Once upon a time, the Suffolk towns of Lavenham and Sudbury were among the richest in the country. They made their fortune from the 15th Century wool trade and thanks to the grand churches and timber-framed houses that remain, visitors have centuries of history to explore. The area – including the nearby town of Bury St Edmunds – has a lot offer, especially if you’re visiting with your four-legged friend. Whether you’re keen to follow in the footsteps of painter Thomas Gainsborough or explore Suffolk from the water, you certainly won’t run out of things to see and do.
WHAT ARE THE MUST-SEES? No trip to this part of Suffolk would be complete without a visit to Lavenham – the best-preserved medieval village in the country. It has more than 340 listed buildings but the best known is probably the Guildhall, which is run 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 offer regular guided walks around Lavenham for £10 per person, including a hot drink and a pastry. The walks generally leave from the Guildhall on Saturdays but before you book, give them a call to double-check your four-legged friend can join in the fun.
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, which range from an hour on the water to a full day. The centre – which is next to the Riverside Bar & Restaurant on Cross Street – is generally open at weekends and during school holidays.
In Bury St Edmunds, you can take a stroll or simply watch the world go by from the award-winning Abbey Gardens. The 14-acre park is home to the remains of a grand Benedictine monastery as well as an aviary, putting green and several sweet-smelling gardens filled with herbs and roses. 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.
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? 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 and you can 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, you can follow in the footsteps of one of Suffolk’s most famous sons – and I’m not talking about Ed Sheeran! Thomas Gainsborough, who painted The Blue Boy, was born in the town in 1727 and although you can visit his birthplace, be aware that it’s not dog-friendly. You can walk through the town’s famous “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.
For a gentle, two-mile stroll, follow the “Thread Trail” through Hadleigh, where you’ll find St Mary’s Church – one of the largest in Suffolk and home to the oldest bell in the county. The circular walk includes a stroll alongside the River Brett and also takes in the impressive 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 is crafted in 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 more than 200 acres of landscaped grounds to explore but if you stick to the path, you can walk the perimeter of the park in around half an hour.
BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE? 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 coffee shop overlooking the Abbey Gardens and the trendy 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 where 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.
The Cyclist in Sudbury is also a great place to enjoy a cake or some classic comfort food, such as homemade soup. For something a bit more substantial, head to the Steampunk-style bar of the Black Boy or check out 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.
WHERE SHOULD I 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 the ground floor has recently been refurbished so looks even more fantastic than usual. For somewhere special, you can’t beat the luxurious Swan at Lavenham or the Ickworth Hotel, which is right next-door to a historic National Trust property.
But if you’re looking for something a little less formal, consider Ballingdon Mill on the outskirts of Sudbury. The converted 18th Century windmill may be simply furnished but it has everything you need for an enjoyable self-catering break. To see all our reviews of Suffolk accommodation, click here.
GET ME THERE: 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 and from there, Lavenham, Long Melford and Clare are just a hop and a skip away. Greater Anglia trains also run to Ipswich, where you will need to change for trains to the larger towns of Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury.
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.