Sunday, January 31, 2010

All Saints Day

Our low-key Christmas in Cambridge, uber-relaxed trip to Paris, and quiet New Year's at home has been followed by an even more sedate January. In fact, I have left Cambridge exactly once in the entire month, to have dinner with a friend visiting London for work.

And today, on the 31st of January, I finally cracked.

I came down this morning -- a sunny one, for a change -- and demanded that we hop in the car and go somewhere, preferably to then get out of the car and do something. And so we did. We didn't have any brilliant ideas about where to go, but we did need to make a beer run. Where else to go but a brewery?

So, we headed 65 miles due east for St. Peter South Elmham -- a teeny tiny village (7 houses, I read somewhere) that's one of 13 nearby villages known as The Saints all named after, well, saints. The centerpiece of St. Peter is the St. Peter Hall and neighboring St. Peter's Brewery, our destination. We hit the hall first, which is where the bar/restaurant is. We chose to dine in the Library bar, which is the part of the hall originally built in about 1280. The rest of the hall is a much newer addition -- built in 1539. 

We grabbed the table right in front of the wood-burning stove and got ourselves two of our favorites from St. Peter's Brewery -- an old-style porter and a cream stout. And what's a Sunday without Sunday roast? Sliced lamb roast, roasted potatoes and parsnips, steamed veg, and of course, a Yorkshire pud. Life is good.

After a quick trip to the brewery's visitor center, we had the rest of the afternoon before us. Just another 20-30 minutes east is the adorable coastal village of Southwold, which we had visited our first year here. Lots of great walking, lots of great pubs. But heading in that direction would mean a 2+ hour drive back in the dark, 60% of which would be on rather small English roads. So, we opted instead to head back toward Cambridge for the market town of Bury St. Edmunds. 

We had heard that Bury St. Edmunds was neat, but we had no idea what we were in for. It turns out that the town was the site of a massive Benedictine monastery built in the 11th and 12th centuries. Most of what's left is ruins -- which you're free to walk over, under, around, and through. It's absolutely amazing. The abbey buildings (or what's left of them) cover acres and acres of land, with the heavily renovated and rebuilt St. Edmundsbury cathedral looming in the background. 

Now called the Abbey Gardens, the whole area has been turned into a park, complete with a sensory garden and aviary. Tennis courts sit behind what was the original cathedral chancel. There is a playground nearby. Kids run around and climb all over the remains of the buildings -- a few of which are a 1,000 years old. Wrap your brain around that. 

We were following a walking tour we had printed out before we left that took us behind the cathedral and around to see some houses that have been built into the abbey remains. Gorgeous. We could just make out the sounds of a choir as we walked alongside the cathedral. Sure enough, evensong had started about 20 minutes earlier. We ducked into the back and stayed for a couple of songs while soaking in displays about the history of the church and the new organ that they're installing.

We carried on our little walk, which took us through narrow lanes of houses, past walls that had been built of reclaimed material from the abbey, and into the town square. We passed the home of the Greene King Brewery, which anyone who has looked at more than, say, 4 pub signs will know is a formidable force in the U.K. pub scene. (Incidentally, the other major industrial employer in the town is British Sugar, which produces half the country's sugar from sugar beets.)

We wound down our tour and finished at the Old Cannon Brewery, another brewery we enjoy and whose brew pub we wish would come to Cambridge. But now we know this amazing town is just 30 minutes down the road by car. Except I've already spent time figuring out how we can make our next trip to Bury St. Edmunds by bike. Stay tuned -- somehow I think it will be a while before we spend another 30 days in a row in Cambridge.

A few more photos here.

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