If your travel plans are on hold due to Coronavirus why not plan a staycation closer to home? Here’s a quick guide to one of Suffolk’s top destinations

Great British Life: The riverside is a lovely place to while away some time in Woodbridge. Image: CHARLOTTE BONDThe riverside is a lovely place to while away some time in Woodbridge. Image: CHARLOTTE BOND (Image: Charlotte Bond)

There’s a buzz about Woodbridge that makes it a wonderful place to spend a long weekend whatever the time of year.

Nestled on the banks of the River Deben, this market town is renowned for its collection of excellent independent shops, superb pubs and restaurants, indie cinema, historic working Tide Mill, lovely riverside walks and its proximity to one of the country’s most fascinating and important heritage sites at Sutton Hoo.

Woodbridge is also on the edge of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so if time permits you can go exploring the many attractions of the Suffolk Coast. We suspect Woodbridge might keep you pretty busy though!

For the past few months, against the backdrop of Covid-19, Woodbridge has been running a #StayLocalChooseWoodbridge campaign, keeping people informed about shop opening times and social distancing measures in place, supporting local businesses and welcoming visitors to the town in a safe way.

Great British Life: Don't visit Woodbridge without exploring Sutton Hoo, the face of Saxon England. Photo: Jordan BloomfieldDon't visit Woodbridge without exploring Sutton Hoo, the face of Saxon England. Photo: Jordan Bloomfield (Image: Archant)

As James Lightfoot, chairman of Choose Woodbridge, the business association behind the campaign, explains, businesses started re-opening in July with permission from the government, but they had been serving townsfolk many weeks before as pubs and restaurants offered takeaway food soon. “Something which steadied cashflow while putting a smile on the faces, and a treat in the tummies, of those who may have been struggling in isolation,” he said. Shops and services have opened their doors with new social distancing and hygiene measures in place which has not only kept residents and visitors safe but has also made Woodbridge a comfortable place to shop.

“Away from the bustle of big towns and cities, the town’s shoppers have been able to receive the fantastic personal service offered by their favourite independent shops with true peace of mind,” said James. “Volunteers have taken to the streets of Woodbridge to apply informative social distancing stickers, while the town’s council has closed the Thoroughfare between 10am and 2pm to allow shoppers to distance without interference from traffic.

“Such acts of generosity and solidarity have kept the community spirit of the town alive during this pandemic. We thank the people of Woodbridge for their diligence and kindness during these testing months, and encourage visitors to remember that the masked faces on the high street will likely have a smile behind them.”

What better reasons to plan your long weekend now?

Great British Life: Sutton Hoo is open to visitors. Pre-book your visit to avoid disappointment. Image: SARAH LUCY BROWNSutton Hoo is open to visitors. Pre-book your visit to avoid disappointment. Image: SARAH LUCY BROWN (Image: Archant)

What to see & do in Woodbridge

The River Walk and Tide Mill

Great British Life: Woodbridge has an excellent selection of independent shops. Photo: Chris MapeyWoodbridge has an excellent selection of independent shops. Photo: Chris Mapey (Image: Archant)

Voted the most loved element of Woodbridge by people who live there, the Tide Mill is a rare example of a tide mill that still produces flour. On open days you can see wheels and stones turning, grinding the grain as they have done for hundreds of years. The mill is among the first tide mills in the country, working on the same site for over 850 years.

Woodbridge Tide Mill Museum is open at weekends. Book your visit online and see history come to life through visual insights, unique computer generated imagery and children’s activities. The site has the Industry Standard ‘Good To Go’ mark which means that Woodbridge Tide Mill Museum has followed government and industry COVID-19 guidelines, has a Risk Assessment in place and a process to maintain cleanliness and aid social distancing. You can find out more by downloading the visitor guide at woodbridgetidemill.org.uk where you can also buy tickets.

No visit to Woodbridge is complete without a stroll along the riverside where you can admire the boats and the wildlife. The OS Woodbridge Explorer Guide-AONB and OS Woodbridge and the River Deben Walk can direct you. An easy circular walk for all the family starts at Woodbridge Quay and takes you to Kyson Point, then back towards the town.

Great British Life: The Cake Shop Bakery is just one of a huge range of food and drink options in Woodbridge. Image: SARAH LUCY BROWNThe Cake Shop Bakery is just one of a huge range of food and drink options in Woodbridge. Image: SARAH LUCY BROWN (Image: Archant)

Discover Sutton Hoo

A visit to this part of Suffolk is a must for those with a passion for the past. In 1939, archaeologists unearthed an exciting, rare find – the remains of an Anglo Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo, just outside Woodbridge, across the River Deben. Here an Anglo Saxon King was buried with all his treasures. One of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time, it revolutionised historians’ understanding of the Dark Ages, and confirmed this part of Suffolk as England’s own ‘Valley of the Kings’.

The site is now in the custodianship of the National Trust. You can venture on a guided tour around the 18 burial mounds in the ‘royal cemetery’, discover the incredible story of the ship burial of an Anglo-Saxon king and his treasured possessions, come face to face with your ancestors and explore the award-winning exhibition, the full-size reconstruction of the burial chamber, stunning replica treasures and original finds from one of the mounds, including a prince’s sword. Most iconic among the treasures is the Sutton Hoo helmet. Highly corroded and broken into more than one hundred fragments when the burial chamber collapsed, the helmet took many years’ work by the British Museum conservation team to reconstruct. It is arguably the face of the Anglo-Saxon period.

