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Newmarket in Suffolk is the home of British horse racing, with equine attractions aplenty. There are the two race courses, the Rowley Mile and the July Course; the gallops where the horses are exercised; the National Stud, where they are bred; and Tattersalls, where they are bought and sold. There is plenty of art, too, but it is largely of a horsey nature – the Packard Galleries of British Sporting Art are full of paintings by George Stubbs and Alfred Munnings, and depictions of hunting, hawking, shooting and, of course, racing.

This summer, though, there is a new kind of art in town. The National Horse Racing Museum is one of three venues across west Suffolk jointly hosting a huge street art exhibition. The Urban Frame: Mutiny in Colour features more than 300 works by leading street and contemporary artists, including Banksy, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Kate Moss Record by Damien Hirst
Kate Moss Record by Damien Hirst. Photograph: John Brandler

The Newmarket exhibition includes a world-first showing of The 7: Banksy Under Siege, replica lifesize “walls” created by the artist in war-torn Ukraine last November. The photographic reproductions are particularly poignant given that many of the actual walls have now been destroyed by the bombardment. The show also features two original works by Banksy: Hula Hooping Girl, from the wall of a beauty salon in Nottingham, and Love is in the Air, an anti-war image that appeared on the side of a garage in Jerusalem. The latter is being exhibited formally for the first time after being sold at auction for $12.9m last year, and will then travel to galleries in Amsterdam and Barcelona. Other exhibits includes Citroen Berlingo Van, a vehicle painted with 200 eyes by the artist My Dog Sighs; work by Blek le Rat, the father of stencil graffiti; cult contemporary artists the Connor Brothers, and big names in street art, such as Pure Evil, Stik and Kaws.

The two other venues, featuring work by many of the same artists, are Haverhill Arts Centre and Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds. Both are within easy reach of Newmarket – Haverhill is a half-hour drive, Bury St Edmunds a 20-minute train journey – and it is well worth visiting all three over a weekend. The Haverhill venue, a Victorian former town hall, has artists running free workshops in illustration and print-making, inspired by the exhibition.

The artist My Dog Sighs in his studio
The artist My Dog Sighs. Photograph: Jack Daly

The exhibition at Moyse’s Hall, a 12th-century building on the marketplace, is inspired by My Dog Sighs’ use of found materials. The set dressing is borrowed from artists or created using crates and bricks, there are no paper labels – information is written or painted directly on to the walls – and other fixtures and fittings have been reused from past displays. This show also features a Banksy – Sandcastle Girl, which was painted on a wall in Lowestoft in 2021 – and a video of the artist in action, plus work by Grayson Perry, Keith Haring and many more.

The Urban Frame: Mutiny in Colour is at the National Horse Racing Museum and Moyse’s Hall Museum until 1 October and at Haverhill Arts Centre until 12 September; £7 adults/£3 under-18s/under-12s free.

What now?

Exercising horses on the gallops in Newmarket at sunrise
Exercising horses on the gallops at sunrise

To coincide with the exhibition, the Newmarket in Colour initiative is bringing street-art energy to the town. Artists, community groups and children have created murals at sites including the memorial gardens and the leisure centre. Streets have overhead art installations of butterflies, shop windows have been specially decorated and bars and restaurants have created colourful dishes and cocktails.

Discover Newmarket runs guided tours of the town’s main sites, including the gallops, a racing yard and the National Stud, where visitors can meet mares, foals and stallions, including the former champion Stradivarius.

The artwork Pussy Riot, Putin’s Worst Nightmare by Pure Evil
Prints by artists such as Pure Evil are on sale at Moyse’s Hall Museum

The gift shop at Moyse’s Hall has the biggest range of postcards, posters and limited-edition prints from the exhibition. In Newmarket, Treasures sells antique furniture and other vintage pieces, there is a weekly farmers’ market at the Riverwalk Commons (Saturdays, May to October) and a monthly makers’ market in the Market Square car park (next market 12 August).

When to go

Visitors can combine art appreciation with a day at the races – there are about a dozen meets before the end of September.

Newmarket town centre
Newmarket town centre. Photograph: Mark Westley

Get outside

The Stour Valley Path is a 60-mile walking route from Newmarket to Cattawade, near Suffolk’s border with Essex. The first five miles, to Stetchworth, include a stretch along Devil’s Dyke, a massive Anglo-Saxon earthwork that was once a defensive structure and is now a habitat for wildflowers and butterflies. On a clear day there are views to Ely cathedral, 14 miles away.

