Sunday, April 03, 2011

A day out across the Stour (yes, the only way IS Essex)

Once upon a time, when Ros was the portfolio holder for tourism (amongst other things) on Suffolk County Council, the idea of opening up some of the rather special, but private, properties strewn across the county was mooted.

It proved to be an attractive proposition, and so 'An Invitation to View' was born, whereby for a fee, a limited number of guests could be shown around the property on a strictly limited number of days by the owner. The package might include coffee and cake, or a light lunch. Indeed, it proved to be so successful that, when the county ran out of money to support it, the various owners kept it going.

Eventually, Suffolk wasn't the end of it, as properties in Essex and Norfolk joined in, and now it spreads its wings to include Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire. Bookings are organised through the website of the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, and you can pick from a list of fifty-four properties, including Stowupland's own fourteenth century moated manor, Columbine Hall (and yes, I have to deliver the two cottages next to it).

Ros has been a keen supporter of the project over the years, so it was time for me to make my first visit. Our choice, the tallest Tudor tower in England, at Layer Marney, built in the early sixteenth century by Henry Marney, who rose to the heights of being the 1st Lord Marney, and Lord Privy Seal to Henry VIII.

And it is quite lovely. Parts of it are open to the public, the Long Gallery and the main tower, but the private rooms are only accessible through the 'Invitation to View' programme, and you get a huge amount of detail about the history of the building, the architectural features and how it has been restored.

On a decent day, you can enjoy the view from the main entrance, across the gardens to the estuary of the Blackwater, with the Bradwell nuclear power station on the far bank, and its sailing dinghies when the wind is fair.

All in all, a good day out, and if you're in the area, I'd recommend a stop. Essex gets a bad press, but North Essex has much to commend it, in a quiet way - even if it is on the wrong side of the Stour...


Richard T said...

Although it's outside the strict subject, I don't know whether you had the time to look inside Layer Marney Church which is just round from the Tower. It too seems largely built of brick with an 'Essex' brick tower. Inside are impressive monuments, relics of the Marneys, and an impressive wall painting of St Christopher.

My point is that there are usuually other sights worth seeing close by the 'main feature. I think Michelin put sit well - worth a diversion.

Mark Valladares said...


Not outside the subject at all, and thank you for making such a good point.

Yes, we did have a look at the church, and a fine one it is too. So many precious artworks were lost or hidden in the mid-sixteenth century, and only discovered almost by accident in relatively recent times. And it's a big issue in Suffolk, with its fine examples of ecclesiastical architecture scattered across the towns and villages of the county.

People often think of scenery in terms of drama, yet East Anglia has plenty of gentle pleasures up its sleeve. Worth a diversion indeed...