The estate walks, café, High Hall, Tranmer House – the home of Edith Pretty who commissioned the excavations in 1939 – and shop at Sutton Hoo have reopened. High Hall, Tranmer House and the shop are closed on Thursdays and Fridays. An advance booking system is in place to keep everyone safe and maintain social distancing. To avoid disappointment book in advance, especially at busier times such as weekends and bank holidays.

Explore Rendlesham Forest Centre

A brilliant place to spend the best part of a day – burn off some energy or simply enjoy a peaceful walk in the great outdoors. Rendlesham Forest Centre about four miles along the B1084 between Woodbridge and Orford. There is a big main car park (Forestry Commission parking charges apply). Covid-19 safety measures are in place so before you go check here forestryengland.uk/rendlesham-forest for details.

Rendlesham Forest is situated in the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and has something for everyone, including children’s play areas, a bike park for experienced riders, sculptures in Tangham Wood and plenty of places for a picnic. You can also walk the UFO trail and discover more about the famous UFO sighting in December 1980.

You can explore Rendlesham Forest on foot or by bike. There are two circular walks, the blue easy access trail of 1.2km/0.75 miles and the longer red trail of 5km/3miles. Both take you through plantations, heathland and wetlands. The two cycle routes of varying distance and difficulty criss cross the forest, and there are family trails where young cyclists can improve their skills or even learn to ride their bikes in the safe and relaxed environment of the forest.

The short Blue graded Tang Trail, is approx 6 miles with a shortcut allowing you to halve your ride. The longer FIDO Trail is nearly 10 miles and takes you through various terrains, from road and gravel to sand and grass. FIDO is named after the World War II Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation which allowed 4,200 Allied aircraft to make emergency landings at Woodbridge airfield. This trail also has a waymarked shortcut.

Take a Woodbridge wander. . .

Woodbridge is full of historic buildings and interesting features. Woodbridge is famous as the home of the writer Edward Fitzgerald, painter Thomas Churchyard, abolitionist John Clarkson, and Thomas Seckford, official at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and a major benefactor to the town whose legacy lives on today.

The town is also known for its wide selection of independent shops and places to eat and drink. Here you’ll find everything from DIY and craft supplies, wool shops, outdoor clothing, boutiques, delis, cook shops, tailors, and even a violin shop. Latest developments include a new wine shop, Saltpeter Wines, which offers ‘natural’ wines and refillable bottles, and the transformation of the award winning Cake Shop Bakery into a super foodie destination.

Discover Woodbridge’s new wine shop and transformed bakery

Relax in Elmhurst Park

Just a short walk from the main shopping Thoroughfare and the River Deben, Elmhurst Park is a great place to relax, go for a stroll, picnic in warmer weather or simply let off steam. It’s a source of great local pride and the venue for many local outdoor events. Gifted to the town by Lord Woodbridge in 1935, Elmhurst Park was originally part of much larger grounds that belonged to the property called Elmhurst that overlooks the park. They extended down to the River Deben and originally contained fruit, vegetable and flower gardens, stables, a coachman’s house and a gardener’s cottage. The park covers nearly two hectares and with level footpaths it’s suitable for wheelchairs.

Go on an Art Safari

Woodbridge is an inspirational location for artists and would-be artists. These fun and inspiring workshops cover a range of subjects that can help you to improve techniques and develop new skills. Sketching, watercolours, oil painting en plein air, Photoshop and more with professional local artists and practitioners. Held at The Harbourmasters Office, Ferry Quay, Woodbridge. For more information call 01394 382235 or email info@artsafari.co.uk

Eating out in Woodbridge

Woodbridge has an excellent choice of places to eat and drink that will keep you refuelled throughout the day and evening. Here are some to try. . .

The Crown at Woodbridge, Thoroughfare

The Wilford Bridge, Wilford Bridge Road

Anchor, 19 Quay St

The Duke of York, Ipswich Rd

Kings Head Woodbridge, 17 Market Hill

Cherry Tree Inn, 73 Cumberland St

East Coast Diner, Church St

The Coach & Horses, Melton Rd

Ye Olde Bell and Steelyard, 103 New St

The Riverside Restaurant, Quayside

The Tea Hut Cafe, River Wall

The Unruly Pig, Orford Rd, Bromeswell

The Galley, 21 Market Hill

The Table, 3 Quay St

The Angel at Woodbridge, 2 Theatre St

Blue Salt Wood Fired Grill and Smoked Oven, 1 Cumberland St

Staying in Woodbridge

Woodbridge offers a wide range of accommodation whether you’re planning a long, lazy weekend or a longer stay. For more information about top hotels, welcoming guest houses, cosy self-catered cottages, glamping and camping, and to make a booking visit the Choose Woodbridge website.

Visit choosewoodbridge.co.uk for more information on events and businesses in Woodbridge. Discover more of Suffolk – join our Facebook group