The spiritual capital of Suffolk is rising once again as a new cathedral tower
Distance 3 miles (4.8km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Town streets, gardens, meadows and riverside paths
Landscape Historic buildings of Bury St Edmunds
Suggested map Map/town trail from tourist information centre on Angel Hill
Start/finish TL 855642
Dog friendliness Riverside path suitable for dogs
Parking Ram Meadow pay-and-display car park
Public toilets At car park and Abbey Gardens
1 Turn left out of the car park and walk past the bus garage to reach the side entrance to the Abbey Gardens. Turn right and climb to Angel Hill. Turn right to walk up Abbeygate Street. When you reach Lloyds Pharmacy on the corner of Whiting Street, note the medieval carved beams on display in the window. Across the street is a statue of St Edmund in a niche above an estate agent's office.
2 Turn right along Skinner Street to emerge on Cornhill opposite Moyses Hall, a Norman house from the 12th century. Turn left and left again to return to Abbeygate Street along The Traverse, passing the Nutshell, England's smallest pub, on the left. Turn right past the Corn Exchange and left along Guildhall Street, noting the 15th-century Guildhall with its flint porch. Turn left along College Lane opposite the Black Boy pub and continue on this passage past a half-timbered cottage with overhanging jetties and carved angel window frames. Keep straight ahead to cross two roads before swinging right and left on Church Walks. Turn right along Bridewell Lane and left at the end of the street to reach the Greene King brewery and a splendid Georgian playhouse, the Theatre Royal, now in the hands of the National Trust but still in use as a theatre.
3 Turn left opposite the theatre to arrive at St Mary's Church, where Mary Tudor, younger sister of Henry VIII, is buried. Beyond the church is St Edmundsbury Cathedral.
4 Turn right between the cathedral and the Norman Tower and cross the Great Churchyard to your right to arrive on Honey Hill opposite the Manor House Museum. Turn left here and keep to the left of the courthouse on a footpath signposted 'Moreton Hall Estate'. Cross the car park and turn right through a wooden gate into the No Man's Meadows nature reserve, passing an information board and walking through The Crankles, an area of medieval fishponds now planted with cricket bat willows. Stay on this path through water-meadows then turn right to cross a footbridge and climb some steps. Turn left to walk past the rugby ground. Turn left at the road, cross a bridge and turn left on to a bridleway that runs beside the River Lark. Keep straight ahead at a crossing on the tarmac path to return to the Abbey Gardens via a bridge.
Some years after King Edmund's death at Hoxne, his body was moved to Beodricsworth and a shrine was built in his honour in the town which became known as Bury St Edmunds. It soon became an important place of pilgrimage and its abbey grew to be one of the most powerful in Europe. Bury, today, remains the religious capital of Suffolk, a status which is being reinforced with the building of its cathedral tower. It is also a delightful town in which to stroll. On this walk you take in a thousand years of history, from Norman flint and Elizabethan timber to Georgian brick and Victorian Bath stone, along with beautiful gardens and a short stretch along the River Lark.
In the town centre, Angel Hill is the site of the old Bury Fair, which brought entertainers and salesmen from all over Europe until it was banned on grounds of immorality in 1871. The ivy-covered building is the Angel, mentioned by Charles Dickens in Pickwick Papers. Across the square are the Athenaeum Subscription Rooms, with a grand 18th-century ballroom where Dickens gave readings and where concerts still take place. On the left, the Abbey Gate is one of two surviving gateways of the old abbey, which was sacked by the townspeople in 1327 and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. Just inside the gateway is the world's first internet park bench, with free modem sockets for laptop computers.
Beyond here are the ruins of the Norman abbey, with a tower now used as the bell tower for St Edmundsbury Cathedral. This unusual cathedral began life as a parish church and was upgraded in 1914 when the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich was created. The building of the Millennium Tower will finally make the cathedral worthy of the name and give the skyline more interest than the sugar factory.
Don't miss the charnel house with its memorable inscriptions, including one to a nine-year-old girl struck by lightning and another to the unfortunate Sarah Lloyd, who was hanged in 1800 after being caught by 'the allurements of vice and the treacherous snares of seduction'.
It always feels crowded in the Nutshell, with just a couple of wooden benches and drinkers spilling out into the street. No food is served here. Greene King beers are available at the Dog and Partridge, close to Westgate Brewery, and other pubs around the town. The tea rooms in the Abbey Gardens are open in summer.