Is there anywhere more cosy to spend Christmas than this Suffolk home?

PUBLISHED: 17:16 18 December 2017 | UPDATED: 10:20 11 January 2018

The heart of the house, the living room

The heart of the house, the living room


Amanda and Guy Marks spend their lives on the move, helping others explore the world. But there’s nowhere they’d rather be at this time of year. Words and images: Tony Hall

“As travelling has been an integral part of our lives for so long coming home for Christmas is top priority,” says Guy Marks. The home he’s talking about is a lovely farmhouse in Otley, a few miles from Ipswich.

He’s just returned, a few days before, from a trip to Botswana, checking on locations and contacts for future trips for the travel business he and wife Amanda run. Now they and their boys, Luke, 17, and Dan, 20, are immersed in getting ready for Christmas, fetching trees, hanging decorations, wrapping presents.

You might think Amanda, born and bred in Durham, is a long way from home. Her father, an entrepreneur in sports sponsorship, and her mother, a garden designer, were from Yorkshire. Amanda, studied French and German at Leeds University, before joining an overland travel company as a tour guide, working in Africa and the Middle East.

White Christmas at OtleyWhite Christmas at Otley

Her love of the Narnia books influenced her love of Africa, in particular Zambia, and it was on a trip to there that she met Guy, working as a team leader.

Guy hails from east Sussex and Kent. His grandfather took early retirement and became a farmer in Scotland, as a hobby. Guy went to Cirencester Agricultural College, but was also interested in photography and filming, which was to prove useful.

He met a friend in Suffolk and decided to take a year-long trip to South Africa before looking for a job. He then joined Dalgety as a trainee and moved to Bury St. Edmunds. “I became a grain trader, before becoming a grain broker at the Baltic Exchange in London. It wasn’t really for me, so I became an overland driver on trips to the Middle East, Asia and South America. When Amanda and I got engaged we went to a castle in Scotland at Balmanno, very romantic.”

At home . . .  Guy and Amanda MarksAt home . . . Guy and Amanda Marks

Guy and Amanda’s overland travel was, in her words, quirky and very interesting. When they started our own travel company, Tribes, in 1998, it was based on responsible tourism and luxury experiences, tailored to their clients, to appreciate the culture and people of the places they visited.

“Be it safaris, or Galapagos cruises, exploring the Taj in India or searching for tigers, everything is very special and well researched, “ she says. Tribe now operates from offices adjacent to the Otley farmhouse.

Guy’s love of photography and filming has been a great benefit. Over the years he has also become a travel writer and photographer, producing features for the Financial Times and National Geographic among others, plus books.

“We moved our home here in 2005. The rear part is Tudor, around 1580, with the gentrified front section added in 1870. It’s set in five acres, and what was the dairy is now converted into modern offices for our business and 10 staff.” The property was once part of the Helmingham Estate, and had been home to seven generations of the previous occupants’ family.

Preparing for Christmas in the kitchenPreparing for Christmas in the kitchen

“What I immediately loved about this farmhouse was its history and roots,” says Amanda. “The nice fireplaces, the witches’ marks, the 16th century wall painting, and the fact it had not been overly modernised.

It also has a lovely garden and grounds, and we re-did the pond. The attic room had been derelict for years, but we’ve renovated and it has become a great twin guest bedroom. In the kitchen we updated and brought the old fireplace back to life.

“The property lends itself to large gatherings and, of course, at Christmas we like a full house. We have both families including my dad and his wife, my sister and her husband. In the last week of November Guy always makes the Christmas pudding to a recipe handed down from his great-great-great grandmother.

The pretty guest bedroomThe pretty guest bedroom

“Over the years we’ve collected lots of bits and decorations and when the trees arrive that’s the beginning of preparations.

“When everyone has arrived, we have a light evening meal on Christmas Eve, something like fish pie. I buy a large ham and a bronze turkey from John Hutton, butchers in Earl Soham. My sister makes and brings the Christmas cake.

“On Christmas morning it’s scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast, with Champagne. We open all the presents afterwards. Guy and I do the Christmas lunch, and we normally sit down to eat after the Queen’s speech. In the evening we basically flop, listen to music and chat. I like listening to Miriam Makeba, a well known South African singer.”

The dining room awaits the family gatheringThe dining room awaits the family gathering

More of the family join them on Boxing Day for walks along the coast, maybe at Aldeburgh. In the evening Guy and his cousin take it in turns to entertain, playing guitar and singing. “We love being here, and despite all our travels, would not live anywhere else. Every day is special, the people are lovely and we both so enjoy watching the seasons come and go, surrounded by such unspoiled countryside.”

So where do Amanda and Guy like to go on holiday now?

“Well the choice is endless,” says Amanda. “We love Costa Rica, Nepal and Jordan, plus trips to Cornwall and France. I love Botswana, it’s a vast wild place, the most beautiful I have ever been too.”

For Guy, its the wildlife and bio diversity of the Amazon.

“Home is not just your home,” says Amanda, “but everything around you, both inside and out. I call it the glue of life, that’s what a home is.”

The inviting hallThe inviting hall

Check out our other Christmas content!

Why Suffolk is the best place to be for Christmas

19 times Suffolk was more beautiful than a Christmas card

Tips to make your Suffolk home fantastically festive


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