Roaring log fires and an idyllic medieval town setting make this 15th century coaching inn a real treat for visitors
For anyone who hasn’t been to Bury St Edmunds, I urge you to visit at once. It’s a picture-perfect medieval town which you can stroll around easily during the day, taking in markets and and listening to local stories of ghostly happenings galore. For historians, ‘Bloody’ Queen Mary, daughter of King Henry VIII, is buried at St. Mary’s Church, while next to this are the picturesque remains of the town’s biggest attraction: the Benedictine Abbey of Bury St Edmunds.
It’s opposite the gates to the entrance of the Abbey grounds that the gorgeous vine-covered Angel Hotel sits; a 15th-century coaching inn that’s mentioned by Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers, and welcomes travellers with its roaring log fires and spacious downstairs lounge area. On arrival, porters take your luggage to your room while before dinner, I recommend heading into the underground bar Wingspan for first-rate cocktails (I opted for a Raspberry Daiquiri). One of the bars is made from an old aircraft engine, but the real highlight is the underground setting fashioned out of one of the many underground tunnels that can be found under the town and which have existed since the 12th century. It’s wonderfully atmospheric.
Dinner is swiftly served upstairs in the wooden-floored restaurant with its zany collection of contemporary art and photography (keep your eye out for Twiggy) paired with Art Deco furnishings. For connoisseurs, there’s an excellent wine list of mainly Italian, French and Australasian labels while for dinner try the breast of local pigeon with braised puy lentils, crisp pancetta and red wine sauce – it melts in the mouth. The Loin and ragu of Denham Estate venison is rich and filling, served with carrot, cavalo nero and chestnuts, which (just about) left me with enough space for the chocolate fondant dessert.
The rooms are light and spacious: I stayed in the Signature Romantic Suite with a splendid view of the Abbey Gardens and tasteful French-inspired vintage furniture, including arguably the biggest bed I’ve ever seen. While the wallpaper is a little garish by day, by night it’s the perfect cosy hideaway; plug your iPod into the music station, and sink into the enormous copper bath – the piece de resistance of the modern bathroom – cosy bathrobes and slippers will make you feel like you’ve found your home from home.
The following morning, and after consuming a hearty ‘Suffolk Grill’ of sausage, bacon, black pudding, fried bread, mushrooms, grilled tomato and scrambled egg, I set off to explore the splendid grounds of the Abbey Gardens and the ruins, which date to the 11th century. A plaque commemorates when Barons met here in 1214 and swore an oath to compel King John to accept The Charter of Liberties, proclaimed by King Henry I; the meeting that was the precursor to Magna Carta a year later. Pleased to have stumbled upon such a significant trinket of British history, and fresh from my comfortable stay at The Angel Hotel, I make my own vow: to return to Bury St Edmunds at the earliest opportunity.
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