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Hopton: Drinking in the views

PUBLISHED: 12:22 12 August 2014 | UPDATED: 12:22 12 August 2014

HOPTON CHURCH SIGNS

HOPTON CHURCH SIGNS

DAVID FALK

David Falk, of Suffolk County Council’s Discover Suffolk Project, explores the north of the county around the village of Hopton, a watery land of fens, marshes and rivers

FEN IRIS WITH SNAILFEN IRIS WITH SNAIL

I’m being stared at. A cat is stretching itself in the sun and looking in my direction. It’s a look that says “Who are you?” and “Why are standing in my car park?” It lasts for an age before the cat gives a wide yawn and turns away. I’m otherwise alone in the car park of Hopton village hall lacing up my walking boots accompanied by a soft melody of coo-ing doves.

With the backdrop of All Saints’ Church, its square tower criss-crossed by telegraph wires, it’s a serene scene.

I’m here to follow one of three trails that explore this very eastern edge of the Brecks, a sandy swathe of heathland that stretches from the north of Bury St Edmunds, past Thetford as far as Swaffham in Norfolk.

The Fen Walk, signed by green waymarkers, is a four-mile loop that meanders between the villages of Hopton and Market Weston. It passes a manicured bowling green, a micro-brewery, two spectacular churches, pretty village homes and a magical fen.

PINGO, HOPTON FENPINGO, HOPTON FEN

The walk starts along a rough track edged by bright scarlet poppies beside a pale green field. I pass Hopton and District Bowls and Social Club and beyond catch a glimpse of the groundsman striding methodically up and down the increasingly immaculate lawn.

The Fen Walk continues alongside hedgerows and nettle-filled ditches into the shade of stubby oaks, vegetation teeming with activity. Bees hum, flies whizz, magpies cackle, trees rustle, a skylark thrills. It’s as if nature’s orchestra is tuning up for a concert.

The path winds around fields of blurred barley. Wild roses decorate the scene and fill the air with heady perfume. I spot a tiny snail clinging to a sprig of Queen Anne’s lace, Daddylonglegs hover beside me and butterflies spin uncontrollably past.

On the edge of Market Weston I pass the award winning Old Chimney’s Brewery. A craft brewery since 1995, it uses locally sourced ingredients to brew a range of beers, all named after rare local species. Take your pick from Barbestelle, Black Rat or Scarlet Tiger Beer.

Opposite the brewery sits the impressive St Mary’s Church. Standing aside and aloft from Market Weston, it is surrounded by a beautifully kept graveyard of polished stones set in regimental rows. The church’s square tower contains a golden clock that shines in the daylight. Crenelated walls hold stone crosses and gargoyles look down as ivy creeps up flint walls.

The Fen Walk exits the churchyard and passes through Market Weston with its collection of well-kept homes. Crossing the fast flowing B111 I follow a track downhill to Market Weston Fen. The fen is over 90 acres of peat and heathland and home to barn owls, great crested newts and brimstone butterflies. The path slices through clumps of nettles and passes ponds of copper-coloured water, clogged with fallen trees. The fen is famous for these small pools, remnants of the ice age, known as ‘pingos’. Each one harbours iridescent blue and black striped damselflies and chunky brown dragonflies. As I exit on to Fen Street, the scent of a fox punches through the air. The fen is evidently a home to them too. I follow the green waymarkers into a shaded wood and tread along a boardwalk over a crystal clear stream. The boardwalk deposits me on black damp earth creased with the boot prints of other walkers and the scene soon opens up on to a sun-drenched meadow.

Back in the centre of Hopton, I end my walk resting in the shadow of All Saints’ Church, sitting within a wilderness of brilliant white and orange daisies. It’s an impressive solid structure of flint walls, crenelated roofline and red brick nave. I sit on a bench, treating myself to an ice cream and watch the world drift by, listening to the sounds of everyday life overlapping the sounds of nature; then I decide, without any reason, just to look round, just to check, just in case I’m being stared at again.

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