Drinks and dinner

Fish and chips at the Three Blackbirds pub
Fish and chips at the Three Blackbirds, a pub with rooms that serves great food. Photograph: Emma Cabielles

The Bull, a lively pub on the high street, has a beer garden, regular live music, sport screenings and a summer drinks menu that includes negroni sbagliato (£8). The Pantry, an all-day cafe, deli and restaurant, serves coffee and cake, brunch and lunch, and a dinner menu with dishes such as sea bream with samphire and a saffron and mussel broth (£17), or smoked squash risotto with sage and walnut pesto (£13).

In Bury St Edmunds, the One Bull pub serves beer from its own craft brewery, Brewshed, and wine from its shop, Vino Gusto – guests can sample a flight of five 50ml measures for £10-13. The food menu changes every six weeks or so and there are daily specials – the summer menu (until 3 September) includes crab tart with parsley sauce (£9.50) and salmon with new potatoes and bean fricassee (£18.50).


The Jockey Club Rooms.
The Jockey Club Rooms. Photograph: PR IMAGE

The Jockey Club Rooms is a country house with beautiful gardens, right in the centre of Newmarket. It has been a private members’ club for the horse racing elite for more than 250 years, hosting royalty and at least six prime ministers. It is crammed with racing memorabilia and equine art, including more paintings by Stubbs and Munnings. A few years ago it opened 18 stately rooms to the public (doubles from £100 B&B).

The Three Blackbirds in Woodditton, about four miles south of Newmarket, is a 17th-century pub with nine cosy but contemporary rooms in a newbuild barn (doubles from £82). It also serves fantastic seasonal food, from vegan options (bubble & squeak, with roasted vegetables, £17) to Suffolk rump steak with black garlic aioli and triple-cooked chips (£23).

Getting there

There are direct trains to Newmarket from Ipswich (56 minutes) and Cambridge (21 minutes).

‘It’s about trying to get people to think about Lowestoft in a different way: to look at the beautiful beach as part of the fantastic east coast and not as the end of the line, or a place that has lost industry. It’s actually got a lot of potential.” Genevieve Christie is passionate about the UK’s easternmost town – what she calls “the most unsung location in Suffolk”. As CEO of the First Light festival (17-18 June), a free annual beachside event celebrating midsummer, she and her team also run the live music, film nights and performances at the new seafront East Point Pavilion, where we now sit eating burritos.

Spruced up and reopened last summer by HemingwayDesign, the faux Victorian structure – actually built in 1993 – is the initial, very prominent beneficiary of Lowestoft’s recently secured £24.9m levelling up Towns Fund. Once home to a soft play area and tourist office, it now buzzes with streetfood stalls, artisan coffee and craft beer. “People held this building in great affection,” she says. “And it’s become a real hub, with hundreds of families enjoying this space.”

The First Light festival celebrates midsummer.
The First Light festival celebrates midsummer. Photograph: Malachy Luckie

Regeneration in Lowestoft is a big story. North of the station quarter – itself undergoing a transformation – is the imposing Grade II-listed old post office. Set to become arts hub Messums East, it’ll be part of an organisation based in London and Wiltshire. “The entire facade has been restored and is looking wonderful,” says director Johnny Messum. “And a series of curated exhibitions in its windows, which launches on 22 June as part of the First Light Festival, will be the start.” based in St James’s London and Wiltshire When it opens fully in 2025, as well as housing multiple exhibition spaces, a screening room and cafe, it will provide a studio for the local sculptor Laurence Edwards.

Messums East Old Post Office.
Messums East Old Post Office. Photograph: Stephen Emms

And that’s not all. Improvements are coming thick and fast, from the new Gull Wing Bridge and the rebooted fountains on Royal Plain to beach boardwalks and increased biodiversity. The 60-metre tip of Claremont Pier is to be restored and reopened for the first time in 40 years, while overlooking the golden sands are 72 new architect-designed aquamarine beach huts – available to hire, or to buy at £30,000 a pop. Elsewhere, the proposed Cultural Quarter will see an upgrade to the Marina theatre, and a former multistorey car park demolished to create a performing arts centre.

Happily, indie arts venues are thriving too, including the volunteer-run Lowestoft Arts Centre, multi-use space The Grit, community theatre The Seagull, and contemporary galleries such as 303 Projects on London Road South. And who knows where the next Banksy will pop up?

