Walking at Clare and Cavendish
PUBLISHED: 12:59 06 September 2016 | UPDATED: 12:59 06 September 2016
David Falk, manager of Suffolk County Council's Brandon Country Park, crosses borders as he explores the rolling landscape of the Stour Valley between Clare and Cavendish
This is a nice way to start the day. A hot toasted teacake, flat white, attentive service, 1940s music. Well, maybe not the music, but the café is very nice and its helping me wake up after a long drive.
I’m sitting in the beautiful town of Clare. The town lies in the very southwest corner of the county. It’s not somewhere I often get to, which is my loss as the town offers a slightly cosmopolitan atmosphere of café culture and smart galleries within one of Suffolks best preserved wool towns. As I sit in the café listening to local banter, I study my map and sort out a route. I can see a way following various lanes and footpaths through Essex to arrive at Cavendish. Here, the Stour Valley Path will guide me back through Suffolk to Clare. It’s a circular walk of just over seven miles, a decent distance on a very warm summer’s day.
Leaving the café I pass an antiques centre before reaching a signpost for Clare Priory. Across a metal bridge over the River Stour, I head towards a very heavy wooden gate set in a solid stone wall. Pushing through the gate, I enter a small churchyard, pass gravestones, oak trees, bulbous yews and a flame orange Acer, to stand in the grounds of the priory. The priory was founded in 1248 and over the centuries has housed royalty, the army and, today, Augustinian Friars. It’s church is remarkable; an ancient structure of unworked flint and carved stonework with fruit trees and lavenders hugging its walls. But the historic structure houses a surprise, as around the front you’re suddenly greeted by a modern extension in pale cream stone, expanses of glass and wooden slats. It’s a wonderful piece of architecture.
Beyond, the priory is out of bounds, but I peer at its pink coloured walls, pocked by tiny metal windows and topped by tall ornate chimneys. I retrace my steps through the churchyard and through the heavy door to follow a path beside the river. Drooping willows wet their branches in water full of sedge and lilies. I cross stiles and push through gates before crossing a field to another metal bridge. Here I cross into Essex.
Beyond the bridge I walk through a golden field of wheat and follow a narrow lane to a gravel track. The track lolls between fields, gently winding along the valley floor. At a worn sign proclaiming private fishing, I turn right and head up a gentle rise towards a silhouette of trees. The silhouette conceals a field of beans, a mass of black pods clinging to sturdy upright stalks. The path narrows and stinging nettles reach out towards me as beanstalks lean over the path. I hear a heron squawking out of sight from near the river. I make my way around a small plantation of willows and enter a shady trail past hazel and towering ash. Exposed orange soil reveals the workings of a badger set.
I soon reach another narrow lane where a bridleway sign directs me towards an impressive hall. Its home to three small yapping dogs: a dachshund, a terrier and a pug. All three rush lazily to investigate me, bark disapprovingly, and then politely escort me away. I smile at their owner as I step over and around the dogs. My route continues past more bean fields, overseen by a mewing buzzard. I find myself descending once again into shade before emerging on the outskirts of Cavendish. Here I re-enter Suffolk and walk along Cavendishs main street past houses painted strawberry pink, mustard yellow and pistachio green. I pass homes called The Nook, Stormont and Tumbleweed. I see dates of 1891 and 1862.
Cavendish is a historic town painted in every colour of the rainbow. I stop at the village pond, named The Waiver. The name is old English and means swamp. In days gone by this was where carts wetted their wheels to seal the wood. I pop into the Duck and Grouse, a tiny one-room village store, and grab some lunch. The shopkeeper asks where I’ve walked and exclaims: “Oh, you took the low road here. Its the high road back!” I smile.
I rest on Cavendish’s village green. This spot is much photographed and its easy to see why. Bordered by Suffolk-pink thatched cottages, St Mary’s Church and the Five Bells Inn, the green is quintessential Suffolk.
As the church bells ring two o’clock, I pick up the waymarkers for the Stour Valley Path. The path heads past a cemetery and twists around a field. I meet Alfie, a friendly golden retriever, who ties to lick my map and then obeys his owner’s command to “leave him alone!”
I pace along a sunken lane and soon reach the high road. Here I gain an expansive view of the Stour Valley. The valley flows away from me in a series of caramel coloured fields, interrupted only by blocks of deep green woods, and military grey farm barns. The path continues beside hawthorn hedgerows, across small wooden bridges and zigzags along the valley. It undulates before rising and then heads through a gap in a small copse to a birds eye view of Clare. I look down onto houses and the church and can hear the gentle rumble of town life.
I head towards town through Clare Country Park, diverting to get another view by climbing the castle motte, before seeking out another tearoom. Here I finish my walk as I started it. Sitting in a café, watching the world go by, sipping coffee, resting my feet. The owner queries where I’ve walked and I describe my journey. This is the end, I tell her. “The End, The End!” she repeats laughingly. Its not a bad way to finish the day.