Stunning Suffolk churches: 6 unforgettable parishes to visit
PUBLISHED: 11:24 29 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:39 29 March 2016
Suffolk has a beautiful collection of parish churches that are packed with local history and legend, many conveniently located with delicious places to eat nearby – we pick 6 worth a visit
What could be nicer than wandering around one of Suffolk’s beautiful churches? The answer? Finding a really good place for lunch next door – or very close by.
We pick out a handful of churches that not only have special charms, but also fulfil the criteria of a lunchtime ‘service’ nearby.
St Peter and St Paul IP21 5PB
What’s so special? It’s a sturdy, lovely church and its Sanctus bell turret is the finest in Suffolk. The south porch entrance, built about 1420 is beautifully decorated, with carvings – those either side of the arch could be Henry V and Queen Catherine. Most visitors come to see the decorated benches that are its best feature. Chunky poppyheads at each pew end, with beasts, figures and angels. The Passion and Dedication benches, at the back are a kaleidoscope of carvings, relevant to the themes. A wonderful double glass window, by Henry Holliday, with figures Hope and Love is at the west end of the south aisle There are tea and coffee making facilities for visitors and crayons, toys and a comfy sofa for children. Purists balk at the blue carpeting but it’s very cosy and welcoming.
And for lunch? The church is sandwiched (pun intended) between two wonderful places to eat. The Fox and Goose (01379 586247), is in a Grade 2 listed former Guild Hall. In 10 years, Paul and Sarah have created a 2 AA rosettes, ‘destination’ restaurant, with a pub and a restaurant menu. A two-course lunch in the restaurant is £15.95. Closed on Monday. The Swan pub (01379 586280) has a Sunday carvery, with Blythburgh pork and Norfolk turkey roasts. Chef/landlord Mat, is proud of his ‘off- the- pier fresh’ fish. Open for lunch Wednesday-Sunday.
St Andrews IP19 9AB
What’s so special? It’s gorgeous. Opposite the lych-gate is a ‘crinkle crankle wall’. The Norman round tower is the only one in East Anglia detached from the church and both church and tower are thatched. It has an amazing collection of quirky headstops, dotted around the brickwork. In short, it’s a looker. Inside, the nave windows are extremely pretty, with floral themes – a lily, passion flower and olive. The striking 15th century rood screen , with medieval paintings of the saints at its base, is a treasure and in the chancel, the alabaster effigy of Arthur Coke kneels above that of his wife Elizabeth, cradling her baby daughter. Installed in 1634, this work is considered one of the finest examples of English sculpture of its time.
And for lunch? The Queen’s Head (01986 784214), just below the church is an award winning pub ‘In the Top 5 of Best Sunday roasts in the UK’. Everything’s made freshly in house – including home-made ice cream and sorbets. There’s a beautiful, sloping garden, which abuts the church land. It has been closed for refurbishment this winter but opening is scheduled for spring.
St Mary IP19 0PP
What’s so special? The most extraordinary thing about this church is that the rector’s wife painted the ceiling. Between 1859 and 1866, Mildred Keyworth Holland spent 7 years on her back, recreating a typical C15 angel roof, under the guidance of an expert. Put a £1 in the meter and you can light up the ceiling. Every inch is covered in riotous colours and there are projecting angels, carrying crowns and banners above the nave. It is absolutely glorious. The pew ends are some of the finest in the county. But really, it’s all about Mildred’s masterpiece.
And for lunch? The Huntingfield Arms (01986 798320). Steve is behind the bar and Sara in the kitchen, cooking everything from scratch and changing the menu constantly. Generous portions – magnificent ham, egg and chips - on Tuesday, main courses are £6. Perched on the village green, a short stroll from the church. Closed Monday. It’s a Magna Carta village - Baron Huntingfield was a signatory on the document - so there were lots of celebrations last year for the 800th anniversary of the signing.
St Peter IP19 9BJ
What’s so special? The Doom painting, which depicts the final judgement of souls after death, draws the eye and dominates the space. Painted about 1520 and about 17ft x 8ft, it was originally a background to the rood. When that was removed, the painting was whitewashed and remained in place until 1892, when during rebuilding, it was thrown into the churchyard, for firewood. Heavy rain washed away the whitewash overnight and revealed the painting, which lead to a frantic restoration. Although Pevsner describes the quality as ‘distressingly rustic’, the painting, in oil on boards, contains scenes that are, variously, frightening, dramatic and include the Devil and his minions despatching the damned into the gaping jaws of hell. Unmissable. Oddly, there’s a group of café tables and chairs in front of it. Perhaps for protection?
And for lunch? Turn right out of Church Lane and half a mile down Hall Road is The Star at Wenhaston (01502 478240), nicely positioned, with garden benches outside and always popular with the locals. Open every day but closes between 3-6pm. Carl & Virginia ensure that everything is fresh, home-made and local – sometimes, from the neighbours’ allotments and they were awarded Rural Pub of the year by CAMRA for 2015.
Blythburgh Holy Trinity IP19 9LL
What’s so special? Built 500 years ago and nicknamed the Cathedral of the Marshes, Holy Trinity dominates the skyline as you drive on the A12 from Darsham to Wangford. Legend has it that a ferocious hellhound, the Black Shuck burst through the church doors, during an almighty thunderstorm in 1577. It killed a man and a boy before causing the steeple to fall through the roof. Scorch marks on the North door are said to have come from its claws, as it fled. Bones from a giant beast, recently unearthed in the ruins of Leiston Abbey could be The Shuck’s remains. But that was then and this is now. What’s special is the beautiful roof, decorated with a dozen angels with outstretched wings. Some donated by the Americans after WWII. Look up and wonder. The Blythburgh village sign, beside the church is, not surprisingly, a beautiful angel.
And for lunch? Just cross the A12 in front of the church and you can’t miss The White Hart (01502 478217). Sit out, overlooking the estuary or inside, enjoying both the view from the wide windows and Lee and Marie’s hospitality. Lee is head chef and a former fisherman. With a young family themselves, they welcome children and pets. Open for lunch every day. After lunch, stroll on across the marshes towards Southwold or Walberswick.
Thornham Parva St Mary IP23 8ES
What’s so special? It’s a tiny, thatched church with a thatched tower. Enter through a Norman door, only 3ft wide. Inside is a great treasure. The Retable, dated from 1355, is an iconic altar painting of eight figures flanking the Crucifixion. They include St Catherine, St Paul and John the Baptist. Discovered in a stable loft in the 1920s, it’s considered one of the greatest treasures of medieval art in Europe. Also, there are 14th century wall paintings on either side of the nave, which were restored in the 1980s. They contain the most complete story of Edmund the martyr King.
And for lunch? 10 mins stroll down the leafy lane, from the church, just on the A140 – is The Auberge (01379 783604), a superb, wood-beamed restaurant, with weekday fixed price lunches – 2 courses for £17. A special platter of fruits de mer needs to be ordered 24 hours ahead. The Stenhouse family have been here for 20 years and it’s so good, you’ll want to stay on for dinner as well. Closed Sun/Monday for lunch.
P.S. Although the churches will be open, many pubs and restaurants close on Monday and sometimes Tuesday as well, especially in winter, so check in advance.
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For more comprehensive information, consult D.P.Mortlock’s The Guide to Suffolk Churches.
Or the invaluable and entertaining website: www.suffolkchurches.co.uk