With a rich history, picturesque villages and more than 50 miles of glorious coastline, it was not a surprise that Backwater Classic Car Tours decided to bring Club members back to Suffolk for the second year in succession. The tour was based at Hintlesham Hall, a magnificent hotel nestling in 175 acres of rolling Suffolk countryside, just a few miles from Ipswich. The Hall has an impressive history, having originally been built in 1448. Owned successively by the Timperleys and the Powys family, the building has retained much of its Elizabethan-house structure, fronted by a Georgian façade. In 1971, the famous chef Robert Carrier purchased the hotel and ran it as a restaurant and cookery school. While ownership has moved on since Carrier’s death, the current head chef has worked hard to maintain the highest standards. He has recently restored Carrier’s old herb garden and vegetable patch to source his ingredients.
After the searing summer heat during the journey out to Suffolk, the group was pleased
to wake up to a milder day, which would be less testing on the cooling systems of our E-types. The first day’s tulip run wound through a number of small villages in central Suffolk. The traditional Backwater Photo Observation competition was based on the individual hand-made signs which characterise many Suffolk villages. This meant there was little danger of any E-types speeding through these small hamlets, as the navigators needed to keep their eyes peeled. The run led us out to the west, through Hadleigh and Kersey and then on to Sudbury.
After passing numerous antique shops in the long main street of Long Melton, we stopped for coffee in the charming village of Cavendish, on the north bank of the River Stour. Neither the Five Bells public house nor the village Tea Shop normally open on a Monday, but both made an exception for us and we were allowed to park our cars on the village green. With copious volumes of cake, coffee and tea on offer, nobody was in a hurry to leave.
However, once the tulip run recommenced, everyone began to suffer from numerous ‘pop-up’ road closures, which had been kindly supplied by Suffolk County Council. E-types could be found comically criss-crossing from all directions as they tried to escape. Attempting to worm our way out of Clare to reach the village of Hundon, Anne and I discovered some of the shortcomings of our satnav. The software confidently led us to a far-distant, dead-end private road. This caused much amusement for some local children who were cycling nearby. Having recovered our composure and with the confidence of seeing two other cars heading in the same direction, we eventually arrived at Hundon. We continued onto Felsham for a later-than-expected lunch at the Six Bells public house. Bells seem to be popular in Suffolk, at least when it comes to pubs. The remaining journey was uneventful, so we were able to settle back and enjoy the gently winding roads and tiny villages between Stowmarket and Ipswich.
Having explored the interior of Suffolk, the second day focussed on the villages along the coast. Our first stop was the famous archaeological site at Sutton Hoo. While the antiquities are now mostly stored in the British Museum, the National Trust site houses a number of Anglo-Saxon exhibitions. Perhaps the highlight of the visit was the trip to Tranmer House.
The exhibition here charts the work of Basil Brown, who led the excavation of the site at the request of landowner Edith Pretty. With the imminent hostilities of World War II brewing, the work had to be carried out as swiftly as possible. A large burial mound held the 27m imprint of a decayed ship with a central chamber filled with treasures. The identity of the grave’s inhabitant is not known, though King Raedwald, the ruler of East Anglia in the 6th/7th century is considered the hot favourite. As a left-hander, I was pleased to learn that Sue Brunning, the British Museum’s Curator of Early Medieval European Collections, believes that the occupant of the tomb was also left-handed. The patterns of wear of the Sutton Hoo sword shows that it was worn on the right hip and carried in the left hand. She speculates that being left-handed may have conferred an advantage in battle. This might still be true today. More modern ‘lefty-warriors’ such as tennis players Nadal, McEnroe, Connors, Laver, together with Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova have certainly done well in their battles on court. Finally, we could not miss the opportunity to view the iconic Sutton Hoo helmet. A replica was on show in the main exhibition, and it was no less haunting than the original.
Continuing on through Butley, we arrived at the tiny village of Orford. Protected from the sea by the Orford Ness shingle spit, this small settlement clings to the west side of the River Alde. The relatively remote location has made it a favoured location for military activities. During World War I, the Royal Flying Corps had a base on the spit, and between 1956 and
1972 research to test atomic-weapon components was carried out here. The ruins of the ‘Pagoda’ labs can still be seen today. Meeting up with two other couples, we sought out the beach tearooms, where crab sandwiches were on offer. The crabs had come direct from Cromer, not far up the coast in Norfolk.
