By Tim Saunders
“I worked at the Greene King brewery in Bury St. Edmunds for 30 years,” says Mick Baldwin from Risby, just down the road from where we stay at The Highwayman’s. “In the old days you could pack in your old job on a Friday and start a new one on the Monday. That’s what I did on a number of occasions. I started off working in a hospital and had a series of jobs until I ended up at Greene King, a stone’s throw from Risby. There wasn’t really an interview. A number of my relatives worked for them and that was good enough. I started off on the ground floor and then worked my way up to become a beer tester; a job I enjoyed for 20 years. I had to ensure that the beer was brewed correctly and had the right amount of alcohol in it for Customs. In the early days there were great perks including a beer a day. At that time the managing director knew the names of all staff regardless of their position. It was a great family run business and you felt the management cared. When my wife and I married we even had a free bar. Guests told me it was the greatest party they had been to but we didn’t see it because we had to leave at 9pm to go on our honeymoon.” Eventually Mick applied for redundancy and took early retirement. “I didn’t like how the process was being automated,” he recalls. Founded in 1799, today Greene King is the UK’s largest pub retailer and brewer owning 1,600 pubs nearly all selling cask conditioned beer. A major Suffolk employer the company is listed on the London Stock Exchange. While I was familiar with this business I wasn’t expecting to bump into a past employee with such a fascinating tale to tell.
We stay at the Highwaymans, which, in the 18th century, was a favourite haunt of notorious highwaymen. You can imagine them settling down to a good night’s sleep after robbing some poor unsuspecting soul. Later it was the spot of a vineyard and in fact during our visit we spy some young vines that have been successfully planted. Today, The Highwayman’s is owned and run by Juliet Fisher and her five children. When our daughters Harriett (5) and Heidi (3) play outside on the bikes and pedal cars we bump into Meralina (5) and her brother Noah (9). It’s great to see that the four of them instantly hit it off and start talking about school and their interests. Meralina quickly notices that she has the same shoes as Harriett. As Meralina hares around on her bike she stops to say: “I learnt to ride this when I was four.” Noah, a keen footballer, chips in that there’s a holiday cottage, various rooms, and caravans can even stay for £10 a night on the eight acre site.
We stay in a family room, which really does have the wow factor. Large windows let in lots of light to the master bedroom and the accompanying window sills cry out to be sat on, I find; an ideal spot to sit and make notes. Wildlife paintings on the walls and antique furniture help to make a stay here a great occasion. It reminds us of a plush hotel but with the added family appeal. The girls have their own separate bedroom complete with bunk bed, which can be shut off from ours. As is often the case the first night is never great because Harriett and Heidi take time to adjust and so they keep getting up to mess about. Anyway, bleary eyed we pray that the second night gets better. Thankfully it certainly is. We all enjoy their 12 hours sleep. My wife, Caroline even grabs a few hours more than she is used to but not enough of course because of little Henry’s (4mths) teething, which has seen him develop a nasty cough. When he wakes up at 1am he insists on clinging to mummy and nobody else. The beds are comfortable and there is peace and quiet, when our children finally get to sleep. For business travellers there is wi-fi. The Highwayman’s is not just a place to rest your weary head, there are regular events. “We have clay pigeon shooting every two weeks, regular yoga classes and even art exhibitions,” says Juliet. In fact the current exhibition features selected professional artists from Creative Coverage including Clare Blois, Gerry Defries, Susie Lidstone and Clive Meredith.