continued. We stopped again, by the river, and could see numerous bright blue damsel flies together with some powder blue dragon flies (Libellula) and some very small fry in the shallow water near the bank. We imagine that they are probably Minnows.

A little further on and we could see the bridge at Flatford in the distance with people leaning over looking at the river.

A very short time after there we were at the bridge with the thatched Bridge Cottage beyond.

From the bridge we could see, looking back, the path by which we had arrived.

The National Trust, who own most of the properties here, run a small tea room attached to Bridge Cottage where we had a short break and some coffee. One thing that can be said about National Trust tearooms is that they know how to charge (one pound and 45 pence for a cup of coffee).

After our break we walked past Granary Barn (thatched) and Flatford Mill, which John Constable's father used to own, to reach Willie Lott's Cottage.

There are other pictures of this area on the web site on the Dedham Vale pages.

After looking around Flatford we walked about a mile up the lane to East Bergholt where John Constable once had a studio. We had a look in the church and in one place we could hear a pitter-patter noise above our heads in the roof. We decided that, from the sound of it, it must be a rain shower. There had been a few clouds about and some of them, although small, were rather dark. I went outside to check and found that it was still brilliant sunshine and there was no sign of rain. We never did find out what that noise was.

This church does not have a tower because they ran out of money when it was being built so they decided to build a small wooden building on the ground to house the bells. Very unusual.

At least there is something to catch the water in if the roof ever leaks. smilies

We walked back to Dedham from East Bergholt for a late lunch, at about 2:00 PM, in the Marlborough Head which dates from medieval times.

After lunch we had a good look around Dedham starting with the church. Have a good look at the church door. Quite a nice bit of carving although it does look a little worn but then it should do as it's been in place since the church was built in the 15th century. There can't be many church doors around which are 400-500 years old.

Just opposite the church is the Sun Inn built in the 15th century and walking through the archway into the yard behind you see this.

That diagonal structure is an external staircase, with a separate roof, giving access to the upper storey. When this inn was built such staircases were commonplace but there are very few of them left.

Our last port of call was 'Southfields' the earliest parts of which date from the 14th century.

A wonderful old building built in quadrangular form with a courtyard in the centre. This is the view through the main doorway into the courtyard.

Time to call it a day. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk – I hope you did too.

Salami and Chips – Part 2

Salami and Chips – Part 2

I little while back I said that I would post some photographs that Antonello took of the two of us on our Suffolk jaunt when he sent them to me. They arrived yesterday and here they are.

The first one is outside the Guildhall in Lavenham and the second is in the churchyard at Long Melford. That was a good day trip and I look forward to meeting Antonello again!

Salami and chips

Salami and chips

Yesterday, Sunday 22nd July, I left home at 9:30 AM and drove to Thaxted where I had arranged to meet Antonello from Florence in Italy. He had been staying in Thaxted for 3 nights, having already been to Rye in Sussex, and was moving on to Long Melford in Suffolk to stay there for 3 nights before travelling up to Northumberland.

This was the first time that we had met and probably won't be the last as he comes over to Britain 2 to 3 times each year. I was going to drive him to Long Melford with a few stops on the way and we were going to make a day of it.

He was sitting outside Thaxted Guildhall in the sun when I arrived and I recognised him because I'd seen a picture of him on the web.

We weren't going straight to Long Melford and Antonello suggested Kersey so Kersey it was. We found our way through the back roads with a few stops to look at the map and, no, we weren't lost!

We stopped in the main street, 'The Street', as there isn't anywhere else. You cannot really 'walk round' Kersey as there are no other streets – it's a small village. It is really picturesque with the village running down each side of the small valley to the stream at the bottom which runs across the road to form a ford.

The church, quite a big one for such a small village, is perched on the valley top on one side of the village. There are plenty of pictures of Kersey already on the site.

After looking around, sorry, along Kersey we moved on to Lavenham. There are also pictures of Lavenham on the web site.

As the car park is near the church we started with the church then walked down Church Street into High Street and up to Market Lane on the corner of which is an old house where the gable end leans out in a most alarming way. Up Market Lane into The Square where we couldn't possibly miss The Guildhall and Little Hall.

We stopped for a light lunch in 'Sweetmeats' in Water Street after which we went on to Long Melford.

We first had to find Antonello's B&B and so asked a local, there seemed to be very few about on a Sunday, who didn't know where the road was. Nothing for it but to resort to technology! Out came the GPS navigation thingy and after entering the name of the village and road it gave us a street map with the relevant street shown – hooray!

After Antonello had put his luggage inside we went for a walk around Long Melford including the rather impressive church on the hill and Melford Hall (Tudor).

After this it was time for me to head back home so we said our goodbyes with the expectation that we would meet again. I certainly hope that we do. Antonello is a very pleasant young man and we both have a strong interest in Britain's heritage. Antonello took a couple of pictures of the two of us and has promised to let me have copies which I shall then post here.

A very good day.