Photo of Ramsholt Arms

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 29th October 2006.

Few people outside East Anglia know about this place. It seems to be a local secret and I wonder whether I ought to keep it that way. On the other hand, why should locals be the only ones to enjoy it?

In a remote and unspoilt corner of Suffolk, the Ramshot Arms is a distinctive but simple pub with rooms (well, two rooms to be precise). To reach it, first find the pleasant little town of Woodbridge, then look for the road south to Bawdsey.

Soon you will be enjoying the charms of this corner of the country: vast skies; big flat fields bordered by Scots pine; patches of heath. This is Suffolk Breckland, by any measure a backwater. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere we turned on to a track which had been signposted Ramsholt Dock.

After a mile and half without seeing another car, house or person, suddenly, down a short slope, there came into view a solid Victorian house beside the impressive tidal creek that is the River Deben, about three miles inland. The tide was low, exposing fields of gleaming mud; a curlew probed; two extremely smart shelduck swam serenely by.

Seated in a sunny corner of the bar, enjoying huge views of the Deben, our mood improved by the minute as we lunched on flavourful cauliflower soup, smoked salmon and local Adnams ale, at distinctly friendly prices.

Then a fine walk along the estuary (we spotted an avocet, oyster catcher and redshank) past the famous Sutton Hoo burial grounds before returning to the pub and moving into our simple bedroom, a pleasant shade of green, brightened by stencils.

The bathroom was a couple of steps down the passage; here and there the room could have done with a little maintenance - there was only one bedside light. But these are minor niggles. The bed was comfortable, the room was clean, there was a river view and the price was honest.

As you might expect, the heart of the Ramsholt Arms is its bar, with its log fire, pine floorboards and artfully simple seaside decorations. Every table is different, possibly bought from junk shops; the chairs in the dining room area were aparently picked up from a French prison. It's one of those bars where no one would notice if you're wearing muddy boots or wet sailing clothes.

The menu, strong on locally caught fish and shellfish and game from the local estates, frequently changes. All the ingredients, we were assured, are fresh, except the Yorkshire puddings and the peas.

When Patrick Levy, a friendly, larger-than-life ex-merchant seaman and his partner Elizabeth took the lease seven years ago, the Ramsholt Arms was a nonentity: open, because of its isolation, just a few hours a week. Elizabeth, who knew the pub business, having worked for Whitbread in London, was horrified when Patrick took her to see it.

A pub without a local population? Down a mile-long track? It broke every rule.

Today, Ramsholt Arms is a success story, open every day of the year. How did they do it? They freshened it up, made sure the food was good, and simply kept it open. If there wasn't money to pay staff, they manned it themselves, working without pay to make it accessible all the time.

The more people who came, the quicker the word spread - in East Anglia, that is - and now, on a sunny summer's day, they sell 350 meals. On a winter weekday, they are content if it's five. It makes sense to them because Patrick and Elizabeth Levy are natural innkeepers and warm hosts; because they are happy to make their work their life and their life their work; and grateful to bring up their children in such natural surroundings.

There, I've given the secret away. Now everyone else can enjoy it too.