Suffolk walks: The source of the Stour and villages near Haverhill
PUBLISHED: 11:57 03 July 2018 | UPDATED: 11:57 03 July 2018
Lindsay Want catches up with the Bradleys & Thurlows by the source of the Stour near Haverhill
When it comes to picture-perfect west Suffolk walks with something for everyone, it’s worth going that final furlong towards the Cambridgeshire/Essex border once in a while.
Only eight miles from Newmarket, the same from Clare and a handful from Haverhill, there’s a charming clan of historic estate villages great and small, marked by the continuity of generations, all lined up in the greenest of paddock-filled landscapes and just waiting for families of wellies to splash in their streams and clamber over their stiles.
Head out on a gentle circular walk to discover the fords and fortunes of those fine fellows Great and Little Thurlow - not forgetting cheeky Little Bradley - and the delightful company of such new playmates will mean that even the smallest feet won’t notice if they’ve walked their socks off.
With the source of the River Stour just across the fields at Weston Colville, it’s not surprising that the Stour Valley Path enjoys pride of place in these picturesque parts. More seasoned strollers won’t be able to resist striding out along an additional loop to Great Bradley.
The playing field in Great Thurlow (once Thurlow ‘Magna’) seems an appropriate place to start. From here, a walk up The Street sets the scene - first with the turreted 19th century estate office, before cottage clusters sporting pink or pargetting, pantiles or thatch see the villages seamlessly segway from ‘Magna’ to ‘Parva’.
By Manor Farm near a spot associated with the Knights Templar, the Grade II* listed Old School House is a Tudor treat, made from local brick just like the contemporary almshouses on the hilltop and the great gabled porch which protects the 12th century doorway at Great Bradley church beyond.
The thing about the Thurlows and the Bradleys is that, although to look at they’re all different, and by name seem to fall into two separate camps, somehow they are undeniably all related. Going back through their history, each pair of siblings and even their two differently named families were treated as one.
And that was all down to the local powers that be – the mighty family dynasties who lorded it over manors, or who decided that having a seat in both Thurlow and Bradley camps was in their own best family interests.
Halls of fame
Paths leading along the grassy verges of Little Thurlow Green, where the much-admired ‘Old Inn’ peers out from underneath a golden shock of thatch, continue on to touch the Bradley borders, lands once ruled by the Bigod barons of Framlingham Castle.
Later Margaret Beaufort, the child mother of Henry VII, owned these swathes between East Green to the north and the young river Stour, but it was Norfolk lad Thomas Soame and his ambitious offspring who, making the most of her grandson’s largesse at the time of the Reformation, really left his mark here.
Thomas married into the Knighton family of Little Bradley and within two generations his lineage were Lords of the Manor of Great Thurlow and ruling the regional roost. Pop into All Saints Little Bradley, a pretty round tower church with an octagonal topknot, and you can meet his first son, Thomas Jr, with his entire family and study their rich 17th century wardrobe in great detail.
Son no.2, however, Sir Stephen just-call-me-Dick-Whittington Soame was the golden boy, who not only became Lord Mayor of London but ended up sitting on the wool sack. Not one to hide his wealth under either sack or bushel, it was he who commissioned Vermuyden to drain the Fens and poured money into drainage and fresh water systems for London.
At home in Bradley-Thurlow country he built himself a hall, tenant cottages, a school and provided in perpetuity accommodation, pennies, firewood faggots and the occasional gown to ‘eight poor persons of sixty-four years, of honest life and conversation.’
You’ll find his flashy monument further across the fields in St Peter’s Little Thurlow. Although the church might be locked, it’s worth getting the key, his memorial is probably one of the grandest in the county.
1) Start at Great Thurlow playing field (B1061). With your back to the field and river behind it, turn right out of the car park entrance along The Street. Go straight ahead at the crossroads, past the pretty estate office with its clock tower (left) and fine diaper-pattern wall (right).
2) Drifting now into Little Thurlow, once past the village hall (right) look out for the second footpath on the right, between redbrick house ‘Driftside’ and white, thatched detached ‘Trudgetts’. There is a house sign ‘Cuylers’ on the fence by the path - also waymarked here ‘Stour Valley Path’(SVP). Go straight down the green lane. At the footpath crossroads, go ahead, over the wide bridge, then left by a bench onto a wide track. The path bends right, then left, briefly along a field margin.
