Walking at Gazeley, Moulton and Dalham
Far-reaching views, old ways and new worlds are all part of the picture-perfect Suffolk scene on this truly classic country walk around Moulton, Gazeley and Dalham near Newmarket. Lindsay Want shares her discoveries
Lindsay Want enjoys a classic country stroll
COME on, it’s time to broaden your horizons. All you need is a little inclination. Dare to stray from our cool coastlines in the height of summer to head inland beyond Bury and you’ll soon find that, as well as its sheer novelty value, a Suffolk slope can be a really refreshing alternative.
Take the path gently up through the dappled shade behind Moulton’s church and all effort dissolves as a distant memory when the miles fall away with the folds of landscape in front of you. The same breath of a breeze which cools the brow, sends wisps of cloud scudding across the broadest blue skyline and surely fills the imaginary sails of the ‘Ship of the Fens’, Ely Cathedral, that’s just discernible on the dark sea of horizon.
On the upland, the whole village of Gazeley seems to stare in wonder at the spectacle, but the Icknield Way takes it all in its ancient stride, pressing on to entertain travellers with passing mysteries of unexplained lawns, together with tales of Elizabethan explorers and African empire-builders, as it touches the mighty manorial seat of Dalham.
By Dalham church, wide valley views stretch out across the miles, but there’s another impressive line up here too. Huge horse chestnuts parade purposefully down the greenest of hills, as if preparing to cross the River Kennett and march up the other side. It just has to rank among Suffolk’s finest vistas. But then, when you take your place between the trees here and turn, nothing can quite prepare you for the breath-taking view, the most beautiful Queen Anne hall perched on the brink above, reviewing her leafy troops, surveying all for miles around in true English country style.
Start by the River Kennett at St Peter’s church in Moulton. If you don’t fancy carting a picnic around, head for the famous medieval packhorse bridge just along the river, where an historic inn offers hearty breakfasts and meals to top you up before you set off. The church is also loaded with unexpected goodies from far and wide, including a strange Sheela-na-gig (fertility stone), unicorn (benchend), golden fish (weathervane) and the 18th century tombstone of Lettice Manning which once read: “Oh! Cruel death to please thy palate, Cut down Lettice to make a sallet.”
With the church on your right, walk uphill through the graveyard to a fencelike stile. The path becomes tree-lined and steeper with occasional gaps in the foliage for admiring the views as you climb - or stop and catch your breath! Another stile (with dog gate) announces a field. Ignore the footpath to the right, taking the one which climbs a little (sorry – it will be worth it!) straight across the field. At the brow, look left for stunning views stretching out towards the Fens and Ely cathedral. It might be some 15 miles away, but on a clear day, it’s very visible, with its huge bulk and towers resembling a sail or be-funnelled steamboat riding the flat sea of fenland. Further on, find the next dog-gated stile with memorial bench, proudly celebrating that up here, ‘All is well’. Continue straight on, along the path dissecting an arable field to find - deep in a gap in the hedge and after quite a steep drop - another dog-friendly stile giving onto Moulton Road (Icknield Way Path).
Turn right along the quiet road (frequented more by cyclists and walkers than other traffic). Where the road bears left, leave the Icknield Way to follow the footpath sign (right by an electricity pole), through the hedge, then along the field margin. Approaching Gazeley Stud, the path becomes lined by high hedges. Go through the gates as you cross the estate road (signs warn of horses), then look left for rare glimpses of the mighty tithe barn, paddocks and fine quadrupeds along the final stretch of footpath, ending up at the kissing-gate into Gazeley All Saints churchyard. To be fair, the horse lurking inside the church is equally elusive. No-one knows the age of the stylised ‘graffiti’ horse discernible on the south wall near the altar. Imaginations race. Could it have been carved by a traveller remembering the great Uffington White Horse of Oxfordshire perhaps? A nearby windowsill boasts scratch dials carved deeply by 14th century fingers. In these parts, time has way of standing still … even when it comes to sitting down – don’t miss the unusually carved medieval benches.
