Norfolk Broads and Suffolk

Norfolk Broads and Suffolk

The beautiful and appealing landscapes of the Norfolk Broads and the enchanting wool towns of Suffolk combine on this country tour, visiting the lakes, rivers and waterways of the Broads, through lush meadowlands and sleepy waterside villages to charming coastal towns, magnificent stately homes, exquisite timber framed market squares and historic windmills stirring in the breeze.

A journey from London to Norwich will take you north east on the M11 to Junction 9 then onto the A11 into the city itself. The Park and Ride facility at Norwich International Airport can be used to visit the city and also as a starting point to visit the beautiful Norfolk Broads and East Anglia. Take the number 501 bus from the airport to the Castle Meadow bus stop in the centre of the city.

A pleasant walk around the city can begin with a visit to the castle which will seen on the mound right above the bus stop. Just walk a short distance ahead of the bus stop then turn left through the Castle Gardens to the entrance. Apart from the chance to explore the castle buildings itself there is a combined art gallery and museum with an outstanding collection of watercolours plus displays of local ceramics, jewellery and textiles. Return back to Castle Meadows and take Arcade Street down through the spledid Art Nouveau shopping precinct known as the Royal Arcade, designed by local architect George Skipper in the 1890s. This will lead you to the famous market square where over 200 stalls sell local produce, foods and clothing in what is the largest open air market in the country. From here head over to London Street and down Swan Lane to Bridewell Alley, named after the town jail which itself took its name from the infamous London prison, to the 14th century St Andrews church and the Museum of Norwich, also known as the Bridewell Museum, a local history museum with a number of hands on activities.

From here you will cross St Andrews Street and make a right turn, paassing the grand St Andrews and Blackfriars Hall dating from the 13th century and for 300 years used as a church for Dutch settlers, head down Princes Street and then take a left down onto Elm Hill, undoubtedly Norwich's prettiest street. Former merchants houses dating from the 16th and 17th century stand either side of this attractive cobbled lane. This will take you to Tombland and the cathedral. Turn right at the foot of Elm Hill and take a look at Tombland Alley with its 16th century courtyard. Tombland hasn't anything to do with graves but derives from a Nordic word for open space. Cross the road from here and walk through the arch into the cathedral, the visitor entrance will be right in front of you. Explore the 11th century place of worship including the second largest cloisters in the country and a spectacular collection of decorative misericords in the choir. Entrance is free, however they do welcome donations. A short walk along Upper King Street will take you back to the Castle Meadow bus stop. Return to the Airport to head out to the beautiful Norfolk Broads.

These extensive wetlands look natural to the visitor but they were actually created hundreds of years ago by flooding the remains of ancient peat workings. The Broads, which extend into the neighbouring county of Suffolk, cover 117 square miles (303 square km) with 120 miles (200km) of navigable waterways. The area boasts delightful waterside villages, rivers and meadowland, windmills and numerous nature reserves that are havens for wildlife and plants. 

Leave Norwich on the A1151 north eastwards towards the village of Wroxham, often referred to as "The Capital of the Broads", here you can call in at Wroxham Barns and make use of the free parking. Wroxham Barns has something to attract all ages and all members of the family. There is a craft centre, fairground rides, mini golf and a collection of farm animals from alpacas to goats and guinea pigs to rabbits. The village lies on the River Bure with the neighbouring village of Hoveton just on the other side. Both of these villages are attractive, Hoveton having 620 acres of gardens to visit as part of the Hoveton Hall estate. However if you are looking for a timeless collection of historic cottages surrounding an old village church, it won't be here. Most buildings are fairly modern and most stores belong to the Roy family who have outlets all around Wroxham. The family run business was established in 1895 and sells clothing, toys and food in different shops throughout the village. Definitely a place to stock up on supplies with free parking outside each store.

A short drive following the A1062 will take you further along the River Bure to the picture-postcard village of Horning, considered by many as the most beautiful village on the Broads. As you approach the village make a right turn down Lower Street which takes you down to the river. The large thatched pub, The Swan lies on the riverbank with outside dining in a tranquil setting. The Mississippi style riverboat "Southern Comfort" is moored next to the pub where the village car park can be found. There are many riverside walks around the area, one 4 mile walk can take you past the old white windmill, built in 1890 and now holiday accommodation, to the ruins of St Benet's Abbey founded back in the 9th century.  If you wish to drive to the ruins then access can be found from the A1062 at Ludham Bridge. Many visitors to Horning are here to spend time in "BeWilderwood" which lies just at the edge of the village. The forest area here is full of rope walks, climbing walls, zip wires, mazes and tree houses. It certainly fulfills a role as a popular attraction for all the family. The entrance can be found just before the turn for Horning village itself.

