I grew up going to Haughley. It’s a village in Mid Suffolk; I don’t know the current population exactly but I think under 2,000 people is a good guess. If you’re elsewhere in England, most people will have never heard of Haughley, but they’ll usually know “Stowmarket” which is the nearest town over (and nicknamed “Slowmarket” if that gives you any indication).
My friends always say, “Oooh, you’re so lucky, going to England,” and they are not wrong! But I think most people envision me visiting Madame Tussaud’s, seeing a West End show, taking selfies with palace guards, all whilst riding atop a double-decker bus simultaneously having tea… with Big Ben in the background. Don’t get me wrong, that’s all great stuff to do, but it’s not my England.
My England is wide open fields and stormy skies with little breaks of light peeking through.
It’s questionable footpaths, hidden cut-throughs, cottages with greenhouses in the back, and kitchen windows left open for the cat. It’s zipping through narrow windy roads in a tiny car praying that someone isn’t careening around the curve barreling straight at you, in a perfectly acceptable daily game of chicken. (Same in other European countries, I know, but it makes you realize that our roads are so WIDE in America. Other countries are like,”Everyone just SQUNCH, it’ll be fine.”) My England is ice cream trucks with 99 cones, worcester crisps, and jacket potatoes with prawns and rosa sauce. Village pubs, village bakeries, village markets, village churches… the “Suffolk pink,” thatched roofs, window boxes, crooked doorways…
I have only been to London twice. Neither trip was life-changing. To be fair, I lived in NYC. Yes: NYC is very different from London. But it’s still a melting-pot-big-city-hustle-and-bustle with great food, museums, and theatre… okay, I like London! But my England is more than London.
My grandmother and her 2 sisters were born in Haughley and lived there pretty much all their lives. Auntie Hazel moved away with her husband for a short while, and my grandmother (Pam) lived in America for 30 years – but they both returned home. Auntie Dot may not have ever lived anywhere else, I’m not sure. Looking at old census records, it’s easy to see that this part of my family has lived in Suffolk, and Haughley specifically, for hundreds of years.
The last remaining sister is Auntie Hazel. She’s really been the only reason to visit Haughley in recent years, and now she’s living “in care” in nearby Stowmarket. We’ve been fortunate that she’s maintained relatively good health. At 96 years old, she’s far outlived her sisters (plus their husbands and her own husband). The 2 photos below are from 2018 and earlier; I last saw her 5 years ago.
Around fall of 2022, I received word… She’d survived Covid, she’d broken her hip, her memory was dodgy… I knew I’d definitely need to knock out a Haughley stop on the trip.
I also knew that getting around in that area may not be the easiest via transit (I’m usually with my dad, and he drives) and that going to a tiny rando English village in the very sleepy countryside (red alert: the pub holds limited hours) might not be THE most attractive destination to a travel partner. Thankfully, I lucked out in that department, and with T’s blessing I booked (possibly the only?) Airbnb in Haughley for the first 2 nights of the trip. I figured a quaint English village could serve as a soothing backdrop for our forced entry into BST (British Summer Time).
So we stayed in Haughley, and it was everything I needed. Plus it was easy enough to arrange a day trip into Bury St. Edmunds where we had a fabulous time. We had a lovely 2 days of decent (only semi-rainy) weather, navigating dodgy footpaths, discussing the local wildlife (“What the f*&@ is that bird?“), bantering with our taxi driver Rich, stuffing our faces, deciphering the cryptic engineering of English door locks, and resting up for the travel days ahead.
I did see Auntie. I’m very glad I went.
I’m not sure if I’ll go back to Haughley…. It’s hard to imagine visiting England without it, but at the same time the ties aren’t as strong. The village is changing. The change isn’t necessarily bad; I don’t know enough to comment. It’s just different.
Would I go back to Suffolk in general? Yes! Any day of the week.
Haughley is but one small village; there’s tons of websites about absolutely gorgeous Suffolk locales, pubs, historical sites, and YES: restaurants. (You can eat well in England! I promise!) If you are not down to drive, transit can be tricky – especially if there’s a rail strike – but it’s all do-able if you PLAN. (And if y0u do go to Haughley, stay here and tell Jo we sent you.)
Re: the video. I don’t own the rights to the music, which is Andrew Bird’s “Sisyphus.” None of this is for commercial gain. All photos and video shot by T and me.