Saturday, 16 July 2016

Contrary to expectations

One of the best things about travelling by motorhome is its unpredictability. It has an uncanny knack of confounding expectations and challenging prejudice. Over the past three years we have stayed in almost two hundred places in more than a dozen countries, so we regard our view that the UK is the least motorhome friendly country we know, not as a prejudice, but the result of thorough research. We assert confidently that nowhere we have stayed in the UK would make it into our top twenty favourite spots, well, apart from the lovely ACSI site at Wallingford, perhaps that would squeeze in. 

The last few days in Suffolk has turned our assumptions upside down. Both places we have stayed have been utterly delightful, and as memorable as any of our more far flung destinations. How did we manage to miss Suffolk's delights for so long? On the face of it our first destination was a modest place. A small country pub called 'The White Horse' in the hamlet of Edwardstone, a few miles east of Sudbury. In a county famed for ancient hostelries dripping with thatch, 'The White Horse' is quite plain, a simple early Victorian brick building, but it is very welcoming and has a cosy interior. To the rear there is a outside space with picnic tables and straw bales, supplemented by a further in an airy, open ended marquee. A venerable clapper board barn contains the micro brewery, though I am uncertain if this still operates. The pub garden is next to a vegetable plot complete with poly-tunnel,

The White Horse, an unpretentious local pub

The micro brewery - complete with solar panels

The whole place aims towards being as sustainable as possible, seasonal vegetables and local produce are used on the menu, the barn roof is covered in solar panels and the camping field is overlooked by the pub' s mini wind turbine It seems like a lively place with regular events and an annual music festival. While we were there the camping field was mainly occupied by vintage car enthusiasts. The models ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, the former represented by a gleaming late 40s Daimler Lanchester coupé, the latter by a Trabant and a Lada. Some enthusiasts had gone the whole hog and were towing vintage caravans. As you might anticipate it was quite a blokish occasion with evenings wiled away gathered around open bonnets, can in hand, in earnest discussion of the intricacies of a well adjusted carburetor or wonders of a Trabant's two-stroke.

An Austin Westminster and Daimler Lanchester

Vintage caravans and the wind turbine.
Not that the occasion was entirely a male preserve, it was a family occasion too, with BBQs organised as kids and over excited pooches darted about having a great time. It gave the place a lively buzz, until Sunday afternoon when the site emptied, and we were left in glorious isolation to watch the sun set. The stars came out one by one. A  fat moon rose above the adjacent field transforming the dry, straw coloured grass into a silver grey lake. This seemed to excite its sole inhabitant, a patchy cart horse who must have been called Dobbin. He whinnied and galloped about in the moonlight tossing his head. It was a moment of magic realism.

Our mysterious next door neighbour
The lanes around the pub are quiet and great for cycling and two footpaths lead off from the near the White Horse and connect with a network of tracks through local woods and farmland. The area is given over to arable farming mainly and consists of big square fields interspersed with coppice woods, mainly oak trees. It is a comfortable, lived-in sort of of landscape, 

follow the sign

through the woods

into the fields

towards the horizon
We spent an hour or so pedaling around the local lanes. The buildings are an interesting mix of vernacular styles, colourwashed thatched cottages and clapperboard barns, sturdy flint-stone churches and solid looking Victorian brick cottages. I like looking at village notice boards because that gives you a glimpse of the community life of the place. Summer seems a a time for fetes and garden parties. Most were running children's clubs for the summer holidays - a good sign that the communities have not become enclaves for the retired. The White Horse on Sunday morning had a couple of young families in the garden eating lunch. They seemed to have walked to the pub - so were probably locals. In fact the local area seemed to be thriving and most of the villages had more recent housing developments as well as the older buildings. You sensed continuity here, not just picture post card cottages but bungalows from the thirties or sixties, small estates of ex-council houses and more recent new-build. Not much evidence of 'affordable housing'; the locality may not have petrified into an enclave of the retired, but it may well be a preserve of the affluent.

As well as the buildings, the gardens were delightful too. July was moment hollyhock, in all kinds of pastel shades wafting in the breeze beside thatched cottage or executive new-build. The gardens seemed productive, honesty boxes by the gates - eggs, strawberries or local honey all kinds of local produce on sale. Some places offered pots of bedding plants with procedes going to 'the parish hall' or a local charity. As we pedalled about most people said good morning, when we were short of some change to buy a punnet of strawberries a local woman, unbidden, wound down her car window and came to our rescue. It seemed very relaxed and friendly, and this sentiment was repeated by the landlord of the White Horse who had recently moved from Sheffield. "It is very friendly here" he confirmed, "but nothing happens very quickly." He paused momentarilly then mused, "In fact, nothing happens here very much at all."


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