• Start: Kingfisher Leisure Centre
  • End: Rodbridge picnic site
  • Country: England
  • County: Suffolk
  • Type: Country
  • Nearest pub: Sudbury has a great range of characterful pubs and restaurants for pre-walk brunch or a post-walk treat.
  • Ordnance Survey: OS Explorer No. 196
  • Difficulty: Medium
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David Falk, of Discover Suffolk, follows a track through time and the Stour Valley water meadows to unpick the historical threads of Sudbury's secret past from wool town to woolly mammoth

David Falk, of Discover Suffolk, follows a track through time and the Stour Valley water meadows to unpick the historical threads of Sudbury's secret past from wool town to woolly mammoth

Wonder what Gainsborough would say if he came back today, donned his gaiters and strode out towards Long Melford down the old railway track bed just south of St Peters? Hed surely enjoy the superior views of East Anglias oldest continuously grazed pastures, be impressed by the brick bridges and perplexed by the wartime defences dotted along the Stours meanders.

The three mile linear stretch from Sudbury town centre northwest to Rodbridge Picnic Site near Long Melford is naturally damp round the edges, dripping with industrial heritage and teeming with wildlife. Even before you cross the Stour, come to a cutting or see your first swan, there are ditches, pools, streams and water-meadows plus the promise of a blue flash of something really special. The Kingfisher Leisure Centre - the start of the railway walk gives Sudburys Stour Valley secret away, so be sure to take your binoculars as well as your boots.

With a spot of extra road and rail walking beyond Rodbridge - why not join it up with the Long Melford Railway walk? public transport can deliver you back to Sudbury centre, but the wide, sociable paths and inspirational Suffolk views of mills and meadows are certainly inviting enough to warrant a return ticket on foot.

The Walk

From the leisure centre car park, follow the old track-bed to look down to the left across Friars Meadow, the Stour and the occasional pill box towards Cornard. This is kingfisher country, worth a stop now, or perhaps rather on the return journey for a spot of leg-resting contemplation and lastminute twitching.

Cross the first of the walks eight bridges and peer down into the Sudbury Basin where wharves on the once navigable Stour welcomed lighters and by the caf culture vultures of Sudburys redbrick Quay Theatre. In days gone by, bricks made across the meadows at Ballingdon were transported downstream to Mistley and on to London; the barges returning with whiffy cargos of manure for the Suffolk fields.

Bridge number two puts the Stour townside on the right. The path then rises in a sweeping wooded curve towards Ballingdon Bridge, high above rambling medieval roofscapes, looking down into patchwork gardens complete with Chinese dragons and up Cross Street towards All Saints, the Gainsborough family resting place.

At Kings Marsh, the track dissects ancient grazing grounds and youll find more dragons of sorts flying about near the river edge. Stay up on the embankment though, leaving the Sudbury Mill, then St Gregorys behind you to enjoy idyllic lush green and watery views across to Freemens Great and Little Commons and Fullingpit Meadows.

As the path widens, the hedges get taller and the cutting deeper, the smart brick arches of bridges five and six pinch you back to industrial heritage reality for a long, cocooned stretch of trailing ivy, birdsong and unexplained rustlings. Its then worth a detour down past the paddocks to Brundon Mill with its pond, pink cottages and most amazing sea of swans.

Get back on track and arable lands rise up towards the Essex border and meadows, dotted with waterfowl, colourful wildflowers and the occasional grass- roofed pill box, lead away to the next mill at Borely. Here, hanging markers adorn overhead wires - reminders for winged visitors to duck before swanning about by the river. The Stour edges closer, putting up a barrier of reedy, kingfisher-friendly scrub for seclusion just before the final bridge at the B1064.

Turn right with care to cross the iron road bridge and enter the Rodbridge picnic site. In the 1950s here the gravel pits threw up bones and teeth of prehistoric mammoths and wild oxen.

Today its more a place to keep an eye out for that kingfisher, hear woodpeckers and willow warblers or delight in the waterside antics of mallards and moorhens.

Top tips: Fancy finding out a bit more and enjoying some extra company along the way? For just 3 per person, the South & Heart of Suffolk Walking Festival is offering this route as a linear walk with a local, knowledgeable guide on Saturday, June 4, 2011. See

For more information: Download a colour copy of the Valley Trail leaflet at Look here for the new wool towns walks too, including a Sudbury Threads trail which makes a great urban addition to the countryside walk.

How to get there: From the A14, take the A1071 west from Ipswich or A134 south from Bury to Sudbury. Arriving in Sudbury, follow signs for the leisure centre (swimming pool), which is near the railway station. The walk starts to the right of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre entrance. Look for the Sudbury Riverside map and information boards.

Park up and go: The Kingfisher Leisure Centre has a large car park. If you choose to start the walk from Rodbridge /Long Melford end (or team up with friends to leave a car at both ends to shorten the walk), park at the Rodbridge Picnic Site car park which is signposted off the B1064 between Long Melford and Sudbury.

Distance: approx 6 miles Refreshments: Sudbury has a great range of characterful pubs and restaurants for pre-walk brunch or a post-walk treat.

Terrain: An old railway track bed. Firm underfoot in parts, but path can be very muddy after a spell of wet weather. Best to put the littlest one in the back carrier or fit mudguards to the all terrain buggy! Walking boots or wellies advisable.

Useful additional map: OS Explorer No. 196 Convenient conveniences: There are public conveniences at both the Kingfisher Leisure Centre and Rodbridge Picnic Site.

Public transport: Call 0871 1200 2233 or visit for details. If you choose, walk on to Long Melford (5 miles total), buses back to Sudbury run from Long Melford High Street (Chambers 753).

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