Abbey roads beckon you
PUBLISHED: 13:12 19 November 2013 | UPDATED: 13:12 19 November 2013
A circular walk from Discover Suffolk's 'Treasured Suffolk' portfolio combines the wide, open landscapes of the Waveney Valley marshes with the intimacy of village churches and mystery of monastic ruins
Just like its near neighbour, South Elmham, the village of Mendham has tales of a ‘minster’ to tell. A mention in the will of Bishop Theodred around AD951 suggests that there was a monastery in Anglo-Saxon times near the site of All Saints’ Church, although no evidence remains today.
Across the marshes towards Withersdale Street a house lays claim to the name, ‘Mendham Priory’, but a few neglected ruins by the medieval causeway suggest a different story.
It was the sheep or ‘wethers’ which gave their name to the valley here, and small flocks still graze the paddocks near Church Farm by the tiny village idyll of St Mary Magdalene.
Metfield, now a village in its own right, was formerly just considered the ‘upland’ part of Mendham and the community had to wait until the 14th century to warrant its own church.
From the marshlands, water meadows and historic villages to the cultivated fields of the Withersdale plateau, this walk leads down time-honoured tracks, through timeless views and is sure to be good for the spirit.
Walk this way
Distance: 8.5 miles (14 km)
Time: 4-5 hours
Terrain: Undulating, but easy to gentle. Mainly quiet lanes and public rights of way. There is a short section along the B1123 where particular care should be taken. The marshland can be wet, so walking boots are advisable.
Directions: Start in Mendham by the Sir Alfred Munnings pub and turn left out of the car park towards All Saints’ Church. The path to the left of the churchyard entrance leads past a WWII pill box which sits perilously close to the church itself and on to the marsh trail along the southern edge of the River Waveney. Stiles and gates act as a guide across the marshes towards the ruins of the Cluniac Priory. Now only grassy mounds and a lonely chunk of masonry, the priory ruins survived into the 20th century and are said to have finally fallen as the result of a wartime bomb blast in the winter of 1943-4.
Continue down the medieval causeway that leads southwards across the marsh to Withersdale Street. At the road here, there is a glimpse of the mansion that now bears the name of Mendham Priory. It is worth taking a right turn to see Priory Lodge, the Victorian folly gatehouse which incorporates some stones and a shield from the original priory.
Turn back towards Withersdale Street (B1123). On the bend of the road make a slight detour into Bluebell Wood to discover more views of ancient arches, possibly from the original priory. Return to the B1123, continue along the road, then turn right into Hunter’s Lane. Carry on to the brow of the gently rising landscape, and after Hunter’s Lane Cottage, where the lane curves right, take the footpath on the left. Follow this path downhill to a footpath crossroads near Villa Farm, then continue and take a moment to explore St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Withersdale.
Return to the footpath crossroads and head past Oak Hill Farm into the village of Metfield, with its community shop on The Street and St John the Baptist’s Church full of medieval treasures.
From the green in front of the church, turn left to the junction with the Harleston Road. Cross over and continue along Mill Lane which soon turns into a track. Take the first footpath on your left past Turkey Hall to the lane called ‘Sandpit Hill’. Turn right up the lane, then take the first turning on the left into Foxes Lane.
The lane continues past Gray’s Farm, another fragmentary medieval moated site. Then, at the junction with Withersfield Road, follow the footpath on the left across the field that sweeps gently downwards, back towards Mendham church.