From there, the tulip run took us on through Aldeburgh and Thorpeness. Built as a private fantasy holiday village by the Ogilvie family in 1910, Thorpeness is a quiet village of about
400 people in the winter, but the numbers quadruple in the summer. It is thought to be the ‘home of Peter Pan’ as JM Barrie, a good friend of the Ogilvie’s, was a regular visitor.
The small seaside town of Southwold marked the furthest point of our trip up the coast. The settlement is almost an island, being bounded by the North Sea, the River Blyth and Buss Creek. In recent years Southwold has become a magnet for well-heeled tourists from London. It recently attracted national attention when one of its beach-huts changed hands for £250,000, but Southwold has many other attractions. The famous Adnams Brewery, home of the fearsome ‘Broadside’ ale, is based there. It is also one of the few places which has a lighthouse right in the middle of the town, but we made a bee-line to the pier. Restored in 2001, it is now enjoying renewed popularity as a place to promenade. It hosts a collection of novelty coin-operated machines made by Suffolk engineer Tim Hunkin and it occasionally even hosts paddle-steamers. With Anne armed with a pot of cockles and me, rather ill-advisedly, nursing a tub of rubbery whelks, we took a stroll to the windy end of the pier where we could gaze out across the North Sea. With the afternoon drawing on, it was time to return to Hintlesham. The route kept us away from the major roads, but we do now understand why the supporters of Ipswich Town football club are known as the ‘Tractor Boys’. We think we met almost all of them on the narrow roads that led us to Debenham and finally on to Hintlesham.
Our final day was a much quieter affair. No visit to Suffolk would be complete without visiting one of the scenes which John Constable once painted. Our route took us south to East Bergholt and then to Flatford Mill, site of the famous ‘Haywain’ landscape. The National Trust has carefully preserved the area, so we were able to stand at the exact point where
Constable made his sketches. We learned that the painting itself was created in his studio in London. While the fierce heat of summer 2022 had allowed a green carpet of algae to colonise the River Stour, the scene remains remarkably unchanged since Constable painted the Haywain way back in 1821. Several couples took the opportunity to take to the waters of the River Stour. A small electric boat was offering trips up the river, while others gamely tried their hand with rowing boats.
We then briefly left Suffolk to venture into Essex, albeit only by a few metres. A group lunch had been arranged at the Dedham Boathouse restaurant on the south bank of the River Stour. It was a welcome chance to meet up with the full group again, where we enjoyed a smoked-salmon salad and what was described as ‘bottomless’ chips. ‘Never-ending’ would
probably be a better description as successive waves were passed down the table. It took a little while for us to leave, as visitors to the Boathouse were keen to take photographs and ask us questions about our cars. Sharing our cars with admirers is of course all part and parcel of owning an E-type Jaguar. My personal record is spending nearly two hours in a
Halfords car park while attempting to buy some oil. If I’m short of time, I now take the Mini.
The final afternoon saw a 40-mile meander though the remainder of Suffolk. The highlight of this run was the village of Lavenham. With over 300 preserved old buildings, Lavenham is considered one of England’s most perfect medieval villages. The timber-framed structures and lack of modern ‘street-furniture’ means that Lavenham retains its powerful historical feel.
It’s not surprising that it is popular with film-makers, having appeared as a backdrop in productions as diverse as Ian Shane’s Lovejoy series, Netflix’s Cold Harbour and even a Harry Potter film.
At the final-evening gala dinner we were once again treated to a wonderful meal from the attentive team at Hintlesham Hall. Happily, our E-types had behaved impeccably and there had been no dramas or any breakdowns. An over-enthusiastic temperature gauge and a temperamental brake switch were the worst of the problems the group encountered.
In summary, we think that Suffolk is a perfect place for touring. The combination of its coastal beauty, the rolling landscapes and the seemingly endless stream of pretty villages make it a place you would want to return to again and again.