Drive: Suffolk and Essex

A lazy drive through Lovejoy country is the perfect way to visit Suffolk and Essex’s medieval towns, stopping off for sweet treats and a rummage for old gems, says Stephanie Cross 

 

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Long before Cash in the Attic and Bargain Hunt there was Lovejoy, the BBC comedy crime drama that made a star of its antiques-dealer hero, Ian McShane. Much of the filming took place on location in Essex and Suffolk, and a road trip around some of the counties’ loveliest towns is bound to lead to hidden treasure.  

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1. TO LONG MELFORD

Setting out from Lavenham, head along the Bridge Street Road and A134 to Long Melford. The village’s galleries, inns and cafés flank the lengthy main street, with Tudor, Georgian and Victorian buildings side by side. Park at the roadside and make your way to Melford Antiques Warehouse, a cavernous showroom where over 150 dealers exhibit their wares. This is the kind of place where hitherto unrealised desires bubble to the surface: after all, what could I possibly want with a Victorian oak pulpit  (even if it is only £3,995)? 

Leaving the village, look out for the National Trust’s 16th-century Melford Hall: houseguests have included Beatrix Potter, and charming mementoes of the author remain on show. Then it’s a left onto the A1092 towards Clare

2. EXPLORING CAVENDISH AND CLARE

The next section of the route showcases the best of the Suffolk countryside: gently swelling fields under low skies; thatched cottages, thick hedges and historic inns. Passing through picture-postcard Cavendish, stop off at Cavendish Antiques and Tea Rooms and take a turn around the majestic village green. Bordered by pink-plastered almshouses and a Norman church, it’s no surprise that it’s a magnet for photographers.

Continue along the A1092 to the equally photogenic medieval town of Clare, which boasts over 130 listed buildings, including an Augustinian Priory. There is also a ruined Norman castle which was once the home of the de Clare family, including Elizabeth de Clare, who founded Clare College, Cambridge, in 1338. 

Clare Castle County Park offers parking, and it’s an easy climb to the top of the nearby motte. To the south, the view opens up towards Essex, while to the north the village’s red-roofed cottages cluster beneath the Gothic bulk of the Church of St Peter and St Paul. 

Across the car park is Clare Antiques and Interiors, which occupies a converted grain storage mill. The centre’s vintage-themed tea room is the perfect place for a pit-stop, and – after refuelling with a salted caramel brownie – it’s a short walk along the River Stour to the peaceful Priory.

Clare’s attractive streets are crowded with antiques shops and full of old-fashioned charm

3. MILL AROUND

Back on the road. Another scenic stretch through the Belchamps and Great Yeldham before a left onto the A1017 takes you towards Halstead, with Hedingham Castle en route. Turn right at the first mini roundabout and left at the second, then follow signs to the car park for Townsford Mill and Halstead Antiques Centre. Straddling the River Colne, the Mill dates back to 1740 and once manufactured the silk for Queen Victoria’s mourning gowns. Today over 25,000 items are on sale. 

Stop off for a peek at Hedingham Castle, sometimes called the best preserved Norman keep in England

4. FULL CIRCLE

Finally, it’s back to Lavenham via the A131 towards Sudbury and B1115 through Waldingfield. Like many of the surrounding towns, medieval Lavenham owes its splendor to the booming 14th-century wool trade. Stroll down the High Street – stopping off along the way at Timbers Antiques and the Wildlife Gallery – to the Market Place with its magnificent timber-framed 16th-century Guildhall. It’s a spectacular way to end the day – and a reminder that there are some things money can’t buy. 

THE ROUTE

45 miles | Allow a whole day

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Credit: Cavendish’s bucolic village green has been named the ‘liveliest in the country’ and often hosts fetes, music and horticultural shows