Suffolk is truly gifted – with so many signed routes and trails, it has simply got it all wrapped up when it comes to countryside offerings for Christmas walks. Think outside the box a little and Newbourne Springs near Woodbridge suddenly seems an appropriate destination to find a festive footpath or two. Then what about Angel Marshes at Blythburgh or King’s Forest in the Brecks? The opportunities are endless, but for some reason at this time of year, the temptation is to just hang in there with old faithful friends...
Go on, spread your wings a bit
Perhaps this year could be the one for a bracing break from tradition. Why not take a stroll out from Southwold to Walberswick or a wander down to Middleton near Yoxford from the village moor with its mysterious umbrella tree? Chances are that outings like these will ring the changes with friends and family and still see you all heading for The Bell.
Exploring somewhere new doesn’t have to be a challenge, even when there’s a range of ages and abilities in tow. The Boxing Day bout of fresh air and gathering of clans can be great fun with a little fore-thought and a downloadable leaflet or two from Discover Suffolk. The new family-friendly Angels & Pinnacles collection of walks and cycle rides definitely delivers glad tidings which could bring great joy to your people this Christmas.
Don’t be sheepish about guiding your flock to Woolpit. The little Suffolk town is not only steeped in history, but its church steeple is pretty inspired too. Head inside the parish church - fittingly dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary - look up and prepare to be sore afraid. Not only is the 14th century double hammerbeam roof utterly awesome, but hiding in the heavens and literally coming out of the woodwork are the most amazing set of carved angels. Strangely enough though, many look far from angelic. Some peer down disapprovingly, others bear a remarkable resemblance to that reluctant teenager who might rather have stayed at home... but a few do manage a medieval smile. With other winged beasts as well as cute carvings of dogs adorning the pew ends, there’s simply so much character to enjoy here, but a pleasant stroll on towards St Ethelbert’s at Hessett will deliver up more angels, parapets and pinnacles.
Some Suffolk angels are made of really stern stuff. Look up at the roof inside many an East Anglian church and the ‘nave’ will prove true to its Latin name, resembling an upturned ship. Why not push the boat out and pedal off with crew to Huntingfield near Halesworth? Here, the bottom of the vessel is not only a real picture with angels represented in all their iconic glory, but carved, brightly painted angels also lean out with a fixed gaze. Clinging to crowns, to flags or coats of arms, each surely has a special significance and tales of family fortunes to tell, but some may think that they look more like bold figureheads for ships. Or perhaps their smooth, forward-staring faces would be more at home on a Victorian fairground organ?
Halo, halo, halo – what’s all this then?
Angel roofs are wonderfully impressive, all a bit of a mystery and rather an East Anglian phenomenon. The sheer volume of wood involved in a medieval hammerbeam roof just cries out for decorative carving, and when it comes to double hammerbeam roofs, East Anglia claims all 32 survivors - and Suffolk has two thirds of them.
Stroll out from Southwold for a treat of a walk across the commons and marshes towards the River Blyth, and the village sign at Blythburgh heralds the amazing sight to behold inside the cathedral-like Church of the Holy Trinity. If angels were ever in their realms of glory, it would have to be here.
Mildenhall is a must for a wander and time to wonder at the ten angels in full flight carved out of the most massive hammerbeams imaginable. Of course, there are a multitude of others in the wings, so to speak, but these mighty scary manifestations have to be the most imposing in Suffolk.
In Bury St Edmunds, just along from Angel Hill near the Abbey Gardens where your own little angels would surely love play a while, another St Mary’s takes a slightly more subtle, but equally impressive approach. Here, the great wooden ones have wings just partly open and, curve up almost recumbent in graceful solidity, enhancing the sweep of the ceiling canopy.
On a wing and a prayer
The eleven pairs of Bury angels make for an interesting sight, representing a line of clergy dressed for prayers, a principal angel, king and queen. All over Suffolk there are such a variety of angels to spot - wings unfurled, outstretched, semi-closed; dove-like, spread-eagle.
Before you head off from Framlingham to Badingham on the Angels & Pinnacles walk, the Church of St Michael the Archangel seems an appropriate place to stop, particularly if you’ve got binoculars to hand. Look out for the lead figures which line the roof – cheeky little chaps, more like winged imps than angels or possibly even some sort feathery caped vampires waiting to pounce!
FromSt Peter and St Paul’s in Eye, there’s a peaceful walk along the River Dove to its namesake in Hoxne. Check out the golden angels within first though, which seem to have a cape and not just one, but three sets of wings, with one masquerading as a skirt!
Enjoy the Angels and Pinnacles walks around Framlingham, Eye, Southwold and Woolpit.