Suffolk's best walks: A Royal countryside circular between Westhorpe and Bacton

PUBLISHED: 15:11 18 September 2019 | UPDATED: 15:11 18 September 2019

Westhorpe walk

Westhorpe walk

Archant

Lindsay Want discovers a historic area fit for a queen on a stroll around Westhorpe, Wyverstone and Bacton

When Mary Rose Tudor rode out across the bridge of her moated Mid-Suffolk home for the last time, it was not with one, but with six black horses, all clad in velvet. A hundred yeomen, clergy, knights, barons and nobles, plus gentlemen and officers of the household, led the way. Her eldest daughter followed the whole journey to Bury St Edmund's Abbey.

It was surely a sight to behold and you can't help wondering what the locals must have made of it. Even by mid-16th century standards, the funeral procession for Mary Rose - Henry VIII's favourite little sister, Duchess of Suffolk and one-time Queen of France - was impressive and stately.

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Stand on Westhorpe's village green today, edged with unassuming farmhouses, and it's hard to imagine that such pomp and circumstance could ever have passed through. But take time to stroll the sleepy green lanes past medieval 'strips' quietly farmed for centuries.

Pop in to see what's inside the village churches at Wyverstone and Bacton across the fields. You'll soon discover that this part of Suffolk is full of hidden gems.

Westhorpe walkWesthorpe walk

Leaving Westhope's mighty St Margaret's church, it seems odd to set off through the 'Town Yard'. The village today boasts fewer residents than the 190 recorded in the Domesday Book. Along the footpath to Park Farm, Wyverstone, the landscape is broad, open and stripped of its hedges.

As wide as Suffolk-wide can be, countryside begging to be associated with Tudor parkland hunting grounds.

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Looking back, beyond Westhorpe's church, where maps pinpoint 'lodges' aplenty, it's the same picture. The vast swathes of green farmland may be home to hares and the occasional muntjac, but the scores of fallow and red deer recorded as gracing Westhorpe's parklands in 1538 are lost to the past, along with their grazing grounds.

Times and fashions change, as St George's Wyverstone, beckoning on the horizon, soon confirms.

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Screens in churches are like hedges in the landscape. In the medieval world, such dividers were important for conveying hierarchies, to compartmentalise, segregate and even create a sense of mystery. But when practices changed, they could be butchered accordingly, or simply removed to open things up and make more use of the space.

Wyverstone's six rare rood screen panels date from 1491. Mid-16th century Reformers defaced the unusual relief-carved figures. One ended up in the rectory pigsty! But had Mary Rose popped by in her lifetime, she'd have seen them in all their richly carved and coloured glory.

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Across fields and over drainage ditches, the might of modern agriculture acknowledges old times. A dew-pond hides up in the corner of a rough and tumble meadow near 'Old Barn', where Bacton church tower rises above high hedgerows. A barn owl quarters the meadow edge.

Near Tailor's Green, outside Bacton St Mary's, the carefully painted village sign recalls dairy cattle and Suffolk Punch horses, rich blackberry pickings and 'bull daisies'.

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Inside the church, the scene painted beneath the hammerbeam roof, high above the nave is pastoral in a medieval way, guiding folk from evil by showing the unpleasant consequences, like being pushed down into hell in a wheelbarrow by a very hairy demon! It's an impressive place with bright, colourfully decorated canopy beams and exquisite medieval carved corbels.

Bearing back towards Westhorpe, Finningham 'Lane' has a causeway feel about it. Follow it all the way and it leads to Ladywell, Springmount and that other wateringhole, Finningham's White Lion, perhaps a heraldic reference to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and Mary's husband who brought her to these parts.

Westhorpe walkWesthorpe walk

But we steer a path down ancient Carr Lane, past medieval farmland strips to pass Westhorpe's historic fishponds and cross its great green. Was it here that the great funeral procession assembled on that fateful July day in 1533?

