Travel

Country retreats are the new city break. Here’s why

Meet 2017’s hot new travel trend - clue: you’ll need wellies

Ever since Soho Farmhouse flung open its barn doors to the likes of Alexa Chung, Henry Holland and gang, the Great British countryside has become the mini-break du jour. It could be our collective desire to physically disconnect from an ever-frantic and uncertain world – rolling hills and flocks of sheep can help with that – or perhaps we’ve simply realised that the grass really is greener in the country.

This year, gardening is the new baking and Pantone has declared ‘greenery’ its shade of the year. And so it is that the world and its husband are pulling on their wellies and stomping forth to the nearest field or woodland.

And so to Woodbridge, Suffolk for a virgin trip to National Trust’s Sutton Hoo estate for this townie to see what all the fuss is about. National Trust say that 22% of their new members are now child-free 18-40 year olds, and membership is up by three per cent in the last three years. So we grabbed our favourite mates and packed up walking boots, waterproofs and plenty of food and booze (so far, so festival).

Tranmer House at Sutton Hoo. Image credit: John Millar

Tranmer House sits atop a mound, popping out from the surrounding trees and looking distinctly grand and eerie on an overcast day, like something from a Hitchcock movie. Built in 1910, the Edwardian house has been so delicately restored that it has none of the draughty, creaky discomfort that we were expecting of an old building. Instead, in our spacious two-bedroomed apartment – Wilford – wide oak-floored hallways and sturdy, beautiful antique furniture sit alongside the obligatory chintz (thankfully, this is the National Trust and as such, it is reassuringly protected from gentrification) There’s nothing hipster about this. It’s the real deal.

We’re on the cultural trail today, discovering the history of the famous Sutton Hoo mound. In the late 1930s, a spiritualist friend of Tranmer House’s owner, Mrs Edith Pretty, reportedly spotted a ghostly vision on the hills beneath the house. It was on Pretty’s insistence that an archeological dig was ordered and so the famous 7th-century burial mounds were discovered.

Much of the treasure unearthed – including Anglo-Saxon helmets and treasures dating back to as early as AD 300 – is now on display in the British Museum. But the on-site exhibition centre at Sutton Hoo is a wonder to immerse yourself in a long forgotten world and fantasies of shipwrecks and buried treasure. But it’s spending the night at Sutton Hoo – and crucially, spending time chatting to the disarmingly knowledgeable and charming Trust staff – that really brings the adventure to life.

Sunset over the famous Sutton Hoo burial mounds. Image credit: Justin Minns

For a tangible slice of history, the ground floor of Tranmer House is laid out exactly as it would have been in 1930s England – flick through vintage magazines, play music on the gramophone and play pre-Second World War parlour games. It may sound all a bit Miss Havisham but it’s not creepy. It’s more like taking a stroll through a cosy episode of Downton.

But back in the modern day, its time to pull on our boots and explore what this place is really about – the great British outdoors. There’s something quite meditative about the simple pleasure of putting one foot in front of the other. During a busy working week, my walking regime is generally confined to a frantic half-trot between the office and the train station, soundtracked by a podcast or the London traffic. Today it strikes me that I’ve long forgotten the childlike satisfaction you get from simply wandering. No artificial noise, no determinable destination, just the sprawling views ahead of you, the birdsong and the pitter patter of light showers on your coat hood (this is the UK after all) If this all sounds a bit ‘new age’, then I’m blaming all that fresh air. It’s gone to my head.

Every great country walk should end with a pub, so said everyone. And there are a number of options around Sutton Hoo. Head towards the Marina for The Wilford Bridge and seasonal, locally-sourced pub grub. Or for something special, head for The Unruly Pig, named 2016’s ‘Best pub in Suffolk’ for it’s rustic, experimental menu and stylish décor.

Back at base for a long earned rest and the history lesson continues with the ancient maps and photographs that hang on the walls in grand frames. You’d need a week to cover it all but we only have a weekend and frankly I’ve been distracted by the gorgeous monochrome chessboard floor in the (genuinely enormous) bathroom with freestanding mirror, tub and stunning wood and marble vanity unit. This is less like stepping into a holiday let and more like being welcomed into a cosy aunt’s home, with the freshly cut flowers and apple crumble cookies providing nice touches.

The grand hallway in Tranmer House’s Wilford apartment. Image credit: Mike Henton

This is country living, so you should make the most of hunkering down indoors (especially in winter) and cooking up something warm. We ate homemade curry around the big, communal dining table before chilling out with wine, cheese and board games, as is customary for a winter break in post-Christmas January. It’s worth noting that for a self-catered property, Tranmer House is insanely well equipped (I couldn’t name a kitchen utensil that wasn’t supplied – hence why it’s well worth you getting your food shopping delivered directly to the house and treating this like the home from home that it is).

Next day, after another morning walk past the rare breed Hebridean Sheep flocks, we swing by Mrs Pretty’s cafe for brunch. In contrast to the historic house, this is a modern Scandi-cool, pinewood and glass building that houses a well catered cafe (the freshly baked cake of the day was white chocolate and raspberry brownie. And yes, it tasted as good as it sounds) and homemade oxtail soup. Cream tea in the afternoons is also worth a shout. Before you leave Sutton Hoo, make sure you swing by the gift shop and pick up an eco-friendly Random Rug, surprisingly beautiful rugs made from leftover, recycled wool (£17).

By the end of the weekend, we weren’t ready to leave. But Woodbridge is perfectly situated for a detour towards the candy-coloured beach huts of Southwold or in the other direction for the land of Benjamin Britten, Aldeburgh. It’s true what they say about the restorative powers of country air – we left rejuvenated by the walking and calmed by the quiet, feeling genuinely recharged. You see, you can take the girl out of the city, but when she goes back, she might just find that it’s lost its sheen and her heart lies in the countryside after all.

A two-night stay at National Trust’s Sutton Hoo, in Tranmer House’s Wilford apartments start from £259. Book at nationaltrustholidays.org.uk

Reading now

Popular