20 September 2003: Sudbury to Nayland, 14 miles
A hot day after a hot summer. The fields were parched, more savannah than Suffolk. The path misses one trick just before the Essex hamlet of Lamarsh (good pub), where unaccountably it takes a scruffy line over plateau to Lamarsh Hall instead of heading over to and along a lovely little side valley to the south. Walk 24 in my book Walking in Essex puts this right. Bures is a working village, in two halves, one in each county; the river forms the boundary. Wormingford has a pleasant churchyard. On the way into Nayland look out for as steep an aircraft landing strip as you will see.
South of Sudbury, on the Essex side of the border
22 November 2003: Nayland to Cattawade, 12 miles
A change in the weather: steady rain to Stoke-by-Nayland, and overcast thereafter. Nayland itself is a very substantial little place, well seen on the Path first from the river and then through its coaching inn centre. The church at Stoke rose quietly out of the mist. After the village there is another pretty little tributary, the Box, and on the way back to the river there is a smashing green lane, Snow Hill Lane. At Stratford St Mary we lunched at the half-timbered Swan, a wonderfully eccentric place with welcome fire. From here the river meadow walk to Dedham Bridge and Flatford Mill is very much Constable heritage country; he was born just up the road in East Bergholt. A shame then that the Path peters out along the B1070 to its end at the nondescript picnic site at Cattawade. It’s even worse if, as had we, you have to trudge along the busy A137 for the mile or so to Manningtree station.
Flatford Mill, on a much sunnier day
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.