What’s the connection between the 1980’s TV series, Lovejoy, and the 2022 Downton Abbey movie?
The answer is Belchamp Hall, a stylish country estate deep in the Suffolk countryside. The hall itself was used as a frontage for the fictitious Felsham Hall in Lovejoy and parts of the estate were used as the antique dealer’s workshop. This glorious setting was also the location for the wedding scene in the 2022 movie, Downton Abbey: A New Era.
Last July Dougie and I stayed on the estate for three nights in the Belchamp Hall stables. If it’s good enough for Ian McShane and The Crawley family…
Belchamp Hall Stables
One of four cottages on the estate, the Stables accommodation is on one level but is vast, with huge ceilings and a decor I’d probably call industrial chic. Wooden floors, heavy metal lighting, two huge Chesterfield sofas in the living area plus a gorgeous bedroom and bright, sun-lit bathroom behind the sliding doors of the library. There’s a seriously smart kitchen at the other end of the accommodation and, in the middle, a large dining table, more than enough for the two of us to rattle around.
It may have been designed for two but we were joined by interesting neighbours. The resident peacocks roam the grounds and were quite happy to join us on our patio, though it’s probably more accurate to say they tolerated us on their patio. And it was quite something to sit on the loo, which is located next to a barn door, and peer out of the window to see and hear the birds just inches away. We certainly didn’t need a morning alarm call.
The Meadow Walk on The Gainsborough Trail
Making the most of the hot weather, we opted to use our first full day in Suffolk exploring part of The Gainsborough Trail. This is an ongoing project to link all the wildlife sites and green spaces around the town of Sudbury. We tackled The Meadow Walk which we accessed by driving to nearby Melford Country Park and walking along an old railway track until we reached the official trail. The walk is an easy 5km circular trail, but adding the path to and from the park, plus some mooching in Sudbury itself, made the walk about 8km.
Sudbury is a very pretty town with a lovely market place and many half-timbered houses. We arrived just in time for lunch and chanced upon The Secret Garden, a fabulous little place located in the old Buzzards Hall. We were lucky to find a table outside but in the shade of a canopy. The food was superb. Dougie had an avocado and crayfish salad and I had fishcakes with heavenly slabs of smoked salmon, salad and a lemon yoghurt sauce. Highly recommended.
We enjoyed exploring Sudbury but it was only when we’d decided to head back that we found a map of The Talbot Trail in the tourist centre. This is a series of 14 tiny bronze statues, created by Robin Drury, depicting episodes of the town’s history, very like the ones in my local town of Spalding. I wish we’d known about this earlier as it was too warm to retrace our steps. Note to self: head to the tourist office before you explore a town or at least have a quick Google!
Thankfully, we did see the statuette of Pongo, situated opposite the fountain and horse trough outside St Peter’s Church. In Dodie Smith’s book, 101 Dalmations, Pongo and Perdita stopped here for water while searching for their puppies.
Continuing the Meadow Walk, we crossed the ancient water meadows which have never been ploughed or treated with chemical fertilisers. With a tradition for summer grazing of cattle, it’s a special place for a wide variety of wild flowers, insects, birds and mammals.
It was an easy saunter back to the car, along the shaded railway track as before. And there’s nothing better, after a long walk, to return to a gorgeous cottage for a G&T on the patio, in the company of new friends.
The medieval wool town of Lavenham is only a 20 minute drive from Belchamp Hall and is a real treat to visit if you’re in the area. If you crave half-timbered properties, you’ll be in heaven in the High Street and all the little lanes surrounding it. There’s the original crooked house, the inspiration for the nursery rhyme written in the 1840s. Head to Water Street to find de Vere house which featured in the film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as Harry’s birthplace.
We stopped for coffee and scones at the lovely Tatum’s Teahouse, sitting outside to watch the world go by. It was a quiet day in Lavenham and some shops were closed as it was a Sunday, but the lack of tourists was a plus for us. It was so relaxing to wander around with no real aim or any time restraints.
2022 was our year for self-catering short breaks that were a little bit special. I’ve written about Warwickshire, York and Whitby so far. We also visited Cambridge, Edinburgh and the Cotswolds. During all these trips we were able to appreciate how just a few days away from home can be so restorative. Simple pleasures in this post-lockdown world.