A day out with Elspeth in Woodbridge

Woodbridge1

This is a lovely little East Anglian town but not as lovely as its regular feature in regional magazines wants me to believe. Woodbridge is an example of what this part of England does best: that slow, untouched feel, in the nicest way. The low rise streets are of red brick, often Georgian houses, and plastered colourful earlier ones. Although the 18th C weatherboarded white tide mill is what Woodbridge claims is its most famous sight (and I had a charming visit there), I always think of the Shire Hall. This two storeyed redbrick former town hall has been added to significantly since its Elizabethan origins. The overhanging hipped roof, windows and double staircase at either end are of two centuries later; but this makes for a distinctive slightly Dutch looking building, and a justly focal point for the little square in which it stands.

Articles celebrate the town’s independent shops, such as its two small bookshops and independent shoe shops of expensive brand names and old fashioned service (alas the granny chic slippers of Moshulu are no more). Yet sandwiched between these are the usual lower end high street chains that are the bane of every British small town; and the Thoroughfare itself is only of the scale of an interesting street: its buildings are largely quite drab architecturally. The Turban Centre sounded exotic but is a little shopping enclave of even duller quality.

I was disappointed in the food and drink too, although its facilities are good for a town of only c7,000. Woodbridge seems to have several traditional pubs and smart restaurants, such the Galley on Market Hill – an offshoot of the well established Ipswich Turkish restaurant, or at the arsey Tide Mill (not to be confused with the heritage attraction). But it has little inbetween. Its rather ordinary cafes did not entice me, and I saw no wine or café bars for relaxing in the evening. Some may rejoice that the only restaurant chain is Prezzo – in which I had an awful experience. I am sorry that the wonderful Moorish café – inclusive North African dining – is shut. That was worth a visit on its own, and the best service I had in a town that can be quite uppish. I loved the staff’s view of ringing telephones in the Strawberry Café – “It’s an invitation, not a demand”. She served me first. With such an attitude, I went back.

There’s several streets to wander, some just residential – but this must be a great attraction to those living in Woodbridge – to live in a street which is central and characterful but not full of other people’s evenings or early morning deliveries.

There’s the Tide Mill, Burkitt’s Windmill, Town Museum, and the Shire Horse museum to visit – all quite modest and often seasonally open, but the real tourist pull is Sutton Hoo Anglo Saxon treasure. According to the ubiquitous 3D hand drawn map, this appears just over the river from the railway station. I should pause to say how much the river is part of Woodbridge and what a pleasant walk this makes. I wished for a ferry crossing from the town station to the other bank where the National Trust Visitor Centre and burial mounds lie. Alas, one has to walk 3 miles through the adjoining village of Melton (train users are advised to stay on one more stop to this station) and still need to walk over a mile. It’s further though than the 3D map suggests from the Tide Mill. Sutton Hoo is featured on the seasonal Tour Buses which also stops by all the above. With irregular trains, I wasn’t able to arrive in time to factor in a 2 hour round trip walk to this quite pricey  attraction, which sounds very exciting – but the Tourist Information Centre couldn’t even give me a proper leaflet on this vast ship burial of kings of the Wuffinga dynasty.

(Update, I’ve now been – click on my tag cloud and read about it).

The Riverside (review coming on sister blog) was a nice way to round off the day. This is an old fashioned popular community cinema which also offers live shows. It’s one of several independents in the area, always charming service, reasonable prices, and a mix of blockbuster a bit more thoughtful films. The auditorium looks Edwardian, with an apparently unused balcony, and two seaters on the back row. An adjoining restaurant has a small bar area serving coffees and during the day, outdoor coffees and ice creams, and tapas by night. Its proximity to the station is useful if like me you have to make a dash for one of the infrequent trains – but beware: the bridge is in two parts. In your hurry, don’t do what I nearly did and ascend the steps outside of the station, as this only leads across the river and there is no access onto the opposite platform. If you’re heading towards Ipswich and London, go into the station and take the stairs from there.

I find Woodbridge charming, but note I’ve only ever spent more than 2 hours here if I’m in a film. The glossy magazine push and hearsay about its bijou qualities only raise expectations and put me off. Someone commented that Woodbridge is my kind of town – in miniature, but I’d like my kind of town, full seized to really dwell there.