Suffolk’s best walks: Seven-mile circular through villages near Hartest

PUBLISHED: 14:33 02 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:54 02 July 2020

Suffolk walk

Suffolk walk


Lindsay Want sifts fact from fiction in High Suffolk’s picture-book villages and discovers the possible origins of a nursery rhyme ballad on a circular walk from Hartest

This article was written prior to lockdown so please check all local information before setting out on your walk

A good Suffolk walk is full of stories and new discoveries. Stay curious and you’ll soon encounter local legends, get a feel for unspoken, earthly mysteries, or maybe just spot connections and coincidences en route which unexpectedly knit things together.

So often, too, little things trigger deep-seated memories and once ideas have spawned they could even stay with you all the way.

With its colourful hotch-potch of historic cottages and surprising-for-Suffolk hilly backdrop, Hartest village green, with its stranded and mysterious huge granite boulder, makes the perfect starting point.

Apparently the ‘Hartest Stone’ is the spot to sit if you’re seeking good fortune (or a wife!), but maybe not around midnight when the mighty rock reputedly turns itself over.

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Impressive, heavy and, above all, not from round here, you’ll discover it on the village sign too – if the delightful Arts & Crafts ‘Institute’ opposite or the name of its great benefactor, don’t catch your eye…

Thomas Weller-Poley Esq. You only have to read it once and chances are the ‘Poley’ bit is stirring up sing-song rhythms and childhood memories.

All the way up steep Mill Hill, for no conscious rhyme or reason the lines piece together in your head until “Rowley, poley, gammon and spinach, heigh ho! says Anthony Rowley” comes blurting out and the frog who would a wooing go is ‘hoppily’ accompanying you down to the brook and up again, between the high hedges of an old green lane.

At a lofty 85 metres above sea level, you’re then on a relative high, passing pheasant coverts and trees so peppered with woodpecker holes that you’d think they were magic flutes.

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Here, the High Suffolk skies seem wider than ever and the landscape rises and falls in gentle almost West Country waves around rare, scattered farmsteads.

By Francis Farm, a track turns out to be ‘The Crystal Path’ – most curious – as well as mid-point on the Bury to Clare Walk, a purposeful, pilgrims’ way linking the Benedictine Abbey of St Edmund with Clare’s Augustinian Priory.

Suddenly, the frog hops it and every step into Somerton village seems more solemn than before – or at least until the village noticeboard shares a jolly little ‘Ode to Upper Somerton’, petitioning people to drive slowly. “We’re top o’ the hill where the wind do blowy – we’re nice and quiet and we’re not too showy,” it starts in lilting, Pam Ayres-inspired rhymes.

Resting up by dour-looking St Margaret’s Church, with the wind in your hair, the words not only ring true, but sound at home in the surroundings of a Devon-esque sea of scenery. It feels an ancient sort of place and a map-moment later, it’s deemed more than a coincidence that from Boxted to Denston, historic village churches fall firmly in line.

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Were they built on ridge-top pagan sites? Vantage points? Ley lines? Perhaps ‘The Crystal Path’ had special significance after all.

A blocked-up Norman doorway and early carved stone cross re-cycled as building material give exterior clues to St Margaret’s history. Inside there’s rare 13th century arcading and amidst a handful of medieval glass, a polecat sticks its tongue out at passers-by.

It’s a curious find, but just a few footsteps further, on the tiny village green, the frog’s back in the frame, sitting by the waterlily patterns on the spout of the cast-iron village pump. Is he a symbol for cleansing and healing? A prince in disguise? Or good ol’ Anthony Rowley showing his face again?

From the high road, downhill towards the Glem, with the childhood rhyme setting a jaunty pace past Finetta Hale’s fine almshouses and the towering Redwoods of Somerton Hall, gammon, spinach and (jam) roly-poly are providing plenty of food for thought.

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By the time the river’s in sight on the floodplain, all sorts of memories have been dredged up about the ballad’s potential origins, like wordplay on the names of 16th century Scottish lairds or even worthy East Anglian families.

Through Boxted village and over the river, on the climb towards hilltop Holy Trinity Church and looking down over moated Boxted Hall across the gorgeous Glem Valley, the little grey cells work overtime compiling the list – the Bacons of Redgrave, the Green(e)s of Bury St Edmunds, Stoke by Nayland’s Admiral Rowley of Tendring Hall and the Poley family of…

Push open the church door and the cambered tie-beams of the nave roof are awesome, the arcading familiar, yet not as solid as Somerton’s.

A pleasing picture-window of Boxted Hall recalls its wealth of coney warrens, but nothing prepares you for the showy alabaster statues in the altar-side chapel.