Ness Point.
Ness Point. Photograph: Stephen Emms

After lunch we climb the historic high street, admiring 15th-century cottages and grand Georgian houses in various states of repair, as well as the boarded-up town hall, soon to be reborn as a “multifunctional and inclusive centre”. With all eyes on Lowestoft’s giddy future, its past is a more typical coastal yarn: prosperity from fishing was followed by Victorian development – civil engineer Samuel Morton Peto’s dream being for Lowestoft to rival Brighton – and postwar decline (it was one of England’s most bombed towns per capita).

Plaques brim with tales of John Wesley, Cromwell and Dickens – and quirky shops sell everything from bric-a-brac to ceramics (don’t miss RE Morris General Store). Steep alleyways known as “scores” (from the Old Norse “skor”, meaning notch) link the clifftop town to the beach, and can be explored via the Red Herring Trail.

A dish by chef-patron Mark G in former pub The Old Blue Anchor.
A dish by chef-patron Mark G in former pub The Old Blue Anchor. Photograph: Stephen Emms

A hearty stroll is also key to understanding the sprawling food scene. As well as local faves such as Gibbs Fish & Chips (4A Carlton Road), Jojo’s, Raj Mahal and Lowestoft Tandoori, a recommended new arrival is Well Well Well the Bathhouse (so named after the Victorian saltwater well in its centre), where, the following lunchtime, we devour well-priced tapas. Another is Flint, housed in a 1586 building, which serves Portuguese small plates and pizza: in warm weather “people queue for hours” to sit in the walled courtyard, confides our waiter, over garlicky pica pau (marinated pork) with patatas (tip: house wine is only £8 a 500ml carafe.) And we discover the finest espresso in town at new vegan cafe Door to the Cosmos on London Road South, itself home to an eclectic range of shops.

East Pint Beer Festival.
East Pint Beer Festival at the East Point Pavilion.

The foodie trailblazer, however, is chef-patron Mark G in former pub The Old Blue Anchor. This atmospheric dining room, with its elegant panelling and open kitchen, is busy on a midweek night: we tuck into Cromer crab with pickled cucumber, just-opaque pan-fried hake with wild garlic pesto, and tandoori lobster with buttery samphire. A must is a bowl of salted cockle popcorn while you wait. It’s such a success the team have taken over the adjoining building for a new wine bar to open this summer. “The future looks very bright,” Mark tells me afterwards.

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It makes sense to walk the food off on an impromptu pub crawl. At Pakefield, Lowestoft’s southernmost point, The Jolly Sailors boasts panoramic coastal views (or try its central sister The Harbour), while in the old town, the pared back Triangle Tavern (on St Peter’s Street) is a haven of craft beer and ale. We also enjoy friendly neighbourhood boozer The Welcome (on London Road North) and “safe space” Marilyn’s, fronted by a young team shaking things up with drag nights. Local people rave about subterranean seafront cocktail bar The Kraken, although it’s not open on our visit.

Prices are keen everywhere – and no more so than for accommodation. Our boutique B&B, The Corner House, run by affable couple Derek and Mark, has stylish rooms with period features and chic objects from just £70. Better still, that price includes levelled-up breakfast choices, especially a toastie dripping with oozy camembert and cheddar, stuffed with sauteed mushrooms and topped with exploding poached egg.

Evening sky off Lowestoft
Looking out to the North Sea at dusk. Photograph: Adam MJ Barnes

On our last afternoon, we snake down a wooded path towards Lowestoft Ness, the most easterly point in the UK, and centre of the town’s sustainable energy industry. In the shadow of a wind turbine – known locally as Blowy Lowie, we hover on a circular artwork marking the spot, waves crashing against the rocks. “One thing has remained constant,” reads a plaque in the adjoining new park, “Lowestoft’s spirit. This is a town defined by its people. Resilience and grit have ensured that, through changing fortunes, Lowestoft continues to thrive.”

Having been a visitor on and off for 15 years, I’d be inclined to agree. Or as my partner, an expert in historic restoration, puts it: “She’s just a faded movie star. She’s got good bones.”

Accommodation was provided by The Corner House (B&B doubles from £70). Travel from London was provided by Greater Anglia. Find out more at thesuffolkcoast.co.uk

There’s a light breeze cutting across the North Sea as we step out on to Aldeburgh beach and make our way across the shingle towards the distant silhouette of Maggi Hambling’s Scallop shell. The 13ft high steel sculpture, a tribute to the composer Benjamin Britten who lived and worked in this Suffolk seaside town, will mark its 20th birthday this year. It ruffled feathers when it first appeared but, two decades on, it feels as much a part of this coastal landscape as the beached fishing boats and piles of lobster pots.

