19 things you can only do in East Anglia
Make 2019 a year to remember by visiting some of the quirky and downright eccentric things that the region has to offer.
1. Go on a UFO walk
In December 1980, Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk was the setting for one of the most significant UFO sightings in the UK. While the origin of the lights in the sky that night remains a mystery, the forest has since been popular with UFO hunters, leading the Forestry Commission to set up an official UFO Trail in 2005. The easy three-mile loop is marked with silver arrows and takes you around the forest and along the parameter of Woodbridge Airfield – so even if you don’t see any aliens, you may glimpse some base personnel. Pick up an alien trail leaflet from the Forest Office so you can decode the secret message on the waymarks around the trail.
Nearest station: Melton
2. Slide down a helter-skelter in a cathedral
Yes, you read that correctly: Norwich Cathedral is installing a 50ft-tall helter-skelter in the nave this summer. Part of an installation called Seeing It Differently that’s running from 7–18 August, you’ll experience unique views of the cathedral as you slide down, including the medieval roof bosses. Other exhibits include a ‘bible box’ that you can sit inside, a blind trail in the cloister garth, and the chance to lie down on yoga mats to gaze at the ceiling.
Nearest station: Norwich
3. Take a lift up a cliff for 50p
Hauling you up 40m at a gradient of 43 per cent, Southend’s Cliff Lift transports you from the Western Esplanade to Clifton Terrace – and all for the bargain price of 50p. The lift was opened in 1912 and has been running ever since, apart from a hiatus in 2003–10 during which it underwent a £3 million refurbishment. Once at the top, you’ll enjoy amazing views of Southend Pier (the UK’s longest pleasure pier) and the Thames Estuary.
Nearest station: Southend
4. Experience the golden age of cinema
If you yearn for the days of commissionaires in dinner jackets, head to the Electric Picture Palace in Southwold to get your vintage fix. This 70-seat cinema aims to recapture the feel of a mid-20th-century night out at the pictures, so enjoy being shown to your seat by uniformed ushers and watching the Wurlitzer organ rise up mysteriously during the interval.
5. Enjoy an end-of-the-pier show
End-of-the-pier summer shows were once a staple of British seaside entertainment, but Cromer Pier has the only full season show still running. For three months of the year you can watch an assortment of traditional variety acts featuring comedy, ventriloquism, magic, music and more.
Nearest station: Cromer
6. Journey to one of the UK’s most isolated train stations
Surrounded by the Halvergate Marshes in Norfolk, Berney Arms is one of the least used and most remote stations in the country – in fact, it’s not even accessible by road. As you might expect, it’s a request stop and, due to line refurbishments, it’s currently closed until April 2019. But bird-lovers will definitely find it to be a worthwhile journey as the station borders the RSPB’s Berney Marshes, while history buffs can visit the English Heritage-owned Berney Arms Windmill.
Nearest station: Berney Arms
7. Drink in the UK’s smallest pub
Right in the heart of Bury St Edmunds, the appropriately named The Nutshell measures just 15ft by 7ft and is officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the UK’s tiniest hostelry. It may be small but it’s full of interest, from the curios that adorn the walls (which include a mummified cat and an aeroplane propeller) to a fine selection of local ales.
Nearest station: Bury St Edmunds
8. Learn about the origins of radar
In 1937, RAF Bawdsley became the world’s first fully operational radar station, an event that would go on to help in the success of the Battle of Britain. The Bawdsley Radar Museum tells the story of this momentous development, with eyewitness accounts from the personnel who worked at the base both before and after the Second World War.
Nearest station: Felixstowe
9. Visit the mighty Seahenge
Forget Stonehenge – East Anglia’s version is Seahenge. This Bronze Age monument was discovered on the beach at Holme-next-the-Sea in 1998 and is made up of 55 oak posts arranged in a circle around a central stump. In order to preserve the monument, it was excavated the following year – a decision that was extremely controversial at the time. Now half of the original posts and the central stump can be seen at the Lynn Museum in King's Lynn. A second monument was discovered on the beach in 2014 but was left in situ.
