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The only time I’d previously visited Bury St Edmunds was to go to a discount furniture store. While picking up a favourably priced wardrobe, little did I know the history that lay before me and the charming streets and shops; so much so they were recently used as a film set to celebrate one of our greats, Charles Dickens, who also frequented the area.
The new Dickens classic David Copperfield is soon to be released, starring big names such as Tilda Swinton, Dev Patel and Peter Capaldi and directed by comedy mastermind Armando Iannucci. Why the connection with Bury St Edmunds? Well, part of the film was shot in some of the town’s historic locations because Dickens was a great fan, often staying at the Angel Hotel – the very place I got to spend a weekend away. If you ask nicely, they’ll show you a signed cheque by the literary legend himself.
Dickens was so inspired, he wrote his world famous Pickwick Papers here. With my A-level in English literature in my back pocket, I set out on a quest for a Dickensian weekend, steeped in history, culture and cocktails. As I’m sure that’s exactly how Dickens did it.
Bury is a charming town, with cobbled little side streets and an abundance of independent shops. Plus – and this is great news if, like me, you prefer your weekend breaks to be a little on the lazy side – the town centre and all the sights are doable in the day, by foot, requiring no further transport. Ideal. Also home to Britains smallest pub, The Nutshell (gags not included) and the Greene King Brewery empire for the last 200 years, so you’ll be well oiled if needed!
The Abbey Gardens are Bury’s most striking feature. The ruins of the once most powerful monasteries in England, this is a delightful spot for a walk and an ice cream (which I can also recommend from the Really Rather Good cafe opposite the gardens’ entrance). In the same area of Chequer Square, you can check out The Athenaeum, where Dickens regularly hosted public readings to promote his books. PR was alive and well even back then!
If, like me, you’re a fan of antiques and art deco, you’ll love Bury’s other great feature, The Salt Pillar. A road sign like no other, literally, as it’s Grade II listed, standing proudly before Abbey Gardens. It’s a totally unique and striking piece of art, and also an Instagram winner – if you’re into that kind of thing.
The Angel Hotel, which is perfectly located opposite Abbey Gardens, is a stunning Georgian building which looks spectacular, with a traditional but modern feel. And aside from delicious meals and cocktails, they’re also dog friendly, which, for such a grand hotel was a pleasant surprise. These places aren’t easy to find. So, as a proud new owner of a four-legged friend, I was delighted to be able to take her along for the trip. She was even greeted with a bowl and a new toy, and is very keen to return.
So if you’re looking for a new location that’s dog and family friendly, steeped in history, but small enough to get around in a day, Bury ticks all the boxes. Maybe you’ll be inspired to pen the next classic!
I stayed at The Angel Hotel, Bury St Edmunds. Rooms start at £90. Entrance to The Abbey Gardens is free.