This is a collaborative post with Greater Anglia
On Saturday we headed off on a family trip to Bury St Edmunds by train, as part of Greater Anglia’s #railadventure campaign.
The weather can be so tricky during the Easter holidays, but thankfully Bury has loads to do indoors – and not just visiting the cathedral!
We set out to see the weird and wonderful Moyse’s Hall Museum, go for a picnic in the Abbey Gardens and shoot away at Planet Laser. Read on to find out how we got on.
Relaxing trip by train
Bury St Edmunds isn’t too far from us by rail – about 35 minutes from Ipswich, with one or two trains an hour on Saturdays.
I genuinely enjoy travelling by train. The four of us were able to sit round a table, which makes it much easier to chat than shouting over my shoulder in the car, and more comfortable because we’re not all strapped in by seat belts. My husband gets to relax, rather than concentrating on the driving and worrying about traffic delays. We all got to enjoy looking out the window as we sped past fields, cows and countryside, and the lake I stagger round for the Great Run Local Needham Lake.
We were given our train tickets, but childrens’ fares only cost £2 return if you travel off peak on Greater Anglia, when bought at the ticket office rather than online. Even adult fares can be as low as £10 from Norwich to London and £7 from Cambridge to London, when booked in advance. You can check out the different destinations and ticket prices at www.greateranglia.co.uk and plan your journey at www.nationalrail.co.uk.
Plus, if you travel by train, you can also save money at the other end. The Days Out website offers 2 for 1 entry at assorted attractions nationwide, and Greater Anglia also runs specific 2 for 1 offers more locally.
Mooching through the market
We hopped on a 10.20am train from Ipswich and headed out of the station in Bury St Edmunds just after 11am. I intended to pick up a map at the station – but turns out it’s a relatively small station which doesn’t have a tourist information stand, so we studied the wall map instead, then threw ourselves on the mercies of Google Maps.
The good news is that after turning right out of the station, it’s only a 10 to 15 minute walk in a straight line down to the centre, around Cornhill. It’s not very scenic right by the station, but soon we were walking past picturesque Georgian terraces and the quirky shops along St John’s Street – Smoking Monkey antiques, unusual gifts, a cookshop, a bookshop, funky tattoos, a Thai restaurant and distinctly more exotic veg than you see in Hadleigh.
The children dragged me past the charity shops, then we pottered round the market that runs every Wednesday and Saturday (favourite stalls: decorated Hungarian gingerbread, an entire stall of air rifles and Lego minifigs, where my son bought three dinosaurs).
Visiting the magical and the macabre at Moyse’s Hall Museum
My family have mixed feelings about museums, by which I mean I love them, and my children can be less keen.
But Moyse’s Hall Museum is a gem. I thought it was worth a punt, as it won Suffolk’s Family Friendly Museum of the Year in 2017. It’s housed in a fab medieval building, which at various points has been a Bridewell (a lock up for petty criminals), a work house and a police station.
The collection is mad, and I mean that in a good way.
The kids goggled at the gruesome stuff on crime, punishment and witchcraft – a gibbet for displaying the dead bodies of criminals, the book bound in human skin from a local murderer and the desiccated cats. But there are also stunning relics from Bury St Edmunds’ medieval past, portraits by one of the first professional female artists, Mary Beale, beautiful 1930s dresses from the costume collection and a military section devoted to the history of the Suffolk Regiment.
You never know what’s round the corner – a barrel organ, a display of penny farthings or a Tissot portrait of the lady who gave her name to the mother of the Mitford sisters. We’re extremely grateful to the heritage officer, Alex McWhirter, for showing us round this eccentric collection.
To keep kids entertained, you can pick up a trail to follow from the reception desk, with questions and items to spot around the museum. My nine-year-old got stuck into the puzzle of a stained glass window and making building blocks into a medieval arch, and consented to try on chain mail under duress. My daughter was more interested in the elder wand, with its Harry Potter connotations, and some items in the intricate clock collection was straight out of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy.
Tickets cost £5 for an adult, £3 for children aged 5 to 16, or £15 for a family of up to five. Alternatively, you can buy a ‘heritage’ ticket which gives access for a whole year to both Moyse’s Hall Museum and West Stow Anglo Saxon Village, which costs £12 for an adult, £6 for children aged 5 to 16 and £40 for a family of up to five.
Exploring the Abbey Gardens
After our trip to Moyse’s Hall, we walked five minutes further to the Abbey Gardens by the cathedral so the children could let off some steam. You’ll find them through the impressive Abbey Gate, a towering stone structure on Angel Hill.
