Journey to Middle Earth
PUBLISHED: 10:24 16 December 2014 | UPDATED: 10:24 16 December 2014
David Falk, manager of Brandon Country Park, explores the area around Middleton and discovers wetlands, meadows, pubs, farmshops and eels!
I feel a little bit disorientated, like I’ve left mainstream Suffolk behind and entered some strange middle earth kingdom.
Is this the sleepy Suffolk some talk about, the hidden Suffolk marketing experts promote, or the secret Suffolk that outsiders should not enter?
I’ve driven off the A12 and entered a rabbit warren world of narrow, sunken lanes. I follow small signs, inching my way past parked cars, steering gingerly around delivery vans, until I arrive in the compact village centre. A short to-ing and fro-ing and I locate the recreation ground, drive into a grassy field and park up.
This is Middleton, just a few miles inland from the coast, within the magical landscape of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Nestled between Westleton and Theberton, the village offers five different walks detailed across three leaflets.
The one I’ve selected today is ‘Eastbridge via Theberton’. The circular walk will take me across meadows, past fascinating sculptures to Eastbridge’s famous Eels Foot Inn before following the gentle waters of the Minsmere River to a farm café.
The walk is just 4.5 miles and I’ve all day to enjoy it. The directions are faultless and guide me along the edge of a rough field beneath scattering pigeons, and across a road, until I stand shoulder to shoulder with a huge metal sculpture of a cowboy.
This is the work of Paul Richardson, whose work is displayed around his home. The sparkling shiny steel cowboy, a moustachioed sheriff with pistols drawn, guards the entrance to Middleton. Further on I meet a bow and arrow wielding Native American, a chinless squat figure, a unicorn, a lion and a pair of dice balanced in mid throw.
Beyond, the walk drops on to a meadow and I follow a trail of footprints beneath dripping willows. Over a rickety stile and up a gentle rise, I pass a former clay pit and find myself walking across a field of stubble to the sound of a dog barking in the distance. I turn into a short lane leading to the curiously named Rattla Corner.
On this grey and overcast day colours are muted, but the pretty shades of small manicured cottages brighten the scene. A short way along the lane and I’m on to a footpath of mown grass which leads to a bench.
‘Kenny’s Rest’ overlooks a field of sugar beet bordered by woodland. An inscription tells me that local farming families donated it, the final line reading ‘TIME OUT’. I take the advice and linger, waiting for nature to visit me. Apart from a flapping pigeon and a distant hovering kestrel, nothing appears, but it’s still a perfect stop.
The walk leads on along the edge of a recently planted field, past sprinting pheasants and squawking jays, to a set of steep steps down on to yet another narrow lane. I turn left and bump into a family of cyclists seeking directions. They see a familiar sign and yelp in delight as they realise their bearings and cycle off in Famous Five glee.
I wade on along a sunken lane, soon arriving in Eastbridge. The village sign depicts its history of rising suns, wind pumps, rivers and marshes, herons and smugglers. It is topped with an eel emerging from a boot. I take it as a sign to head to Adnam’s Eels Foot Inn and join the commotion of ramblers sharing walking stories.
As the sun finally sneaks out and warms my back, I move on, leaving the noise of diners behind. Here, the Minsmere Levels spread out and the river flows softly towards the coast. The walk heads on to a riverside path clumped with grass, past lines of willows. The sun bursts out again and illuminates the bucolic landscape in a golden light.
This section of the walk is a real pleasure. I follow the barely flowing river in complete solitude. The sounds of modern life disappear with nothing but nature to fill the void. Above seagulls spiral, a sure sign I am close to the sea. A pair of moorhens scarper along the river. A flock of long tailed tits with rose tinted breasts, flit by. One hops and skips from twig to twig. It is surely one of nature’s most delicate creations.
At Redford Bridge I leave the serenity of the river to skirt a main road towards Middleton. As I approach the village I’m halted by two signs. They point in opposite directions – right to the Bell Inn, left to Middleton Farm Shop and Café. The walk leads left and I’m soon in a wooden barn nestled on a high stool with an expertly made espresso, enjoying a fun conversation with staff about the merits of coffee.
Reluctantly, I wrench myself away and am soon back at the recreation ground, walking across the football pitch past the imaginative playground and my car. I leave Middleton, glad I made the effort to discover this secret, sleepy heart of Suffolk.