Discovering Bury St. Edmunds

I’ve long been a fan of exploring my own back yard, so when I relocated to Cambridge I wasted no time in compiling a list of places to visit in East Anglia, based on recommendations from friends, family and colleagues and features in Cambridge Edition. Bury St. Edmunds – or plain Bury to the locals – was one such place. Back in April, we spent a day exploring this bustling market town and its medieval ruins.

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A brisk walk up Station Hill and along St. John’s Street led us to Market Square, where the Saturday market was already in full swing. Crates of fresh produce were stacked high – the first of this season’s strawberries here, bunches of carrots there – and the prices were on par with our beloved Kirkgate Market in Leeds. Oh, if only fruit and veg in Cambridge were this cheap! (Needless to say, we stocked up on some fruity treats before heading home.)

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Our next stop was Abbey Gardens, where the remains of Bury St. Edmunds Abbey can be found. King Edmund’s remains were brought to Bury St. Edmunds in 903, and it was then that the abbey church was built in honour of the late king. Benedictine monks soon replaced secular priests, and the abbey became one of the five richest monasteries in England thanks to generous royal grants.

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Following the Norman Conquest, the monastery was thoroughly redesigned, though its fortunes rapidly went downhill. By the late 1300s, the townspeople were openly revolting against monastic control; the prior lost his head (quite literally) trying to flee the revolt. Just a century later, a severe fire damaged much of the complex, and extensive repairs were needed to restore the abbey. And then, in the 1500s, Henry VIII came on the scene – and we all know what happened next. The Dissolution of the Monasteries saw the abbey plundered of its stone and reduced to ruin. Today, only the bare bones of the abbey church remain, alongside two medieval gatehouses.

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Abbey Gardens is also home to a small aviary, where feathery friends peer inquisitively at visitors from their lofty perches. We spotted some chicks tucked away in their nest, their beaks just visible through the branches.

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St. Edmundsbury Cathedral, located adjacent to the former abbey, dates back to the eleventh century, though it was only designated a cathedral in 1914. We managed to take a quick tour around it before a wedding got underway. Sir George Gilbert Scott is the man behind the hammerbeam roof (that’s a highly decorative timber roof to you and me) which takes centre stage in the nave.

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Moving towards the choir, we saw two organs, both of which had been beautifully restored, and some intricate stained glass windows. If you fancy a panoramic view of the town, the cathedral staff run regular tours of the cathedral and tower; more information can be found on their website. With a steady stream of wedding guests now entering the cathedral, we figured it was time to make ourselves scarce.

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Since it was such a warm day, we picked up some goodies from the market and had a picnic in Abbey Gardens – followed by the obligatory ice cream, as the temperatures had climbed into double digits for the first weekend in yonks. I can highly recommend visiting Street Level Café for a scoop or two of locally-churned ice cream from Lakenham Creamery (the stem ginger and salted caramel flavours were both super tasty).

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We spent the remainder of the afternoon pottering around the town, checking out the Green King Brewery, Guildhall and Corn Exchange. Before heading home, we stopped off for a much-needed soft drink at The Bushel.

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  • Trains from Cambridge to Bury St. Edmunds run once an hour, and the journey takes around 40 minutes. If you have a 16-25 railcard, an off-peak day return costs just £7.45.
  • Bury St. Edmunds Market takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 08:00 to 16:00.

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