With perfect timing the sun appears from beneath a low bank of clouds, turning everything golden. In summer you’re likely to find the Scallop being used as a climbing frame or windbreak – which is exactly what Hambling intended – but today we have only the seagulls for company as we slowly circle it, the low rays of afternoon sunlight playing on its rippled surface.

Snape Maltings on the River Alde.
By the waterside: Snape Maltings on the River Alde. Photograph: Jon Arnold/Alamy

Spring is the perfect time to visit Aldeburgh. Its huge beach and even bigger skies still retain a mournful beauty and it’s not too cold or crowded either. On the colourful high street, shops and cafés are doing a brisk trade. Nowhere more so than The Suffolk, a brand new restaurant-with-rooms recently opened by George Pell, a director of London’s L’Escargot. Pell fell in love with the seaside town in the summer of 2020 while running a seaside off-shoot of L’Escargot. When the freehold of the 17th century building on the high street came up for sale, he swapped Soho for Suffolk permanently.

The restaurant, Sur-Mer, opened last summer to great acclaim. Six stylish guest rooms followed in January and have been booked up ever since. Rooms take their names and colour palettes from local beauty spots – ours is Orford Ness, after the wild shingle spit south of Aldeburgh, and is decked out in restful shades of sea green which echo the North Sea views from the window. There’s pretty wallpaper, soft white bedlinen, antique furniture, a Roberts Radio and a huge bathroom stocked with L’Occitane products.

A fishing boat on Aldeburgh beach.
High and dry: a fishing boat on Aldeburgh beach. Photograph: Getty Images

You’ll also see local placenames on the restaurant menu, which showcases Suffolk’s excellent produce – from Butley Creek oysters and dressed Suffolk crab to Baron Bigod cheese from Fen Farm Dairy. On a Saturday night, the place is buzzing with a mix of weekend visitors and locals, and it’s easy to see why. My starter of seared scallops with pickled fennel, followed by halibut fillet with a lobster velouté is beautifully cooked and delicately flavoured, while my daughter makes short work of half a grilled native lobster with garlic butter and fries.

The next morning we drive to nearby Snape Maltings. This complex of Victorian industrial buildings on the banks of the River Alde is home to a world-leading concert hall and a cluster of independent shops, galleries and cafés. It’s been on my radar for a while but previous visits to Aldeburgh have always been in summer when the pull of the beach outweighed any desire to explore further afield.

Bedroom with bedside radio at The Suffolk.
Snuggle up: a comfy bedroom with bedside radio at The Suffolk

From the Maltings, we set out across the marshes to the hamlet of Iken, where the ancient church of St Botolph seems to float like a ship on the surrounding wetlands. As we follow the boardwalk through shivering reeds and muddy creeks alive with the sound of curlews and other waders, it’s easy to see why Britten was so inspired by this landscape. The Red House, the home he shared with his partner Peter Pears, is still closed when we visit (it has since reopened) but this proves to be the only downside to our pre-season break – and the perfect excuse to come back soon.

Joanne O’Connor stayed as a guest of The Suffolk (the-suffolk.co.uk). Double rooms from £192 a night B&B

Three recently opened hotels with a sea view

The Pendine Sands.
Photograph: Derek Payne/Alamy

The Caban, Pendine Sands, Carmarthenshire In the early 1900s, the seven-mile-long beach at Pendine Sands was a favoured spot for motor racing and several world record-breaking attempts were held here. The Caban is a new family-friendly beachfront property, with 14 rooms and a restaurant with sea views. It’s next door to the new Museum of Land Speed, which will open in early summer.
From £120 a night, cabanpendine.wales

No 42 by GuestHouse, Margate, Kent Boutique hotel group GuestHouse will open its first seaside outpost in Margate in June. Housed in a Victorian seafront building, some of the 21 rooms will have sea views and private balconies. Expect record players in rooms, a spa, rooftop bar and beachfront café serving organic food.
From £155 a night, guesthousehotels.co.uk

The Tongue Hotel, Sutherland This former 19th century sporting lodge has had a major overhaul and will reopen this spring with 19 guest rooms and a refurbished restaurant and bar serving seasonal Highland produce. With breathtaking views over the Kyle of Tongue, it’s the perfect stopover on Scotland’s scenic North Coast 500 route.
From £149 a night, tonguehotel.co.uk

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