Fritton Lake: Secret Foraging And Wild Swimming in Suffolk
Fritton Lake offers a welcome nature based retreat on historic lands in Suffolk.
I discover a world buzzing with gentle adventure.
Wed 16 Jun 2021
I wind down smaller and smaller lanes in Suffolk, layers of green trees and sunflower yellow rape fields give way to a tiny village green triangle, a Norman flint church and moss covered graveyard. A juxtaposing new wooden gate, swings open silently as my car approaches.
Fritton Lake, part of the Somerleyton estate, has been a local secret for a long time and but now as a private members club where you can rent or buy wooden retreats or stay at the Clubhouse, it's open to those who want to explore a world thick with wildlife, birds and bees while the lake is open for keen swimmers and kayakers.
Part of local history
The Somerleyton estate is much older than Somerleyton Hall which dates back to the Victorian period (and recently stood in for Sandringham in The Crown).
The lake dates back to the Vikings hey day, as it was a famed settlement before the Norman conquest in 1068 gifted the land to loyal lords.
The ancient establishment of trees, shrubs and wild flowers is what I think gives this land such peace.
Yew trees and rhodenedrum bushes tower metres into the air, beech trees provide thick almost fog-like shade under their thick branches.
Heritage species like hybrid bluebells date back to the Victorian boom in gardening and still carpet the forest floor.
Everywhere I look there is life and I drink it in like a thirsty sailor who’s been at sea for too long, desperate to bank the myriad shades of green in my soul.
Image Exploring the ancient paths at Fritton
Fritton’s historic lake has its own bio-system. A self-contained, self-sustained environment, it’s a happy habitat for everything from crayfish to pike, bream and trout.
The shimmering water thrives with nesting bird life at the edges, it is the background for Arctic turns returning, dipping and diving over the thick treeline and teems with life of every size in the water.
There is even an old World War II tank down there, the estate’s lake is hidden enough it was the site for secret testing of amphibious tanks in the 1940s.
Wild swimmers will love Fritton’s size and scope, large enough to feel like a challenge, small enough to tackle without much training.
But it’s not just wild swimming that’s on offer here. You don’t have to swim with wildlife if you don’t want to. (I have to admit I took all my swimming gear but the torrential rain kept me out of the water but I'll be back to try it again).
New to the estate is a beautiful heated outdoor pool complex, complete with outdoor fire pits and pretty wooden changing huts in amongst old kitchen garden walls.
If you’ve ever had dreams of owning a country estate, this is where you can try it on for size.
Beyond the pool, I wind my way between large lavender shrubs and and Secret Garden style gates to discover a formal sunken garden complete with sculptures and reinstated kitchen garden greenhouses that drops down to the river.
The magic of Fritton is the mix of wild and manicured, in letting the ancient forests manage themselves and making space for the luxurious touches I’m also looking for on a private estate retreat.
Beyond the garden, sits a floating sauna, bobbing politely at the end of a wooden pier out into the lake - what a glorious idea for a sunny summer evening.
Image The Clubhouse area at Fritton Lake has been beautifully redeveloped to offer a luxurious escape
While the dog and I spent hours walking the various wooded and lakeside trials around the 150 acres that makes up Fritton Lake, it wasn’t until I spent a morning with Matthew Stevenson (Dip Hort. RHS Wisley) I saw the biodiversity and richness of the flora and fauna right under my feet, that has thrived here in lockdown.
Matthew is employed as the estate’s biodiversity manager and resident foraging expert and there’s nothing he doesn’t know about estate from the smallest flower bud to the migrating patterns of local birds and wildlife.
While on my own I spied deer, bunnies, birds and squirrels, with Matthew’s expert guidance, we spotted otter holes and ancient rabbit dens, fox holes and even stopped to watch a burying solo bee doing her own thing.
We find wild garlic and Jack Of The Woods and other edible plants within reach of the gentle paths and he points out endless spots for different mushroom gathering (which I’m slightly too early for) - this is land that is truly bountiful, sitting quietly on the border of Suffolk and Norfolk.
Matthew keeps a close eye on wildlife levels both in, around and above the lake and is absolutely passionate about preserving the wildness of this wonderful estate, under the soft touch of the Crossley family, who have been guardians of this land since the 1860s, under the title of Lord Somerleyton.
The family have been at the forefront of the Wild East programme too, which aims to return 250,000 hectares of land (20% of farms, industrial estates, schools, allotments and churchyards) across the east of England back to a rewarded state.
The Fritton Arms
Former local pub and now private clubhouse, the wisteria covered red brick Georgian building is our base for our stay in Fritton. It is the reception, the restaurant and bar and makes a fabulous first impression once you've driven through a field of water buffalo.
Our spacious country house chic room overlooks lush pastures and ancient trees while there’s a network of dining rooms, games rooms and living rooms with wood fires downstairs to keep us amused each evening.
My dog spends a happy few hours sat on the wide windowsill watching the estate’s geese roam the green fields below.
The mustard colour pub is like a Tardis, winding through bar rooms to the back garden outside dining area nestles between the red brick back wall and the shade of massive trees, pretty strings of bulbs line the space in between creating a place to hang out at sunset.
This is where I feel my shoulders drop and heart rate slow on the first night as I sat watching birds drop in for their dinner on the nearby bird tables and sipped a locally sourced, ice cold G&T.
Image The Fritton Arms makes a fantastic base
As a private clubhouse the Fritton Arms is less busy than it was, which means there's lots of space, attentive staff and while the menu is short, everything is locally sourced and delicious. While I was there it ranged from a classic burger to an impressive savoury doughnut, onglet and braised greens and decadent chocolate tart.
Despite the rain, I spend as much time as possible at Fritton Lake, outside, walking spider like network of trails, only scratching the surface of the estate but agog at the diversity of the land, laughing at my dog's bunny like hops through the long grass, exploring the hugely established shrubs and undergrowth and revelling in the forests and peace away from cars, roads and other people.
Back to nature has never felt so established and secure. Ancient estates have their own atmosphere and Fritton Lake is one you to breathe in and treasure.
A two night stay at the Clubhouse at Fritton Lake is £140 per night. Check the Fritton Lake website for availability.