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With his Charles I style whiskers and flamboyant robes, Sir John Poley has a particularly Bohemian air about him, more so because dangling beneath his abundant locks, is an unexpected gold earring – in the shape of a frog.

Heigh ho! As things begin to add up, there’s plenty here that doesn’t.

The statues of Sir John and wife, Alice, date from 100 years after their deaths. The recumbent Poley figures, carved in oak – all the rage in the 13th century – are rare survivors, but made only after their models died in 1587.

The arcades, the side-chapel mausoleum, everything about the Poleys here is faked to give the illusion of long-established wealth and antiquity. It’s a clever bit of family marketing, distinctly toady of course, but somehow endearing – and yes, it woos you.

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With the nursery rhyme ballad relegated to the realms of social satire and the slippery amphibian now shrouded suspiciously in feng-shui and celtic overtones as a motto for money and power, the field-side walk along the brook towards Hartest turns attentions to other shifting subject matter.

High on the hilltop sits Mile End Farm where the great (real) sarsen of village green fame was allegedly dug up. Tales tell of 40-plus horses moving it to Hartest on a sledge, as part of 1741 victory celebrations for the War of Spanish Succession. Different legends suggest it was ‘stolen’.

But how to shift such a massive granite boulder? Perhaps other local forces came into play. Or maybe it really did turn over on successive midnights, then end up doing one thundering roly-poly down steep Mill Hill.

You may also want to watch:

Suffolk walk map �Crown copyright 2020 Ordnance Survey. Media 003/20Suffolk walk map �Crown copyright 2020 Ordnance Survey. Media 003/20

A frog he would a-wooing go,

Heigh ho! says Rowley,

A frog he would a-wooing go,

Whether his mother would let him or no.

With a rowley, powley*, gammon, and spinach,

Heigh ho! says Anthony Rowley.

So off he set with his opera hat,

Heigh ho! says Rowley,

So off he set with his opera hat,

And on the road he met with a rat,

With a rowley, powley, gammon, and spinach,

Heigh ho! says Anthony Rowley.

Find all 14 verses of the nursery rhyme at

Ear piece...

From a distance, the monument of John Weller-Poley in Boxted church is unremarkable. A closer look at his left ear, however, reveals a golden frog. Numerous stories surround the earring.

Some say it is the source of the nursery rhyme A frog he would a wooing go. Others suggest it is an emblem of honour bestowed upon him by France. In Boxted Hall a 1567 portrait of Sir John aged 20 also shows him wearing the golden frog earring.

On the back of the painting it states that he was knighted for services against the Spaniards when the Duke of Parma besieged Bergem-op-Zoom, but does not explain the earring.

1) Start at village sign, Hartest Village Green (IP29 4DH). Cross B1066 onto Mill Hill (Somerton Road). Go uphill past Hartest Institute (right). Hill levels out past houses, to open field and wide views.

2) Turn right onto Smithbrook Lane (track), downhill, over bridge, uphill to a brick garden wall.

3) Turn left onto footpath (restricted byway). Path bends right (uphill), then left. By pheasant covert, keep right (ignore footpath directly right) to Manor Farm. Path leads right, through trees to driveway. Go left, then right past Manor Farm Cottage.

4) Turn left (signed To Clare/Bury to Clare Walk) along farm track, passing signs for The Crystal Path /Francis Farm.

5) Track becomes road leading into Upper Somerton. Keep straight on past church to small green (old pump). Follow road left to junction.

6) Turn right downhill, past almshouses to Lower Somerton road junction.

7) Turn left, past Somerton Hall (left), past The Wick (right) to junction.

8) Turn right, along B1066 road (about 300m), then turn left into Boxted.

9) Turn right, cross B1066 at village sign. Follow road over the River Glem. Just after Boxted Hall sign, take steps (left). Path leads right, then left, parallel to road, finally crossing driveway.

10) Go through footpath gate by Boxted Hall Farm Entrance/Church sign. Path crosses hilltop to gate in corner of churchyard.

11) Retrace steps to B1066. Cross road, turning left along pavement to Boxted road sign.

12) Turn right (public footpath). Follow all the way to lane. Turn right (restricted byway) over small bridge. Turn left on footpath alongside brook to footbridge leading left past pub to reach village green (church on right).

Distance: 7 miles/11 kms

Time: 3-4 hours

Start: Hartest Village Green (IP29 4DH).

Parking: Hartest village

Access: Green lanes, field-edge and cross-field footpaths, some tarmac roads, pavements. Gates. Steps.

Big Map to hand: OS Explorer 211

Ts & Ps: The Crown pub in Hartest

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