In one sense this place is slightly off the beaten track: in another sense it's right on it. The Forge is only about a mile or so away from the busy A140 near Eye; mid way between Ipswich and Norwich. Very pleasantly situated at the start (or end - depending on your appetite) of 12 miles of waymarked path through varied habitats of woods, parkland, and farmland. Would I go again? .......... That's another story.
On a bleak cold December day, we made straight for the warmth of the forge although – it being school holidays - several families were enjoying the fresh air in the new play area. It is called a tearoom / café but I have enjoyed many three-course meals there in the past, including a fabulous roast lamb Sunday lunch. This time I went mid week, and took a friend whose first visit this was. The café is on two levels separated by a couple of steps; disabled visitors would easily be able to access the lower part where there is a grand view of the outside and a chance to watch the birds and squirrels. The upper part is where the forge is; it's an original brick-built blacksmiths' forge and most days there is a cheery wood fire on there providing welcome warmth and the sweet smell of burning wood. Our booked table was ready and nicely laid with white linen tablecloth and blue over-cloth; all was neat and welcoming. We had checked in at the desk and ordered coffee straight away to warm us up, and very soon two large cups of filter coffee with real milk were brought by an extremely pleasant lady who took our order for lunch. There is a standard menu for sandwiches, jacket potatoes and other light meals, and a special children's section which is nice to see. We had consulted the specials board which offered more substantial meals; I chose spinach and ricotta cannelloni with salad, and my friend chose tuna and mascarpone fish-cakes with salad and new potatoes, and a glass of wine each. Service was quick and efficient and we both remarked on the generous size of the portions and lack of pretension about the meal – none of your palm trees made out of cucumber here! Also the food was home-made, and nicely hot, apart from the salad of course. There was a choice puddings, including apple pie, cherry cheesecake (which my friend had) and jam sponge for me, with a choice of cream, custard or ice-cream. Again these were generous and my sponge was really hot, so I was glad of the delicious ice cream to cool it. Next to our table there was a more relaxed seating area of four armchairs around a coffee table for people who just wanted coffee or a quick snack and a look at one of the newspapers provided there.
I really like this place and will return; probably in the spring sunshine when walking to the walled garden is a more exciting prospect. It is altogether cosy and I suspect many of the clientele are regular visitors; young families with a couple of children enjoying the space and freedom of the estate. I spotted a bright, clean baby high-chair for visitors' use.
Bottom line, Main course, pudding, wine, and coffee for two: Total £32.65
The only tiny negative thing was the toilets: these are available in an adjoining rural craft shop and are convenient for the café but are a little basic and you might find fallen leaves on the floor. Nicer ones are available in the activities centre a few hundred yards away. The craft shop stocks cards, games, jewellery and other colourful gift items; well worth a browse.
Thornham Forge Tearooms. IP23 8HH. 01379 783035
Open seven days a week, all year: April to Sept 10am to 5pm, October to March 10am to 4pm.
Getting to the Forge:
There are brown tourist signs to THORNHAM WALKS: follow these until the lane (Major Lane) eventually bends to the left. Soon the church will be on your right; turn right immediately after the church. After a short half mile you will find a coach park on the left and the car park (£2) on the right where walks maps and events leaflet are available.
A surfaced path, suitable for push chairs and wheel chairs, leads for half a mile to the Thornham Walled Garden* and takes the walker past the newly refurbished bird hide, the pets' cemetery, along the Thornham Rock Trail to the Victorian Folly.
Not to be confused with Thornham Coach House which is a much posher affair altogether
*Please note the Walled garden is open to the general public between 8.30am and 4pm at weekends, and daily during school holidays only.
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