Ruff Guide to… Bury St Edmunds and the Suffolk Wool Towns

In the 15th Century, the Suffolk towns of Lavenham and Sudbury were among the richest in the country. They made their fortune from the wool trade and thanks to the timber-framed houses that remain, visitors have centuries of history to explore. This part of Suffolk – including Bury St Edmunds – has a lot to offer, especially if you’re visiting with a dog. Whether you want to follow in the footsteps of painter Thomas Gainsborough or see the county from the water,  you certainly won’t run out of things to see and do.

The Guildhall in Lavenham
Lavenham’s Guildhall is an absolute must-see © Rebecca Bacon

Dog-friendly Bury St Edmunds and the Suffolk Wool Towns: the must-sees

No trip to this part of Suffolk would be complete without a visit to Lavenham – England’s best-preserved medieval village. It has more than 340 listed buildings but the best known is probably the Guildhall. This is now looked after by the National Trust (£8.80 per adult ticket). Understandably, for somewhere so historic, dogs are not allowed inside, but you can admire the former meeting place from the market square.

From March to October, the National Trust offers guided walks around Lavenham for £10 per person. This includes a hot drink and a pastry. The walks generally leave from the Guildhall on Saturdays. Give them a call to double-check your four-legged friend can join in before booking.

A dog takes a canoe ride along the River Stour with Outdoor Hire Centres
Head out on the River Stour with your dog ©

The River Stour runs through the heart of Sudbury so take to the water to see Suffolk from a different angle. At the Stour Valley Adventure Centre, you can hire dog-friendly canoes for as little as £10 per hour.

A range of self-guided river tours are recommended but we particularly like the Paddle ‘n’ Pub Adventures. These range from an hour on the water to a full day.  The centre – next to the Riverside Bar & Restaurant on Cross Street – is generally open at weekends and during school holidays.

Abbey Gardens at Bury St Edmunds
The beautiful Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds © Shawn Pearce

In Bury St Edmunds, watch the world go by from the award-winning Abbey Gardens. The 14-acre park is home to the remains of a Benedictine monastery as well as an aviary, putting green and several sweet-smelling gardens. Randomly, you will also find the world’s first “Internet Bench” here – it was installed by Microsoft in 2001. The park is free to enter and dogs on leads are welcome to explore.

Pretty Long Melford is well worth checking out, too – especially if you enjoy shopping. At two-and-a-half miles, its tree-lined high street is the longest in England and has plenty of quirky, independent stores to check out. There are also some great walks nearby – keep reading to find out more.

The old platform and booking office of Clare Station is now part of Clare Castle Country Park
The old platform and booking office of Clare Station is now part of Clare Castle Country Park © Evelyn Simak

Dog-friendly Bury St Edmunds and the Suffolk Wool Towns: the best walks

History buffs should head to Clare Castle Country Park, which was created around the ruins of the 13th Century castle. These days, it also includes the town’s former railway station, which shut down in 1967. The Victorian building – within the bailey of the castle – is now home to a dog-friendly cafe. You can also stroll along the former station platforms, which have been reclaimed by nature. Check out the park website for some great circular walk suggestions.

In Sudbury, follow in the footsteps of one of Suffolk’s most famous sons – and I don’t mean Ed Sheeran! Thomas Gainsborough, who painted The Blue Boy, was born in the town in 1727. Although you can visit his birthplace, be aware that it’s not dog-friendly. You can walk through the town’s “common lands”, however, and imagine them as they would have been in the artist’s day. The Meadow Walk is a 3.5-mile section of the Gainsborough Trail and a great place to start.

The gothic-looking Deanery Tower in Hadleigh
The Deanery Tower in Hadleigh © Robin Webster

Take a two-mile stroll along the “Thread Trail” through Hadleigh. Here, you’ll find St Mary’s Church – home to the oldest bell in Suffolk. The circular walk takes in the River Brett and the Deanery Tower, which was built as a gatehouse to the medieval rectory. For other Thread Trails of varying distances, click here to go to the Visit Suffolk page.

I can also recommend getting lost in the quirky maze at Nowton Park, just outside Bury St Edmunds. Every year, it takes the shape of an oak tree to commemorate the Oakes family, who used to own the estate. The maze is open from May to October but you can visit the rest of the site all year round. There are 200 acres of grounds to explore but if you stick to the path, you can walk the perimeter in 30 minutes.

Ernie at the Mason's Arms in Bury St Edmunds
Ernie at the Mason’s Arms in Bury St Edmunds (excuse the piece of treat in his beard!)

Dog-friendly Bury St Edmunds and the Suffolk Wool Towns: the best pubs and cafes

You certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty in Bury St Edmunds, thanks to the town’s special dog-friendly scheme. Look out for the “Dog-Friendly BSE” stickers at participating pubs, cafes and shops. We enjoyed a visit to The Masons Arms – the flagship pub of the Greene King brewery – as well as the Really Rather Good cafe and the Edmundo Lounge. Click here to see all the pubs, cafes and shops you can visit with your pet.

In Lavenham, dogs are very welcome at the traditional Lavenham Blue Vintage Tea Rooms. Here, hot drinks are served in dainty bone china cups while retro music plays on a gramophone. Don’t miss a visit to The Hare Inn in Long Melford, either. It serves a great selection of upmarket pub classics, as well as tasty stone-baked pizzas every weekday evening.

Sign for The Codfather in Sudbury
The Codfather could well be the best chippy in Suffolk – the food here is amazing!

The Cyclist in Sudbury is also a great place to enjoy a cake or some classic comfort food. For something more substantial, head to the Steampunk-style bar of The Lady Elizabeth or The Codfather – one of the best fish and chip shops I have ever come across. Dogs are not allowed inside but you can either eat in or take away. The portions are huge, but make sure you try one of the homemade pies!

Beer lovers should also pencil in a visit to the Edwardstone White Horse. This rural pub may be a bit remote but its onsite brewery, the Little Earth Project, is a real treat. You won’t find any boring IPAs or pale ales here. Instead, the brewery specialises in historic, farmhouse and aged sour beers, all of which are organic. Try and coincide your visit with the annual “Eddyfest” in August, which is a real blast. You can also camp at the site.

Exterior of The Angel Hotel, Bury St Edmunds
The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds

Dog-friendly Bury St Edmunds and the Suffolk Wool Towns: where to stay

Follow in the footsteps of Charles Dickens and check in to The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds. It’s perfectly placed to explore the historic market town and has recently been refurbished. For somewhere special, you can’t beat the Swan at Lavenham or the Ickworth Hotel, which is next to a National Trust property.

The Mill Hotel in Sudbury is also excellent, and surrounded by lush green meadows. But if you’re looking for something a little less formal, consider Ballingdon Mill on the outskirts of the town. The converted 18th Century windmill may be simply furnished but it has everything you need for a self-catering break. To see all our reviews of Suffolk accommodation, click here.

Ernie explores the Gainsborough Trail in Sudbury
Ernie explores the Gainsborough Trail in Sudbury

How do I get to Bury St Edmunds and the Suffolk Wool Towns?

This part of Suffolk is easy to access – especially from London, where the drive takes approximately two hours. The A12 runs through the county, via Ipswich, where you can join the A14 to Bury St Edmunds.

Alternatively, the A131 will take you to Sudbury. From there, Lavenham, Long Melford and Clare are just a hop and a skip away. Greater Anglia trains also run to Ipswich. Change there for trains to the larger towns of Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury.

Where can I find out more?

For further information about Suffolk and its famous wool towns, check out Visit Suffolk’s official tourism page. To learn more about the things to see and do in Bury St Edmunds, click here.

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