When school’s out in our house, it usually means a scavenge for rucksacks and jumping on a plane to a country that wouldn’t top anyone’s list of family- friendly destinations.
In recent years we’ve zig-zagged across the Carpathian Mountains on Romania’s Transfagarasan Highway (which featured in a legendary Top Gear episode), road-tripped Bosnia then Serbia, picked leeches from our socks in Borneo and sailed around Indonesia, dusting off the ash from active volcanoes.
This summer, like most families, we are hunting for adventure closer to home. Much closer. So close, in fact, there’s not even enough time to watch a movie between setting off from our home in south Suffolk and arriving at our destination.
This picture shows the stunning two-mile-long Fritton Lake, which straddles Suffolk and Norfolk, in all its glory
My husband and I, with our sons aged 15 and 11, are at Fritton Lake, in the heart of a 1,000-acre rewilding project which straddles Suffolk’s boundary with Norfolk.
There’s no amber gamble, no price-hikes and no question of quarantine, yet we are on holiday somewhere magical – and would still be if it were half a world away.
Fritton Lake is two miles of water fringed by dense woodland where blue-green Scots pines meld with alders ‘keeping their feet wet’ (as the saying goes), ancient oaks, sweet chestnuts and ghostly silver birch. The lake is alive with fish and birds and dragonflies, deer come here to drink and there are otters too. Whether you are in it or on it, you can feel the throb of nature at full throttle.
‘Fritton Lake is two miles of water fringed by dense woodland,’ reveals Sarah
Wherever we are in the world, as the mother of sons it’s my job to have a go at everything, fall off things and come last in family tournaments. At Fritton Lake this was achieved across a wide range of activities, including trail running, canoeing, paddle-boarding and wild swimming.
Our favourite ever paddle was in a volcanic caldera 7,500 miles away, across a lake of tsunami water that had been trapped. There was a moment at Fritton Lake to rival it: drifting through a patch of water lilies dotted with the fallen purple petals of lakeside rhododendrons –an East Anglian pastiche of Monet.
I took the plunge and went for my first proper wild swim in the UK – so far I have sat out the biggest lockdown wellness craze as I like my water warm. The Danube in August, for example, is dark and weedy but bathtub-hot. But there is a floating sauna at Fritton Lake – a timber hut with a giant picture window gazing out over lime-bright reed beds – and it would have been criminal not to use it properly.
The combination of that meditative view followed by the endorphin high of a dunk in the brisk water was the revelation of my summer. I just kept on swimming and swimming, no wetsuit needed. My shortie wetsuit did come out for the paddle-boarding. When you referee boys on boards, it’s a given that you are going in the water and will surface to a running commentary on your ambition versus talent. ‘Mother-not-so-Superior,’ one says lovingly (I think) as I clamber back on to the board.
Fritton Lake also has a 22-metre heated pool that is bookended by brand new pool houses with comfy sunloungers. On one side, a formal garden runs down to the lake, on the other are tennis courts, a beach volleyball area, boules and croquet pitches and adventure playgrounds for younger children. It’s all part of a sustainable private holiday club belonging to Hugh Somerleyton (Lord Somerleyton), a farmer and environmentalist who owns 5,000 acres of East Anglia. He is the co-founder of WildEast, a rewilding initiative which is aiming to return 20 per cent of the region’s land to nature within a generation.
There is a 22-metre heated pool with sunloungers and new pool houses near the lakeshore
Beyond the lake, what was once farmland is now restored to wildflower meadows filled with oxeye daisies, yarrow, hickory and clover. In the woods, Large Black pigs, a breed native to Suffolk, truffle freely through the soil to create the bare ground which skylarks need for nesting.
Welsh Black cows, Exmoor ponies and water buffalo also roam.
You can book a nature safari to learn about the Somerleyton Estate’s pioneering work, or even volunteer to help.
‘I feel like I know more about our own area now,’ said Rufus, my eldest, afterwards, an unexpected bonus of our Suffolk staycation.
Some of what you see – animal and plant – appears on your plate at the 16th Century Fritton Arms, the lake’s boutique-hotel style Clubhouse which has Chris Bartlett, formerly of Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, as head chef.
Chris Bartlett, formerly of Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, is the head chef at the Clubhouse, pictured
Swanky: Guests can check into rooms, known as ‘Clubrooms’, in the boutique-style Clubhouse
There’s a menu of gastro pub favourites – steak, burgers, sea bass, macaroni cheese, a slow-cooked lamb curry – to be enjoyed on a sunny terrace fringed with bay, rosemary, sage and lavender.
We stayed in the Clubhouse, though you can also self-cater – renting an estate cottage or one of the lodges that dot the woods. Dogs are welcome.
Some of the lodges are known as Shedrooms, but they’re so smart the only thing likely to be potted in there would be shrimps from Suffolk’s Heritage Coast.
The land fringing Lake Fritton is dotted by ‘ancient oaks, sweet chestnuts and ghostly silver birch’
That coast (you might have seen it in the recent Netflix hit film The Dig) and many of the area’s other attractions such as Norwich and the Norfolk Broads, the kiss-me-quick delights of Great Yarmouth and stylish Southwold, are all close by.
We’d expected to head off to enjoy one or two of them, but that mesmerising lake made our car keys redundant.
We left after a late lunch and were back home before tea. We still didn’t have time to watch a film, but we did prove you don’t have to go far to be on holiday.