For some, East Anglia in England a bit ‘out of the way’ or “that bit sticking out above London”
Without a motorway, the region’s relative “isolation” from major cities becomes apparent when you’re trying to travel to and from the county.
The region comprises two counties, Suffolk and Norfolk, and is home to the UK’s most easterly town, Lowestoft, which sees the sunrise before anywhere else in England.
The town is actually closer to quite a few European cities than it is to other parts of the UK.
For instance, Bruges, the capital of West Flanders, is just over 400km away from the UK’s most easterly town.
Having lived in both countries, it could be argued that Belgium is possibly the most similar EU country to England – and similarities between Belgium and East Anglia abound.
The climate of Belgium is the same as in southern England and so is the landscape (Flanders is flat like East Anglia.)
Many cities in East Anglia (for example, King’s Lynn) had such close historical connections with Belgium in the late Middle Ages that it influenced the architecture as many Belgians settled there.
For those looking for a short break this autumn/winter, the region therefore makes for a lovely – and geographically convenient – destination.
And, if you do pay a visit (or something longer term) one terrific spot in Suffolk is Stonham Barns Park.
This terrific holiday park is neatly and very conveniently sandwiched between Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds and great for either a short break or longer stopover. It is a very pleasant and bustling (yet peaceful) family complex offering holiday accommodation, attractions and activities, all based at the very heart of the region.
Located close to the Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex coast, the park, set in 145 acres of lovely parkland, includes state-of-the-art static and lodge-style holiday homes. These comprise 2 and 3-bedroom, double glazed caravans sleeping up to 6 people (as well as glamping, camping and motorhomes).
All supplies in the rentals, such as gas bottles and coal for BBQs, are included. This self-contained static holiday park epitomises the best of family fun in a fully furnished “home-from-home stay with a full range of onsite attractions, entertainment (it has its own theatre) and a shopping village with some nice independent outlets that would put many a town to shame.
The 40 indie outlets range from a post office and tattoo studio to hot tubs and sweet shop. All is designed to keep everyone busy.This also includes the “Legends Bar” in the clubhouse and an aqua park where fans of kayaking and SUP can indulge themselves. The little ones are well catered for as well with, for instance, a children’s funfair and bouncy pillow.
Ideal for autumn, there is a woodland walk where guests can see birds and red squirrels and enjoy a sensory garden. Fishing is also available at the park’s two lakes stocked with Carp, Tench and Bream. Also on site is a great 9-hole golf course, foot golf, pirate themed adventure golf and the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary with an impressive display of owls.
The park has benefitted from the recent, post pandemic boom in staycations among Brits but does also attract overseas visitors and makes for a very good base to see the region. A plethora of events are lined up for the rest of 2023 (and 2024) including a Christmas market. Thrilling car shows, lively live music concerts and food festivals, there’s always something happening to keep visitors well entertained.
Some people even become so enamoured with the place that they splash out on buying one of the (very reasonably priced) modern and comfortable holiday homes that offer a fantastic escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. All you need is a permanent address (it could be in Belgium, not just the UK).
Another excellent aspect of this place, set out across rolling picturesque countryside, is that is also caters for camping and caravans. You actually never need leave the site (also home to the Mid Suffolk Show Ground) if you do not wish and, rather, just take long walks in the breath taking countryside, browse around its gift shops or grab a bit to eat in its on-site Cafe 24 resto, open 7/7 and ideal for snacks.
The park is part of the successful and well-established Starglade Group of companies which has been running for close on 50 years and is well established, family-run operator now into its 3rd generation.
A Group spokesman said that surviving the pandemic and current economic downturn had not been easy but the park, one of 4 in the Group in the region, is going from strength to strength with further expansion plans.
While the park’s delightful holiday homes are all fully self-contained – meaning you can happily eat in your holiday home – it’s also always nice of course to get a flavour (literally) of the place you’re visiting.
So, what better to eat when in England ….. than a good old curry?
Fish and chips may still be the best known English dish but it seems this has actually been overtaken by curry as the Brits’ favourite food.
Located close to Stonham Barns Park is a resto that is happily “flying the flag” for excellent Indian cuisine.
The Chequers Indian Lounge in Great Blakenham only celebrated its first anniversary in September but has already made a name for itself with locals.
Its friendly owner Nasir Jilani says the aim is “to push culinary boundaries, creating a unique and exciting dining experience.”
Based on its reviews and popularity Nasir is doing just that.
Guests dine in a vibrant atmosphere and, complete with swanky booths and soft-touch upholstery, an interior that is opulent yet intimate. There’s a beer garden and ample parking spaces.
The food is lovingly prepared by renowned chefs who bring years of culinary experience from some of the most prestigious kitchens around the world. Chefs from across London and Suffolk have joined the team to put their mark on Nasir’s menu.
One of his favourite dishes is the tawa, a medium spiced, very flavoursome dish with lots of spices in it. It’s not like madras or jalfrezi hot. You can taste the spices and it’s served on a sizzler pan to the table. He also recommends the haryali, a bit milder and full of flavour.
“I think we also have a good selection of fish, including monkfish.”
Nasir adds, “I think all the positive reviews so far, and what people are saying it’s amazing is great. It makes me really happy. We hope any visit to our restaurant will provide a glimpse of India, it’s rich cultures and various authentic cuisines.”
The Chequers Indian Lounge currently has the best Indian chef in the UK following a cook off competition held at Cambridge Regional College in September 2023.He was awarded two trophies: the best Indian Chef in the East Anglian region and best chef in the UK having beaten 9 other regional chefs. The awards were presented in London on 8 October 2023 by the prestigious Asian Restaurant and Takeaway Awards 2023.
