A Suffolk test drive
I don’t know about your kids, but the moment mine saw the trailer for the summer movie Earth to Echo – about a stranded alien – all talk was of UFOs. So when the opportunity to visit the woodland where the UK’s most famous ‘sighting’ took place, there was no holding them back.
Usually referred to as the Rendlesham Forest Incident, the story goes that over several nights in December 1980, unexplained lights and flying objects were reported by multiple witnesses near the Suffolk coast. The area – just to the north-east of Ipswich – is now owned by the Forestry Commission and makes a great location for a family day out. And what better way to whip up the children’s excitement than by hiring bikes and following the UFO Trail?
Getting there: The route starts and finishes at the Rendlesham Forest Centre, winds its way through the pretty woodland and takes in the clearing where the ‘ET, go home’ moment happened. It takes roughly 30 minutes and is flat enough for most children, but there are miles of track there for the more enthusiastic rider. Onsite hire of four bikes for up to three hours cost £28.
Driving the BMW 2 Active Tourer
The Suffolk coast has plenty to entertain families and we made the most of it using the new BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. With its high roofline, good-sized boot and versatile interior, it’s the closest thing the German brand has ever come to a building a people carrier. Aimed squarely at families who don’t want/don’t like the idea of a 4×4-style sports utility vehicle (SUV), it’s very well thought out. For example, two of three rear seats shunt forwards or backwards independently, allowing parents to prioritise passenger space or boot capacity as required.
Things to do in Suffolk
From Woodbridge, walks along the picturesque River Deben are an easy option, but the biggest attraction is Sutton Hoo. It’s the site of one of the UK’s most famous archaeological discoveries: a burial ship packed with Anglo-Saxon treasures, including a complete helmet, which is now one of the star attractions at the British Museum in London. At Sutton Hoo, kids can ‘meet’ the king, lying in state surrounded by his treasure, dress up as an Anglo-Saxon and be an archaeologist for a day in the Let’s Dig It! trench.
Furtherafield is Orford, an area of outstanding natural beauty with a wonderfully preserved medieval castle that’s an 800-year-old rabbit warren of passageways and secret chambers.
Where to stay
After some serious alien-hunting we spent the night at Partridge Lodge, a privately owned complex of four self-catering properties on a farm. We stayed in The Granary, a barn conversion equipped with everything you can think of, including locally made apple juice and chocolate brownies on arrival.
Facilities: Upstairs comprised a double bedroom plus a second with two singles for the children. The owners have made every effort to cater for toddlers, and we found everything from a potty and high chair to baby monitors, stairgates and even a carrying sling.
Partridge Lodge was homely, comfortable and would make an ideal base for a relaxing break exploring the Suffolk coastline. And there’s so much to see. A short drive away is the charming estuary town of Woodbridge, full of boutique shops, quaint streets and historic pubs.
Price: Seven nights in The Granary at Partridge Lodge cost from £698 for a family of four. Book via Baby Friendly Boltholes.
Where to eat
We lunched at The Kings Head Inn on the corner of Orford’s main square. The Sunday roast (adults £10.75, kids £7) did the job, but for a lighter bite try the award-winning Pump Street Bakery, which is famed for its artisan breads.
We were recommended the restaurant at Kesgrave Hall for dinner. It’s a four-star hotel on the outskirts of Ipswich, but with a reputation for being family-friendly and offering a kids’ menu more imaginative than the traditional chicken nuggets and chips. It didn’t disappoint. The service was excellent, the food (adult starters £5–£7, mains £15–£20) all very tasty and beautifully presented. Connor, 11, declared his cheeseburger the best he’d ever had, while Brontë, 9, finished every mouthful of her carbonara.
A short drive south of Ipswich brings you to TV’s Jimmy’s Farm, while to the north are the picturesque and popular seaside towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold. Similar in style to Woodbridge, they offer unspoilt beaches, boutique shops and fish and chips. They’re universally regarded as the best in the area. Maybe that’s what the little green men were after.
The 2 Series Active Tourer is BMW’s first compact people carrier. The interior has a striking, contemporary design, is very spacious and has a high seating position.
Cynics might suggest the exterior is perhaps not so appealing. As you would expect from BMW, it’s wonderfully refined to drive and very fuel-efficient.
A four-wheel drive version is due shortly, making it extra-useful for families in very rural areas.
Model: BMW 218d: 1.5-litre 150bhp diesel with automatic gearbox.
Trim level: ‘Luxury’ grade.
Family-friendly features: versatile rear seating that shunts forwards/backwards, good-sized boot and electric tailgate, plenty of useful in-cabin storage.
Fuel economy: 68.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 109g/km