Brandon Country Park near Lakenheath features a variety of trails, maybe a ghost

Three-year-old Penelope Alvarez stands in front of a pond in Brandon Country Park, near the town of Brandon, England. The mansion in the background was originally built for the family of the park's founder, Edward Bliss, and is now a luxury care home.


By KYLE ALVAREZ | Stars and Stripes | Published: March 11, 2021

A 15-minute drive from Lakenheath and slightly longer from Mildenhall lies a 30-acre oasis from the daily grind.

Brandon Country Park offers visitors miles of heathland and forests, fresh air, hiking and biking trails, glimpses of unique wildlife, trees you don’t expect to see in England, a walled garden, historic buildings — even a rumored ghost.

It has strong ties to the military, not just through its proximity to the two U.S. air bases at Mildenhall and Lakenheath, but going back to its inception in the 19th century.

Brandon, the town that gives the park its name, once produced most of the flint used by the army of the British empire. Local businessman Edward Bliss made his fortune selling gunflint to the army during the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted from May 1803 until November 1815.

When demand for flint fell after the end of the wars, Brandon’s economy went south. But Bliss stepped in and gave jobs to the town’s unemployed, paying them to plant trees on a vast stretch of heathland that he’d bought with the money he made off the flint.

Millions of trees were planted, creating Thetford Forest and, within it, Brandon Country Park. In other words, these two havens of tranquility are the products of more than a decade of conflict in Europe.

Many of the trees in the park are not native to England. I know this, not because I’m an arborist but because of the many signs in front of them. The giant redwood, for example, from northern California, was introduced to the area in 1853.

In the park’s walled garden, once planted with vegetables for the Bliss family, there are trees like Himalayan birches and the handkerchief tree, which has heart-shaped leaves and takes 50 years to fully grow.

Irish yew trees surround the Gothic mausoleum built by Bliss as the final resting place for himself and his wife. It’s here that the ghost of Bliss’ nephew, Baron Boretto, is said to roam, dressed in knee breeches and a deerstalker hunting cap like Sherlock Holmes used to wear, and carrying a lantern shaped like a human skull with a lit candle in it.

The mausoleum is also home to tiny pipistrelle bats. They are said to each eat some 3,000 insects every night.

If ghosts and bats aren’t your thing, the park has hiking and biking trails of varying distances, most of which are color-coded. The 1-mile red trail, which my family and I took, goes through the park’s arboretum and is easy enough for a 3-year-old to do. Other trails are longer — up to 5.75 miles for the cycling trail — and go into Thetford Forest.

There are also two play areas with climbing frames, assault courses, swings and slides, a tearoom (because this is England), and conference rooms available for rent. The indoor facilities, including the tearoom, were closed when we went because of coronavirus restrictions.

Dogs are welcome everywhere in the park except for the walled garden and, when it’s open, the tearoom.

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Location: Brandon Country Park, Bury Road, Brandon, IP27 0SU. The park is five minutes from the A11.

Hours: The park is open every day of the year from dawn to dusk.

Costs: Entry to the park is free but parking costs 1 pound for up to two hours on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or 2 pounds for the day. On weekends and British holidays, the cost goes up to 1.50 pounds for up to two hours during the week, and 3 pounds for the entire day. Annual parking permits are available for 30 pounds. Cash or the RingGo app accepted.

Food: When it’s open, the Copper Beech Tearoom serves breakfast, starting at 10 a.m., through to afternoon tea. From April to October it closes at 4:30 p.m., from November to March at 3:30 p.m., with last orders for hot food about an hour before. It has vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

For more Information: call +44 (0)1284 757088; send an email to parks@westsuffolk.gov.uk, or message them on Facebook at facebook.com/BrandonCountryPark; Website: westsuffolk.gov.uk/leisure/Parks/brandoncountrypark.cfm

A 1-mile trail in Brandon Country Park near Brandon, England, goes through the arboretum and is easy enough for a three-year-old. Other trails are longer - up to 5.75 miles for the cycling trail - and go into Thetford Forest.