Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

England East of England

Much of northern East Anglia, from Cambridge to The Wash is low-lying land covered in peat or alluvium deposits. With the exception of the Isle of Ely and other ancient islands, the remains of prehistoric and Roman occupation of the area are under these deposits. Sites such as the Bronze Age settlement of Flag Fen have exceptional preservation because of the waterlogged conditions within which they have been preserved. Following the coast from The Wash to the Thames estuary, the land has been good for agriculture since prehistoric times. During the medieval period East Anglia was not only populous, it was also prosperous, as a result there are some very rich Anglo-Saxon cemeteries here. Central East Anglia was not particularly suitable for cultivations and there is little evidence of intensive settlements. 


Bedfordshire is known for its wide open countryside, attracting walkers and nature enthusiasts alike. The county also has some fascinating historical sites and museums, from the Romans to the World Wars. In fact this area was one of the central hubs for the Romans during their occupation of Britannia. There are also many stately homes and manor houses – in all states of repair, from the likes of Wrest Park and Woburn Abbey to Houghton House.


People have made the flat and often watery landscapes of Cambridgeshire their home for millennia. Bronze Age inhabitants once ritually cast valuable metal objects into the watery fenland at Flag Fen, while their Iron Age successors established the Wandlebury Hillfort on one of the county’s few high areas. Romano-British inhabitants buried their dead in earthen mounds now known as the Bartlow Hills, while early medieval folk used the Devil’s Dyke to demarcate control over the landscape. The glories of medieval Cambridgeshire can be sensed at the ruins of Denny Abbey and in the majestic Ely Cathedral. However, the most famous part of the county is surely its largest city, Cambridge. Home to a world-renowned university established in 1209, Cambridge is packed with historic architecture.


Named for the kingdom of the East Saxons, Essex has a lengthy history. A comparative absence of ready stone means that Essex lacks the megalithic structures found in certain other parts of England, but evidence of late prehistoric activity can still be found at Lexden Earthworks and at Ambresbury Banks and Loughton Camp, both in Epping Forest. After the early medieval East Saxon kingdom was absorbed into what became the unified English state, Essex became home to a number of significant medieval structures, including Colchester Castle, which had the largest Norman keep in England, and Saint Botolph’s Priory, the country’s first Augustinian convent. Encompassing the northern half of the Thames Estuary, Essex played an important role in the country’s defence, for this reason becoming home to the Tilbury Fort, an artillery fortification established in the reign of King Henry VIII which remained active until the 19th century.


One of the Home Counties, Hertfordshire sits just to the north of Greater London. Evidence for prehistoric habitation can still be seen at earthen mounds on Therfield Heath and Highley Hill, as well as at putatively Iron Age linear earthworks like the Devil’s Dyke in Wheathampstead. Roman activity in the county is also very evident, especially at the city of Saint Albans, a settlement known to the Romans as Verulamium. Here, both the Roman city walls and their theatre can still be seen, while the Roman baths similarly survive at Welwyn. Medieval Hertfordshire can be glimpsed at fortifications like Berkhamsted Castle, as well as at religious structures like the Sopwell Nunnery and Saint Albans Cathedral. The county is also home to several prominent early modern buildings like Hatfield House and the ruined Old Gorehambury House. More recent stately homes in Hertfordshire include the 18th-century Berrington Hall and the largely 19th-century Knebworth House.


The East Anglian county of Norfolk has some of the most unusual prehistoric sites in England. The pockmarked landscape of Grime’s Graves testifies to intensive Neolithic flint mining, while the Bronze Age timber circle often called ‘Seahenge’ is now preserved at a museum in King’s Lynn. Iron Age sites can also be found in the county, as at Bloodgate Hill Hillfort, while the impact of the Roman occupation is on display at Caister Roman Fort and the coastal Burgh Castle. The Norman invaders also left their mark on the Norfolk landscape, especially with their keep at Norwich Castle, now operating as a museum. Later in the Middle Ages, the county became home to Castle Acre Priory, a Cluniac establishment that remains one of the finest surviving medieval monasteries in England. Norfolk is also home to several impressive late medieval and early modern houses, as at the ruined Baconsthorpe Castle or at Oxburgh Hall.


Its name referring to the ‘South Folk’ in the Kingdom of East Anglia, Suffolk is home to one of England’s most important early medieval sites, the 7th-century ship burial at Sutton Hoo. Likely because of its associations with the Early Middle Ages, Suffolk is also now home to the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, a reconstruction of an early medieval settlement. The county nevertheless also has much heritage stemming from later parts of the Middle Ages, when Suffolk was part of the English state. Among the most impressive high and late medieval sites in the county are Orford Castle and Framlingham Castle, while religious sites from this period include the ruins of Leiston Abbey and Bury St Edmunds Abbey, as well as Lindsey St. James’s Chapel, which survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries by being transformed into a barn. Evidence for the Suffolk coast’s long-lasting role in England’s defence can be seen at the 18th-century Landguard Fort.