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Located on the site of an ancient Benedictine Abbey, in the Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds, the Abbey Gardens are home to 14 acres of beautiful parkland to explore. Over the years, the Gardens have developed to become a fantastic place to bring the kids for a day out, with many activities on offer, as well as the opportunity to learn much more about the old Bury St Edmunds Abbey.
Having been originally constructed in 1020 as the final resting place of the body of St Edmund, the stone church that was constructed at that time eventually became what we now know as the Abbey of St Edmund. As such a holy site, thousands of people would flock to visit the church on pilgrimages, and the church still lives on 1000 years later. In 1081, Abbot Baldwin decided to build a much larger Abbey, which took years to build and culminated in one of the biggest churches at the time in the UK, with an impressive West Front that was 75 metres tall. This historic building was added to over the years and was home to the iconic Bury St Edmunds Cross, which is world-renowned and is now kept in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
Unfortunately, through the years, the Abbey lost some of its appeal with the local people of Bury St Edmunds, and the tensions between church and state throughout the 14th century and beyond meant that eventually the Abbey was surrendered to the crown in 1539, as part of King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. Like many of the historic and beautiful religious buildings in the UK at the time, the shrine within the Abbey, and the Abbey itself were damaged and left to ruin. It wasn't until 1831 that the gardens were created, which are now the Abbey Gardens Bury St Edmunds is so well known for. Now, there are still some elements of the Abbey that remain, such as the Abbey Gate and the 12th century Norman Tower. As one of the oldest Norman buildings in the UK, this is definitely worth checking out on your visit to the Abbey Gardens. While the garden area now occupies the place where the Abbey lies as little more than ruins, there is still lots of great history and heritage at the Bury St Edmunds Abbey Gardens, with lots of things to do for the whole family.
Now, the gardens exist as a series of beautiful garden experiences, that include sensory and historical features. The Sensory Garden is an area that was created for the visually impaired and is filled with lots of beautifully scented and textured herbs, plants and flowers. This garden is also great for younger kids to learn all about different smells and plants. The Water Garden and Riverside are also perfect places to go for some time out, with gentle running water and views of the River Lark. History lovers can explore the Pilgrim's Herb Garden and see where medicinal plants were grown all the way back in the 1200s, and can also check out the Victorian drinking fountain also known as the Abbey Gardens Sundial Fountain. The Appleby Rose Garden is filled with 400 rose bushes and is the perfect place to stop and smell the roses, and take a family photo among the flowers. And, if you'd like to take a souvenir of your visit to the historic garden home, you can buy plants from the shop on site!
There are also lots of great extra activities to enjoy on your day out, with crazy golf and the bowling green open from April-October. You'll also find a children's play area in the gardens complete with a maze and treehouse, as well as the Abbey Gardens Tennis Courts, with two courts that are open to hire for a spot of tennis. The aviary in the gardens is also a brilliant place to take the kids, where they can watch lovebirds, canaries, budgies and more flit around. You'll also find a wildlife feeding area in the gardens, which is a great place for kids to get to know the local environment, and of course, feed some animals! There are also events on at the Abbey Gardens and the surrounding area of Bury St Edmunds all year round, so you'll never be short of something to get stuck into on your visit.
For something to eat on your trip, The Garden Café is open daily for most of the year, where you can grab a slice of cake and tea, or enjoy a tasty Whippy Ice Cream! Or, if you want to check out the food options in town, head to Angel Hill, near to the gardens, where you'll find some great local cafes and restaurants as you head up towards Mustow Street.
For more fantastic family days out in the Suffolk area, head to Kentwell Hall and Gardens in Sudbury for a taste of Tudor life. Or, for some more Norman history, Framlingham Castle is the perfect place to explore more ancient ruins.
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