Walk: Castle on the hill

PUBLISHED: 12:26 13 March 2017 | UPDATED: 12:26 13 March 2017

Suffolk mag March walk

Suffolk mag March walk


Lindsay Want follows the East Suffolk Line walk from Wickham Market station to Framlingham through the ever-changing landscapes of the Ore Valley to discover tales of planes, trains, automobiles… and pop stars

Suffolk mag March walkSuffolk mag March walk

When it comes to wonderful places to go walkies, Suffolk’s got a new cool kid on the block. Constable may have lost his heart to his native Dedham Vale and enthralled us all when he captured the light of his life on canvas, but now a world-famous, ginger-haired lad from Framlingham is also sharing the love.

He paints a vivid picture, singing of sunsets, castles, country lanes and the ‘roaring fields’ of home – not quite with the sweetness of his church choirboy days, but with a voice that’s real, raw and full of compelling 21st century emotion. They say that he’s fast putting Suffolk and the ‘Fram’ area firmly on the map. So isn’t it time to explore Ed Sheeran Country?

Suffolk mag March walkSuffolk mag March walk

A walk in these Suffolk parts has star appeal on loads of levels. Approaching Fram across the fields from southerly Campsea Ashe via Marlesford and Parham is not only perhaps one of the most undulating walks in East Suffolk, but it boasts some terrific views, a superb combo of moats and medieval manor houses, churches and castles, Victorian railway routes and World War II airfield history.

There’s even a touch of would-be Hogwarts to make it all the more magical. And with a fab Farm Café en route and Fram’s real ale eateries a-beckoning, there’s so much to enjoy, even if pop culture is not quite your cup of tea. Give it a go? Well, they do say that orange (or should that be ginger?) is the new black…

Suffolk mag March walkSuffolk mag March walk

From Wickham Market railway station – bizarrely located in Campsea Ashe – head left, past the Dog and Duck, following the B1078 right to wonder why the livestock market was here, when the market town proper is two miles away. The auction centre site now belongs to Messrs Clarke & Simpson – one of them even had a pop star son, Charlie, in boy band ‘Busted’. Remember him anyone?

Continue along the pavement, crossing the road to go down a wide, grassy field-edge footpath (right) just after overhead cables, about 50m before Springvale Stores. Make for the footbridge across the field midway between pylons and weave through the scrubby wood, ignoring another footbridge (right), to reach open fields just beyond a pond (left). As the pylons head for the seaside, spot Campsea Ashe church far across the flatlands (right), but keep straight ahead, along the grassy track to Well Cottage and turn left along the deep lane, lined with high banks and hawthorn hedges.

Suffolk mag March walkSuffolk mag March walk

Just beyond (Brick) Kiln Cottage burrow through the well signed, but otherwise discrete break in the hedge (right) and let the electricity poles take the lead across the field. Dive into a belt of trees through the hole in the rabbit fence, then emerge to a view of the A12 from on high and, keeping right along the field margin, to the rooftops of Marlesford. In the field corner, head left with caution into another hedge, along a bank-top path to a flight of wooden steps down to a yard and pathway to the road. Turn right and simply follow your nose…

Snack? Breakfast? Brunch? The Farm Café and shop here are heaven s(c)ent. But keep on track – Marlesford’s where the old Wickham Market to Framlingham Branch Line, dismantled in 1954 after nearly a century of service, starts to reveal itself in the landscape. Spot the old white-brick station building just beyond the café, before crossing the road to follow the line of the old railway, first through paddocks, then down a gated footpath to a cluster of cottages where a right, then left turn past weather-boarded Lane Cottage leads to the River Ore and on to the village.

Suffolk mag March walkSuffolk mag March walk

No overhead cables to follow here – Marlesford’s modern entrapments were all hidden away in the 1990s. It’s an idyllic spot where flint and thatched cottages rise up, not towards a castle on the hill, but to medieval St Andrew’s, a wonderfully welcoming little church for walkers with beautiful stained glass, and – if you time it right – delicious, well-deserved cake for sale too!

Find out here about famous ‘rebel’ resident, Flora Sandes, an extraordinary woman in a male world and heroic officer in the Serbian Army in World War I. Marlesford remembers its rector’s daughter for her youthful, masculine pursuits like tearing around the little lanes in an old French racing car, reminiscent of Mr Sheeran’s song lyric “driving at 90 down those country lanes” perhaps? In 1909 though, her top speed was probably more like 35 mph!

Suffolk mag March walkSuffolk mag March walk

Continue up the lane, past Flora’s childhood home, now ‘The Archdeaconry’, then left via a metal chain stile into Pound Lane.

With grazing sheep, the dismantled railway line and idyllic views back to the church on the left and mysterious mounds with massive cedars peeking over the top to the right, the green lane leads past Marlesford Hall, a secret ‘castle’ on a hill which once had Flying Fortresses taking off overhead.

Suffolk mag March walkSuffolk mag March walk

A lane-side hut marks the time to branch right uphill along The Grove – but also the old sewerage works site for ‘Framlingham Airfield’ (AAF Station 153) at nearby Parham, WWII home of USAAF 95th , then 390th Bombardment Groups. Ironically, Marlesford village was never connected up to the sewerage system on its doorstep, so even today its buried ‘modern’ entrapments include sceptic tanks. No one made a stink about it at the time, nor the ancient farmland and 23 miles of hedgerows sacrificed for the construction of the airfield site in 1942. Across the fields, runways still remain and Parham Airfield Museum tells the brave stories.

Just beyond the top of the woodland, meet a farm track at right angles in the open landscape and go left (ignoring path (right) to Hall Farm). Keep the direction where the main track veers left into fields and continue on the grassy lane between the hedges. At the lane’s end, look out for a waymark post at the base of a large tree to spot where to turn right along the field margin.

