I’d never heard of Clare before the day we went there. It is the smallest town in Suffolk, but has more than 130 buildings officially listed for their historic and architectural interest. The town has developed a history trail with 21 pavement markers and 7 posts around the settlement. Each post provides information about nearby buildings.
The trail begins in Clare Castle Country Park, but just to be different, that is where S and I finished. We started at marker 3 outside the timber framed Bell Hotel on Market Hill. Here we found the town square centred around the war memorial and framed by a grocery store, independent shops and attractively painted old houses.
We continued to the Old Library at Common Street before turning around, walking past the imposing St Peter & Paul Church and on into High Street. Considering its name, there are very few shops on High Street but we did find Clare Ancient House Museum. This property was given to the town in 1938 by local businessman Charles Byford on condition it be put to a good public use. After 41 short years, it was opened as a museum in 1979. Unfortunately, it was closed on the day we were there, but some of its exhibits make the 600 year old building look young (the other wing is older than the 1473 inscription). They include a 5000 year old axe head and a Roman pot, both found nearby.
We carried on into Nethergate Street before turning along the river bank which led us to Clare Castle Country Park. Curiously, we found the Old Station Cafe there. Back in the 19th Century when historic preservation was less of a thing, they demolished much of what remained of the castle to build the railway station. The ruin of the 11th century keep at the top of the motte survives, but the railway has long gone.
It was a hot day and I was grateful to see an ice cream van. I felt I’d earned one after our walk.
The next place we visited was the larger town of Sudbury. It is not exactly a metropolis, unless you compare it to Clare. The town is perhaps most famous for being the home of Thomas Gainsborough, one of England’s most notorious portrait and landscape artists. We passed his house which was sadly closed on the day we were in town – bad planning I was beginning to think.
Nevertheless, the Sudbury town museum was open, and proved to be very interesting. When I say open, it did actually close for lunch after we arrived, but the attendant kindly let us stay as we had already arrived. Officially called the Heritage Centre and located in the town hall, the museum had an array of displays from Saxon times to Edwardian Sudbury and World War 2. The story that caught my attention was Sudbury’s connection to the American national anthem – The Star Spangled Banner. Back in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the town exported much of its cloth to the USA. The town believes that it was cloth from this area that was used to make the huge American flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore. In the War of 1812, the British Navy attacked the fort and after a 25 hour bombardment, the American flag was still flying overhead. Observing this inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner, which in 1931 became the national anthem.
The attendant returned from her lunch break, surprised we were still there. To be honest, our tummies were rumbling, so we made our way to the Mill Hotel. There, we sat in the garden eating sandwiches, enjoying the view over Sudbury’s Water Meadows. It was a bucolic rural English scene, with livestock grazing the pasture and ducks gliding on the water. So bucolic in fact, that we decided to take a walk across the meadows on the way back to our car.
From the map, it appeared to be shorter than walking back through town. It might well have been if we had taken the right footpath. After about 30 minutes, we checked with a passer by that we were heading in the right direction. “Best go back the way you came” he said. So we had an extended walk through the meadows and when we came upon a different path, we eventually found our way to the car. Our scenic detour made it easy to see how the town’s most famous son was inspired to paint landscapes.
Clare and Sudbury are in South Suffolk, both approximately 70 miles north east of London. Clare is 29 miles and Sudbury 21 miles west of Ipswich
Food & accommodation
Both towns have cafes, pubs and restaurants. Click the link for accommodation in Suffolk