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Vintage Ipswich

A river cruise, a walking tour and museum visit. These were the three things on our itinerary as we headed off for a day out in Ipswich, Suffolk’s county town. The weather was fine and held the promise of a relaxing day meandering around town and a calm evening out on the water.

Sailing Barge Victor, Ipswich, Suffolk

Ipswich has for me, always been a place that I visited on business, rather than for pleasure and so it was with fresh eyes, those of a tourist, that I approached the day with curiosity and anticipation.

We parked our car on the waterfront, which is in the process of undergoing an extensive and large-scale, billion pound makeover. Gone are most of the derelict buildings that were left over from its days as Europe’s largest wet dock and in their place are luxury apartments, bistros and bars, a hotel and a university building, overlooking the yachts and boats in the harbour.

From here we took a short walk into the town centre, past the quirky Giles Statue, to pop into the tourist information centre (TIC) in St Stephen’s Lane. The TIC is a treasure trove of information leaflets, maps and other goodies and we picked up our Ipswich Vintage Shopping Walking Map here as well as tickets for our evening river cruise.

The vintage shopping map was devised by some of the Ipswich retailers who run small independent shops which all have a common theme: vintage. They sell vintage items, or their businesses are in buildings of historic note and they have created something quirky and fun that encourages visitors off the well-beaten path around the town centre and into the more interesting side streets that are quieter, prettier and where the shopkeepers take time to chat with their customers.

Suffolk Crafts Society Shop Ipswich

We came across some lovely little shops along the route, including Myrtle and Mint, a flower shop full of peonies, hydrangeas and roses. Apart from their perfect choice of flowers, they also sell vintage vases and jars for displaying their bouquets. Other shops on the map sell vintage home ware, records, craft items and there are several eateries, including a 50s inspired ice cream parlour called RaRa’s with an enticing menu of sweet treats.

Loveone is a gift shop owned by Cathy Frost, who is one of the main movers behind the vintage map. She is a natural ambassador for Ipswich, with her bright and cheery manner and enthusiasm for her adopted town. Cathy moved to Ipswich from London some 20 years ago and loves the vibrancy and culture that she finds here and the friendliness of the people.

A Day Out In Ipswich

She told me about a customer who came into her shop a while ago and mentioned that she was moving to the area and couldn’t decide whether to buy a home in Colchester or Ipswich. Cathy gave her a copy of the vintage map and suggested she take a look around some of the lesser-known parts of the town. A few months later, the customer came back to the shop to thank Cathy and tell her that, based on what she saw that day, she decided a move to Ipswich was right for her.

Cathy also organises a regular Vintage and Crafts Market in St Peter’s Street, when around 30 vintage and artisan crafts stalls line the street. Closing the road for the day gives the event a real community feel: “It’s like a mini Spitalfields market” says Cathy.

Next up was a lunch stop at Arlington’s, also on the Vintage Map and from there we walked to Christchurch Mansion in Soane Street, just a few minutes from the centre of town.

Built in the 16th century as a gentleman’s town residence, the mansion now houses an eclectic range of items, including a wonderful collection of work by Gainsborough and Constable. The Wolsey Art Gallery, a large room within the mansion, also has a fascinating display of Constable’s possessions, including his wife Maria’s wedding band and his paint brushes and palette. There is also a small wood carving which the artist signed and the rather macabre death mask, made by a neighbour on the night Constable died in 1837.

Christchurch Mansion feels huge inside with layers of different rooms and collections, a striking china and glass gallery and a fabulous collection of Victorian toys and games. Entry to the museum is free and many events take place in the grounds throughout the year.

After a refreshing cup of tea in the café, we headed back through town, towards the waterfront to wait for the start of our evening river cruise.

The waterfront was getting lively; the warm summer weather enticing people outside to sit in the street cafés and watch the world go by. The Thames Sailing Barge Victor was our cruising vessel of choice and we were welcomed aboard by the skipper, David ‘Wes’ Westwood and his friendly team of volunteers.

Built in 1895 in Ipswich for work in the linseed oil trade, Victor was bought by a local businessman and restored in 2005. It was a restoration project that was to take nearly three years and when it was finished, Victor was proudly raced in the Thames Sailing Barge Match, the second oldest barge race in the world, after the America’s Cup.

Now, the barge is used for pleasure cruises throughout the summer, with a choice of picnic, cream tea or supper cruises and in the winter, there are early morning bird-watching cruises with the RSPB.

Our supper cruise left the waterfront at 6.30pm and we made our way gently past the hundreds of luxury yachts anchored in the harbour, through the lock and before long, we were out in the River Orwell, sailing under the Orwell Bridge and beyond, towards the incredibly picturesque Shotley Peninsula. The weather was superb as we enjoyed our drinks on deck and watched the birds, other boats and the world go lazily by.

Sailing Barge Victor, Ipswich, Suffolk

Wes, skipper of Victor for the past eight years, gave us commentary as we passed interesting landmarks: Pin Mill (with its excellent pub, The Butt and Oyster), Orwell Park School Observatory (open to the public twice a year), Freston Tower (now self-catering holiday accommodation) and we soaked up the peaceful atmosphere as we watched the sun set on the horizon.

Dinner was served below decks (delicious, home-made lasagne and salad, with a veggie option if required) but this was just a pleasant side line to the simply beautiful landscapes we were passing by. The engine was turned off after a while, as the sail was raised and we drifted back toward Ipswich in peace and quiet, which was interrupted only occasionally by the odd boat sailing by.

Wes took his time and we arrived back in Ipswich after 10pm as Friday night was in full swing in the cafes and bars along the waterfront.

It was a wonderful end to our day out in Ipswich. It was a day that took me slightly by surprise; I didn’t expect to be extolling the town’s virtues quite as much as I have been since our visit, and I will definitely be back to explore some more. A thoroughly pleasant day out. Thank you Ipswich!

 

 

 

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Written by Mark



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