My Suffolk - Gary Avis

Gary Avis - picture courtesy of Gavin King

Gary Avis - picture courtesy of Gavin King

Gary Avis is the Principal Character Artist and Ballet Master for the Royal Ballet.

He grew up in and around Ipswich and this is how he describes his Suffolk.


Growing up in Suffolk - what do you remember about your childhood? 

I spent much of the late 1970s with my brother bombing around the country lanes on the northern outskirts of Ipswich on my bicycle. Of course once my dancing became the serious hobby, I mostly saw Suffolk via the rounds of the various dance festivals and competitions that were held at the time. From The Suffolk Music and Dance Festival in Ipswich to Sudbury and Clare Festival my poor dad spent so much of his life ferrying me around. I don't think I really stopped and took Suffolk in properly until later on in my life...and neither did he! 


What makes the county special? 

I have travelled several times around the world in my twenty five year dancing career and I've experienced so many different landscapes and cultures, but my heart tells me that Suffolk is home. My breath is still constantly being taken away by the diverse beauty of our county. Of course there are the more obvious places to visit on the coast, and the fabulous scenery to be had there, but there is also much to be said for the big skies and enormous views across mid Suffolk too. Right across through Diss, Eye, Yaxley, Gislingham and over to the beautiful town of Bury St Edmunds. Suffolk has everything you could wish for really doesn't it, bar a mountain or two. 

Do you enjoy walking? 

Oh yes, very much. Sunday is the usual day with a pub lunch somewhere along the way. Aldeburgh to Thorpeness, Dunwich, Orfordness or a lovely ramble along the banks of the Stour or Orwell. The only 'people' that enjoy it more than me are my Schnauzer's Ella & Louis, their tales go up and they are off! 

Where do you like to eat out? Are there any pubs you'd recommend? 

I really enjoy a good Suffolk pub with a view. I do enjoy more complex and exotic cuisine, but give me a well cooked Sunday roast or bangers and mash and I'm happy. We often stop off for a coffee or breakfast at The Maybush in Waldringfield, The Sorrell Horse is a great community run pub in Shottisham or there's The Crown in Ufford or The Ramsholt Arms is great for a lovely walk after a meal. Have you ever eaten on board The Lady Florence at Orfordness?  It's wonderful! 

Adnam's or Greene King? 

I'm more of a red wine drinker with the odd pint of larger in the summer. However the other member of the family is very partial to a pint of Ghostship, so I'll go with Adnams for now. 

Where do you like to shop? 

Anywhere that has 'Independents' on the High Street and somewhere homely for a coffee half way round. Woodbridge is my most regular haunt, but Bury St Edmunds, Aldeburgh, Framlingham, Eye. I'll do Ipswich sometimes when it's quiet on a Sunday morning. Oh and I do love a good Farm Shop or a thumb along the shelves of a musty second hand bookshop.  

Do you support a local organisation or charity? 

I'm a personal supporter of Mencap and all the work they do, not least because of all the incredible help they have given to my sister and her friends over the years. I'm also just guest judging a 'Strictly' ballroom competition this month  for Inspire Suffolk...they do wonderful work with young people.

Why is Suffolk a great place for the arts?

I defy anyone to say that there isn't something for everyone in Suffolk on the arts front. Not simply as a member of the audience, but also to get involved with. Choirs, orchestras, jazz bands, brass bands, dance troupes, painting, sculpture and pottery classes and courses that encourage people to turn their cooking into an art form too! The whole of Suffolk seems to be brimming with just about every kind of creativity there is. I do love a good village hall or library notice board. Great sources if information. I stopped off in a relatively small village in north Suffolk the other week only to discover they have their own brass band and are putting on a production of Guys and Dolls in the village hall! I was very impressed! 

If you had to take newcomers on a tour of Suffolk where would you go?

It depends on the weather and what we fancy. It could be a trip to take in the view from the top of Orford Castle followed by Fish'n' Chips or a tasy sandwich from Munchies in Aldeburgh...their crayfish is eyewateringly delicious....a walk along the Orwell Estuary or the seafront at Felixstowe Ferry, Lavenham, Sudbury, Kersey, Long Melford, we're really not stuck for beautiful options are we? And don't get me started on the architecture and history! 

Is there one picture that perfectly illustrates the county? 

Oh that's really difficult, it could be a painting of a stormy sea, a heavily beamed Tudor village street, boats on the river or a big Suffolk sunset. I think I'll just go for a view from my favourite spot from the top of the crumbling cliffs at Nacton Shores, just alongside Broke Hall House. The view from there across the Orwell Estuary to Pin Mill is different every time I go. It could be bleak, shimmering in the sunlight or dramatically coloured by a sunset. It's nearly always quiet and peaceful. A hidden Suffolk gem. Sshh

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