In a double bill this weekend, Jess Baldwin continues an exploration of Suffolk, finding cutting edge – even futuristic – interiors among the timbers and traditions of the county’s well-known facades…
Despite being spatially intolerant and inherently motion sick, much of my childhood was spent at sea. Suffolk’s Heritage Coast called us at weekends, where my seafaring father would navigate us along the solitary backwaters and vast estuaries, seeking out empty coves. Yes, from a distance it may sound like an enthralling Swallows and Amazons style adventure, but when your berth is the size of a shoe box, your shower is a bag hanging from a tree and your sailing companion is a sick bucket, it doesn’t feel so quite so exciting. Scarred by years of salty escapades, I am ashamed to say that as a result, I have somewhat neglected Suffolk in my search for the perfect staycation.
Like many Londoners, I had unintentionally set my sat nav west on Fridays: I had become a Cotswold cliché. But, after years of chocolate box villages and overpriced farm shops, I found myself craving somewhere with a little more bite and fewer tourists. The answer, it seemed, was Suffolk. Woodbridge, to be precise.
A thriving high street lined with pubs, cafes, restaurants and local producers and a busy waterfront blesses this historic riverfront town with bags of atmosphere and a loyal local following. Yet located slightly inland, on the banks of the River Deben, most tourists overlook its charms, instead lured to better-known coastal resorts, like Aldeburgh and Southwold.
Even as a child, I do recall mooring up at Woodbridge as being an exciting affair, with Tide Mill, the town’s most iconic building, welcoming sailors. The mill has a colourful past, dating back to 1170. Despite being privately owned at first, it caught Henry VIII’s eye (well, most things did, hey) and the eagle-eyed king soon took it upon himself to confiscate it (I suppose we should just be grateful he didn’t chop the top off). It spent almost three decades under royal ownership, until Elizabeth I finally sold it. Today, it is one of only two working tide mills in the country, still relying on the tide to produce traditional stoneground flour.
Unfortunately, no sooner had my salty-haired father downed his gas-cooked cuppa beneath the mill’s gleaming white façade, and the fenders were in, the anchor was up and we were off again. So, the chance to properly explore mysterious Woodbridge, on dry land, was long overdue.
My chosen home from home was The Old Warehouse; an elaborate designer warehouse conversion from Suffolk Secrets’ extensive portfolio. However, having worked my way meticulously down peaceful Brook Street, I was flummoxed. Where was it? How could I miss a huge warehouse? All I could see were sweet little two-up two-downs. In retrospect, I’m quite not sure what I expected; a rough and ready derelict exterior maybe or perhaps a brazen corrugated iron roof? On my third scour, I spotted it: the street’s grandest property.
Dating back to 1828, the striking redbrick building began life as a Wesleyan meeting house, but was abandoned when the congregation outgrew it. Various rumours surround its industrial roots, but local records show that is was, among other things, a corset factory. Its life as a residential property is equally colourful, having seduced a number of eccentric tenants, each of which made the property their own – one lady installed a pond in what is now a lounge and another dedicated the entire upper floor to fixing boats.
Today, it has been given a trendy overhaul, with a fittingly industrial edge, reminiscent of a New York loft apartment. The property embraces upside-down living, with three good-sized double bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor. Upstairs, is a vast multi-level open-plan living space, cocooned by exposed terracotta brickwork and large shuttered windows. The huge room has dedicated cooking, dining, lounging and reading areas, all co-existing harmoniously. A bold orange and black colour scheme dominates proceedings (don’t knock it until you’ve seen it!), with fun pops of rainbow colouring here and there – hanging track lights give the space a theatrical vibe.
The quirky property is crowned by a spectacular roof, quarter of which is glass, transforming the lounge area in to a cloud spotting arena by day and a stargazing gallery at night. A resident family of skylarks provides regular fly-bys.
Woodbridge, like many of Suffolk’s best towns, is fiercely independent and although Nero, Prezzo and Co-Op have managed to infiltrate the centre, the majority of the stores are independent, with a wealth of local producers; there is a passionate butcher, keen to regale you with the provenance of the day’s carnivorous display, a busy fishmonger, a friendly greengrocer and a calorific bakery. The main street is lined with various cafes and tea rooms and there are plenty of boutiques and gift shops to peruse – on our early November visit, the windows were already filled with nativity scenes, baubles and fairy lights.
It goes without saying that there are plenty of historic market towns, unspoilt beaches and miles of hiking trails to discover, but for something a little different head to Orford Ness. One of the National Trust’s newest, and most unique sites. The remote shingle split is a former nuclear weapons testing facility. Following years of bomb disposal operations, today, it’s a thriving nature reserve.
Surrounded by miles of reedbeds, Snape Malting is also worth a visit. Founded by Benjamin Britten, the beautifully renovated former malt factories are now home to an impressive concert hall, numerous independent craft shops and various restaurants and cafes. Continue driving and you will reach arty Aldeburgh, with its sweeping shingle beach, fringed by fresh fish kiosks on one side and the crashing North Sea on the other.
If you only make one restaurant reservation during your stay, make it The Unruly Pig – another local institution with a dramatic history. Housed in a 16-th century inn, the award-winning gastro pub opened almost 4-years ago to rave reviews, only to be ravaged by a fire just 12-weeks later. Today, this local gem has well and truly risen from the ashes and it seems to have a winning formula; seasonally-led local dishes with an Italian accent, served in gloriously cosy, yet utterly unpretentious surrounds – oh, and did I mention they have 60 wines available by the glass? Now that beats an anaemic gas-cooked cuppa with UHT milk, hey Dad?
The Old Warehouse in Woodbridge is part of the Suffolk Secrets’ portfolio. It has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. Prices range between £725 and £1,135 per week, depending on the season. Short breaks are bookable, subject to availability and start from £544 for 3-nights during low season. To book or for more information, call Suffolk Secrets on 01502 722717 or visit www.suffolk-secrets.co.uk.