In this beautiful part of East Anglia, streets once thronged with sheep are now lined with elegant shops and attractive galleries

In this beautiful part of East Anglia, streets once thronged with sheep are now lined with elegant shops and attractive galleries
The scattered villages and towns of Suffolk’s heartland might seem sleepy and quaint today, but it wasn’t always so. In the 14th and 15th centuries, this area was at the centre of the flourishing wool and cloth trade and became the country’s industrial hub. Evidence of this distinguished past can still be seen in fine, timber-framed homes, grand churches and ancient, timbered guildhalls redolent of past wealth and frenzied trade.

In Bury St. Edmunds, you’ll find exciting contemporary shopping in elegant Georgian and medieval streets, while the Abbey Gardens with the ruins of a vast Benedictine abbey are testament to the town’s important pilgrim past. A circular ‘silk route’ meanders on via Needham Market down to Hadleigh, whose St. Mary’s Church has inspired the likes of Constable and Turner, across to Sudbury, where three mills still produce fine fabrics, through Long Melford to end at pretty Lavenham, once the 14th richest town in England. 

Theatre Royal
5 Westgate Street. 01284 769505
Follow the scent of hops to the Greene King brewery and opposite you will find one of Britain’s few working Regency theatres. Built in 1819, it is now delightfully restored to its unique original scheme with cosy vermilion wooden-boxed seating and sky-painted ceiling. Guided tours available.
Wibbling Wools
24b Angel Hill. 01284 749555
‘My granny taught me to knit when I was six,’ says owner Lyndsey Carreira, whose shop’s unforgettable name comes from her baby boy, known affectionately as ‘the wibbler’. Lyndsey stocks a diverse selection of wools from around the world – Rowan, Debbie Bliss, Noro, Kaffe Fassett, Cascade – with a sink-into leather sofa from which to browse patterns and colours in comfort.
Ickworth House, Park and Gardens
Ickworth. 01284 735270
The striking central rotunda, flanked by semi-circular wings, announces the eccentricity of this Georgian Italianate palace. The east wing is a hotel and restaurant, and the National Trust owns the rest. It’s surrounded by Capability Brown parkland and vineyards, and packed with Old Masters, from Velázquez to Titian, within.

The Leaping HareWyken Hall and Vineyards. 01359 250287
Five miles north of Bury St. Edmunds, at Wyken Vineyards, The Leaping Hare comprises restaurant, café and country store in a lofty  15th-century barn. Expect award-winning wines and beer for sale, plus choice selections of pottery, glass, books and home furnishings, all gorgeously displayed over three rooms. Visit on a Saturday between 9am and 1pm and you’ll discover the delights of the weekly farmer’s market, too.



Old Town Hall Antique & Collectors Centre
High Street, Needham Market. 01449 720773
A colourful jumble of 40 stalls over two floors, selling everything from vintage hats and costume jewellery to toys and china. The building has a rich history; once a petty sessions courthouse, it has also served as a library, police station and cells.
The Tool Shop
78 High Street, Needham Market. 01449 722992
The tawny glow of wooden implements, along with a giant woodpecker in the window, declare this shop as the leading specialist of antique woodworking tools in Europe. Over 1,500 carving tools tempt, as does a new range of Japanese cooking knives endorsed by Gordon Ramsay.
Alder Carr Farm
Creeting St. Mary. 01449 720820
Hens scuttle as goats bleat a welcome to this farm shop filled with mouth-watering deli treats such as homemade fruit ice-creams. Don’t miss the studios, including the Old Piggery Pottery, where Paddy Peters and Helen Brown produce colourful plates, mugs and dishes in distinctive glazes.
60 High Street, Hadleigh. 01473 822333
Occupying a large slab of Hadleigh’s lovely High Street, Partridges has that reassuring hardware shop smell, the telltale sign that simply everything of necessity, be it bathplug chain, lawn mowing aid, gardening gizmo or garage tool, will be found here. Every high street should have one.
Adnams Wine Cellar & Kitchen Store
73-75 High Street, Hadleigh. 01473 827796
Perhaps a slightly surprising venture from Suffolk brewers Adnams, but this brightly lit, modern shop offers beautifully arranged, quirky, quality, kitchenware alongside distinctive wines and beers.
Jim Lawrence 
Lady Lane Industrial Estate, Hadleigh. 01473 828176
This traditional ironwork company has a spacious modern showroom displaying its vast range of curtain poles and decorative ironmongery. Quality home furnishings, from lighting to garden furniture, are also on offer.
Sudbury & Long Melford
Stephen Walters & Sons Ltd
Cornard Road, Sudbury. 01787 466189
On the edge of town, this silk mill (dating back nine generations to a Huguenot artisan in 1720) wove the material for the wedding dresses of Princesses Anne and Diana. The mill shop is packed with rolls of the lushest silks, linens, cashmere and fine wools, some at great prices.

