It may seem odd that out of all the places I could visit in the United Kingdom, I’d want to visit Mildenhall. Mildenhall is a market town in Suffolk. It is also home to an Air Force base that has been home to many Americans, including my own family. My father’s last assignment as an Air Force officer was at Mildenhall. He was the base engineer there from 1975 until 1978 and we lived in base housing. Since I was born in 1972, I was just a little girl when we lived there. I really don’t have any memories of living in Hampton, Virginia, which is where I was born. I also don’t remember much of Dayton, Ohio, which is where we lived before we went to England.
Although I have been fortunate enough to travel all over Europe and beyond, I hadn’t been to Mildenhall since we PCS’d in 1978, when I was almost six years old. I have been trying to get back there, though. Two years ago, when we lived in Texas and Bill was finishing his Army career, we took two Space A trips. I was kind of hoping we’d wind up at Mildenhall, but we went to Ramstein instead.
When I started planning our Scotland trip and we realized we’d have a few days afterwards to go somewhere else, I decided we’d finally get to Mildenhall, even though it’s not near Scotland and isn’t exactly known for being a tourist destination. For me, it was exciting to visit again and see my old stomping grounds!
On March 24th, Bill and I said goodbye to Staffordshire and set off for Norfolk, the county next to Suffolk. As a native Virginian who grew up near Virginia’s own Suffolk and Norfolk, it was a little weird to be going to the original ones in England. Especially since once we got there, I noticed how much England’s Norfolk and Suffolk looked like Virginia’s Norfolk and Suffolk.
Unfortunately, Bill got my stomach virus, so the drive down there wasn’t as smooth as it could be. We ended up having to pull off the road once so he could throw up. I had chosen to book The Willow House, a bed and breakfast in Watton, a little village that was on the way to the airport in Norwich. Although at the time, I was kind of sad we wouldn’t be able to stay closer to the base, I have to say that now that we’ve been to the Mildenhall area, I’m glad we stayed further out. Mildenhall is very built up now and traffic is pretty bad there.
The Willow House in Watton.
Thursday night, Bill and I were recovering from our run in with the stomach bug. We had dinner at The Willow House, which has a pretty nice pub. The portion sizes were huge and neither of us came close to finishing our meals. On the other hand, I had a good rib eye steak, which was a nice change of pace after a week of so much fresh seafood. The Willow House also has a nice selection of cask ales, which Bill and I appreciated as beer lovers.
Bill’s huge jacket potato, which he said wasn’t quite cooked all the way.
My steak. this came with chips, too. It was way too much food, but the steak was good.
An example of breakfast at The Willow House.
The accommodations at The Willow House are pretty basic, but reasonably priced. For years, my uncle ran the The Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center in Natural Bridge, Virginia. They have “cabins” there. Basically, they are little buildings with six to eight rooms in them. The Willow House only has one building with rooms, but it really reminded me of the Natural Bridge Hotel cabins. The Willow House has plenty of free parking and offers a great breakfast.
On Friday morning, after a good night’s sleep, Bill and I were both feeling fine again. We had a big breakfast in the inn’s charming restaurant, then set off for Mildenhall. Bill had set the GPS to find Tolley Cobbold Street. If you click the link, you can get the backstory on why finding that street was on my bucket list. The short version is that legend has it, that street was named after my late father, Charles P. Tolley. I wanted to see if the street was still there 38 years after we PCS’d.
We got to Mildenhall and found Tolly Cobbold Street. At first, I was a little disappointed. Tolly Cobbold is the name of a beer that was produced for centuries in nearby Bury St. Edmunds until the brewery ceased production in 2002. I was looking for Tolley Cobbold Street. Unwilling to be let down by not finding it, Bill and I drove around some more and found the British school where I went to kindergarten. We found the main drag, which features beautiful St. Mary’s Church and a charming little market square. We also found our old house, which I easily recognized because it’s base housing and there’s a big field behind it.
Beyond those brambles is the field that backs up to our old house on base. In my day, there were cows there. Now there are horses. I’d rather gaze at the horses.
Me in Mildenhall as a little girl, looking at the cows from our yard.
Tolly Cobbold Street
Tolley Cobbold Road!
I told Bill I wanted to drive into our old neighborhood. He was reluctant because we didn’t have a visitor’s pass. However, I noticed that the guard shack near the neighborhood (which I don’t think existed in 1978) was standing wide open and unmanned. I kept pressuring Bill, so he finally relented… And then, I saw it. The sign… Tolley Cobbold Road (instead of Street). As I snapped a picture of it, I had to wonder how many Air Force folks looked at that sign right next to Tolly Cobbold Street and wondered if it was a typo.
My old school. I went to kindergarten here with a bunch of British five year olds. My mom said she sent me there because the school day was longer. I’m glad she did it, even if she did it for kind of selfish reasons.
Our old English house… the first one I have memories of in my lifetime. I sent these pictures to my sisters, who were much older when we lived there and they confirmed that my memory hadn’t failed me!
I was a little sad to see all those trash bins under the gazebo.
Scenes from around Mildenhall. I hear they are planning to shut the base… That makes me sad, especially since its been built up so much now! And they like Americans, too… right?