Uncovering Suffolk's Secrets - Part II

Peter Williamson , 02 May, 2017
In this second instalment, Peter Williamson shares six more interesting architectural gems he discovered while walking along the River Waveney Valley, which marks the Suffolk-Norfolk border.

There were always going to be more than I first thought, so here are the second ‘six of the best’ from my favourite dozen... (See the first six here...)
Hidden away just off the main street in the centre of the market town of Harleston, I was about to walk by this rather unassuming painted brick ‘lean-to’, when its name caught my eye and unknown forces propelled me through the door.

‘Just Truffles at The Pod’ is a small, family-run business specialising in completely hand-made chocolates that come in all shapes, sizes and flavours. The family has been involved in chocolate since 2006, and moved to this present site on Church Street in Harleston in 2011, where they now make all their chocolate, selling from The Pod Shop or via the web.

Having walked from Diss (over 20 kilometres), I felt I deserved a little treat so popped in for a bar of something special, And special it was – milk chocolate with honeycomb. Delicious! As the saying goes, ‘small is beautiful’ and small independent retailers like this are a joy to discover.
Wortwell Mill
The villages of the Waveney Valley relied on the river for power for generations, and there are several ‘mills’ marked on my OS maps. Crossing the meadows towards Wortwell, I’d had the large white edifice of Wortwell Mill in my sights for quite a while. It is a traditional weatherboard construction over a brick base with a pan-tiled roof that also houses the lucam. (I had to look that up as I wasn’t sure what the projecting gable for the external hoisting at the front was called.)

The mill ceased working in around 1948 and the waterwheel had gone by 1972, making it the last corn mill on the River Waveney to cease commercial operation. Today the mill and its adjoining house are grade II listed and are now private homes.

Over the centuries the millers supplemented their income by trapping silver eels, which are common on this particular stretch of the Waveney, sending them to London's hotels and restaurants. I didn’t see any but I did see the iridescent turquoise flash of a kingfisher as I crossed the small bridge over the river. It's always a thrill to see this most colourful of British birds.
St Andrew's Church
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate how utterly pretty some rural churches can be. Not long after leaving the town of Diss, I crossed the River Frenze, a tributary of the Waveney, and came upon this delightful little church.

St Andrew's stands opposite Frenze Hall, ancestral home of the Blennerhassett family, itself a fascinating seventeenth-century oak timbered house encased in brick during the 1880s by owner William Betts – a brick manufacturer, of course. The church was built in the early fourteenth century, with the south porch added in the early sixteenth century and a bellcote built at a later date. Although this grade I listed church is now redundant, services and other events are occasionally held here.

Stepping inside was like going back in time – a large wooden Jacobean pulpit dating from the early seventeenth century, a fifteenth-century manorial box pew and benches, one of which is carved with tracery and poppy heads, a Royal coat-of-arms, and several monumental brasses of the Blennerhassett family.
I was pleasantly surprised to find it open to visitors – too many churches are locked these days.
St Mary's Church ruined tower
Thorpe Parva
Having crossed the line of the old Roman Road near the village of Scole, I suddenly saw the atmospheric ruins of an old church tower looming out of the early morning mist. There was once a thriving village here which was mentioned in the Domesday Book, though by the fifteenth century, Thorpe Parva had become deserted.

Only a moat near the more modern hall, just up the lane, and the ruined tower of St Mary’s church remain. After the parish joined with Scole in 1482, the church was demolished, apart from the round flint tower which served as a dovecote for many years. Cropmarks and earthworks can still be seen which show the extent of this former medieval village, now long forgotten, but quite magical all the same.

I don’t know why, but I find ruins far more evocative and full of character than stately homes that are still lived in. Perhaps they allow my imagination to run more freely...
St Peter's Brewery
The Saints
I’ve never been one to miss the opportunity for a glass of beer now and again – it’s one of life’s little luxuries – so I was quite excited about stopping off on the walk from Bungay to Harleston, to visit St Peter’s Brewery near South Elmham. (This area is called 'The Saints' as virtually every village in the vicinity is named after a saint.)

If, like me, you’re particularly interested in brewing (and the end result), then a diversion to St Peter’s is a ‘must’. Since 1996, the brewery has been housed in an attractive range of traditional former agricultural buildings, producing 300 barrels (80,000 pints) per week, while the restaurant is located in the ornate thirteenth-century hall, part surrounded by a much earlier moat.

You may be familiar with the unique oval bottle shape of St Peter’s Ales, which is thought to be based on one from Gibbstown, near Philadelphia, dating from around 1770. I didn’t join the official tour, as I was only half-way through my day’s walk, but a glass of Golden Ale was just the thing to see me merrily on my way once more.
Chameleon House
And finally, I simply have to mention my accommodation in Harleston.

Officially called ‘Rooms at No 3 Chameleon House’, this is more than just a B&B. Firstly, there’s the grade II listed building itself. Tudor foundations, higgledy-piggledy walls, odd nooks and crannies, a carriage archway leading to a seventeenth-century wing, and not a right-angle in sight, all concealed to the outside world by a neat Georgian brick frontage.

Then there’s the slightly unusual bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I had what can only be described as a very large ‘suite’ at the front of the house – a huge room with super-king-size bed, a three-piece suite, dining table, kitchen area, en suite bathroom and walls adorned with original local artwork. There was milk and fruit juice in the fridge, cereal in the cupboard – and a sumptuous ‘Full Norfolk’ breakfast delivered to my door at a pre-arranged time by delightful host Ginni Ashken. It was all perfect – plenty of independence (a private front door, no stilted silence over breakfast as other guests whisper and stare, and plenty of room to lounge about in) and brimming with character and charm.

Chameleon by name and, I suppose, ‘chameleon’ by nature. The building has seen a change of usage over the centuries, adapting to its different purposes from a school, various commercial enterprises, a restaurant and now a B&B – and hence its name – ever-changing to suit its surroundings.
Reflections on Secret Suffolk
My recent exploration of the Suffolk-Norfolk border re-affirmed why I love this area so much. Walking through the gentle countryside of the Waveney Valley has a calming effect and I find it’s one place where I can really relax and unwind. It’s not brash and showy; it’s not full of ‘in-your-face’ dramatic vistas; there are no steep ascents or vertiginous ridges, nothing to be apprehensive about. It’s all much more subtle – and so much more beautiful because of that. If you’re looking for leisurely walking through bucolic, gently rolling landscapes that stretch for miles and miles beneath big, big skies, then I suggest you head to the Waveney Valley. And, like me, I hope you delight in Secret Suffolk and discover your own hidden gems and favourite corners.
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