Suffolk's best walks: A romantic stretch of the Stour Valley between Bures and Sudbury
PUBLISHED: 12:38 13 February 2019 | UPDATED: 12:38 13 February 2019
Lindsay Want finds the Stour Valley stretch between Bures and Sudbury to be the stuff of fairytales
Fancy a rather romantic walk this Valentine’s Day? A bit of half-term fun with the kids, if they’re up for an active adventure, or what about a healthy helping of fresh air and broad outdoor horizons that’s sure to keep your spirits up.
Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to the Stour Valley we go! You’ll be surprised what a Disney-fest of tales, romantic backdrops and wildlife characters you can encounter on a railway walk from Bures to Sudbury, where once Pongo and Missis of 101 Dalmatians fame stopped around midnight, en route to save their pups from the vile intentions of Cruela de Vil.
Who knows quite how far those spotty parent pooches travelled that night, but if they’d taken the train to alight at Bures station and headed for the hills, they would have covered around seven miles by the time they reached their famous drinking trough that’s still by St Peter’s church and Gainsborough’s statue in the heart of Sudbury.
The location of Cruela’s Hell Hall remains a mystery, but then there are plenty more unknowns out there in the Suffolk and Essex hills.
It’s tempting at Bures to go and see the great dragon carved into the hillside – a tribute to the beast which once terrorised the farming communities of Essex, chomping its way through meadows full of sheep.
Truth to tell, it was probably an escaped crocodile from Richard I’s Tower of London menagerie, but there’s both fact and fiction surrounding Bures’ thatched St Stephen’s Chapel too. Was it the place where King Edmund was crowned in AD 855? Definitely a mystery to mull over as you head out along the St Edmund’s Way.
Along the wonderfully well way-marked Stour Valley Path head down the green tunnel-of-a-footpath to a wide valley of open fields and osier beds, and onwards, gently upwards to where, in the months to come, cowslips, sheep’s parsley, even perhaps oxeye daisies and dog roses will keep the bright clumps of broom and unexpected World War II pillbox company as they gaze out across the idyllic English riverside landscape towards Suffolk and Princess Wood.
No wonder, our local great artists found inspiration along this Stour Valley stretch. Near here John Constable painted Lamarsh House (Daws Hall) and Thomas Gainsborough captured cattle, sheep and travellers down at the waterside in his Landscape with the village Cornard, aka The Lamarsh Cliff.
But as you cross the railway line . . . isn’t that a French château on the horizon? Past thatched cottages and The Lion pub, the pointy, round, rendered beautiful Rapunzel tower eventually comes into full view.
It’s almost reminiscent of the castle from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, of Disney’s iconic trademark towers or a look-alike from Tangled, but it turns out to be the church. Grade I listed with its round tower dating from around 1140, Holy Innocents Lamarsh is eccentric, irresistible and above all, generally open.
Its sweet, coloured stucco coating, its elaborate octagonal spire with hooded dormer windows straight out of a fairy-tale are attributed to Victorian architect, Arthur Bloomfield, but inside there are more tales to be told.
Don’t miss the gorgeous stained glass windows designed and created especially for the church by Mary Lowndes, a storybook in herself as a pioneering suffragette who amongst other things, gave craftswomen an independent future.
Climb to the top of the valley ridge and the castle church dazzles white against the emerald patchwork of Suffolk countryside which rolls away behind it.
On the descent to Valley Farm, Sudbury suggests itself in the distance and on the next ridge, frames itself between pairs of ancient oaks. But there are beasts to behold – and more beauties too – at next stop Henny.
In Gainsborough’s 1748 painting Cornard Wood, you can just about make out the spire of Henny’s St Mary the Virgin church. From today’s Stour Valley Path it soon comes into view beyond soft, green farmland.
What you can’t spot is its unusual wooden shingle roof. Here Woody Woodpecker would have a field day and wooden puppet Pinocchio would make a b-line for a badger hole.
