Suffolk walk: Freston's bluebell woodlands

PUBLISHED: 12:10 18 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:21 12 June 2013

David Falk heads out to enjoy colourful countryside and some great views of the River Orwell.

David Falk heads out to enjoy colourful countryside and some great views of the River Orwell.

The historic community of Freston, complete with its own 16th century folly, looks out over Wherstead towards Ipswich and its new-fangled Orwell Bridge with a knowing smile. Down by the river, gulls and geese and peewits gather on the meadows to graze or strut their stuff out on the mudflats, unflustered by cargo ship mega-monsters storming away determinedly in the channel nearby.
Known as the Wherstead Explorer, heres a walk thats just a river-ripple away from the crowd roars of Portman Road and towering cityscapes of Ipswichs new waterfront. Close enough to be convenient, not too long for little legs, unusual and undulating, its also an absolute picture when the bluebells are out. And with the Suffolk Food Hall as a potential start/finish point, ladies that lunch have no excuse not to put stout shoes in the boot and even teens may be tempted by the promise of cake.

The Walk
With the great bridge behind you, head downriver along the wide grassy path in front of the Suffolk Food Hall buildings between the paddocks and lowland grazing meadows. Catch a glimpse of a fluttering flock perhaps, before crossing through the crops to see the waders more clearly on the mudflats where the footpath and riverbed nearly touch the road on opposite sides. Turning your back on the Orwell and hugging the hedges, the beckoning oasis of Freston Wood is only a field and gated paddock away.
A Site of Special Scientific Interest, theres something hauntingly beautiful and a real sense of history about these woods. Paths vie for supremacy with roots of mighty broadleaves. Spring-fed brooks trickle over the light sandy soil. The brightest green mosses creep out of the woodland floor, seeping slowly up alder trunks like some alien slime.
The slopes of medieval boundary banks allow for sweeping violet vistas as soon as the first bluebells dare to nod their fragile heads. Here too sit huge misshapen trees, the product of years of pollarding, and sweet chestnuts with bark so deeply scored that, from any distance, the trunks seem covered by thick twisted ivy stems.
Weirdly enough, the background drone of A14 traffic does not detract from but rather adds to the experience. Imagine swimming underwater the dull hum somehow cocoons the place even more, keeping it safe and heightening the sense of other-worldliness.
St Peters Church stands at the gate to the next world as you climb past pines and follow the small lane right past wrought iron fences guarding massive trees with matted branches, playground to parties of long-tailed tits and the occasional treecreeper. A right leads down the small road through the pretty village centre, then another picks up a straight footpath track to Freston Lodge Farm where high hedges abate and, over the stile, the meadow landscape rolls away past vintage oaks and sandy would-be warrens to Freston Brook.
Another gate and a line of heady poplars lead left along the sheltered brook to a clump of Scots pine and the right turn up the track and the valley side. Looking back down from Redgate Lane, the trees seem so much paler, more beautiful, more impressive. You might even say the same when, round the corner, the whole 190 metre span of Orwell bridge sweeps into view across the fields? On the last descent towards the Suffolk Food Hall, the traffic drone is still there, but the lorries somehow seem to glide in graceful silence above the smooth concrete arches...yet another world.


Top tips: If you work in Ipswich, why not transform a lunch hour into a real countryside oasis? Only a short cycle ride out of the centre of town, this walk is a refreshingly active lunchtime treat waiting to happen.
For more information: Download a colour copy of the Wherstead Explorer leaflet at Suffolk County Councils official countryside website, It also includes a slightly longer option which edges the timeless Stalls Valley and another site for bluebells: Cutlers Wood.
How to get there: From the A14, exit at the A137 junction, heading into Ipswich down past the ski slope. Turn right at the first roundabout onto the B1456 /Shotley Road and go underneath the Orwell Bridge. From Ipswich exit town on the Wherstead Road and turn left at the Oyster Reach roundabout towards Shotley.
Park up and go: There are lay-bys on The Strand and Freston Hill or you may choose to park at the Suffolk Food Hall which is well signposted.
Distance: approx 3.5 miles
Refreshments: Stock up with tasty local provisions for your walk at the Suffolk Food Hall or visit its Samford Restaurant Caf for warming refreshments with river views. For a pub, try the Oyster Reach on the B1456 roundabout.
Terrain: A real mix of farm tracks, quiet lanes, field-crossing footpaths and winding woodland ways. Some fields can be muddy and uneven underfoot, so best to put the littlest one in the back carrier. Walking boots or wellies a must if wet.
Useful additional map: OS Explorer No. 197
Convenient conveniences: There are no public conveniences directly on this walk ... but thats a good excuse to stop off at the pub or Food Hall for a warm up and a drink!
Public transport: Call 0871 1200 2233 or visit for details

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