Suffolk’s best walks: A parkland stroll at Huntingfield and Heveningham
PUBLISHED: 10:33 14 January 2020
Lindsay Want takes a seasonal family stroll around the parklands of Huntingfield and Heveningham
A good festive walk is bit like a good Christmas pudding, plummy, packed with all the right ingredients and full of delightful surprises, put together with love and saved up especially for the occasion.
There'll always be someone less keen to partake, but if there's a softer, more appealing version, it could just prove irresistible. After all, the shared Christmas constitutional is a real English tradition.
So, where better to head for than the village of Huntingfield near Halesworth, manorial home of one of Suffolk's famous Magna Carta barons?
Here footpaths lead along ancient wooded green lanes, down gentle Blyth valley slopes, steeped in our rich farming heritage, past thatched cottage clusters, old maltings and magnificent village churches.
Even through Capability Brown landscapes alongside one of the most outstretched, Georgian stately piles in England.
There's plenty of potential to spot partridges, hens and calling birds, not to mention several swans a-swimming and a whole host of gold rings.
A leaping lord might be a bit of a tall order, but little princes or princesses in the party will almost certainly jump for joy when their carriage pulls up right next to the play area by the village green.
Others will be pleased to visit the old Estate Office, sometime conveniently converted into the Huntingfield Arms. Scale the steps up to Millennium Green to drink in views of Heveningham Hall and the rolling countryside towards Cookley.
Onwards, down Laundry Lane, on the linear path past the lake and icehouse, towards Heveningham Hall's iconic bridge, perhaps for a rather majestic family game of 'poohsticks'.
For little welly-wearers, a gentle there-and-back past Huntingfield Hall to the mysterious Queen's Oak makes a tremendous outing, but at Christmas-time nothing beats going the whole hog. Who can resist the possibility of following partridges all along the route to Cookley church near Pear Tree Farm?
Just down Bridge Street, by the old forge and blacksmith's cottages, there's a little bit of Leiston spanning the brook. The 'Garrett & Sons' cast-iron capping no doubt dates to the village's mid-19th century heyday, though the keystone reads 1789.
It probably felt the weight of all those Georgian comings and goings when eminent English architect James Wyatt was working on Sir Robert Taylor's Heveningham Hall extravaganza, and perhaps conjuring up the Gothick Huntingfield Hall on view today.
With its depressed ogee arches, hood mouldings and fleur de lys finials, the redbrick 'farmhouse' has an almost cheeky folly feel about it.
It peeps over brows and hedges, across manorial lands once held by some of our greatest law-givers - Magna Carta Baron William de Huntingfield and the revered, turn-of-the-17th-century founder of Common Law, Sir Edward Coke.
The jury is out on how far back the vintage oaks date here, but that majestic specimen, the Queen's Oak, is ringed with a crown of railings.
Mooch down plantation pathways past English oaks, beech and elm as you mull over which Tudor monarch enjoyed these ancient hunting grounds.
Tales talk of Elizabeth I, but did she ever stray this far east? Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary, Queen of France, was a more likely candidate, as her second husband, Charles Brandon, had a brief ownership encounter with the Huntingfield manor.
Back on the trail, field margin paths and footbridges lead to Barell's Hill where the landscape gently rolls away towards Cratfield.
Had the sails of the old mill here been more than just a distant memory, perhaps the discovery of Holland House wouldn't seem quite so out of place amidst the otherwise extreme Englishness of an estate village.
How did the Vanneck family of wealthy Dutch merchants become Baronets of Huntingfield in the mid-1700s?
And why did they set about erecting Heveningham's very English Georgian edifice, with super-stylish Capability Brown grounds, on the other side of the Blyth? Somehow it all seems a bit double-Dutch. One of the mysteries, at least, is solved by stepping inside St Mary's Church.
No matter how brightly festooned your home may be for Christmas, nothing could prepare you for the blaze of primary coloured paintwork and amazing angels which adorn the church's vast canopy of a ceiling.
