Discover Suffolk: Hold your horses
PUBLISHED: 14:16 19 September 2012 | UPDATED: 22:07 20 February 2013
You don't have to be a happy hacker to enjoy Suffolk's bridleways and real country rides. Lindsay Want joins David Falk of Suffolk County Council's countryside access project, to discover routes which are perfect for cycling and walking too
You dont have to be a happy hacker to enjoy Suffolks bridleways and real country rides. Lindsay Want joins David Falk of Suffolk County Councils countryside access project, to discover routes which are perfect for cycling and walking too
Theres no denying that Suffolk has a very special place in its heart for equine friends. From the buzz of Newmarket race days to pastoral scenes of post-and-rail marked paddocks; paths leading over pack horse bridges; games of quoits at the Four Horseshoes; that gush of excitement as stallions streak past at The Gallops or heart-swelling pride at the sight of the noble Suffolk Punch life and legacies around here seem to go naturally hand in hoof.
When it comes to riding out on an early autumn day, Suffolk spoils for choice. Set out down ancient paths lined with feathery green horse tails. Take to wide woodland rides or experience some real autumn colours as you cross country down leafy lanes and trackways of organised routes. www.discoversufffolk.org.uk has some great itineraries in their portfolio, complete with suggestions for watering holes.
Whether you choose the company of a proud, steamy-breathed quadruped or the inanimate certainty of a sturdy-framed two-wheeler, is up to you. And if you prefer to have both feet planted safely on the ground throughout and just enjoy the ride so to speak, then there are sure to be plenty of equine treasures to discover along the way.
The Munnings Trail
Where better to start when considering the art of a good ride? Designed especially for equestrian outings, but great for cyclists who enjoy a bit of off-roading, this 26 mile route follows mainly ancient lanes from the Mendham birthplace of famed equine portrait painter, Sir Alfred Munnings, through the historic area known as The Saints and on towards Beccles. The artist was born at the mill and travelled extensively around the whole area on horseback himself. Today, the village sign by living local artist, Mary Moore, depicts the subject of his painting, Charlottes Pony.
With lots of scope for shorter circular routes, the trail includes two suggested loops of 10 miles or so around Rumburgh and the Elmhams a great area to get walking to explore imposing churches and intriguing minster ruins. Horses graze some of the expansive commons in this lost-in-time area of the Waveney Valley and many more village signs allude to that not so distant Suffolk idyll of plough boy and his trusty workhorse.
The Mildenhall Rides
This route paints its own picture a horseshoe-shaped ride of about 15 miles leading from the River Lark at Barton Mills past the paddocks near Kennett and Herringswell, all the way to the burnished autumn colours of Cavenham Heath where it rejoins the river.
Hack out from Herringswell (the names a bit of a red herring, though the village sign here enjoys the joke by including a few fish!) and enjoy a beautiful five mile loop of Breckland scenery along ancient trackways. Alternatively leave the impressive flying buttresses of St Ethelberts behind you and head off Pegasus-like towards Tuddenham for another fortress of a church and the tiny, fascinating Strake House, a small forge once used to heat iron strips for wooden cart wheels. Whether arriving on high horseback, lofty bike-saddle, or parking up to explore easy access routes on foot, the sheer scale of Cavenham Heath is breathtaking and well worth the trek all the way down to The Lark at Temple Bridge.
With a great Lark-side walking circuit (two miles) through historic Barton Mills, and links off to join the Newmarket Rides route near Barrow and the Kings Forest Rides just beyond Cavenham Heath at Icklingham, these rides make for a great springboard into discovering the wilds of north west Suffolk.
The Kings Forest Rides
Suitable for four hooves even better though on two off-road tyres you can join this ride right from Bury St Edmunds town centre following the Lark Valley six miles up to West Stow Country Park before plunging into some real off-road fun in the forest. Park up perhaps at West Stow for the 13-mile Plantations and Clearings circular down straight tracks alongside fields, paddocks and woodlands or visit at the back end of autumn or early winter to find Oases of Calm near Dead Mans Grave another 13 mile outing, not for the faint-hearted, if only because the Breckland soil can be unpredictably loose, sandy or muddy at times!
With horse-friendly pubs, horse box parking and even stabling and grazing opportunities available courtesy of the team at Bardwell Manor Equestrian Centre, the upland area between Bury St Edmunds and Diss around Stanton makes for a great getaway and some really inspiring rides including sections of the ancient Icknield Way. There are three different loops (6, 10, 12 miles) with connecting bridleways, each featuring shorter route options for walks and a pleasing mix of scenery for the cyclist. With local vineyards and a first class farmers market at Wyken, plus the Old Chimneys craft brewery at Market Weston and a good collection of village inns, who would have thought that an autumn ride could be so refreshing?