Truth to tell, the local woodpeckers have been such a nuisance, that parishioners have erected a mock wooden spire to distract them. Don’t miss the amusing, hand-crafted, pecking toy woodpecker in the porch.
On with St Edmund we go. Footbridges and field margin paths lead along the ups and downs, above Middleton and its moated hall, through plantations and along bizarre wooded clifftops to look down on Sudbury from its heights.
Soon, you’ll meet the Stour again and walk above its water-meadows, along the old railway embankment to town, station and the memorial to those much-loved spotty dogs.
But at Ballingdon, once home to Sudbury’s famous brickworks, there’s a final puzzle, courtesy of the OS map which reads most bizarrely: ‘Ballingdon Hall (not in situ)’.
What could that mean? In fact, you’ll find Thomas Eden’s 16th century timber-framed hall’s a further half mile up Ballingdon Road, moved there in 1972, by owners who, in times of growing housing estates, wanted to hold on to their fairytale property and live happily ever after.
Ordnance Survey maps are available from all good booksellers and outdoor stores or visit the online shop www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/al
1) Turn left out of Bures Railway Station. Go right down Station Hill.
2) Just before the T-junction with Colchester Road, take the footpath left down a wide drive by a house (chimney with door in it!), waymarked St Edmund’s Way and Stour Valley Path (SVP).
This leads alongs a wall, then turns right to become a broad track with meadows (left). Where the track bends right, follow footpath straight ahead. Walk alongside the Stour, but don’t be tempted to go over the bridge.
3) The path leads up the slope past a WWII pill box to the single-track railway line.
4) Cross with care. Join the small lane, down past thatched cottages to a junction. Bear right along road signposted for Sudbury. Go past the Lamarsh Lion community pub (left) and turn right at junction to head through the village to reach Holy Innocents Church.
5) Soon after the church, follow SVP way-markers on the left to go steeply uphill, stopping to enjoy views back to the church. The path bears right at top of incline. Follow it to meet a lane at a gate. Turn left. Walk along to next footpath (right) opposite a road junction.
6) Admire the views towards Sudbury before going through the gate and heading diagonally across the bumpy field to another gate in bottom right hand corner.
Turn left at farm track, past paddocks and Valley Farm. Follow the track straight ahead to footpath in the left-hand corner which goes first to a footbridge, then very much uphill to steps which lead through a hedge-gap.
7) Turn left (ie. ignore the footpath straight ahead) to meet a track at Great Hickbush. Turn right and enjoy the magnificent views towards Sudbury by the pair of great oaks and of Henny church spire from Little Hickbush before reaching the road.
8) At road junction go straight ahead, taking the road until you reach the footpath to the church (right – still SVP).
9) The path leads through the churchyard, crosses a lane, goes down alongside garages belonging to The Old Hatchery and finally opens out into a field. Follow the field-margin path straight on, cross a footbridge and continue straight uphill (hedge on left).
Just in front of the metal gate, follow the way-markers right, so that the hedge is on your right. Continue straight ahead up to the brow of the hill and crossroads of paths.
10) Go straight ahead, first downhill, then up across a field and follow path through a wooded area, high above Sudbury. Take care – path is narrow with tree roots and potential drops. It eventually comes out in housing. Snake down (route signed) to the main road and cross to enter Kone Park.
11) Walk all the way through the park . At the information sign before you get to Ballingdon Bridge and Ballingdon Road, go right to climb up to the old railway embankment path.
12) Turn right along the path for views across the water meadows and town, continuing to the leisure centre and railway station (13).
Distance: 7 miles /11 kms
Time: 4 hours
Start: Bures Railway Station CO8 5DQ
Parking: At Sudbury Railway Station / Leisure Centre (CO10 2RD) for train to Bures.
Access: Green lanes/byways, field-edge and cross-meadow paths, some tarmac roads or pavement. Steps, gates, stiles. Waymarked – (St Edmunds Way) Stour Valley Path
Big Map to hand: OS Explorer 196
Ts & Ps: Bures and Sudbury