The Abbey Gardens have the advantage of completely free entry plus a children’s play area and treehouse. There’s a scattering of assorted ruins from the old Abbey, a lot of space to run, a tea shop, a tennis court and an aviary if you fancy staring at birds in cages.
At this time of year, the blossom is lovely. I was also impressed by the immaculately laid out bedding plants, far from my own haphazard (aka lazy) approach to gardening.
Plus, grass and benches, always an advantage when you bring your own picnic. I must admit as a parent, the weather was pretty bracing when eating outdoors, but the kids had a great time on the big swing.
Getting stuck into shooting at Planet Laser
Have you ever played laser tag? It’s a new one on me. The kids have tried it elsewhere, but I’ve never had the chance. After our trip to Planet Laser in Bury St Edmunds, turns out I’ve really been missing out. There are few things more entertaining than racing round in semi darkness shooting at a crowd of 10 year olds. Seriously, for family bonding, this was great.
Now, Planet Laser might not seem an obvious destination by train. It took about 25 minutes for us to march out to Western Way, past West Suffolk College. But it was well worth the walk.
We got there a bit early for our two games of laser tag. There’s stuff to keep you occupied apart from laser tag – a cafe with seating by big windows, lots of arcade games such as twopenny falls and air hockey, a pool table and a couple of lanes for mini bowling. We coincided with at least two children’s parties, but hardly noticed within the large open plan space.
When our turn came, we had to file into a darkened briefing room to be shown the instruction video (no running! no pushing! no lying on the floor!), then move through to put on the jackets with laser guns, then on into the arena itself.
I was a bit worried as I stumbled through the darkness, but my eyes soon adjusted. It was brilliant! You could see the beam of light from your gun soaring straight through the low light, aiming for the flashing panels on the front and back of all the competitors and on the guns themselves.
The play area was multi level and spread out over 6,000 square feet, so you could head up and down, aiming over barriers and round corners. There were loads of free standing structures to hide behind while attempting to shoot without getting shot.
If someone did zap you, your gun switched off for a few seconds, and you could watch the time counting down on the display panel until you were active again. I think there were some details about zapping bases and shooting other flashing bits to get bonuses like rapid fire, but that rather passed me by.
Each gun had a nickname attached, so after each 20 minute session you could come out and see how you’d scored relative to everyone else.
Sadly my photos in the darkness were rubbish, but I’m including an image from the Planet Laser website so you can get an idea of the equipment and atmosphere.
In practical terms, look out for the Fiat garage. Planet Laser is tucked round the back, with parking spaces behind. Officially, it costs £7 for one game, £12 for two and £15 for three. However, on weekdays during school holidays there are also three hour unlimited sessions for £13 a head. Lockers to store bags and coats are free.
Feasting on pizza
After all our exertion at Planet Laser, we decided to go out for a meal before heading home. A quick Google later, and we headed for The LP, keen to support a well-reviewed local business (and also highly entertained by pizzas named after musicians).
My daughter went for the Judy Garland (margherita), my son tucked into a Buddy Holly (ham and pineapple), I rang the changes with a Johnny Cash (asparagus, parma ham, walnuts and egg) and my husband went for pasta instead. Full marks for generous portions on the kids’ menu and hefty puddings too.
I liked the LP bar a lot, from the funky art work to the friendly staff, and we all enjoyed our food.
Whisked home by train
After a packed day and plenty of pizza, we were glad it only took 10 minutes or so to head back to the station.
We got there in plenty of time for the 7.30pm train to whisk us back to Ipswich, and were delighted to nab another table. It was great to sit back and relax and the journey home. Some of us (ie me) *may* have fallen asleep en route.
With all the activities and a meal in a restaurant, this was far from a budget outing. But we did have a brilliant time. We’ve rarely had so much fun as a family than shooting each other with lasers. My son is determined to campaign for an annual rematch at Planet Laser, and I’m keen to return for the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at Moyse’s Hall Museum. Part of our decision to move to the country was based on the chance to spend more time together, and this was an outing we will remember for ages.
Now – over to you. Any favourite outings by train? Tips for a family trip to Bury St Edmunds? Do share in the comments, I’d love to hear.
Plus could you help me out? Let me know if you feel inspired to have your own rail adventure after reading this post, by clicking on this link to a survey. It’s only one question – thanks so much!
DISCLAIMER: We were given free rail travel, station parking, tickets to Moyse’s Hall Museum and entrance to Planet Laser as part of the Greater Anglia #railadventure campaign, in exchange for this post. However, all views are my own.