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Discover Suffolk: Saddling up in the wild west

PUBLISHED: 14:15 19 September 2012 | UPDATED: 22:07 20 February 2013

Discover Suffolk: Saddling up in the wild west

Discover Suffolk: Saddling up in the wild west

David Falk, Discover Suffolk project manager, Suffolk County Council chooses pedals over stirrups for his foray into the wilds of West Suffolk, exploring a set of routes known as The Newmarket Rides

David Falk, Discover Suffolk project manager, Suffolk County Council chooses pedals over stirrups for his foray into the wilds of West Suffolk, exploring a set of routes known as The Newmarket Rides




I love gaining an elevated view of the world looking down from up high on to the earth below. It is surprising to see such a familiar environment from a different perspective. Suddenly everything around seems new, as if you are seeing it for the very first time.


It can work the other way too getting low down and peering at the world through a camera lens as you focus on a tiny mushroom poking up through leaf litter.


But it is from the lofty heights that the world really starts to open up. You see a wider perspective, able to focus on objects further away or peer into otherwise hidden areas. And it is from a lofty height that I will view this journey as I climb into the saddle.


Id love to be able to say Im climbing into the saddle of a horse. But, ever since an early age, my relationship with horses has been rocky. On an early family holiday to a farm I was chased across a field by a horse and forced to take an extended refuge in a tree, until the horse lost interest and I sneaked to safety. From that day forward, I knew I would never become an equestrian.


Not that I have never ridden a horse at all: a wild adventure in Patagonia some ten years ago, having passed an advert in a travel agents window, led to an incredible evening of riding with cowboys on El Negro, the most mild mannered and gentle of black beauties I could have hoped for. And on a visit central Asia a year later, there came a second chance to ride. But this time the horse was a ragged, stubborn beast with matted mane and a poor fitting saddle. Feeling saddle sore and with aching shins, the experience put me off any further equestrian adventures and I never rode again.


So my lofty views are now gained from the saddle of a bike freewheeling adventures of a more controlled kind. Just man and machine. I get a little of that wider, loftier perspective I enjoy, experience the wind in my hair, and breathe in the sights and sounds of nature.


And it is from the saddle that a friend and I head out to explore the Wild West. Suffolks Wild West, that area beyond Bury St Edmunds, where the land rises and falls and earth turns to sand, where gated stud farms remind me more of Kentucky than riding through rural East Anglia.


Were exploring The Newmarket Rides, three circular routes designed for horse riders and cyclists alike. We start with the Barrow Circuit, also known as The Explorers Route eight miles of riding from the appropriately named Three Horseshoes pub. The route passes through the village, then falls gently to a turning to Great Saxham, where pedalling uphill towards Great Saxham Hall, we pass a gateway with curious carved nutmegs.


Winding uphill to St Andrews Church a perfect and well-earned stop we meander onwards along a high ridge, then freewheel downhill with delight before the road turns into bridleway, and we find ourselves pedalling along a hoof-churned, muddy path. The path widens to a grassy track and at Denham, we stop to check the guide and decide to switch circuits.


The nine mile Gazeley Circuit, named the Deer and Beer Route, starts with a gentle two miles downhill into the little village of Dalham. With its lime washed thatched cottages lining a pretty riverbank, this quaint village contains a malt kiln, weather board smock mill, a church full of fine wall paintings and the very welcoming sight of the Affleck Arms inn another well earned stop.


From the Affleck Arms, we could join the third circuit on the Newmarket Rides, the Moulton Circuit, tagged the Travel and Trade Route. This eight mile circuit leads to the famous Packhorse Bridge. At over 600 years old, this remarkable arched structure is a reminder that horses have walked these routes far longer than cycles have existed. Perhaps another day We remount, and head past Dalham Hall along an impressive avenue of beech trees into Gazeley itself.


They say you can gaze as far as Ely from Gazeley, but not today, the clouds see to that. The route back to Barrow is an undulating and winding route, past the curiously named Beggars Bush, along a single-track road, with wide, open views, dropping down to a valley bottom before rising back up to Barrow.


And we end as we started, at the Three Horseshoes pub. Over drinks, crisps and numerous games of pool, we debate saddles: horse or cycle? My friend rides both. I recount tales of childhood dramas and spin yarns of foreign adventures. And as he wonders at the thought of riding with cowboys and laughs at the vision of matted manes and aching shins, we decide to stick to our trusty oiled bikes and leave it to others to enjoy the countryside on the hoof.




DID YOU KNOW?


Moultons packhorse bridge is unusually wide enough to take carts as well as to allow packs to swing clear over the low parapet walls. On the ancient Bury to Cambridge trade route, it dates from 1446 and spans 20m over the River Kennett.

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