My Suffolk - Ellen McAteer
Ellen McAteer is the director of The Poetry Trust and this month will be presiding over her first Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. She talks about her life in Suffolk.
Have you always lived in Suffolk?
No, in fact I only moved to Suffolk nine months ago when I took up the job of Director of the Poetry Trust, which runs the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. I moved down from Glasgow. I had never even been to the county before I came down last summer for the interview. It was like a little piece of heaven.
It was January, the height of winter – but it was still beautiful and wild and mysterious. I fell in love basically. My husband and kids took six months to follow me down, but now they love it too.
What makes the county special?
The beauty of the landscape, the warmth of its people, and the incredible variety and quality of its culture. I have never felt so welcomed to a place as I do here. The people are incredibly supportive. I cycle, walk and swim, and this is a gorgeous county to do all of those in. I also write, of course, and this place is a dream for writers, and artists, and musicians which is why so many settle here. I have been amazed, as a big city kid, with the high quality of the classical and folk music, art exhibitions, theatre, film, dance and of course literature in East Anglia. To say nothing of the food!
Do you like to walk and if so are there any paths you could recommend?
Indeed! I discovered Wilfred George’s magical hand-drawn walking maps of Suffolk through the Halesworth Bookshop, and I love the ones around Halesworth up to Chediston, Wissett and Rumburgh, and along the Blyth river to Millennium Green and on to Wenhaston. I usually favour walks that end at pubs! There’s a great one between the The Ship at Dunwich to The Westleton Crown Inn that takes in the cliffs and the wild North Sea that eats whole towns. Walking along Aldeburgh Beach to Thorpeness is always soothing too.
Do you have any hobbies?
Hobbies, passions, reasons to live, it’s a fine line. Poetry of course. Reading in general. Writing, walking, cycling, swimming – all solitary pursuits, I’m afraid. But one of my more social hobbies is singing. I love to sing folk songs and have had a go at writing some. I’m just discovering the rich Suffolk folk song archive through brilliant institutions like the Rumburgh Buck and the Blaxhall Ship, and Halesworth’s own folk club at the Triple Plea. A bit of singing in harmony with friends or strangers will bring peace to your soul. I recommend it.
Where do you like to eat out? Are there any pubs or restaurants that you would particularly suggest?
I have twin boys of nine, so it doesn’t happen often! But I love the St Peter’s Brewery near Bungay which is an old church in the middle of nowhere which serves beer and curry in splendid surroundings of wood carvings and tapestry – you can pretend you live in a great hall! The Angel here in Halesworth has a lovely restaurant, and there is, surprisingly, an authentic Thai Restaurant on London Rd which has beautiful, delicate dishes with real subtlety of flavour. The Rumburgh Buck for is good for real cider and music, the Wenhaston Star for its food and The Poacher, Cratfield, for its welcome! Just prepare yourself for the real Suffolk accent, which is music and poetry rolled into one.
Is there one picture you’d suggest to sum up the county?
Christopher Newson’s picture of Maggi Hambling’s Scallop sculpture on Aldeburgh Beach. Controversial I know, but it represents to me both the wildness of the sea – which Maggi also captures vividly in her paintings – and the way the people here embrace culture; such a radical contemporary structure in such a wild spot! The kids love it too – they climb on it and sit under it – you really can hear the sea inside it, just like a real shell.
What do you think of Suffolk and its arts provision?
I think I’ve made my feelings clear on the quality and wealth of culture on offer in such a rural location. We just need the investment to match – and the public transport to bring people here to experience it fully.
Where would you take newcomers on their first Suffolk tour?
I love showing Halesworth off! It’s richer than you think, with the Cut Arts Centre, all the independent shops, the church, the pubs, and the walks. A drive to Dunwich wows people, as does a visit to the stunning Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh . Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings are also perfect for a day out: Aldeburgh Music and the South Lookout Tower always have something interesting on. Recent trips with the kids have included Orford Castle, which is amazing, and I love the woods round Orford Ness.
Adnam’s Aspall or Greene King?
Adnams is all I’ve seen in pubs within cycling distance, so I’ve still to do the taste test! But I’m not a bitter drinker, I’m more a lager lass, though converted to scrumpy!