Fiddlesticks’ 2009 May Tour to Suffolk and Essex

On previous May Tours we have been to Rouen, Rutland, Lancashire, Sussex, Lincolnshire and, last year, Austria. This year we decided to stay “at home”, and visit Suffolk and Essex. So, early on a Saturday morning in late May, two minibuses, laden with dancers, musicians, kit and a band of indispensable helpers, set off for our first stop at picturesque Lavenham with its medieval half-timbered houses. This was once one of the wealthiest settlements in England and was where John Constable went to school. There, coffee and biscuits awaited us at a local hostelry. Those who know me also know that food and drink figure high in my list of priorities, so don’t be surprised if there are numerous references to our refreshment stops.

After reviving ourselves, we woke sleepy Lavenham with our first session of dances. Time everyone was up anyway, the sun was shining and the weather was set fair for the weekend. Having stretched our legs, we all piled back into our transport and continued our journey to Hadleigh where we danced in George Street with its many listed buildings, and outside the Orangerie. St Mary’s in this ancient market town is said to be the burial place of Guthrun, King of the Danes.

No rest for the wicked – back to the minibuses and on to The Woolpack at Coggeshall. This was originally a 15th century house built on the wealth of the wool trade, and then a non-conformist chapel, before becoming an inn in 1708. Surely time for lunch? No, we had to dance first. After lunch, more dancing here.

Then we moved on to Hatfield Forest, an ancient woodland, now an SSSI, and a rare surviving example of a medieval royal hunting forest of great historical and ecological importance. A slight snag – the lady on the gate hadn’t been made aware of our arrival and wanted to charge us entry fees. I think the sight of all the dancers in their green skirts and black waistcoats finally convinced her we were not there to go hiking in the forest. After dancing, time for a well-earned ice cream.

From there, on to our accommodation at The Farmhouse Inn on the outskirts of Thaxted, where our party had taken over all the rooms. In fact, one poor soul who was late in booking had to stay elsewhere! Let that be a warning to everyone in the future to book early. Time for a shower and to put our feet up for a little while before ... dinner! The end of a long and rather tiring, but enjoyable, day. Well, nearly the end. A post-dinner music session saw Julie’s stepping debut in a duet with Kay, and Cilla’s playing debut. Well done to both!

Up bright and early next morning for a pre-breakfast walk. Some stunning flowers in a nearby field. Took a photo but it doesn’t look the same as the real thing. Met the “poor soul staying elsewhere” arriving for his breakfast.

Right, where to today? First stop Colchester Castle Gardens. The Norman castle was once a county prison where in 1645 the self-styled Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, interrogated and imprisoned suspected witches. Already very hot in the sun. A jostling for the best positions in the dance set to keep in the shade for the longest time. Move along to the bandstand for a second session. Ah, that’s better – there’s a refreshment kiosk nearby. Here saw the arrival of an additional dancer joining us just for Sunday. Better give her lots of dances.

On to the Black Buoy at Wivenhoe for pre-lunch dancing. This is Wivenhoe’s oldest inn, maybe a haunt of smugglers in days gone by? Rather tricky dancing here, just a tiny triangle of space on a slope. Down the hill for a quick recce of our next dance spot down by the river, only to find it under water. Was the tide still coming in, or going out? It will be OK after lunch said our organiser confidently. And so it was.

A large audience by the river appreciated (I hope) two dance sessions before it was back to the minibuses once again to travel to our next venue, the East Anglian Railway Museum near Colchester and well-earned refreshments. By now, many of us were beginning to flag in the heat.

Than back to the Farmhouse Inn where we had promised a display for dinner guests and local people. And at last, dinner time for us approached!

Monday dawned – the final day of our Tour. After checking out of our accommodation we made our way to Finchingfield, reputed to be one of the most photographed villages in England with its church on a hill, duck pond, stream and village green. Not many people watching, but I’m sure they heard us!

For the remainder of the morning, by kind invitation of the Thaxted Morris Men, we joined them in their dancing in the town. A good session.

On to Ingatestone Hall, a 16th century “E” shaped manor house, where lunch awaited us. Three dance sessions followed – oh so hot in the courtyard. Just a bit of shade available under the trees.

Our final venue was on the way home, at Dedham in the heart of Dedham Vale on the river Stour, immortalised in many paintings by John Constable. And here the weather changed, and we had to curtail our dance programme because of the rain. I must say, some (but not all) were not sorry about this. But we did do a couple of dances before heading home. The end of another splendid May Tour. Many thanks to everyone who contributed by planning, dancing, playing, providing historical information about our dance venues and generally providing support over the weekend.

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