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Here Be Dragons

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Here Be Dragons

Michael Ogden
11 October 2009


Long ago, uncharted territory on maps would bear the legend 'here be dragons'. When I accompanied my mother on a trip to Suffolk back in the early summer I felt I was going into uncharted territory.

Actually, I have been to Suffolk quite recently but only for brief weekend visits for specific purposes. On this occasion, however, we went as tourists to see the sights.

I did the driving in my Peugeot 406 and my mother very ably did the navigating. We went from Abingdon via the M40 and M25, planning to go straight up the M11. However, we didn't fancy sitting in the slow moving traffic between junctions 25 and 27 so we went 'the pretty way' via the A10 and A120 bypassing Hertford and Bishop's Stortford to pick up the M11 higher up. Although we were heading for Stowmarket where we were staying we decided to visit Lavenham to see the Priory and the Guildhall. Lavenham is a very attractive village with half timbered houses and delightful hanging baskets and planters everywhere. We spent so long there that we arrived at Stowmarket in time to dump our luggage and go out for dinner. After walking around the town for an hour we discovered that, whatever people went to Stowmarket for, it wasn't the gastronomic delights of the town.

The two pubs did not look salubrious, the Chinese restaurant was closed and the one bistro type place did not serve food on Mondays.

We ended up at the Indian restaurant we had passed first when we thought we would survey the choices! We did discover a good place for breakfast that did the best cheese scones I have ever tasted, fresh from the oven at nine o'clock in the morning.

We had three things we particularly wanted to see in the area: Aldeburgh (including Snape Maltings), Southwold, and Sutton Hoo so we decided to visit Aldeburgh and Southwold on the first day and Sutton Hoo on the second, and fit other things in on the way.

We thought we would stop at Framlingham for coffee and perhaps tour the castle. We found the castle easily except that the signpost to the carpark was so small we missed it and had to drive around the one-way system to get back to it. As the castle was going to take a lot of time we just stopped for the worst cup of coffee we had had in a long time and went on our way. Unfortunately, it was easy to get in to Framlingham, but not so easy to get out. We weren't the only ones finding it difficult but we eventually chose a road that turned out to be in roughly the right direction. One of the noticeable things about Suffolk is that you are expected to know where you are going. We often arrived at a junction that did not appear on the map to find there was no signpost.

Fortunately my mother and I have a reasonably good sense of direction and usually made the right choice. After a brief visit to Snape Maltings where we caught snatches of an orchestra rehearsing we arrived finally at Aldeburgh.

As we walked along the main street we were tantalised by the delicious aroma of fish and chips. In a vain attempt to turn our thoughts to a healthy salad we walked through a side street to reach the sea front, only to find the benches all occupied by people stuffing down fish and chips! Reader, we succumbed! The fish was all cooked to order so there was a ten-minute wait, but it was worth it. The fish tasted as good as it had smelled. A brisk walk along the sea front to walk some of it off and we were ready for the road.

The next stop was supposed to be Southwold, but we were tempted by the sound of 'Walberswick' and diverted to see what it had to offer. The OS map showed a ferry across the river to Southwold but, of course, it was only a passenger ferry so we would have to go the long way round. As the ferry car park wanted an arm and a leg to park for an hour we found a space on the roadside while we had tea in a bijou tea-room and then wended our way.

We discovered another minor confusion when we arrived at a T-junction instead of the crossroads we were expecting. All was revealed later as we discovered that the road we expected to have taken had been closed and was now a dead end - it all kept the navigator on her toes.

We didn't have much time to spend in Southwold as we arrived at 5pm so we had a quick walk along the pier and decided to return for a proper visit the next day. However, remembering the dismal choice of restaurants in Stowmarket we decided to take the opportunity of being in the area to visit some long-standing family friends. Unfortunately the telephone number we had was out of date but we decided to visit anyway. We found the house in a village not far from Southwold but our friends were obviously not in. We left a note through the door to say we had called and then phoned other friends who lived near Ipswich. They were going to be out on the following day but were free that evening, so Mother and I stopped off on the way to have the salad meal we intended to have earlier and spent a happy evening with our friends reminiscing and catching up. (They had moved from our home area some thirty-five years before)

Honour, duty and friendship having been satisfied, my mother and I set out the next to visit Sutton Hoo in the morning and Southwold again in the afternoon. As I said earlier, in Suffolk you are expected to know where you are going. The local council are not too hot on tourist information signs.

Sutton Hoo was decidedly incognito. For a major tourist attraction the signs were disgraceful. We eventually found the place after seeing far more of Woodbridge than we ever intended, to discover Sutton Hoo was a bit of an anticlimax. I am not sure what I was expecting but the landscape was bleak and all there was to see of the burial site was a few mounds and scrapes. Parts of the visitor centre were good, but the video that was shown was someone's arty impressionistic idea of life at the time (presumably) and added nothing to the learning experience about the site. We were glad we went, but we wouldn't go again, nor would we recommend it!

Our return visit to Southwold in the afternoon was worth the effort. It is a delightful town with plenty to look at and enough teashops to make choosing difficult! We had a good look round and left, once again, as the shops were closing.

Sadly, we had to return home on the fourth day. We stopped at Bury St Edmunds for a couple of hours, then cutting across country sampling the delights of Letchworth, Luton, Dunstable and Aylesbury. Yes, we were caught up in school traffic and work traffic, but at least we had something to look at other than the side or rear of an articulated truck!

Apart from the idiosyncratic signage, the interesting phenomenon in Suffolk was that, despite the plethora of speed limit signs, drivers actually kept to them. Owing, no doubt, to the high volume of traffic in the tourist season, we often encountered long stretches of road with 40 or 30 mph repeaters for no obvious reason. Yet road users were very rarely seen to ignore them. Are they timid? Are they particularly law-abiding? Or are the police particularly vigilant? We shall never know. It's a mystery - and not a dragon in sight!


Michael is a Distributor with Kleeneze, a UK Multi-Level Marketing Company, promoting household products via a catalogue. If you like travelling the world with someone else paying and doing it safely, please look at our website for further information http://www.vastincome.com

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