A walk around Dedham Vale and Constable Country
Thu Mar 24 00:00:00 GMT 2011
- Start: Free car park, Dedham GR 057 334
- End: Free car park, Dedham GR 057 334
- Country: England
- County: Essex
- Type: Country
- Nearest pub: Tearooms and pubs are available in Dedham, Stratford St Mary, East Bergholt and at Flatford Mill
- Ordnance Survey: OS Explorer 196 Sudbury, Hadleigh & Dedham Vale
- Difficulty: Medium
Take a stroll around the sights and sounds that inspired John Constable to paint some of his most well-known landscape scenes, with a walk around Dedham Vale and Constable Country Words and images by Charlotte Fellingham
Turn left out of the car park and walk back in to Dedham village. The village of Dedham was once a wealthy wool town in the 16th century but as the railways became more popular the village began to languish, as it had no station. However, the village is now a popular tourist destination because of its links with the painters John Constable and Sir Alfred Munnings and is home to many craft shops, tearooms and galleries. Turn right at the end of the road and down the main street. After Westgate House, turn right on to a footpath down a track. The track passes through the National Trust-owned Bridges Farm and the old water pumping building and out on to fields. Follow the cart track and then go through a kissing gate in to open parkland by the River Stour. The next kissing gate is quite small, but on the other side it will give you a beautiful view of the river, look out for kingfishers. Hop over the next stile, walk through the woods and exit by the car park of Milsoms Maison Talbooth hotel. Turn left out along the lane and then turn right at the road and over the A12. Follow the pavement round the left-hand bend. Turn right at the ornate gates and the lodge house. Follow the track along a lime tree avenue up to the gates of Langham Hall, then turn right towards Langham church. This is the highest point in the parish of Langham. The church is also portrayed in many of Constables paintings. As you head down hill there are beautiful views across to Suffolk and Stratford St Mary. It is here that you can see why this area has been granted the status of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
At the bottom of the hill, turn right along the field edge. Cross the gallops, making sure that they are not in use first, and turn left behind the hedge. As the path widens, turn right and go over a stile and straight across the field, heading for a bridge. Once again cross the River Stour, admiring the tranquil views across the mill pond. There are two channels of the river here; one was used by cargo barges on their route between Mistley and Sudbury. More evidence of this river traffic can be seen further upstream at a disused lock. The river marks the boundary between Essex and Suffolk and the path exits into the village of Stratford St Mary. Turn left at the road and follow it through the village, out the other side and under the A12. As you go through the village, you will see the Victorian pumping station, still operated by Anglian Water. The water is pumped from the River Stour to Abberton Reservoir, approximately ten miles away, as the crow flies. Also admire the aptly-named Ancient House, a 15th century timber-framed building by the side of the road.
Go past the farm shop and church, paying a visit if you wish. Turn left at the end of the road and then right on to a footpath where a track comes off the road. The footpath goes straight across the field. At the end of the field go right in to the corner, across a bridge and out on to a wide track. Follow this as it goes up past sheep pastures. Keep going alongside these fields, with views across the Dedham Vale.
The path drops down to a lane, go straight over, cross a bridge and up the other side of the hill. The path exits on to Cemetery Lane and then in to East Bergholt. Before the junction with the road, you will pass one of John Constables early studios and East Bergholt is the birthplace of this famous landscape painter. At the road, turn right going past the site of Constables childhood home and the towerless church. Building started on the tower in 1525 with promises of help from Cardinal Wolsey. However, when he was charged with treason five years later, work ceased and the bell tower was never finished. As the church has no tower, the bells are kept in a cage in the churchyard. The bells date from the 16th century.
Turn right down the lane opposite the church. Visible from the road, just before the turning, is Old Hall. This was once a Benedictine nunnery and then a friary until 1973. The building now houses the Old Hall Community.
Be prepared for more stunning views across the countryside to Dedham while walking down Flatford Road. Just after the bench on the left-hand side, take the footpath on the left that runs alongside the road.
The path joins the road again for a short while but the traffic is one-way and will always be oncoming, although beware as the lane is narrow and coaches use it. Turn right down the lane next to the car park to Flatford Mill. The mill itself houses the Field Studies Council which runs courses for all ages, with an environmental theme. The mill and Willie Lotts Cottage can be viewed at the end of the lane. At the thatched cottage (Bridge Cottage), turn right over a bridge and right on to a path along the river back to Dedham. Follow the path beside the river until you reach a bridge, cross over and then turn left to walk on the other side of the river. At the road, turn left back to the car park.
Distance: 7 miles / 11.4km / 3 hours
Terrain: Undulating countryside with two stiles en route
Parking: Free car park, Dedham GR 057 334
Map: OS Explorer 196 Sudbury, Hadleigh & Dedham Vale
Refreshments: Tearooms and pubs are available in Dedham, Stratford St Mary, East Bergholt and at Flatford Mill
Tourist Information Centre: Colchester
Tourist Information Centre
1 Queen Street
Essex CO1 2PG
Places to visit: Bridge Cottage in Flatford houses an exhibition on John Constable. Contact 01206 298260 or visit www.nationaltrust.org.ukfor more details.