Our favourite Suffolk villages: Walsham le Willows
PUBLISHED: 16:35 23 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:24 20 February 2013
Jane Sneesby on why she will always love this picturesque village
Jane Sneesby on her perfect rural idyll
Walsham le Willows is a lovely name for a village, evoking the tree-lined stream that runs through this picture postcard place with its thatched cottages and historic buildings set deep in the west Suffolk countryside.
It was this idyllic rural image that first attracted my family to move here from Yorkshire 20 years ago. Once wed got over the culture shock, we discovered it was the strong sense of community that makes the village really special and you get back what you put into it.
Walsham is roughly 11 miles from Bury St Edmunds, Diss and Stowmarket, so maybe its location has made it more self-reliant than other villages. According to the local history group, the settlement has been documented since the 11th century. Its population is now about the same as it was in 1349, when the Black Death Plague killed half the 1,500 or so residents, as listed in the fascinating court rolls of the period.
Warned that we might get cut off in severe East Anglian winters, we came prepared with a gas heater and candles, but its only happened once. With two real ale pubs (one serving food), an award winning butchers shop, a hairdresser, a wine merchant and an agricultural supplier to keep us going, snow days are not too much of a hardship!
By happy accident we bought a house close to the village primary school, a hub for family life where our children thrived after moving up through the toddler group and pre-school. More than once they were brought home by the headteacher when I became immersed in meeting deadlines and forgot to collect them!
The village has its own play area, which has been maintained by different generations of parents. In our era we added a skate park for teenagers. Now natural play is back with a new raised walkway through woodland, a rope assault course, and a tunnel, as well as the usual slide and sand-pit.
Walsham people are very diverse and there are lots of activities listed on the village website from the book club to the W.I. The Sports Club is well-known for its football, cricket, bowls and darts teams, and plans for all-weather tennis courts may finally be realised this summer.
Like many in Suffolk, our conservation village has seen its fair share of new housing and increasing traffic. Residents successfully quashed proposals for a waste incinerator plant nearby, but they were unable to save the village post office from closure. Post office services are now provided twice-weekly in the Memorial Village Hall at coffee mornings where you can eat cake and catch up with the latest gossip. These are run by the Community Council, which is raising funds to update the post-war building.
Popular village hall events include home-grown pantomimes put on by the Drama Group, plays by touring theatre troupes, and monthly film screenings by the Cinema Club, supported by Suffolk Digital Cinema Network, of which Calendar Girls and childrens films have drawn the biggest audiences. Teenagers prefer the bright lights of Bury by bus..
I am lucky to rent one of the village allotments that were revived a few years ago by a far-sighted charitable trust. The brightly-painted sheds lend a seaside air to the plots of vegetables, fruit, flowers and chickens, where you can always get useful tips from fellow growers. Some are brave enough to enter the Horticultural Show in July, while others nurture giant pumpkins for the annual pub weigh-in in October.
You dont have to be a gardener to play your part in the annual Walsham Gardens Weekend over the Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday in August. This year will be the 30th anniversary, making it one of the longest running open gardens events in the country. Visitors come from miles around to view about 30 gardens, listen to live music, eat pub lunches or cream teas, buy local artwork and produce. The event has raised over 120,000 for village causes and the 15th century church, St Mary the Virgin.
The success of the weekend relies on the hard work of more than 250 local people from manning the car-parks to making cakes. One year, there were so many visitors on the first day that the call went out for everyone to bake more cakes, scones and meringues overnight. Its a perfect example of the community spirit that makes Walsham my favourite Suffolk village.
Find out more from the village website at www.walsham-le-willows.org.