Outside the churchyard, there are more horses on the village sign and an old forge clinging on for dear life on the green, but the old reading room probably hasn’t seen a book in years and the Chequers, alas, serves ale no more. Onwards, but not necessarily upwards then, join the ancient Icknield Way once again, this time down Higham Road (opposite church), following
footpath signs through the more modern setting of Tithe Close. Take the path leading through a gap between cream and brown houses to reach a wildflower meadow. Home to orange Hawkweed and lofty heads of cow parsley, the glorious gated meadow is a charming spot with pretty views back towards the village. The furthest gate gives way to large sea of crops parted by a wide, unmade track. Follow this all the way to a white-painted footbridge. Icknield Way signs point right along the winding path into, and then edging, Bluebutton Wood. X marks the spot on the map here, where the strangely named ‘Lawns’ see mixed woodland exchanged for mysterious swathes of cash crops. But why? Skirt round Blocksey Wood and the shade of an isolated mighty oak provides perfect vistas of this landing-strip style conundrum - a place to puzzle things out perhaps?
Alongside and briefly into Brick Kiln Wood next, as the Icknield Way Path leads downhill a little. At the field, keep right along the margin to the bottom, then dip into woodland again, past disused pits, to catch your first glimpses of Dalham church and its mighty fine manor house through the trees. At the small metaled road, turn right, walking down first, then up for views across the paddock to the church. Peeping round the back is stately Dalham Hall, a Queen Anne affair with a chequered history. Built in its current style by the bishop of Ely around 1705, it was originally two storeys higher and had ambitions of a lantern tower, so the cleric could spot his beloved cathedral across the miles from the comfort of his country quarters. It passed to the Affleck family who held it for three centuries, before selling up in 1900 to Cecil Rhodes, that most controversial British imperialist who founded Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), yet died before even living here. Check out the Affleck monument by the church door spot the triangulation point near here too! – and nip round the back to see the ruins of the family mausoleum. There are Rhodes family plaques on the churchyard wall, but it was the Stuteville dynasty (manorial lords 1416 - 1696) who left the greatest mark by rebuilding St Mary’s tower - Sir Martin Stuteville, being an explorer of the New American World alongside Sir Francis Drake.
Turning your back on St Mary’s, drink in the views across the valley, looking down towards the village along the great avenue of trees. Venture through the kissing gate to follow the Icknield Way downhill and look back longingly for the full impact of one of Suffolk’s most refined manorial seats. But the River Kennett is calling - and perhaps a cooling pint at the Affleck Arms too! At the bottom of the avenue, go through another kissing gate and left onto the road. As the most picture-perfect thatched cottages appear at the end of Church Lane, look right to discover a rare conical malt kiln, towering 8 metres high. Even the flood gauging station blends in here with its turreted top. Continue along the road for more quaint cottages, manicured lawns, roses round the door plus bemusing twisted chimneys and you’ll soon come to the pub – thatched of course! Alternatively, look for the white footbridge (right) shortly beyond the malt kiln, cross the stile and set out along the Kennett on your way back to Moulton. As the river plays hide and seek along the field margin, look back to see Dalham’s white, beehive-capped smock mill, peeping above the distant hedgerows. The path enters a small wood and meets the Gazeley Road. Turn right, over Catford Bridge, then left down the bridleway opposite an imposing redbrick gateway. The Icknield Way is still your trusty companion, but the Kennett, forever fickle, ducks and dives (left) behind trees and dog-rose hedges. Fork left into the trees to find the river surprisingly far down below, in the deepest ravine. As the path emerges, so St Peter’s gold fish soon comes back into view (right).
Gazeley All Saints church
Moulton packhorse bridge
A glimpse of the tithe barn at Gazeley Stud
Crossing at Gazely Stud
For the love of Lettice - a tale of a tombstone at St Peter’s Moulton
Tree lined path beyond Moulton churchyard
The view to Ely Cathedral
The bridleway after Catford bridge
The Affleck Arms at Dalham