Continuing on the A1062 you will drive through the beautiful Broadland landscape of lush meadowland, crossing rivers and channels with boaters and yachtsmen, passing windmills draining the fields of water and heading through delightful little waterside communities with jetties, ferries and marinas filled with boats.

You can pause in Ludham, briefly coming off the A1062 by turning right down Horsefen Road. Turn right into the marina car park where you will find a tea room and gift shop and a chance to stroll around this scenic little place. After leaving Ludham you can continue east on the A1062 and then join the A149 into the seaside resort of Great Yarmouth.

Great Yarmouth is a very popular holiday resort on Norfolk's eastern coast. As a fishing community on the mouth of the River Yare its history goes back to medieval times but it was the arrival of the railway in 1844 that really put the town on the map with a direct service to and from London. The Wellington Pier was built in 1854 followed by the Britannia Pier in 1858. The bustling seafront sports all the usual resort attractions, amusement arcades, fast food, the obligatory Sealife centre, deck chair hire and a rollercoaster park known as the Pleasure Beach which was established in 1909. One attraction that differs from the typical things to do at a beach resort is the Time and Tide Museum which centres on Great Yarmouth's herring fishing industry and its maritime trade. It's a historical look into how the town developed and a chance to learn about the fishing industry and its importance to the people of East Anglia.

Leave Great Yarmouth heading westwards inland on the A143 to St Olaves, at this point turn left on the B1074. You are now leaving Norfolk and entering neighbouring Suffolk. You will pass on your left the beautiful church of St Margaret's in Herringfleet with its distinctive round tower making it look more like a castle than a place of worship. Continue on this road down to Somerleyton to visit the magnificent Somerleyton Hall. This grand house doubles for Sandringham in the TV series "The Crown" and also in the 2003 series "The Lost Prince" so it is no stranger to TV and film crews. Although there has been a house on this site since 1240, the present building dates from the mid-19th century and was designed in an Italianate style which was very fashionable at the time. There are 12 acres of formal gardens, an intriguing hedge maze, an aviary, walled gardens and a greenhouse designed by Joseph Paxton who was also responsible for the building of the Crystal Palace in London. Access to the house is via the gatehouse and driveway which you will find after passing through Somerleyton village.

As you leave Somerleyton on the B1074 you will be heading southwards, deeper into Suffolk and you may have already worked out the meaning of the name of this county. East Anglia is divided up between the North folk and the South folk, Norfolk and Suffolk.

You will soon arrive at Oulton Broad and cross Lake Lothing, this vast stretch of salt water was filled with water from the ocean when peat digging ended centuries ago. The Broads have been created by flooding the old workings and are therefore not natural formations. Look for the traditional Wherry boats sailing all over the Broads, used initially for transporting goods, these sail boats are now used for pleasure.

Turn left on Cotmer Road to gain access to the A12 south in the direction of Wrentham, turn left onto the B1127 Southwold Road. You are now in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Head down to the attractive coastal town of Southwold with its prominent lighthouse built in 1890 and its colourful seaside houses. You can loop around the village if you enter on High Street and Queen Street, along the seafront to Ferry Road where you can find a large car park. From here the road can get a bit bumpy and muddy in wet weather and you may wish to park up and walk. Whichever way you choose to do the next bit of the route it will be very rewarding, here is Southwold Harbour with its collection of wooden shacks selling freshly caught fish plus award winning fish and chips and seafood stalls. If you do drive this route you will drive past fishing boats and fishermen mending their nets as you enter York Road back to the High Street. After a break here continue on the A1095 to return to the A12. Continue south to Blythburgh to take a left on the B1125 to Aldeburgh. Note the rather grand Holy Trinity church on the right, known as the Cathedral of the Marshes. The drive into Aldeburgh will take you past Leiston Abbey on the B1122 before you get to the Leiston village and the B1069. This will take you to the junction with the A1094, take a left here into Aldeburgh.

Those that appreciate classical music will know Aldeburgh only too well. Since 1948 the town has hosted the Aldeburgh Festival, begun initially by the composer Benjamin Britten who lived here. The location of the concerts has changed, initially held here then in 1967 moved to the nearby maltings at Snape, a concert venue that holds 810 people. Aldeburgh still holds a poetry festival and carnival amongst the many old buildings in the town. Once an important Tudor port on the mouth of the River Alde, the town's Moot Hall dates from 1520 and can be found next to the seafront parking area.