Is there any trace of the moated de la Pole country seat, transformed into a would-be palace fit for a French queen by Charles Brandon?

Westhorpe walkWesthorpe walk

Of the fashionable terracotta decoration and expensive glass windows, three-storey turreted gatehouse, 126 square feet of courtyard, great hall and gardens, all built with Mary's dower income as a place for lavish hospitality to rival the Framlingham Dukes of Norfolk?

The footpath that curls round the back of the village to St Margaret's church leads to the side of a care home, signed Westhorpe Hall. The distant buildings are far from Tudor. After Mary's death, the mini Suffolk palace went back to the Crown to be granted to Anne of Cleves, then Sir Thomas Cornwallis.

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Too grand and too remote to be useful, it was eventually demolished and its architectural treasures destroyed in the mid-1700s.

Did even a shard of stained glass survive from her private Westhorpe chapel, where she laid in state for three weeks before finding her final resting place in Bury? Only the moat remains and the lower part of the very bridge which Mary crossed with those fine black horses.

A Royal countryside circular between Westhorpe and BactonA Royal countryside circular between Westhorpe and Bacton

Royal remains?

Inside St Margaret's church, Westhorpe is the beautiful painted 1350s 'parclose' screen, now one of the oldest in England. Fit for a queen indeed, and who's to say Mary Rose Tudor didn't leave something like her heart in Westhorpe. Local legends of buried entrails seem confirmed by a 17th century diarist.

'By lyes under a little stone the bowells of the French Queen Mary, wife of Charles Brandon, D of Suffolk,' wrote visiting Royal Herald, Henry Chitting.

The 'little stone' is no more. Fact or fiction? Maybe like royal Westhorpe, it's just another Suffolk secret.

Ordnance Survey maps are available from all good booksellers and outdoor stores or visit our online shop www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/al

The walk

1) Start at Westhorpe Church on Church Street (IP14 4SU). Cross road, following footpath signs / Town Yard sign between cottages.

Turn right on arriving at field along a field-edge path, then left downhill to the brook and up past Park Farm. Continue straight ahead up farm track to meet road.

2) Turn right along road to visit Wyverstone church (right). Retrace steps. Cross road to turn right onto field-edge footpath after the row of houses. At end of hedge, continue straight ahead, downhill across field, over brook and up to a fence around an old school. Turn left to walk along fence then trees (right).

At field corner turn left for short distance, then right along a grassy track beside a ditch (left) to a large hedge gap.

3) Go into meadow and head diagonally towards pond (with tree cluster) in far corner. With pond left, take footpath (right) towards Bacton. Path eventually leads along hedge to track, then road.

4) Cross road to village sign and visit Bacton church.

5) Cross back over road to take footpath down left side of village hall, past sewerage works (sorry!).

6) At junction of paths, follow signed bridleway (deep ditch on left) straight ahead. At Carr Plantation keep left, following bridleway over sleeper-bridge into woodland. Follow track through wood, over wide wooden bridge, exiting via steps up a bank. Bridleway continues along field edge to become the green lane, 'Carr Lane'.

7) At road turn right, over bridge. Leave the road to cross the village green via a driveway, then take the footpath between two garden hedges towards a thatched cottage (right). Cross road following footpath towards Westhorpe Hall (private residential care home).

You can see the moat and bridge of the Tudor house on the right. Keep left however, past farm buildings (right), past pumping station (right) to junction of paths.

8) Turn left along field-edge path (ditch on left) with views towards Westhorpe church (left). Take next left where path eventually leads into the churchyard.

Distance: 4.2 miles / 6.8 kms

Time: 2 hours

Start / parking: Westhorpe church IP14 4SU

Getting there / back: Most accessible by car (nationalrail.co.uk suffolkonboard.com )

Access: Field-edge, cross-field, wooded footpaths / green lanes; some soft ground; some tarmac roads. Steps.

Big Map to hand: OS Explorer 211

Nearest Ts & Ps: Finningham

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