Cabbages & Kings: walking the Glem Valley and disovering Lewis Carroll's Suffolk connections
PUBLISHED: 09:09 09 January 2018 | UPDATED: 12:37 09 January 2018
Lindsay Want takes a whimsical circular walk from Long Melford and discovers Lewis Carroll connections in the Suffolk wonderlands, around the rolling countryscapes of the Glem Valley
Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where -‘said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go’, said the Cat. ‘ - so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’ - Alice in Wonderland – Chapter 6/ Pig & Pepper
Hey, you’d be as mad as a hatter not to give this one a go. Face up to the original ugly Duchess from Alice in Wonderland in one of Long Melford’s most beautiful medieval buildings, before heading out in the would-be steps of King Edmund to find the great cabbage and beet field worlds of West Suffolk. Here, hedge holes lead down bizarre tree tunnels and glorious green lanes, past mysterious pools, to the lazy meanders of the River Glem. Dig deep for more tales by Glemsford’s Monks Hall, look out for mushrooms and maybe even large blue caterpillars. Admittedly, you’re more likely to see a pig take off than an aeroplane in the endearingly dozy-as-a-dormouse village of Stanstead (with that all-important ‘a’), but you’ll be sure to meet Gryphon look-alikes.
When the days are shrinking, Suffolk’s vast skies and special light have a strange Alice-ish way of putting everything into a different sort of perspective, making both sense and nonsense of things at the same time. Spot the Cheshire Cat grinning down from the knarls of ancient oaks.
Ponder why every darting rabbit or bustling pheasant has somewhere else to be. Edge tentatively past the manicured lawns of Kentwell Hall, keeping a beady eye out for odd games of croquet and a cantankerous monarch. For even if the weather is a bit ‘brillig’ or ‘mimsy’ out there, nothing quite works wonders like a light-hearted look at the rolling Suffolk landscapes just north of the Stour Valley, especially if there’s a Long Melford café full of cake on the menu, with the promise of a jam tart or two.
1. START near the Elizabethan red brick water conduit and medieval Market Cross site on Long Melford Green (at the north of village - junction A1092/ B1064). Go up Church Walk and, looking back, half-timbered cottages, Georgian façades and fine Melford Hall seem to grow ever-smaller with the climb. You’ll find Elizabeth, the formidable Duchess (of Norfolk) pursing her lips inside great Holy Trinity church on one of the lower north aisle windows. Perhaps John Tenniel, the Victorian artist, Punch magazine cartoonist and illustrator of Carroll’s works, was inspired by the medieval dame when exhibiting work nearby in Suffolk street galleries.
Don’t miss the adjacent Lady Chapel with stone carving similar to King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, undertaken by the king’s mason, Reginald Ely. With the church in front of you, turn left down the tarmac path, through a gate (signed St Edmund Way/Stour Valley Path).
Go straight ahead, over a stile onto the wide grassy path between the paddocks. Ignore the footpath/stile to the right. As the path curves along a hedge to the bottom of a paddock, it becomes an uphill field margin alongside beets or brassicas.
Head through the hedge, over the sleeper bridge to continue on the waymarked path across arable land. Turn left for Glem Valley views, continuing downhill towards B1066 at Cranmore Hill.
2. Turn Left onto the B1066 (very briefly) where you find the path (right) leading downhill again along field margin paths with wizened Cheshire Cat trees towards Cranmore Green Lane. Bear right over a footbridge into a coppiced green
lane tree tunnel, where thin wooden stalagmites look to be hanging from above, like icicles. Beware the Jabberwocky, my friend, as the path opens out by a swampy area just before the farm buildings and lane at Parsonage Farm.
3. Turn Left along Cranmore Green Lane, just past driveway gates (right), and it’s time to dive through another hedge at the foopath sign (right) to enter a meadow. Go straight across to the corner, where a lush, green path leads to a bridge over the
River Glem, the first main tributary to meet the River Stour.
4. SLUICE GATE COTTAGE is on the right. Follow signposting through its grounds, out of its driveway onto a farm track. The Domesday Book makes mention of the waterwheel here and beady eyes can still spot the line of the sluice which once drove Glemsford corn mill. Turn right along the track, bearing left across the beet and brassicas field with views (right) to moated Parsonage Farmhouse. Through a hedge, the path meets an arable field dotted with flints like bits of blue and white china. The path crosses it, leading down to the River Glem.
5. Meet the Stour Valley Path at a ditch where parties of long-tailed tits swap places in apparent mayhem amidst the reed mace. Mill Farm is by the river and the road is further ahead to the right. Turn left, following the Stour Valley Path along the 1832 drainage stream with (like it or) Lumpit Wood on the left. When the long distance path veers left up the valley side, simply keep on the footpath straight ahead. As it draws close to the Glem opposite Calves Wood, Bible Meadow (right), gifted to the church in the 1800s, provided income to buy bibles for the poor. St Mary’s Glemsford soon looms large on the hill (left) and eventually the deep ochre, half-timbered gable-ends of Monks Hall pop up ahead. Allegedly, a secret tunnel, now all but blocked up, once linked the sites, so monks (or post Reformation merchants) could pass unseen.
6. JUST BEFORE the B1065, it’s decision time. A short detour up to view the other side of the church with its exuberant late medieval porch and frontage built on the wealth of local merchants? A quick foray further to Glemsford’s half-timbered Angel? It’s tempting to track down this industrious town-like village, which produced not only fine silk for Elizabeth II’s coronation robes, but the largest coconut mat ever for London Olympia’s great arena. Alternatively go right with care at the road, winding over Scotchford Bridge, keeping right at the T-junction.
7. Cross the B1066 with care to take the path (left) up the steps, climbing the valley side along the edge of Scotchford Wood. At the corner of the wood, go across the field to meet a track.
8. Turn Right along the fenced-in footpath round the thick hedge by moated Stanstead Hall to tiny St James’ Church with its imposing tower. Anglican cleric, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) might well have felt happy here in the homely Victorian Gothic interior.
The Queen Anne hatchment harbours lions and a unicorn. Go left, round the end of the church, out of the churchyard to the road, then right down a footpath between and hidden by houses, directly before the phone box, to a field. Continue across the field to waymarkers in the left corner. Cross the next field to a waymarked hole in the hedge down into Blooms Hall Lane.
9. Turn Right to pick up a field margin path (left) which skirts Stanstead Great Wood with its mix of deciduous trees and conifers. Follow the path when it turns away from the wood, down the side of ditch, past camomile lawns (right) towards the old buildings of Kiln Farm.
10. “THE TIME has come,”(the Walrus said,) “To talk of many things: Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax-- Of cabbages--and kings …” Well, you’ll need to pass the time somehow on the very straight, wide track towards Kentwell Hall! It becomes the Stour Valley Path at the edge of Kentwell Downs, then edges the estate’s woodlands, eventually giving sight of the walled garden, camera obscura and the moat.
11. AS THE TRACK bears left, the Tudor redbrick manor house finally comes into view. An impressive place to stop and reflect. Put the pepper-pot gatehouses behind you and continue along the tree-lined avenue. Take a second footpath on the right (signed St Edmund Way / Stour Valley Path) to head over an idyllic grazing meadow towards Long Melford Church. Cross the stile and the final stretch leads back to the original path by the paddocks. Turn left to go back through the gate into the churchyard, returning to the Great Green.