You can call in at the Maltings at Snape by returning on the A1094 to Church Common and taking a left on Church Road to Snape, the village lying just north of the River Alde. From here return to the A1094 then left back to the A12 which you will take to Lower Hacheston. Here by bearing right on the B1078 you will head west, away from the coast through a series of delightful Suffolk villages on the B1078 and B1079, eventually taking a right on Chapel Road to Otley Hall.

Otley Hall is still a family owned house, a stunning historical Tudor survivor first built in 1512, although evidence suggests there was a house on this site some 400 years earlier. It is built of timber framing and brick and oozes charm and beauty. After a rewarding visit here return to the B1078 and take a right to the B1077 which will take you directly south to the town of Ipswich, said to be one of the oldest continually inhabited towns in England.

Make your way to the Turret Lane parking area then you will be in close proximity to the historic centre and the beautiful waterfront. The former industrial port area is now full of luxury apartments and restaurants and there is a very large marina. Stroll down the pedestrian friendly Buttermarket and Dial Lane, look for the highly decorated Ancient House which dates from the 15th century. Visit Ipswich Museum, which is free of charge to enter. Full of Victorian charm with its Natural History Gallery of stuffed exotic animals, its local history rooms and exhibits on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII's right hand man who was born here in Ipswich in 1473. Transport enthusiasts may wish to visit Ipswich Transport Museum just east of the centre in the old Trolleybus Depot, a collection of restored buses and tramcars are on display.

Leaving Ipswich westwards on the A1071 you will reach Hadleigh where you will bear right onto the A1141 to the delightful timber-framed houses of the village of Lavenham. This location has a photo opportunity around every corner. A stunning example of a Suffolk wool town with a market square and colourful 16th and 17th century houses built with oak frames and wattle and daub plastering. Not surprisingly it has featured in many movies such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where it becomes Harry's home village of Godric's Hollow. The 15th century Wool Church is a grand affair, showing how wealthy this town became in Medieval times thanks to its desirable blue broadcloth. The 15th century Wool Hall also adds testimony to this. There is parking available in the market square but this will be quite limited, the main car park is next to the village hall off Church Street. Amongst the many timber framed houses around the village are a multitude of tea rooms, restaurants and The Angel pub and hotel which stands by the market cross on the village square.

Now take a short drive further west out on Bridge Street Road via the hamlet of Bridge Street, crossing the Chad Brook and turning left on the A134, eventually bearing left on the A1092 and it will take you into another attractive wool town, that of Long Melford which also boasts two magnificent stately homes, Melford Hall and Kentwell Hall.

Melford Hall is a brick Tudor building from the 16th century, incorporating earlier buildings from its time as a religious institution dissolved by Henry VIII. The writer Beatrix Potter was a frequent visitor as she was related to the owners at the time back in the 1890s. The house is usually open to the public at weekends. The buildings of nearby Kentwell Hall also date from the Tudor period and are again built of brick but there has been a house on this site since at least the 11th century. Most of the present building was constructed by the Clopton family in the 1560s before their financial decline and rise of the Puritan movement saw many of them leave for the New World, some even having a hand in the founding of the city of Boston in Massachusetts. Kentwell Hall is partly surrounded by a moat and has attractive gardens, a maze, camera obscura and a rare breeds farm, it was also a filming location for the 1996 film, Wind in the Willows.

Moving on from Long Melford you can rejoin the A1092 westwards to the charming villages of Cavendish and Clare, these two bucolic and attractive places regularly top the prettiest villages in Suffolk list. The road will take you right through both of these, but if you wish to stop then Cavendish has a large village green with parking which will appear on your right as you drive through the village, and Clare has parking on the village square which the A1092 forms part of. Continuing onwards to Stoke by Clare which is another attractive little village with colourful houses and thatched roofs, on to Baythorne End where you take a right on the A1017, following the River Stour valley to New England then turning left on the B1054 and then at Hempstead joining the B1053 to Saffron Walden. Although the main street has numerous attractive buildings from the 18th and 19th century there are older structures like the former maltings at Myddleton Place which go back to the 15th century. The Bridge End Gardens are a highlight and are worth a visit.

The main attraction here is just outside the town at the grand Audley End House and its breathtaking gardens. A former Abbey dissolved in the Dissolution, it became a house for Sir Thomas Audley, a chancellor of Henry VIII in the 1530s. It became a classic example of a Prodigy House, initially built to entertain Elizabeth I then demolished and rebuilt in the 1600s to entertain her successor James I. In 1762 the vast landscaped gardens were designed and created by Lancelot "Capability" Brown. A spectacular final stop on the tour of East Anglia, a short journey on the B1383 London Road southwards will take you to the M11 back to London.