Nasir says the awards are testimony to his team who “have worked hard and tirelessly and more importantly to all our customers for their support without whom we wouldn’t be where we are now.
He adds, “We’ve won and have been nominated for various awards in this short time, are sponsoring a local under 11s football team and have done a charity night last September. This was 2 days before our grand opening 19 September 2022 and we are planning a similar event where, again, we will provide free food for 220 plus guests and the sale proceeds from the alcohol will go to a charity in the county of Suffolk.”
Nasir owns another Indian resto in nearby Sudbury, called Jilani Majestic Indian Dining.
There’s plenty to keep you busy in the area and not far away is the bustling town of Ipswich and here you’ll find an excellent transport museum, with over 100 historic vehicles, housed in a former trolleybus depot. All have been built or used in the Ipswich area. The museum also covers the history and products of local engineering companies. They show how people used to go about their daily lives and remind us of the many things that were actually designed and built.
The collection started 50 years ago with just one bus and has grown into one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind. You can see buses and bicycles, prams and a police car, lawnmowers and lorries,fire engines and a funeral hearse.
While in this terrific part of the UK it would be a crying shame if you didn’t venture a bit further north, up the busy A140 to North Norfolk which leads to Pensthorpe nature reserve, a wonderful 700-acre site that includes fabulous gardens and a species-rich nature reserve. Visitors can take a trail through wetlands and hedgerows, woodland and riverbanks, farmland and water meadows. You might also duck into a bird hide along the way to get up close with feathered friends.
There’s lots of activities for little nature lovers too including an impressive outdoor eco-friendly play area, “WildRootz,” rope bridges and snaking slides inside “Hootz House” (perfect even on rainy days). You can also enjoy a ride off-road on the behind-the-scenes Pensthorpe Explorer and check out fascinating fossils in the Discovery Centre.
Don’t leave without popping into its brill shop which stocks wildlife books, toys, bird feeders and some of Norfolk’s finest local produce.
Formerly home to the hugely popular BBC “Springwatch” programme, Pensthorpe seeks to inspire the next generation to enjoy wildlife and the great outdoors.
Seasonal food and drink is a highlight of any stay in north Norfolk. With its long coastline and rich agricultural heritage, the area is awash with local food producers, independent delis, fantastic gastro pubs with their own micro-breweries and restaurants serving menus created from locally sourced ingredients.
So, while in this most northerly part of the region, you really must try to pay a visit to Holkham Hall, a palatial mansion at the centre of sprawling park and agricultural land.
This fine establishment’s 4-star Victoria Hotel, located at the park entrance, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, in either its comfortable gallery (where you’ll find a roaring fire in the winter) or the spacious Orangery, which has glorious views over Holkham National Nature Reserve.
All dining areas are dog friendly, the menus change regularly and, overall, the aim is to showcase the very best locally sourced ingredients. It has two sittings at both lunch and dinner and a table allocation of two hours.
Norfolk is a county with an incredible range of produce available and, as Rainy, its Romanian-born sous chef states, its menu makes the best of this, prioritising fresh, local and seasonal ingredients in its dishes.
You will frequently see beef on the menu at the Victoria Restaurant which comes from ‘conservation grazed’ cattle on the Hall’s nature reserve. Holkham’s Walled Gardens were constructed in the 1780s and for nearly 200 years the gardens have produced fruit and vegetables for the Hall (and resto).
Holkham, owned by the Earl of Leicester (who often pops in for a meal), was voted No.2 in Visit England’s Guide to Eco-Friendly Breaks in England and is doing its bit for the environment: any compostable packaging, food and plant waste is collected and composted, where it ultimately forms a nutrient rich compost which is then used in the Walled Garden. The aim is to be carbon neutral by 2040.
The game and hunting season is now upon us and, thanks to a carefully structured management plan, the estate will produce superb quality game for the resto in the coming weeks.
Head chef Michael Chamberlain is from Norfolk and learned his craft in lots of the restaurants in the area. He is now working just 12 miles from where he was born.
His style is traditional English/French cuisine, very full of flavour.
“I keep it simple, close to nature – when you live in the country you really notice the seasons changing, like seeing the chestnuts fall in Holkham park, which I’ve been walking through since I was a kid, and it influences the food you make.
“Our food is about using the incredible ingredients which are right on our doorstep – most of what we use is from within a 50-mile radius. But what’s really exciting for me as a chef is how many of our ingredients for our specials come directly from the estate.”
A company spokesman said, “It is arguable that our main attraction is the food we serve in our restaurant, for which we received two AA Rosettes in 2023. Our main themes are fresh, local and seasonal, and we are proud of each and every dish we produce.”
Pre-booking here is highly recommended.
The region is sometimes referred to as “Britain’s breadbasket”, where a combination of climate, landscape and soils are well suited to growing wheat; in 2010 sufficient to produce 5.7 million loaves of bread.
So, there you have it.
All year-round, there is a fine range of attractions in East Anglia, whatever the weather. From great holiday parks and museums to nature reserves and delicious cuisine, both English and Indian, you’ll be sure of a memorable experience in this delightful part of the country.
Nasir himself has a fascinating story to tell. He is a fireman and, by day, fights fires while, by night, is the man behind this and another Indian resto in nearby Sudbury, called Jilani Majestic Indian Dining.
He has been a firefighter for nearly 20 years but his passion for food and a family background in the restaurant business encouraged him to take the leap into running his own resto.