diamond geezer

 Friday, May 30, 2014

The River Stour at East Bergholt is, in many respects, a very ordinary stretch of river. Meandering waters pass between green meadows before opening out through squidgy marshland on their way to the sea. Cows and sheep graze on the banks, while the valley slopes gently upwards towards low leafy heights. Beside the old lock, a couple of miles from the start of the estuary, stands a hamlet with a handful of cottages and a pretty watermill. And that mill was once owned by the father of one of England's most famous artists, who painted it a lot, hence its landscape has become engrained into the national consciousness. It's Flatford Mill, located on the border between Suffolk and Essex, and it's National Trust nirvana.

A rickety-looking wooden bridge crosses the river at the foot of a steep lane beside a 16th century thatched cottage. It's extremely picturesque, or would be had not a builders van parked up alongside in a photo-wrecking position. Pop inside Bridge Cottage for a small exhibition which places Constable's Stour works in context, and helps you to identify precisely where in the immediate vicinity they were painted. The not-quite-so-old dwelling nextdoor is the NT gift shop, and walk round the back to find the almost sympathetic tea room. Scone of the month is Prunes and Earl Grey, if you're interested, else a crack team lies poised to provide a more normal selection of cakes and beverages. Alongside is the dry dock John painted, currently surrounded by yellow irises, but unless you get a seat by the window you could be anywhere.

Hang around and you could join the hourly tour, or you could instead walk a couple of hundred yards up the lane yourself. Flatford Mill is now a Field Studies Centre, so you won't be getting inside unless you've signed up for a course. Looking through the window I see several grey haired students attempting to identify minibeasts, and something in Latin on the overhead projector, so good luck to them. A little further along is Willy Lott's Cottage, an idyllic irregular homestead, or would be were it not for the stream of daily visitors come to poke around outside. And that's because the adjacent waterside was where Constable set up his easel for The Hay Wain, so the masses descend to take photographic approximations of the scene. By visiting on a wet weekday I managed to grab the view without human intrusion, although none of the trees are originals, and the cottage is a 90-year-old restoration.

Assuming that everyone should visit Flatford Mill once, I'd recommend waiting until after retirement. That's not because the place is anything less than pretty, but because this is a perfect compact cluster you'll still be able to manage at 70. All you need to do is wander along two opposite stretches of river, and the second of these turns out not to be crucial, which you can take as slowly as you like. The car park's not too far away, and there's disabled parking at the foot of the hill if it all gets too much. The RSPB run a rather pretty wildlife garden on the walk down, complete with cameras in the nesting boxes (if you're quick before the last blue tits fledge). Throw in a small tourist information centre and a plant stall, plus of course those unusual scones, and Flatford will do nicely for a half-day out.

Walking from Manningtree: I visited earlier than 70, and I walked in rather than arriving by car or coach. I'd always imagined Flatford as being in the middle of nowhere, which essentially it is, but the mill turns out to be within two miles of Manningtree station so I realised it was eminently doable on foot. I thought I'd walk in along the river, so trudged round to the Cattawade Barrage where the river suddenly becomes a broad estuary. The footpath looked innocuous enough, and not as muddy as I'd anticipated, but the overhanging grasses held a dewy sting. Within a few steps the bottom half of my jeans were sodden wet, and had I not been carrying a pair of waterproof overtrousers with me I'd have got no further. Instead I enjoyed the chance to walk the lower valley and be utterly alone with nature, from the cattle staring across the river to the birds freewheeling above. The path did get a bit muddy later, but half an hour of striding alone through the nettles and reeds felt like experiencing my very own Springwatch.

Dedham: Having ticked off Flatford I though I'd continue up the Dedham Vale, my walking boots tightly tied. A choice of paths leads across the riverside meadows to the next village, or you can hire a rowing boat as some more adventurous families had done. It's wonderfully unspoilt, with the National Trust's land acquisition policy intent on preserving as much of Constable's panorama as possible, but probably even prettier in sunlight with the absence of drizzle. Dedham's a pretty Essex village, with a pastel-tinted centre and a selection of small shops that nod to retired daytrippers as well as residents. The second-oldest church has been taken over as an arts and crafts centre, while a mile to the south is a small museum devoted to horse-painter Sir Alfred Munnings, the postwar president of the Royal Academy.

East Bergholt: And on the opposite side of the valley, a mere mile into Suffolk, is Constable's home village. You'll not find East Bergholt House standing, only an exceptionally ordinary detached house in an acre of garden, but several quaint cottages have survived elsewhere. East Bergholt's other claim to fame is the UK's heaviest peal of five of bells, these housed not up St Mary's tower but in a 15th century wooden cage in the churchyard. I remember these from the first series of Treasure Hunt, pre-Wincey Willis, and Anneka's win with 40 seconds to spare, so it was nice to finally see the reality.

Stour Valley Path: I thought I'd walk back to Manningtree station on the other side of the river, down the last two miles of the medium-distance Stour Valley Path. Mistake. The correct path is poorly and irregularly signed, making some kind of map essential. The first stretch involved walking through a field of rather messy sheep, the river alas always just out of sight. A muddy squeeze between narrow fences followed, before fighting down the edge of a rarely-trodden field of oilseed rape and out onto a road for the last hike to Cattawade. I should've taken the southern path... much damper, but so much Stour-ier.

» For my walking routes marked on a map, see here
» For the official walking routes leaflet, see here
» For the official Dedham Vale tourist website, see here
» For ten Dedham Vale photographs, see here

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Wed 19th - Sun 23rd October
Bloomsbury Festival
It's free to visit the Foundling Museum this weekend.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2015 index
diamond geezer 2014 index
diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards