Remembrance 2018 in Suffolk: A countryside walk tracing our military heritage
PUBLISHED: 13:15 20 November 2018 | UPDATED: 13:15 20 November 2018
Lindsay Want wanders the pilgrims’ paths and concrete runways around Horham, Denham and Redlingfield
If quiet countryside walks are all about composing your thoughts, no wonder Peter Pears chose a house in Horham for Benjamin Britten to spend his final years. In the 1960s, the maestro’s sensitive ears were struggling with the harsh sounds of RAF Bentwaters’ jets disturbing his peace and quiet in Aldeburgh.
By 1970, the unassuming Mid-Suffolk village had become his home, where he could continue to walk out, as health permitted, and reflect on the sounds and beloved birdsong while considering his compositions.
What did Britten make of mighty St Mary’s when he wandered through the village, or Horham’s ‘Ancient House’, amusingly part-and-parcel of the post office? And where did his thoughts take him on discovering the irony that he now lived just minutes away from an airfield?
Today, by the Horham roadside a shiny black and grey memorial strewn with poppies traces out the aerial pattern of Station 119, 95th Bomb Group (H), and inside the church opposite, stars and stripes flag up village camaraderie past and ever-present. The Eight Bells remembered on the village sign rang last orders in 1913 and the post-mill in the picture disappeared in 1933.
Pop into the Old School for a community coffee or a traditional Suffolk Sunday afternoon sing-a-long. There’s a chance to spot the Horham dragon hanging up in the bar alongside the old village stocks, and the platform name-board from the long-gone Mid Suffolk Light Railway station.
By Horham Old School, a propped-up mill-stone or two soon get the cogs whirring. Around the corner great concrete aprons give way to airfield perimeter paths, while the straightest, wide taxiing track leads to nothing but the ghost of a wartime runway.
Gone are the hundreds of air-station buildings, transported to Horham and the 70 other East Anglian airfield sites in the mid-1940s. The B-17s which the American 8th Airforce flew from here covered 321 missions, each departure a sortie into the unknown.
Across the plateau, beyond Denham Street and medieval Coldham Wood, the footpath falls in line with telegraph poles parading down Shingle Hill. Then a handful of horsa huts comes into view, down by the road in the valley, the remains of the field hospital, its wards, its operating theatres and its mortuary.
Somehow it avoided the post-war bulldozers, harbouring farmer Mager’s rabbits and pigs for years, before spawning a mushroom farm, a mechanic’s workshop and, finally, a memorial museum. The most upbeat artefact in its collection is surely the piano from Bush Farm, the hilltop spot up the road where servicemen enjoyed pre-mission sing-a-alongs with the locals.
Just a field or two away alongside today’s Redlingfield Wood, Glenn Miller once entertained the troops at the Red Feather Club officer’s mess, also a miraculous post-war survivor and fine airbase museum.
Apparently the great swingband legend even had time to pop across the plateau for a pint at the Denham Green Man. For a reserved rural community whose 19th century farming ancestors even protested violently against the threshing machines of ‘progress’, it is hard to grasp how they coped with ‘the friendly invasion’ which put their arable lands to tarmac and brought less than local folk into the heart of their everyday life.
Stand by Denham Shingle Hill Corner and the village sign soon points to the way that this gentle part of Mid-Suffolk is well acquainted with comings and goings. Once on the ancient routes to the Hoxne site of King Edmund’s martyrdom, Denham offered a welcome resting place to many weary pilgrims.
By moated College Farm, reputedly the original manorial site, the door of the Norman church of St John the Baptist still bears its sanctuary ring dating from 1280, touched by so many pilgrim fingers, yet rarely graced with visitors today. Tucked away mid-field behind trees, it’s a wonderous little find.
To the south, the village of Redlingfield warrants another detour into Suffolk’s past. Here, St Andrew’s is a rare red brick medieval church, part of a former Benedictine priory site of 1120. Stand in the porch and you can gaze across to the flinted and buttressed sides of the former infirmary or refectory.
Look under the porch bench and you’ll find the old village stocks. Around here ancient greenways once led not just to Hoxne, but to Eye Abbey and towards the then important port of Bungay.
Back towards Redlingfield Wood, a wartime bunker cowers by a cottage, just yards away from a surviving swathe of Station 119 airstrip. A tiny lark ascending sings its way ever-higher towards where great B-17s have been. As the paths circle back to Britten’s ‘old railway side’ of Horham, Pound Lane’s new community woodland entices you down a different track.
