Drive across the epically flat scenery of this part of Suffolk and you’ll come across the ancient Saxon town of Bury St Edmunds, a city redolent with history like the whole of the surrounding region. Locally you’ll find the spires and libraries of Cambridge, the archeological goldmine of Mildenhall, the Devil’s Dyke and Sutton Hoo, and the horseracing capital of the world, Newmarket. Bury is quite the local market town though, and it’s quite the bustling metropolis in Suffolk terms.
We parked in the brand new Cattle Market development, a huge great open air mall arrangement with all the shops you’d want out of such an affair. It did the job in terms of coffee, but we swiftly moved on to the town centre and the market. Here you’ll find streets radiating out which warrant exploring – first off try St John’s Street for a handful of excellent charity shops. Worth noting are Home Farm Trust, an Oxfam and a sizable Oxfam bookshop, and the pick of the crop, St Nicholas’ Hospice. The latter is great, with all sorts of rooms branching off from one another: one for books, one seemingly for be-sequinned bags, one for furniture stacked on itself. There was plenty of hardback book sets: I carefully left with just a complete poetical works of Byron.
The shops peter out the further you go in this direction, so turn around and head back up to the marketplace. It’s not a particularly fancy market or anything, just the usual stalls and the odd roast-pork-sandwich stall (always a winner), but carry on along here to find a Cancer Research and an RSPCA, and a little further on taking a left down the hill, you’ve got British Heart Foundation. Abbeygate St is the main drag really, once you’re off the market, the showpiece – plenty of quaint coffee shops and boutiques leading down to the eponymous abbey grounds.
The abbey is what gave Bury St Edmunds its cache in the region, one of the richest Benedictine priories in the country. The abbey itself is now but ruins, but there’s also St Edmundsbury cathedral which was the church for the abbey – not ungenerous in its proportions for the role. The town built up around the trade and regional importance the abbey gave it, until you have today’s bustling, charity shop centre. It’s as if it was all leading to this point.
The abbey may have been dissolved by this year’s historical icon ‘enry the eighth, but the town continues and while it’s a bit too bustling for my tastes, there’s some charity shops worth having a poke at if you’re in the region.
Find: Bury St Edmunds @ Google Maps
Consume with: a hot pork sammidge sufficed for me on the day, but previously I’ve been to Harriet’s; it’s a bit like some sort of railway station cafe from the golden age of steam.
Visit: If you’re doing the tourist thing, then you should at least have a wander in the direction of the abbey.
Overall rating: three lickle candlesticks