Suffolk mag March walkSuffolk mag March walk

The path bears briefly left, then half-right (north) across a large field, passing to the right of an isolated oak, skirting a tree-lined pond beyond and eventually bearing left to become a concrete farm track. Ignore the wide farm route (right), heading down the track alongside a ditch towards modern farm buildings. At the farmyard junction, continue briefly ahead towards Moat Hall.

Who’s that lurking in the archway’s alcoves at Moat Hall? With the footpath leading through a gate (right) well before it, you’ll need your binoculars to see the Willoughby Woodwoses in detail. As you head diagonally across the small meadow towards another gate, the hall stays hidden.

Suffolk mag March walkSuffolk mag March walk

Then comes a first glimpse of the mighty moat and finally, beyond the gate, onwards and upwards, one superb Suffolk secret ‘castle’ on a hill reveals itself. Late medieval, with Tudor redbrick and diaper work, it’s as brimful of fading grandeur as the moat is of water, a captivating cacophony of blocked up bays and crittle windows, surrounded by former formal gardens and fishponds. And once through the gate, it’s gone as quickly as it appeared, as the world falls away to water-meadows and reedbeds, where Hen harriers swoop and paths lead steeply down to Parham Church.

Long before planes, trains and automobiles, vessels sailed up the River Ore to Parham, perhaps delivering the stone for William de Ufford’s church around 1370, carrying soldiers, tradesmen or pilgrims – you decide, the ships and faces are carved by medieval hands into the interior pillars. Look inside too for grooves made by sharpening arrowheads, plus a curious hat peg and outside, for the scratch dial, or village stocks mounted inside the lychgate.

But more castles and hills are calling and there are more track-beds to tread. Turn left along the road to spot another woodwose by Church Farm’s oriel window and East House – Parham’s old railway station – before heading right uphill towards Mill Green. A left turn into Brick Lane by White House Farm leads parallel to the old railway line, tracing it briefly, before the path leads up alongside a very deep railway cutting. Curious? Where footpaths cross, detour down inside – if you fancy retracing 27 steep steps back up!

Branch right here, across the field to the corner of Parham Wood for a sheltered walk alongside it, before a left turn beyond brings real exposure and distant views of Framlingham’s church, castle and white water-tower. Accompany the cables along the ups and downs of the grassy track and go a few metres left at a farm track.

At the unequivocal right turn (marked Brownsord Way) reach for the binoculars again. Two lonely gate piers topped with stone balls stand at the end of the private farm track. Early 17th century, Grade II listed, the parish boundary passes between them and according to legend, when Fram church clock strikes midnight, the stone balls turn…

Take the waymarked path across the fields, past tall conifer hedges and eventually the redbrick hotchpotch of Parham House (believed to be another ancient castle site), before a field margin path reaches the terra firma of Brick Lane. Elderly oaks line the route to ‘Fram’, past the manor’s farm to Coles Green and, at Manor Farm Cottages, the Gothic turrets of a Hogwarts look-alike come into view. In days gone by, there was even a steam train journey to reach this school.

But what of Ed’s castle on the hill? As the road bears right, its twisted Tudor chimneys and multiple towers peep above distant treetops. To its left, St Michaels, and beyond, Framlingham College – a unique triptych of a view … to enjoy, if you hurry before the fields fill up with planned houses, like the old Fram railway sidings to the left below. “Found my heart and broke it here...” the local songster’s lyrics ring out with relevance, but somehow the miles from Campsea Ashe offer comfort of sorts – times may change, navigable rivers, railways, airfields and generations come and go, yet the landscape always rolls over and simply smooths things out.

Turn right onto the footpath towards town along the ridge and turn left to drop down on to Fairfield Road.

Here the road goes right towards Market Hill and the Castle (12) , or just a little way to the right, the footbridge (left) leads across Fen Meadow to The Station – the place for a pint or two of nostalgia, where a ginger superstar props up the bar from time to time.

This East Suffolk Line walk devised by Roger Wolfe is one of 20 featured in a free publication recently republished to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ipswich to Lowestoft East Suffolk Line’s reprieve from the Beeching cuts - a fitting tribute to the East Suffolk Travellers’ Association who fought to save the line from closure.

The free East Suffolk Line Walks publication with clear directions /mapping is available from Tourist Information Centres and downloadable at www.eastsuffolklinewalks.co.uk or www.eastsuffolkline.com/walks which also includes walk direction updates and information about occasional guided station to station walks.

Walk this way

Distance: 7.25 miles (11.5 kms)

Time: About 3-4 hours

Start: Wickham Market train station

Getting there / back: www.nationalrail.co.uk / www.suffolkonboard.com /Free station car park

Finish: Framlingham - served by buses to Woodbridge /Ipswich (stations). For return to Campsea Ashe (Wickham Market station) bus to Wickham Market town (2 mile walk to station) or taxi.

Is it for me? Field-edge, cross-field and wooded footpaths; some soft ground; some tarmac roads or pavement. Very undulating (for Suffolk!). Stiles, gates. Waymarked. Waterproof footwear a must.

Directions & Mapping: In East Suffolk Line Walks booklet, routed via Hacheston. Diversion Marlesford to Parham as detailed here, is an official route revision (Aug 2016), included on local signposting (Marlesford), also detailed at www.eastsuffolkline.com/walks.

Big Map to hand: OS Explorer 212

Ts & Ps: Pub and village stores at Campsea Ashe; Farm Café / Shop at Marlesford; Marlesford Church cake sales (2nd Sat 9-11 am); public conveniences plus pubs, cafés and shops at Framlingham

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