Keeping itself to itself, yet extending a warm welcome to those who come and go, it seems perfectly in tune with the nature of this historic Mid-Suffolk patch.
Perhaps the great composer felt it too here, the big sky, reaching out across time and communities, joining all the dots.
1 Start at Horham Community Centre (IP21 5DY). Turn left out of car park. The USAAF Station 119 memorial and village sign are on the triangle of green. Cross B1117 for St Mary’s Church. Continue to the adjacent telephone box and go along the lane (right) past Old School Village Hall and Church Farm Close. Follow footpath left, then right to reach the old airfield periphery track. Go right, then left to find the straight airfield track.
2 Go along this wide track. A gate (corner of wood to right) marks the junction with the main runway. Go through the gate to continue straight, along grass and cross-field paths. At the end of Coney Wood, bear right. At a vehicle trackway (brick/ flint Hoxne Place - right), head left to reach a pumping station (left) and The Lodge (right). Turn right onto the road and continue to Denham Green.
3 Follow the footpath sign on the left by the bench on the green (verge), down a wide drive between houses, past Willow Cottage (right) to open fields. The cross-field path follows telegraph poles, then ducks through a hedge gap to become a field-edge path. A wooden footbridge with railings leads to arable land with wind turbine ahead. Go left a few metres, then follow the line of telegraph poles down Shingle Hill (mid-field tree on left) to the footbridge onto the road.
4 The field hospital buildings can be viewed at close range from the road. Turn right to take the optional detour along the lane, then footpath (right) to Denham Church (5), then retrace your steps (1.5 miles total). Turn left along the lane to Shingle Street Corner. Turn right to walk with care along the B1117.
6 On the approach to Crown Corner, turn left (signed Denham Street/No Through Road), then left again. Pass Bush Farm (left) and keep going. Beyond houses and weighbridge, the lane becomes trackway (restricted byway) and bears left. Go all the way to a cluster of oaks at its end. Follow the footpath sign into the next field. Here, aim for the post and rail fence of Grove Farm – so, either go left, then right around the field margin or cross the field, keeping left of the single mid-field oak. Follow the post and rail fence to a footbridge in the corner.
7 Take the wider path straight ahead, to the right of the hedge. At the bottom the sign intends you to go straight on, up across the field – do NOT go left towards the track and clearing. As you get higher up the field, the gap opposite comes into sight. Go through it (footbridge), then turn immediately left along the field edge. After a few metres, follow the signs - first right (cross-field), then left (field margin) to reach the road.
8 Turn right to take the optional detour to Redlingfield. Continue straight along the lane, ignoring the first left junction to Redlingfield Green, but taking the second left with care into the village to the find the footpath entrance (hedge gap) to St Andrew’s priory church on the right (9), then retrace your steps (two miles total). Turn left along the road for a few metres. Cross a footbridge (right). Turn left along the field edge, to a diagonal cross-field path parallel to Redlingfield Road.
Go through a hedge gap, still heading straight on towards the B1117. To exit the field by that road, you may need to head for the left corner! Cross the road with care, then cross the ditch into the field opposite. Bear right, heading for Denham Corner across the field. To reach the road, follow footpath signs left, over footbridge into a garden, through a garden gate to a driveway and wartime bunker (right).
10 Turn right onto the road to cross the main Station 119 runway. Continue to the junction with B1117. Cross straight over to a footpath signed just alongside a modern house for views of Horham church. Continue through trees and straight on to the road. Turn left.
11 Pop in to Pound Lane Wood community nature space before continuing along the lane, bearing left, then right, then left again finally reaching Horham’s ‘ancient’ brick house on the corner between the village shop and Dragon House (12). Turn left to the community centre car park.
Ordnance Survey maps are available from all good booksellers and outdoor stores or visit our online shop
Distance: 6 miles/9.5 kms
Time: 3.5 hours
Start: Horham Community Centre IP21 5DY
Detours: Denham Church 1.5 miles/2.5 kms; Redlingfield Priory 2 miles/3 kms
Getting there / back: By car or bus www.suffolkonboard.com.
Parking: Community Centre or Old School Village Hall.
Access: Field-edge, cross-field paths, some tarmac lanes/roads. Gentle terrain with some inclines. Gates, footbridges.
Big Map to hand: OS Explorer 230
Need to know: 95thhospitalmuseum.co.uk, 95thbg-horham.com, 8theast.org
Ts & Ps: Refreshments only - Horham Village Shop, Horham Old School (community opening times only)