About the Stour Valley Path
Newmarket owes its success as a horse-racing venue to its heaths. Wide, open, slowly rolling, and well-drained, they provide many training gallops for the dozens of thoroughbred stables as well as the town’s two racecourses, home to two of the five English ‘classic’ races, the 1000 and 2000 guineas. The National Stud, National Horse Racing Museum and Tattersall’s sales are based here too. The only problem, from a walker’s point of view, is that the Stour is some way away; perhaps the path should have passed through the small town of Haverhill, for the river does, close to its source.
Another of England’s great artists, Thomas Gainsborough, was born in the Stour valley, at Sudbury, the half-way town on this walk. He is commemorated both by a museum in his birth house and a statue in the market square. Sudbury is a major transport hub for the Stour, with buses serving most villages reasonably frequently as well as the rail line.
Transport and accommodation
I was able to do much of this walk by public transport from my then east London home, using the rail lines to Sudbury, Colchester and Manningtree and the bus links from the first two towns to places such as Clare and Nayland. Newmarket has a rail service too, but bus services north of Kedington are rare.
Much of the area is well provided with accommodation, in the north as a result of the need to cater for racegoers (obvious warning – avoid Newmarket on race days), and from Stoke by Clare eastward to the general popularity of the region with tourists. Two lovely little pubs, right on the path, are the Lion at Lamarsh and the (rather more up-market) Angel at Stoke-by-Nayland: I stayed in both during 2004 (though not on this walk) and can recommend them, but alas the Lion no longer lets out rooms.
Along the Stour Valley Path
Saturday 26 October 2002: Newmarket to Great Thurlow, 12 miles
Soon after leaving Newmarket town centre, the Path takes one of the heathland gallops (alongside the A1304) until it meets an ancient rampart, Devil’s Ditch. After the first village of Stetchworth there are several empty miles, overgrown this late autumn day – how a couple of cyclists we later met heading north would have coped with the gorse I don’t know. At length the headwaters of the Stour are met after Great Widgham Wood, and the young river proper soon after. Great Thurlow is smaller than Little Thurlow; still very much a squire’s seat, it seems. Just so you know: on this stage I was carrying a frozen shoulder and, courtesy of insufficient lacing on the London Loop the day before, heel blisters.
Great Thurlow Hall from Fourteen Acre Park
Saturday 1 March 2003: Great Thurlow to Clare, 11 miles
From near the start, there are good views back to Great Thurlow Hall in Fourteen Acre Park. Kedington is a fairly ordinary village, and the field thereafter is something of a prairie – big enough to swallow the square mile of the City of London! But one of the classic stretches begins not far away at Baythorne End, beside the growing river into the village of Stoke-by-Clare. Clare itself is the major settlement of the upper Stour. As well as its Priory and Country Park, it is the terminus of the Bury to Clare Walk.