AS I squeezed into the UK’s smallest pub, I could see why Charles Dickens liked this town.
The Victorian author used to drink at The Nutshell, in Bury St Edmunds, when he visited the historic Suffolk market town for inspiration.
I could picture him jostling for space. Complete with mummified cat behind the bar, the pub seems just an underworld villain or street urchin away from the opening of a Dickens novel.
No wonder, then, that Bury St Edmunds was chosen as the set for the new film adaptation of Dickens classic David Copperfield which hit cinemas and stars Dev Patel in the title role, and Peter Capaldi and Tilda Swinton.
Directed by comedy king Armando Iannucci, the Personal History of David Copperfield also features other historic spots in the town.
Dickens would often stay at the Angel hotel, where I decided to check in for the weekend, and if you ask nicely they will even show you a cheque signed by the man himself.
Dickens set part of his first novel, 1836 classic The Pickwick Papers, in Bury St Edmunds.
So armed with my A-level in English literature, I set out on a quest for a Dickensian weekend, steeped in history, culture and cocktails. Just how Charles would have holidayed, I feel sure.
Bury St Edmunds is a charming place, with cobbled little side streets and an abundance of characterful independent shops.
If you prefer your weekend breaks not too energetic, the town’s impressive sights are doable in a day, on foot.
As well as The Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds is home to the 200-year-old Greene King Brewery empire, so you will be well oiled should you so wish.
The Abbey Gardens are perhaps the town’s most striking feature.
The ruins of a once-powerful monastery, shut down by Henry VII, are a delightful backdrop for a stroll and ice cream.
I can also recommend the Really Rather Good cafe located opposite the gardens’ entrance — and in the same area of Chequer Square is The Athenaeum, where Dickens regularly hosted public readings to promote his books.
If you are a fan of antiques and art deco, you will love the town’s oddest monument, the Pillar of Salt.
There cannot be many self-confident enough to pronounce a road sign as an attraction.
But scoff not, this Grade II-listed octagonal, white-washed, concrete-and-metal pillar, with lantern on top and road signs pointing off it in various directions, has stood in pride of place in front of the Abbey Gardens since the 1930s — and is quite lovely.
On the same square, facing Abbey Gardens, is Dickens haunt the Angel hotel — a stunning Georgian building with modern comforts.
As well as serving up delicious meals and cocktails, the place is also dog-friendly, which, for such a grand establishment, came as a pleasant surprise.
As the proud new owner of a four-legged friend, I was delighted to be able to take her along for the trip.
She was even greeted at the hotel with a bowl and new toy — and is very keen to return.
So if you are looking for a destination for a day trip or short stay, which is dog and family-friendly, steeped in history, yet still small enough to get around in a day, Bury St Edmunds ticks all the boxes.
Maybe you will even be inspired to pen a novel.
Go: Bury St Edmunds
STAYING THERE: One night’s B&B at The Angel Hotel is from £69.50 per person based on two sharing. See theangel.co.uk or call 01284 714 007.
MORE INFORMATION: See burystedmundsandbeyond.co.uk
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