In the footsteps of Constable

PUBLISHED: 12:29 14 October 2014 | UPDATED: 12:29 14 October 2014

Visitors comparing Constable's paintings to the scene at Flatford, Suffolk.

Visitors comparing Constable's paintings to the scene at Flatford, Suffolk.

©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Autumn marks the return of the National Trust's annual walking festival, The Great British Walk, with a host of walking activities taking place across the county. Jeremy Owen reports

Willy Lott's House, FlatfordWilly Lott's House, Flatford

Walking is the best way to experience the beautiful colour palette of the autumn landscape, from shades of green pasture, flashes of jewel-red berries and the burnt orange of autumn leaves, to the slate grey stone and warm red brick of beautiful buildings.

The National Trust has lots of pretty walking routes, including trips through the wooded parkland of Ickworth Estate, along the old railway line from Melford Hall to Lavenham Guildhall, and through some less well-known beauty spots such as Kyson Hill near Sutton Hoo.

Fans of John Constable could head off to Flatford and Dedham Vale to take in the views that inspired the painter more than 200 years ago, and which feature in a major new exhibition of his work, Constable: The Making of a Master, at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London until January 2015.

Constable is forever associated with the countryside around Flatford. He spent his formative years there, where his father owned Flatford and Dedham water mills, as well as a windmill at East Bergholt. He even trained as a miller before setting out as an artist.

Tour guide comparing Constable's paintings to the scene at Flatford, Suffolk.Tour guide comparing Constable's paintings to the scene at Flatford, Suffolk.

Constable’s love of the area is best summed up by a comment made in a letter to friend John Fisher, at the age of 45:

“The sound of water escaping from mill dams . . . willows, old rotten banks, slimy posts, and brickwork. I love such things . . . As long as I do paint I shall never cease to paint such places.’

This walk takes in many of the views that feature in Constable’s paintings, including The Hay-Wain, View on the Stour near Dedham, Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’) and Boys Fishing (‘A Lock on the Stour’).

Starting at Manningtree station, just over the county border in Essex, the route first takes you westwards along a footpath running by the south side of the Stour, through the Cattawade Marshes.

You then head across the river at Flatford, where you can see Flatford Mill, Willy Lott’s Cottage and the site of The Hay-Wain and several other Constable views. You can buy a guidebook at Bridge Cottage that will tell you exactly where to stand to take in each of the views as well as giving some interesting background details on the paintings. There’s also a small art gallery and tea room.

Leaving Bridge Cottage, head towards the RSPB wildlife garden, before following a tree-lined footpath, crossing riverside meadows and over to Dedham Bridge.

You can see an original Constable painting in Dedham Church, depicting The Ascension. Outside Sherman’s House, if you look closely at the brickwork you can see old scratched graffiti. Quite high off the ground, one part reads ‘JC 1787’, which could have been Constable, aged 11.

After strolling through Dedham village, you head east back towards the river, which you follow back past Bridge Cottage and then return to Manningtree station. It’s about seven miles (nine km) and takes around three hours 45 minutes. If you fancy a shorter walk, simply start and end at Bridge Cottage. The shorter walk is about four miles (6.4 km) and takes roughly two hours 30 minutes.

For full details of this and lots of other great walks, in Suffolk and beyond, visit the National Trust’s website where you can download them free – www.nationaltrust.org.uk/article-1356394479859

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