“ Long Melford / Suffolk / England „
If it wasn't so cold at the moment, this would be the time of year to start noticing the snow drops in the garden and the appearance of the first spring lambs. It's a time of year when I start to think about wanting to go and visit one of my favourite stately homes - Kentwell Hall in Long Melford, Suffolk. And since the media are all predicting we'll be spending less and having more UK holidays this year, I wanted to share this lovely place with you.
I used to live a few miles away from Kentwell Hall and I loved this particularly beautiful stately home so much that for three years I had annual membership which enabled me to visit the grounds and farm whenever I wanted. Unlike many of England's stately homes which have to resort to the support of the National Trust or English Heritage, the family who own Kentwell have succeeded in building a self-supporting attraction that has been generating enough income to keep the heritage associations out of the way. In fact the hall has won many awards including the 2008 'People's Award' for best tourist attraction in Suffolk (and Suffolk is not a county that's short of attractions!)
Kentwell is a Tudor building which was built in the 15th century and the house is surrounded by a water-filled moat. Less than 40 years ago the house was a neglected and unloved ruin until the current owners, the Phillips family, bought it and set about restoring it to its former glory. The house has been lovingly and authentically put back how it would have been in its heyday and a large group of historical re-enactment enthusiasts now get involved in a programme of very realistic Tudor themed events. (Since there were no mobility ramps or Stannah stair lifts in Tudor times, you might want to keep that in mind if you have issues with mobility).
I took a friend and her children to one of the Tudor days at Kentwell and was absolutely bowled over both by how much there was to see and do and by the total dedication of the actors and enthusiasts who take part. They go into their roles and nothing - really nothing - will get them to ever admit that they are anything other than genuine 15th Century people. When a mobile phone went off in a visitors pocket, their reactions were those of someone who'd never seen such a thing before and all attempts to explain were met with further blank incredulity. The boys, who at that time were typical cynical 21st Century kids, loved having a go at archery and watching the actors and trying to catch them out.
Kentwell also hosts themed events based around the Second World War. I believe the reason for the WW2 connection was that the hall was used as a military hospital during the war. Several times a year, WW2 enthusiasts in their various military uniforms, gather along with period vehicles, both military and civilian, for special re-enactment days. We attended a Glen Millar Tribute band performance one summer evening which was very enjoyable.
One winter, the company I worked for hired Kentwell for a medieval banquet. The banqueting hall was spectacular and the waiting staff and entertainers were exceptionally good. We all hired costumes for the event and got into the swing of things although I'd not recommend the food if, like me, you aren't a meat eater (there's not a lot on offer in that case). Particularly upsetting was the arrival of the roast piglet which the chef confirmed was probably one of the litter of Tamworth piglets which I'd been so happy to visit back in the spring of that year.
However, you don't have to go to a special event to enjoy Kentwell. During November, December and January, the Hall and gardens are generally closed other than for special Christmas events. In February the new years's season kicks off with the spring lambing at the rare-breeds farm and the flowering of the bulbs - it was thinking of this that made me want to write about Kentwell again. Generally these events are well publicised for Mother's Day and the school half-term holidays. I always loved to go at this time of year and often not only the sheep were having babies, but sometimes the rare breed pigs were also with their litters. The farm is well worth a visit at any time of the year and has lots of different types of sheep, specialises in rare Tamworth pigs (the ones with ginger hair), has some fascinating long-horned cattle and has some particularly fine Suffolk Punch horses, one of the country's largest and rarest heavy horses.
There's a small shop at the entrance where you can buy all the usual 'stately home tat' that you'll find in any similar place. However, my favourite buy is a bag of fish food for the demon fish in the Hall's moat. You can stand on the bridge in front of the house and throw the food over the edge and the water is so full of the gaping mouths of hungry carp that you can almost imagine it would be possible to walk across the water on their backs.
The gardens around the house are very pretty and include oddities such as a carved tree house and an old underground ice-house. A walk in the woods around the house is also always a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Kentwell is one of two stately homes in Long Melford and in my opinion is the more impressive. Make sure you get the right one. There's plenty of free car parking at the hall or if you want to walk through from Long Melford, park on the green near the church and I think you can cut through a back route behind the church.
It's four and a half years now since I left Suffolk but I still have many happy memories of Kentwell and wish there were somewhere even half as good in the area where I now live.
Take a glimpse back to the Tudor Period. Kentwell Hall is a 500-year-old moated mellow red brick Tudor mansion.