3) Follow the track along the picket fence past the sewerage works (left). The footpath becomes wide and concrete alongside arable lands, with glimpses of St Peter’s Little Thurlow through the trees and across the pastures (left).
4) Turn right onto the road into Little Thurlow Green, walking along the wide green verges and looking out for furry friends at The Old Inn. Continue past the Green itself, then the road bears gently left.
5) As the road bends right, take the footpath (left) by the hedge. Continue along the field margin path (hedge on right) to cross through Hall Farm House Livery & Stables with care. Gate no. 3 enters the long drive way to the road with views to All Saints Little Bradley.
6) At the road, it’s time to join the SVP briefly once more – but which way is up to you! Head north to explore Great Bradley or head south into Little Bradley. To Great Bradley: cross over the road to follow the SVP directly opposite the driveway of Hall Farm House & Stables. The path (trackway) leads all the way to Bradley Road near East Green (A).
Turn left, onto a permissive path which runs parallel to the road. The path meets the road at a bend. Continue along the road, over the bridge and uphill to St Mary’s Great Bradley (B) located by farm yards. Head uphill straight on to meet the B1061, turning right (pavemented) through the village. Past the village sign, turn right into Water Lane (C) down to the ford (D) to pick up the Stour Valley Path again (right, just before the bridged ford).
This meets back up with the road (E ) near the church (right), so turn left, sticking with the SVP to retrace your steps back to Little Bradley (6). To continue to Little Bradley, turn left along the road which bears left past a picturesque gatelodge (right).
7) Continue along the SVP, first down the road to the village green, then shortly after, just by a weir it goes left, leaving the road to accompany the river.
8) At the field edge, go straight ahead to reach the road at Little Thurlow (St Peter’s Church opposite). By the church look out for the SVP sign pointing diagonally across a meadow to a gate.
9) The gate leads into grazing pastures where a footpath (left – no longer the SVP) heads diagonally across to a stile, followed by a footbridge and another stile to a small meadow. Go straight across to another stile, then the path leads down, arriving at a track which should look familiar.
10) This is the SVP, where you experienced it for the first time. Turn left to the bridge.
11) Over the bridge, this time go right along the tree-lined and field margin path. A stile leads into a meadow with church views. The path eventually leads via a small graveyard through a gate to All Saints Great Thurlow and the road.
12) Turn right past thatched cottages to the bridged ford, then up past those patterned walls to the old estate office. Turn left towards the playing field, but mind the toads! u
A goodly lot
Sir Stephen was a good, enterprising fellow, but he was not this area’s last.
What else would you expect one W H Smith, of Great Thurlow Hall, to donate to the community if not a reading room? His fortune, secured by the right to sell books and newspapers at new-fangled railway stations took him to the lofty heights of Leader of the House of Commons and First Lord of the Treasury.
Other household names of good local note include rich-list regulars the Vesteys, and that amazing charity mastermind Sue Ryder, Baroness Ryder of Warsaw. Her father Charles Foster Ryder acquired local manor titles, owning Great Thurlow and Great Bradley Halls and she set up her original care home down the road at Cavendish.
In Little Thurlow Church the memorials to the Ryder family are touchingly understated, but perhaps none are as eye-catchingly simple as Dame Elizabeth Frink’s small bronze figure of St Edmund, a memorial to her brigadier father, Ralph.
Dame Elizabeth grew up in the Thurlows, loving the outdoors, riding horses, enjoying time with her dogs. She was endlessly generous to good causes. As a child, she no doubt splashed in the fords and walked these very footpaths with her family.
As you climb the stiles into the wide meadows and set eyes upon Thurlow’s medieval aisled barn or All Saints church beyond, there is a sense that the views have remained the same for centuries. Elizabeth’s family memorial may be a fore-runner or an echo of the iconic sculpture alongside St Edmundsbury Cathedral, but the simple statue is a powerful little thing. How fitting a tribute to a man and the Suffolk villages she loved.
Distance: 3.5 miles/5.5 kms (or 7 miles/11 kms including Gt Bradley loop)
Time: 1.5-3 hours
Start: Great Thurlow playing field, Wratting Road (B1061) CB9 7LQ (parking by field)
Getting there/back: suffolkonboard.com
Terrain: Field-edge, cross-meadow footpaths, tarmac roads or pavement. Stiles, gates. Big Map to hand: OS Explorer 210
Ts & Ps: Little Thurlow - The Cock Inn, open daily, restaurant Wed-Sun 01440 783224 thethurlowcock.co.uk