Suffolk’s best walks: Exploring the rolling hills near Bury St Edmunds
PUBLISHED: 11:47 25 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:47 25 April 2019
Lindsay Want is on a ramble around the rolling hills of Hawkedon, Denston and Stansfield near Bury
Wales End – now there's a place you'd not expect to find in good old Suffolk. But follow the gentle landscape south from Bury towards Cavendish and the Stour, and all those verdant peaks and troughs around the River Glem do somehow make it feel at home.
Admittedly, at 128 metres above sea-level, Suffolk's Snowdonia (aka Rede's Great Wood Hill) is a slightly disappointing high point, but ask any resident in the central swathe between Lidgate and Hartest 'Just how green is your valley?' And the answer is sure to be a resounding 'Very!'
Hawkedon – whose name seems to mean 'a green plot in a valley' – is arguably not just the most idyllically English village in Suffolk's would-be welsh parts, but maybe even in the whole of the county.
Arrive here with the early breezes of summer and you'll find medieval St Mary's sailing on a swaying tide of bright buttercups and celandines, frothy white cow parsley and fragile dandelion clocks.
Ah, timeless, and unique. Hawkedon's church is the only one in Suffolk to be located slap-bang and on its own, in the middle of the village green.
And what a green it is, stretching up and down in all directions, reaching out to half-timbered or pink-façaded farmsteads, to the wide verges by the white 15th century free house and the smart pastel-blue home that cocks a snook at its Georgian symmetry by wearing its roof at a jaunty angle over one window eye.
You're sure to still be practising the tongue-twister name of 19th century rector, Reverend Orbell Plampin Oakes, when you happen upon his Victorian-gothic, brick-flint pile across the fields.
An emerald path or two later and there's another little gem. Pink, triple-gabled and best viewed looking back up its wide grassy avenue of trees, late Elizabethan Cordell Hall was probably Melford Hall's original dower house.
West across the fields, Clopton Green, suggests family connections with Long Melford's other Tudor great house, Kentwell Hall. But these rolling green valleys have a manorial past which makes such 17th century pads look like the new builds on the block.
Ramble round the corner at Purton Green and you'll step into another world. All alone in a clearing by a leafy backdrop, a timber-framed, thatched building appears totally out of the blue. Either you've stepped out from a time-machine, or on to a film set – there's simply no suggestion of being in the 21st century.
Hats off to the Landmark Trust for saving and restoring this tiny reminder of the lost, and probably moated, village of Purton Green, for all to stay at and enjoy. At its core is a mid-13th century hall-house from the time of Edward I and inside its late-medieval walls, a dragon post cowers with carvings of local flora.
Walter de Priditon, Adam Gatesbury and the Cresseners all held local manors a couple of centuries after Domesday. Following the Black Death of 1348, there were fewer folk to work the land and the farming focus turned to sheep grazing and the rest, they say, is wool trading history.
It's tempting to head south, to check out the lie of more manorial lands like Stan's field (Stansfield), once held by the charmingly named farming lord, Edric Spud, but you'd miss out on another secret Suffolk encounter of the most awesome kind.
Onwards then, to scale the vales and conquer the steep descent to the banks of the Glem.
Across the fields lurk more manorial trappings - moats, a stew pond, vineyards, just off the trail at Gifford's Hall. The Romans allegedly introduced viticulture to Britain, so nowhere could vines be more at home than along the slopes leading to the Roman villa site at Lidgate.
Wickham House here and Wickham Street/Wickhambrook just up the road could well have Romano-British origins (Latin 'vicus' = farmstead). Plod on, grazing on green views, past Sheepcote Farm below, and eventually all the historical threads seem to come together miraculously in the wool town church of Denston.
Stepping inside St Nicholas' is like entering a mini-cathedral. Built by the same master mason as the royal chapels at King's College Cambridge, Eton and Windsor, narrow pillars and late-perpendicular arches soar, creating a divine feeling of space.
Light floods in, bringing the whole menagerie of rich oak carvings to life. In Denston village, Chantry Farm points to St Nicholas' as a college chapel, where priests would pray for the wealthy ones who funded it.
Up Pound Hill and over the Glem, there's a certain poignancy about the thick blue shroud of forget-me-nots in the woods before Assington Green and, you can't help cracking a wry smile at the 'Lamb Escape Route' sign on a gate - especially when Denston's carved Holy lamb of God bench-end got hacked off and disappeared.
It eventually re-joined the flock from American shores, thanks to e-bay.
Just when you've given up on more exotic finds, Mr Bear's five-storey, 1840 tower-mill comes into view.
It might be bereft of its top-knot and showing its age, but it's a rare and precious survivor. Another gem in an emerald crown.