Gainsborough’s House
46 Gainsborough Street, Sudbury. 01787 372958
Thomas Gainsborough, master of portraits and landscapes, was born here in 1727. Today, his works hang on the walls of the family home, which boasts a lovely garden, tearoom and gift shop, too.

Cuckoo Flower Home
9 Hall Street, Long Melford. 01787 391008
The elegant linear display of this interiors shop, converted from a former stables, leads from garden space to hall, kitchen and lounge to bedroom. ‘We wanted to create the feeling of a contemporary home in an old building,’ say owners Ann and Owen Roberts. Products include Conran furniture, Biggie Best fabrics and Sibona bedlinen. 


Melford Antiques Warehouse
Hall Street, Long Melford. 01787 379638
Rambling over four floors in an old maltings building, 180 dealers display fascinating collections of antiques spanning over 200 years with pretty much all the furniture, paintings, silver, glass and china you could ever want.
The Guildhall of Corpus Christi
Market Place. 01787 247646
Impressively higgledy-piggledy, this 1527 lime-washed timber Guildhall was built to regulate the wool trade and has been the town hall, prison, workhouse and wool store. It now acts as a tiny museum with a courtyard garden, shop and café.
Elizabeth Gash Knitwear
36 Market Place. 01787 248561
Making the most of Lavenham’s ‘woolly’ heritage, Elizabeth sells knitwear from around the British Isles. Look out for chunky jumpers by Sophie’s Wild Woollens of Yorkshire and Lorry Marshall’s knits using yarns from the Scottish borders.
Timbers Antiques
High Street. 01787 247218
Jeni and Tom White preside over this 15th-century house, seven rooms deep, with an ever-changing range of 30 dealers selling anything from antique furniture to jewellery and clothing.
The Rather English Company
16a High Street. 01787 247347
Costume designers and couturiers Dougie and Annabel Hawkes are now enthusiastic tea importers. Their shop also boasts curiously English items such as Dents luggage, gloves, scarves and ties. ‘We made the costumes for A Rather English Marriage and the name just seemed appropriate,’ says Annabel.
The Wildlife Gallery
97 High Street. 01787 248562
A modest shopfront belies a tardis of 20th-century and contemporary wildlife and landscape art, incorporating both paintings and drawings as well as wooden, ceramic and bronze sculptures.


The Angel Hotel, Bury St. Edmunds. 01284 714000

The vibrant contemporary paintings and local photography on the walls of the bar and restaurant of this Georgian coaching inn (frequented by Dickens, it’s said) set it apart. The rooms are comfy and elegant, with some overlooking the Abbey Gardens.

The Great House, Lavenham. 01787 247431
Run by a charmingly hospitable French couple, this restaurant with five rooms blends chic décor with a tastebud explosion from the award- winning cuisine.
The Bildeston Crown, Bildeston. 01449 740510
Blazing fires bid you a warm welcome in the two bars, while the popular restaurant serves hearty fare to yums of approval that echo around the timbered walls.

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