Nearest station: King's Lynn
10. Meet Boggles and Twiggles
These magical creatures are the creation of local author Tom Blofeld, who has built an entire adventure park based on his fictional universe. Bewilderwood features tree houses, zip wires, sky mazes, boat trips and marsh walks that are loved by both the young and the young-at-heart.
Nearest station: Hoveton & Wroxham
11. Watch a show at the UK’s only permanent circus
Built in 1903 by showman George Gilbert, the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome is the last surviving circus building in the country. Many greats of the circus and entertainment world have performed here, from Houdini and Max Miller to Lillie Langtry, and it’s also been used for political rallies and even wartime shooting practice. The Hippodrome is still a working venue, so you can go and see shows all year round, including the summer circus extravaganza that uses 50,000 litres of water in its dramatic aquatic finale.
Nearest station: Great Yarmouth
12. Tour around a working shoe factory
Norwich was once a centre for shoemaking – in its 20th-century heyday there were 30 factories employing 12,000 people. Van Dal is the last surviving manufacturer in the city (in fact, in the UK) and still makes its shoes using traditional methods, creating over 500,000 pairs every year. The company offers free tours of the factory, where you can see the shoemakers in action and enjoy some retail therapy in the factory shop.
Nearest station: Norwich
13. Cuddle a camel
Oasis Camel Park is the only place in the UK where you can get up close with camels, as well as llamas, alpacas and donkeys. There are also opportunities to go on a camel ride, take the animals for a walk and learn about the history of these magnificent creatures.
Nearest station: Halesworth
14. Holiday in a Grayson Perry artwork
A House for Essex, also known as Julie’s House, is an immersive artwork and short-term rental property designed by Grayson Perry and FAT Architecture. Set on the shores of the River Stour, the house is a homage to the spirit of Essex, explored through a fictional character called Julie. The outside architecture is inspired by pilgrimage chapels, and the interior is filled with tapestries, sculpture and other artwork that pays tribute to Julie’s life. Stays at this unique house are allocated through a yearly ballot.
Nearest station: Wrabness
15. Shop at the world’s largest village store
While you’re in the area, pop into Wroxham and do some shopping at Roys of Wroxham. The accolade of ‘the world’s largest village store’ was won by this shop in a competition in the 1930s and hasn’t been challenged since. Opened by brothers Alfred and Arnold Roy, it’s still a family-owned independent business that now occupies six stores in Wroxham, with seven other shops across Norfolk and Suffolk.
Nearest station: Hoveton & Wroxham
16. Look around a museum dedicated to Dad’s Army
Come and pay homage to Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s beloved sitcom at the Dad’s Army Museum. Located in Thetford, which was the setting for fictional Walmington-on-Sea, you can explore a reconstruction of Captain Mainwaring’s church hall office, look at memorabilia from the series and enjoy a cuppa in the 40s-style tea rooms. There’s also the option to take a walking tour around the town to see key filming locations.
Nearest station: Thetford
17. Stand at the UK’s most easterly point
Go to Ness Point in Lowestoft and you’ll be the most easterly person in the UK. And if you get there early enough, you can be the first person in the country to see the sun rise, too.
Nearest station: Lowestoft
18. Check out the UK’s silk capital
While Sudbury is well known as the birthplace of Gainsborough, not many people are aware that it’s also the official silk capital of the UK. For the last 200 years, four working mills have been creating this luxurious fabric, which has been used in some pretty famous outfits – Princess Diana’s wedding gown and the dress Michelle Obama wore when she met the Queen, to name but two. The inaugural Sudbury Silk Festival takes place on 7 September 2019 and will feature architecture and silk walks, weaving demonstrations, specialist talks and more.
Nearest station: Sudbury
19. See the principality of Sealand
Sealand is the self-proclaimed “smallest country in the world”, a 932 sq ft wartime fortress that’s seven miles off the coast of Suffolk. Former army major Paddy Roy Bates created the principality when he took his family to live there in 1967. You can apply for a visa to visit, although it’s unlikely to be granted at the moment – an easier way to see it is to stand on the beach at Felixstowe on a clear day. You can, however, apply to become a lord or lady of Sealand for the bargain price of £29.99.
Nearest station: Felixstowe