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Suffolk shows its sinister side

PUBLISHED: 14:30 19 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:09 20 February 2013

Suffolk shows its sinister side

Suffolk shows its sinister side

From mysterious bumps in the landscape to tales of lost villages, hidden treasure and haunted heathlands, Suffolk has a sinister side all of its own, as David Falk finds out

From mysterious bumps in the landscape to tales of lost villages, hidden treasure and haunted heathlands, Suffolk has a sinister side all of its own, as David Falk finds out





Have you ever walked the Suffolk Coast Path to rest by the cliff-top ruins of Greyfriars at Dunwich and heard the bells of lost churches tolling beneath the waves?


The gravestones here have tumbled down crumbling cliffs within living memory. Further down the coast, lording it higher still at the top of Orford Castle the view over snaking creeks to the strange cold war pagodas of Orfordness seems an even more disquieting experience for a silent place. There are bits of Suffolk which make the hairs bristle on the back of your neck and send a chill down your spine even though youve got a fleece and scarf on.


Wild and wonderful, theres no doubt that our beautiful Suffolk countryside can be seriously spooky too. Windy heaths, dark woods, swathes of fenland and shifting sands on a greying autumn day theres a certain unsettling timelessness as well as real sense of place oozing out of the ancient lands of old Danish gods and Saxon saints.


Over by Cavenham near Bury, unexplained Black Ditches segment the time-honoured Icknield Way Path and theres something eerily attractive about setting out to walk a section of Devils Dyke just west of Newmarket. An innocent amble around Knettishall Heath Country Park near Diss brings you boot to burial mound with Bronze Age ancestors; cycle round the countryside west of Bury and Barrow speaks for itself. Even the more suburban Sandlings Circular Walk around Ipswichs Rushmere and Martlesham areas takes in an unexpected tumulus or two. Redgrave, Kesgrave, Hargrave . . . somehow, the clues in the name.


Sutton Hoo Woodbridges famous ship burial site full of grisly Saxon goodies, real hidden treasures, mysterious mounds and so much more is one of those Suffolk haunts which, bizarrely enough, is always a real pleasure to visit. Following the great trails through heath and woodland, head out at either end of the day to catch the Deben-wards vistas at low sun for best gooseflesh effect. Its a wicked place to explore if you find yourself needing to entertain little horrors of your own too. The gruesome graves tour might be right up their dark alley; a woodland walk is sure to reveal a deadly mushroom or two and you can even lead them into the dragons den . . .


Should this not sound terrifying enough, nearby Rendlesham Forest has aliens on offer buy a trail pack and track em down or let your own little rocket monsters whoosh about on the fantastic themed play equipment. Alternatively, there are cool creepy walks, new playground experiences and a serpentine dragon sculpture at Thornham Walks near Eye too, where theres even a chance to pay your seasonal respects not to Suffolks legendary devil dog, Black Shuck, but to Dracula himself the black Alsatian set to rest in the pet cemetery!


Suffolk doesnt need any wicked count or colony of vampire bats to generate gory tales: its got plenty of grim stories of its own and just for the record its very own bat hibernaculum, lovingly crafted from a WWII pillbox down at Lackford Lakes near Bury.


At Hoxne a memorial marks the spot where St Edmund met his unpleasant end, only fields away from an important Palaeolithic site, a cursed bridge and the place where a magnificently valuable hoard was recently unearthed. The Treasured Suffolk Trail tells you more, but these days, one of our most history-rich villages seems so very meek and mild. Down near Hadleigh, Polstead gives nothing much away from its footpaths either, yet the story of Maria Marten and the Red Barn Murder is as legendary as it is gruesome. Myth or maybe, we also excuse the isolation of some out-of-village churches almost without a thought to the grim reality of the ravaging Black Death . . . whilst over on the coast, the North Sea holds no prisoners, swallowing up Slaughden, devouring Aldeburgh street by street and leaving the Moot Hall practically perched on the pebbles.


The inevitable waning of our eroding coast, its low-lying meadows and sluggish hills of shingle and sand emit a haunting beauty responsible for inspiring many a hideous crime. PD James and Ruth Rendell seem to have cemented Suffolks liaison with the macabre, yet tread the marshland paths near Minsmere and youre more likely to come across a siege of bitterns, lamentation of swans or badling of ducks than a Ruth Rendell-ish Murder of Crows. Come back this way later in the year to Minsmere, Snape Warren or Southwolds enchanted Reydon Marshes for another spooky treat as murmurations of starlings start to swarm the skies. If you fancy an outing thats a bit more of hoot, why not take your little Harry Potter crazed witches and wizards on a short twilight trek around Framlinghams historic mere? (Stout footwear and torches a must!) With a would-be Hogwarts on one side and a castle that couldnt look anything but creepy in the half light on the other, Hedwigs relatives are sure to swoop about and delight as they do their stuff.


Whats more, its rumoured that, back in 1642, the unfortunate rector of nearby Brandeston, John Lowes, was thrown in the mere during his trial for being the devils accomplice ordered by the terrifying Witchfinder General. The current Brandeston village sign recounts his subsequent hanging.




Hairy hedgerow encounters




Hairy hedgerow encounters



Theres more to look out for than just Old Mans Beard: hedgerows and woodlands become a bit of a prickly subject at this time of year. Amidst the bright hawthorn berries and sharp buckthorn, sloes are temptingly ready to be relieved from the blackthorns spiky grasp. According to tradition, its best to await the first spine-chilling frosts. Meanwhile, down in our broadleaved woodlands, its best to beware as Deadly Nightshade rubs forbidden-fruit-laden shoulders with Fly Agaric and other fungus foes like Death Caps, Witches Butter or even a ghostly rare white Destroying Angel.




Ghoulish goings on




Ghoulish goings on



Deadmans Grave near Burys West Stow looks harmless enough these days. But this special place where sheep now graze and Breckland Thyme grows is reputedly the burial place of an executed highwayman who was denied a Christian burial. In revenge, he haunts the mound on his horse to vent his anger on passers-by.


The ghost of Black Tob, the drummer boy hanged in 1750 for the alleged murder of a local girl, is said to wander Tobys Walks, the picnic site with inspiring views towards Blythburgh and the cathedral of the marshes.



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