One of my early childhood memories is my father reading to me “The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher” by Beatrix Potter, so it was such a delight to visit Melford Hall in Suffolk and discover that Beatrix Potter had stayed there frequently and made many sketches around the Hall which she later used to illustrate her beautiful children’s books.
The exterior of Melford Hall dates back to Tudor times (Elizabeth I was a visitor) but the interior has been remodelled over the centuries particularly in the 19th century and again in the 20th century after a catastrophic fire in WWII when the north wing was burnt down.
With some National Trust properties you find that there is no sense of the house being a home but Melford Hall felt really homely and “lived in”, a tribute to the Hyde Parker family (cousins of Beatrix Potter) who have inhabited the house for two centuries.
The town of Long Melford lies just a short walk away from the Hall and we spent a very nice hour or so having lunch in the Bull – a historic pub that when the family lived in Suffolk, Jonathan’s parents used to frequent on “date nights” and at dinner dances, (the cool thing for young marrieds to do in the 1960s!).
We had spent a fair amount of time in British pubs during our trip round the UK due to a very good book “Brit Stops” which lists hostelries that welcome camper vans, giving free camping in their car park in return for a visit to enjoy a pint or two or have a meal.
The previous night we had stayed at a pub right next to the Little Ouse River called the Ship Inn (very appropriate as it caters for the many long boats and other craft that ply their way along the river.)
While enjoying a quiet drink we became aware of a group of people who had arrived in dribs and drabs and were all dressed rather strangely with matching white stockings and black shoes. After a few drinks all round they shed their jackets and anoraks to reveal who they were – a team of Morris Dancers.
They each strapped bells to their legs and an accordionist and fiddle player struck up a merry folk tune and the dancing began. We were treated to a very British style of entertainment!
Morris Dancing has been around for hundreds of years – the first mention of it goes back to 1448. The tradition interestingly, has had a strong connection to beer – in the 16th Century Churches brewed and sold ales to raise money at festivals and the Morris dancers provided the entertainment! A great tradition that we and our fellow drinkers of ale enjoyed very much!
Our travels also took us to the cathedral city of Ely in Cambridgeshire which is situated in the marshy coastal plain of the Fens.
Most of the fens were drained several centuries ago, resulting in a flat, dry, low-lying agricultural region supported by a system of drainage channels and man-made rivers (dykes and drains) and automated pumping stations.
Ely is built on a 23-square-mile (60 square km) island which, at 85 feet (26 metres), is the highest land in the Fens – it of course means that everywhere you go you are near to water which meant it was a very pleasant place to walk around.
Apart from walking along the rivers, we enjoyed visiting the Cathedral, (the present building dates from 1083) seeing Oliver Cromwell’s house and going round the fascinating little museum that once serve as a notorious prison from 1679 to 1836.