It's those Victorian's again - or rather one in particular, the first wife of Reverend William Holland, Mildred.
Having transformed the chancel ceiling in just eight months, she pottered down from the vicarage (now Holland House) every day for three years to lie on her back at the top of scaffolding, painting the nave roof and recreating its would-be medieval glory.
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There's no doubt that it's a unique masterpiece to behold - or that she had the patience of a saint - but you can't help thinking that the rather garish, staring angels, presenting the arms of Huntingfield's two 'Dutch' families, might look more at home on a fairground organ or steam carousel.
Just down the lane - before the tree tunnel of Carnser Walk leads you back to the green and across to Heveningham's English parklands - the pargetting on the gable end of the old malthouse is a tad more understated and restrained.
So too the village sign, designed by local resident David Gentleman. The famed British artist fell in love with Suffolk and George Ewart Evans' daughter while illustrating tomes about our precious old English agricultural ways, immortalised in the oral history of Blaxhall.
Perhaps a posse of local partridges inspired the initial design of his iconic 12 Days of Christmas, 1977 postage stamps?
Maybe he sat by the Queen's Oak as he ruminated over his rework of the National Trust symbol?
Huntingfield's elegant sign incorporates a leafless oak and a leveret, confirming that it's just the place to enjoy a relaxed winter's walk, after all the haring around which Christmas brings.
1) Start at The Hub Huntingfield by village green (IP19 0PU). Turn right out of car park. Keep right along road at end of green, (signed Halesworth). Road bears left, over 'Garrett's' bridge. Continue until road bears right.
2) Take footpath (track) left towards Huntingfield Hall. After 100m, just before trees, leave track to follow grassy path footpath (right) in front of Hall to pass Queen's Oak and enter plantation. Path becomes concrete farm track, leading downhill towards Cookley.
3) Keep right to cross ford, avoiding the cattle grid. Turn right onto road. By old phone box look for gate signed 'access to church' which leads up through Church Cottage's garden!
4) Retrace steps towards ford after visiting St Michael & All Angels and continue along road until it bears right.
5) Take footpath (left), over footbridge. Turn right to follow signed field edge path over three more bridges (last one in field corner and gated) to reach Linstead Road near Crutch Hall.
6) Turn left along road up Barell's Hill, over the brook, past Holland House to road junction.
7) Turn left (signed Huntingfield Church), past entrance to Holland House (left), Old School House (right).
8) Visit St Mary's, then continue along road, past two sets of cottages.
9) Take footpath on left down a wooded green lane alongside the brook, parallel to the road. This emerges by 'Garrett's' bridge.
For extension to view Heveningham Hall, its lake and iconic bridge, either cross water-meadow (directed here, but not advisable after significant rainfall) or turn left to follow Bridge Street to meet B1117, then turn right to reach 11. Please note B1117 has no footpath and can be busy with fast-moving traffic.
Turn right to road junction before village green. Turn left down Laundry Lane (houses either side).
10) Just past old pink laundry building where lane bears right, follow footpath left through meadow to grazing marsh. Path crosses marsh diagonally (keep pond to right) to gate in railings onto road (B1117). Turn right and continue along road with care.
11) Cross road to kissing gate (left) by Heveningham Park entrance gates. Path leads left between trees towards lake to eventually reveal the Hall and lead left to the bridge (12). Retrace steps back to Huntingfield village green.
Distance: 6 miles (4+2)/9.5 (6.5+3) km
Time: 2.5 hours
Start/parking: The Hub, The Street, Huntingfield, IP19 0PU
Access: Field-edge, green lane and parkland footpaths, tarmac roads, gates and footbridges.
Note: To return to the village, it is advised to retrace steps through Heveningham Park rather than attempt a circular route via B1117 which can be busy with fast-moving traffic.
Big Map to hand: OS Explorer 231