When I left London, kicking and screaming all the way with the words of Samuel Johnson ringing in my ears, I was initially bedevilled by every cliche and lazy assumption about the countryside – boring; where you retire to; insular and culturally narrow; full of late adopters, etc. etc.
My early experiences working for a local trust bore some of that out, too, with racist and sexist conversations not uncommon on Sunday afternoons in the ward office when things were quieter – much to my horror – although I know that side of things has changed greatly since the late nineties. I also know that prejudice and a lack of willingness to change is not confined to our green and pleasant regions and cities have plenty of it, too. It just seemed different here. More entrenched.
Lately though, the St Edmundsbury area appears invigorated although we all have a way to go to eliminate prejudice. It is easier to find interesting things to do and not just if you are over 50 either; the support the local council had for the recent skate park redevelopment and the manner in which it joined forces with park users to form a steering committee shows that the needs of youthful residents have some some weight, at last. There are vibrant groups such as the Fawcett Society for local women and live music springing up all over the place: the Hunter Club; the guitar evening at the Constitutional Club run by local teacher Kevin Cawser and the Folk Collective alongside Bury Sound each year. We are rapidly becoming a centre for micro brewing and good beer with The Bury Beerhouse and Old Cannon, The Dove pub and Oakes Barn all attracting a sharp, sussed clientele. Travel a few miles out of town (relatively) and you’ll find Shortts Farm Brewery brewing the wonderful Strummer, an ale complimented by the family of the late Joe.
As for the idea that there is little to do in the countryside, well if you need your entertainment spoon fed and crave bowls of cereal in a brick walled cafe for nearly four quid then West Suffolk might not be for you but we recently managed to occupy ourselves for an entire day in one small Suffolk village called Horringer.
First up was the monthly meet of the Bury St Edmunds branch of the Clandestine Cake Club held in the conservatory at the Six Bells pub, a club open to anyone as long as they contact the organiser, Helen in advance, via the website. Inside the sun filled room, 10 cakes sat on the table, all home baked, all promptly devoured by those attending, all delicious. Most importantly, we met new friends amid talk of the way in which baking fits into busy lives, its succour and challenges and the fact that real men do it, too.
Returning later to the Six Bells for a very late lunch meant we had to go on a brisk trot around Ickworth Park, just across the road from the pub, to burn off all that cake. Underfoot, the earth was frost sharp and the meadows uphill were cast in a cold blue light, throwing each contour into sharp relief. Packed with walkers, runners and families pulling toddlers in carts, we also saw children mounted on ponies, making a perfect Thelwell cartoon with their sagging saddled backs, like old sofas. The house was attracting pre Christmas visitors although we confined ourselves to the grounds and visited my old mate, the Monkey Puzzle tree near the Mediterrranean gardens whose branches cast the most amazing shadows on the lawn. Only the largest of gardens have the space for them to reach their full potential and I have been keeping such a close an eye on this one, I am practically its parent.
Mid afternoon saw us digging into a pile of wild mushrooms, reblochon and treacle bacon on toast, the fungi echoing the bosky woodlands that surround the pub. The landlord told us of their new chef, previously of the great Cambridge restaurant, Alimentum who has brought his best game to Suffolk, both metaphorically and the furred and feathered kind you shoot. Bury was already already starting to punch well above its weight, gastronomically and the Six Bells offers us yet another great place to eat on top of all the existing places.
So…if you want to be part of something on the way up come to Bury. But be prepared to invest something of yourself in our community and if what you want isn’t already here, why not create it yourselves? Like those skaters did.