Author: Charlotte Donaldson

It is not often that you will find a free day out that is for all the family, so Holywells park is something of a hidden gem. A conservation area with two listed buildings and a designated country wildlife site, the park is awash with history and adventure.

Near the heart of Ipswich, the park has four main entrances dotted around it – Cliff Lane, Nacton Road, Bishops Hill and Myrtle Road; you can choose the one that is most convenient for you.

If you are driving, parking is available at Athena Hall car park just off Duke Street, or blue badge parking can be found at the Cliff Lane entrance. Or perhaps you are lucky to live close enough to walk?

If you choose to take the Nacton Road entrance, you will walk down a wooded track leading you into the heart of the park. The first thing you will notice is the unexpected peace and quiet in contrast with the hustle and bustle of the surrounding busy main roads. As you begin to wander around the 28 hectares of park there are many wonderful things to catch your attention– the gazebo to your right which looks like something out of a fairy tale, the engraved wooden faces in the poles, the variety of trees with the sunlight catching through them bouncing off the distant water and secret paths with winding steps that lead off the main track. A small balcony overlooking the large park is placed where you could sit and pass the time, feeling like you were straight off the pages of a romance novel.

The park is a great place to come for a morning, afternoon or whole day out no matter what your age. Mothers pushing young babies in prams, families with children running along making new discoveries, older couples, people out for some serious walking, the park is a haven to everybody.

You could decide to walk along one of the parks trails, perhaps the popular Trim Trail which provides fun and fitness for everyone. Or perhaps fancy carrying out the Measured Mile, a one mile walking test to measure your fitness. You can find out more information in the visitor centre or online at

The pond is a favourite spot for children and adults alike. Children delight in the simple pleasure of feeding the ducks – with special food that you can purchase in the shop – watching them waddle over with their funny walk for their share of the food, coming within touching distance. It is a world away from modern day technology where children can just have a day of fun and exploration and get right back to nature.

The park boasts of a fantastic play area for children that has a ship based theme, interestingly enough named ‘The Discovery’ after the ship that sailed to North America and founded Jamestown in 1607. The play area almost makes one wish they were a child again so you could explore the lovely big wooden ship and climb up high on the ropes, entering a world of imagination. There are activities at the park for older children as well – there is a state of the art play facility with electronic equipment and also activity areas such as a table tennis table for hours of fun.

After exploring the park, or when the children are tired, you could perhaps sit down in one of the sheltered picnic areas to enjoy your lunch– although there is plenty of space to bring a picnic blanket to spread out on the grass in the summer months.

You can pop in The Stables cafe for a bite to eat and a cup of something hot – great if the weather suddenly changes or if you fancy sitting down and relaxing. The brie and bacon sandwich is a tasty treat and there is always a piece of cake for afters – the chocolate orange cake is particularly tasty and they do gluten free alternatives too. There are lovely wooden high chairs for the little ones also. The cafe itself is an interesting venue as it is a converted stable which is a listed building. The ceiling boasts of high wooden beams and its past working life. There are toilets nearby which is handy when out and about and they are always very clean. You can look in to see the pretend horse in the next stable along and learn some more about the history of the park through an information point and a couple of displays. Dotted through the park are information plaques too so that you can learn all about the park from years gone by and how the ownership of the land has passed on – interesting for adults and a good learning opportunity for children too.

The land itself has a very interesting history as it dates back to the medieval times. Originally Pitts Farm estate, it was taken over by the Cobbold family, who purchased the land to use the spring water for their brewery business. They were also responsible for renaming the land Holy Wells. The Cobbold family sold the land to Lord Woodbridge who gave the land to the town council which was then opened as a park in 1936.


Further along in the park next to a well-kept bowling green, another listed building can be found – the beautiful Victorian conservatory which alongside outdoor classrooms is available to hire. You will also find a walled garden, open air theatre and a maze. There is even a Green Bike Project on site, where you can buy refurbished bikes to suit all of the family.

Throughout the year the park hosts plenty of activities – from exercise classes to fun outdoor sessions and groups for  a variety of ages of children, there is something to suit everyone. These can be booked online but for some there is a small cost. You can find out more information on the notice board or by Facebook or Twitter.

If you fancy being more involved in this fantastic park, you can join Friends of Holywells Park, a volunteer group that was established in 2001 to increase knowledge and enjoyment of the park. You can find out more information and send them a message on Facebook or ask in the visitor centre.

If you wish to learn more about the park, you can pop to the visitor centre, with its wooden till area that carries on with the feeling of traditional nature. The shop has a selection of wares for sale and gifts for adults and children which are reasonably priced.

Whenever you decided to visit Holywells Park, you can be guaranteed an interesting and varied day out in the heart of historical Ipswich.


This guide was written by:

Charlotte Donaldson
Suffolk Writers Group