I’m thinking it’s about time for an escape. An imaginary one, albeit ~ but we can dream, right? How about we leave misty, provincial British Columbia and head over to a manor house and luxury cottages in Suffolk, England? True, it’s likely equally misty there this time of year, but it’s English mist and that’s different. Allow me to introduce you to the Sibton Park Wilderness Reserve, a private country estate where we can immerse ourselves in 4,500 acres of sprawling, quintessential English landscape, only two hours from Central London.
In my dream, we arrive at the Manor House and estate just as the lake and sky fall into each other in dusky mauve and blue shadows.
We arrive in our Bentley, of course. The tall semi circle of Ionic columns welcome us to the Grand Georgian Manor House. Built in 1827 as part of the Heveningham Estate, Sidham Park is a Grade II listed heritage site. We stop briefly to check in, hardly believing such a place exists and that we’re actually here.
We’ve chosen to forgo the Georgian Manor house splendor for a dreamy woodland cottage, lit only by candlelight. We awaken under a fairy tale canopy to fluffy white robes, fresh flowers and no agenda besides exploring the historic Anglo Saxon countryside. But first breakfast. Holidays are always best begun with coffee.
Since Sibton Park is a classic English country estate, we’re greeted by a full entourage of staff on our way to the breakfast room. How very Downton Abby ~ our own personal butler, wait staff, chef and massage therapist!
Inside, we make our way to the dining room. Oh! Isn’t this glorious?! But a tad too formal for breakfast, don’t you think? How about we return later for dinner and have breakfast outside our cottage in the garden instead?
Yes, this is more like it… And look, the sun’s come out. We’ll plan our day in Suffolk over coffee in garden.
I’ve done a little reading on Suffolk. (It always makes for a better holiday to have done a bit of historical research beforehand.) By the 5th century, the Angles (after whom East Anglia and England are named) had established control of the territory. The Angles from the north were called “north folk” and later the area they occupied was called Norfolk. Similarly those from south were known as “south folk”, and the area they occupied was called, (can you guess?) Suffolk. But West Folk is where I really want to go. It’s renowned for it’s archaeological finds from the stone, bronze and iron ages. And we must hit East Folk too, since that’s where the Sutton Hoo Burial Ship went down carrying treasures from the 7th century. Thank you Art History 102! It’s amazing how knowing even a little about something enhances life. We should all go back to university sometime! Oh, but your coffee’s getting cold and I’m rambling. How about a walk about the estate then? We can explore the other ‘folks’ tomorrow, today let’s explore the estate.
Suffolk is renowned for its gentle natural beauty, and the estate lowlands are no exception. Secret woodlands, tidy canopies of broad leaf English trees and hidden serpentine lakes await discovery. It all looks so like a water colour painting, don’t you think? We’ve come quite a ways, past the gatehouse and orangery, the walled garden and moated cottage… The parkland and meadows are home to all manner of friendly faces – birds, butterflies and barn owls, fallow deer and brown hares, swans and starlings. It is after all, a wilderness reserve. Look who we ran into all decked out in yellow finery!
But the late afternoon sun is quickly descending into the silhouetted trees and the air is becoming cool and brisk. Shall we head back to the manor for afternoon tea?
We’re welcomed back to Sibton Hall by a roaring fire and afternoon tea in the drawing room. There’s no record of the manor’s architect, but it’s attributed to Decimus Burton, the designer of many of the buildings at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner. The hand painted chinoiserie wall paper dates back to about 1860. Imagine…
Refreshed, it’s time to return to the cottage to dress for dinner. Even the most ardent shower devotee might be tempted to slip into the tepid waters of this polished jewel with a tumbler of something sparkling and a good novel. Or perhaps a copy of the British Telegraph, which has an intriguing article on the history, rewilding and development of the estate.
As evening falls, word arrives that dinner is being served in the garden and the dress is casual. What a relief, I rather dislike stuffy affairs and dressing up. I’ve never enjoyed a meal so close to a cow before… Oh, I hope beef isn’t on the menu, that would just be macabre with their fellows so nearby! But the pastoral setting is idyllic, isn’t it?
Before turning in for a second evening at the cottage, we share a toast to dreams, to England and to returning at christmas with the entire family! It’s been a lovely little imaginary vacation, hasn’t it?
Cheers and sweet dreams!
(PS – Be sure to continue this journey at Wilderness Reserve website. There’s a beautiful watercolour map of the estate and so many more glorious photos. All photos borrowed from the Wilderness Reserve Gallery.)