Inside Hawkedon's St Mary's Church, it's divine and down to earth. No buttercups here, but exquisitely carved 600-year-old roses in corbels and crevasses, and St Dorothy painted with her basket of flowers.
Medieval daisy hexafoil 'graffiti' keeps unsavoury spirits at bay, whilst 15th century 'poppyhead' pew-ends unusually include pretty maids all in a row.
One hides her bad hair day under a medieval hat, but her plight pales into silvery oak insignificance alongside the Picasso-style, three-way representation of some badly bearded historic hipster.
St Mary's Church at Hawkedon is the only one in Suffolk that sits slap-bang, on its own, in the middle of the village green. Opposite page, this mid-13th century house is all that remains of the village of Purton Green.
Ordnance Survey maps are available from all good booksellers and outdoor stores or visit the online shop www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/al
1) Start on the green below Hawkedon church. Walk through churchyard, across other side of green to head uphill (towards Rede), past Queen's Head and village hall (right).
2) Turn left into Cresslands Lane. At end of lane, follow track (bridleway) with views towards Hawkedon House (right).
3) Stay on bridleway to gate by cattle-grid. Through the gate, follow track across the field. When track bears right, before second cattle-grid, look left and go through five-bar gate into a meadow. Keep left, following fence-line (right) past lake to metal gate in far corner.
Through gate, follow left-hand ditch uphill. Look for waymarked culvert on left through line of trees. Cross culvert to follow waymarker diagonally across small field. In far corner of field take short path through woodland (buildings – left) to reach another field.
4) Head diagonally across field to gap in far hedge - route (marked by white posts) passes a telegraph pole. Gap opens onto concrete road.
5) Turn left (almost doubling back) . When concrete track bears left, carry straight on (grass track), skirting two sides of wood (left) near Gatesbury's Farm. Continue on track downhill between two fields to cross stile in hedge at field corner.
6) At top of the series of six lakes, go left then right, down side of lakes (right). Follow round bottom of last lake, heading right. On reaching trees, turn left through them. At track junction, turn left uphill along meadow edge. At top, hedge-gap leads to vehicle track. Turn left along track.
7) At waymarkers, turn left to pass front of Cordell Hall. Just before stream, follow signs right, through gate into grassland. Head diagonally to right far corner to cross footbridge, entering a wooded area, then arable land. Path leads slightly diagonally across to culvert and through hedge to another footpath.
8) For short-cut towards Stansfield continue straight on. Turn left onto road to meet route at point 19, or follow directions to point 9 then retrace steps. For main walk, turn right, heading uphill along field-margin path, almost doubling back.
9) At top take a few paces right to spot Purton Green medieval hall-house. Retrace steps, go left, then almost immediately right down waymarked path. Track leads through woodland, bearing left and edging field first left, then right into another field. Head downhill, over bridge, then uphill past Wickham House to road.
10) Turn left at post-box, past Wickham House (Clopton) Bungalows, then uphill (Garbs Grove – left). Continue over brow of hill and down to a fence.
11) Follow waymarker right. Path goes left around small wood, right along a hedge. At first hedge-gap turn left downhill. Go through another hedge gap in bottom corner to reach a road. Turn left, then right onto road leading over bridge, past Denston village hall to the green.
12) From St Nicholas' Church, retrace steps to further side of bridge. Turn right through Denston's Lower Green, passing Gospel Hall (right).
13) Take footpath on right up a bank, through gate into meadow. Head diagonally left to gate in far hedge. At road, turn right. Where road bends left, cross stile to continue straight ahead, then along farm track (hedge – right).
14) At crossways, turn left in front of Hollybud Wood. Go downhill, then up to T-junction of tracks. Go straight over onto a footpath through small wood.
15) At road, turn right. Continue towards Assington Green.
16) After road junction at Aspen House/Grove, take footpath left, downhill, through wood and into meadow.
17) Crossing River Glem, head for stile in righthand corner of meadow. Turn left, uphill, then turn right passing paddocks. Go straight ahead following waymarker through Glebe Farm into churchyard.
18) At All Saints' church Stansfield, turn left onto road, uphill to junction. Turn right for a few metres.
19) Turn right at footpath to pass old mill. Continue through fields, passing Brook's Wood (right). Along ridge (20) enjoy views towards Hawkedon. Cross-field path leads to road. Turn left down steep road to cross river and head up to reach St Mary's.
Distance: 9.5 miles / 15 kms (each loop 5 miles / 8 kms)
Time: About 4.5 - 5 hours
Start: St Mary's Church, Hawkedon IP29 4NH
Getting there / back: Most accessible by car (nationalrail.co.uk / suffolkonboard.com )
Access: Field-edge, cross-field and wooded footpaths, some soft ground, some tarmac roads. Gates, stiles.
Big Map to hand: OS Explorer 210
Ts & Ps: Hawkedon & Stansfield (pubs)