Walking through history
The centuries collide at Eye Airfield, scene of war time activity
EYE industrial estate on the A140. It’s not exactly the first place you’d think of heading for a Suffolk Sunday stroll, let alone a weekday walkabout. But leave your mind as open as the vast expanse of Mid-Suffolk sky which awaits, and on the widest pathways concreted into the countryside some 75 years ago, you’ll soon lose track of time.
Just a field margin or four from the historic town’s crinkle-crankle wall, huge hangar-like buildings crouch low, beneath propellers high in the sky. Great transporters line up in ranks, ready to thunder off down concrete roads to faraway destinations. And at the adjacent business park, almost in sight of tiny Brome’s octagonal church tower, oily engineering workshops and the local recycling tip cluster in the company of smart offices and storage facilities. It’s a motley crew. A purposeful place. One full of modern day echoes and concrete reminders of the past that’s always been just a leafy lane from parsley fields, Lavender Cottages and a ‘Mustard Pot’ manor. But above all, it’s a hugely important Suffolk spot, where the sheer scale of everything puts history in perspective.
During World War II, Suffolk saw the construction of many Class A airfields featuring three intersecting runways. Many were later dismantled, others, like those at Debach, Metfield and Halesworth, remain discernible in the landscape today. But only Eye’s wartime aerodrome – initially known as Brome Airfield, USAAF Station 134, home to heavy bombers, the B-24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses – offers the opportunity to walk great stretches of the runways and perimeter track. It’s a unique chance to get a real feel for the size of the original airfield site and the proximity of our rural Suffolk heritage to those brave souls who served there.
Following some of the 490th Bomb Group Memorial Project waymarked airfield trails, local footpaths and the Mid-Suffolk long distance path, this circular route suggests detours to two key memorials and takes in everything from serpentine walls to the straightest of east-west runways, from a historic fuse store to the remains of Victoria Mill and the Tudor tombs of the mighty Cornwallis family in St Mary’s Brome.
1 START near Eye’s dominating Victorian Town Hall, home to the airfield’s Roll of Honour. Walk along Lamseth Street (B1077 towards Brome) past the historic almshouses (right) and crinkle-crankle wall (left), then turn left into Castleton Way. Head up past both the hospital and school (left). When the pavement runs out, continue with care for a further 50 metres, then cross to pick up the footpath (right - red and blue circular walk markers).
2 LOOKING OUT towards the wind turbines, you are now facing the WWII airfield site. A map panel in situ here clearly shows the A-shaped layout and dispersal locations of the US airforce operational flying squadrons – the 850th and 849th Bombardment Squadrons (ahead) and 848th and 851st (to the left around the area of/to the north of Whitehouse Farm on the A140). A dump for bombs trucked in from the wartime railway halt beyond ‘Rapsy Tapsy Lane’ was sited at the field end here. Head along the wide grassy footpath between two fields towards the runways.
3 A RARE wartime survivor on this site, the lonely Nissen hut was a fuse store. Continue straight ahead to where the concrete perimeter path joins from the right. Here, take the footpath directly ahead across the field (marker post on far side confirms the route) to meet the great east-west runway. Take a moment to absorb the scale of things - to imagine not just the thundering bombers, but the vast task behind the airfield’s construction; the personal stories in the air and those buried beneath your feet…
4 DETOUR TIME? The 490th BG Memorial located on Progress Way is a must. It’s half a runway’s walk away (point 5) but it’s also accessible by car from the B1077. To walk (about 1 mile return), turn right along the
runway towards its end at the lorry park. Take the path left to reach Progress Way. Turn right to find the memorial.
5 THIS MEMORIAL to the American Servicemen of the 490th Bombardment Group was dedicated in 2016. Retrace your steps to point 4. Turn left down the runway where the propellers of wind turbines rather than heavy bombers whir in the sky.
6 LOOK FOR a waymarker (right) at the runway’s end, guiding through scrub onto the impressive north-south runway. Stay vigilant for vehicles. Turn right to follow the high steel fence.
7 A GAP( gate) in the steel fence leads to a wide grassy path sheltered between hedges. Beyond this, follow waymarkers to cross the perimeter path and head right – parallel to the A140 - on the grass area, past ponds, through more steel fences, across parking bays, along the entire front of the industrial estate and beyond.
8 AT THE END of Eye Industrial Estate go right along a field margin, then across the old airfield hard standing, once reserved for visiting aircraft, near the end of the north-south runway. In front are the low-lying units of Brome Industrial Estate. Continue across the hardstanding/scrub land to reach these buildings on Liberator Way. Turn left towards the B1077.
9 SPOT the Romney hut (curved, similar to a Nissen hut), probably a WWII workshop, relocated after the war. As the airfield’s technical site, this area would have included the control tower. Turn right onto the B1077 for a few metres, crossing to take the signed footpath (‘Nick’s Lane’ on the map). Along this straight, well-maintained farm road past houses and fields, look out for Brome church tower peeking through the trees.
10 DETOUR TIME 2? Charming Brome St Mary’s is only a 0.75 mile return, with links with the Cornwallis family. Charles made the final surrender to the Americans at Yorktown in 1781 and Edward founded Halifax, Nova Scotia. At the end of the straight track, follow it left into the farmyard (mind the tractors!) and straight along to the road. Turn right to find the church a little way along on the right.
11 THE LITTLE Norman round-tower church is home to a fine USAAF suffolkmag.co.uk
memorial plaque, plus Tudor tombs, Victorian stained glass and stone carvings by Ipswich sculptor, James Williams. Retrace your steps to point 10. Turn right – left, if you’ve done the detour – over a hardstanding area to pick up the footpath (right) by the end of the hedge. The path ducks and dives, first left of a hedge, then through a gap to the right of the hedge, then follows an arable field to meet a firm track. Go right a short way, then left at the footpath sign by a small weir onto a field margin track.
12 WHERE THE TRACK meets Brome Avenue opposite hot spot, Mustard Pot Hall, (signed Mid Suffolk Footpath, MSF), turn right to get a whiff of Camomile, Lavender and Pine Cottages. Just before the B1077, turn left past the entrance to Eye Bowls Club, finally reaching a field edge path junction through a gap in the hedge. Take the footpath right, along the field margin (views left to St Peter & St Paul’s mighty tower). The wide path emerges onto the B1077 where Langton Green becomes Victoria Hill.
13 TURN LEFT along the road briefly. Cross to pick up the waymarked footpath. This leads right along field margins to meet the airfield’s concrete perimeter path. Left again here (signed green trail), heading towards those massive propellers once more.
14 TAKE THE FIRST footpath left heading towards the hospital building with its distinguishing bell. It becomes a field path, ducks through a hedge gap towards allotments to reveal the brick remains of a Victoria Postmill, already dilapidated during the airfield’s heyday. Follow the footpath or residential streets down, to emerge back on Castleton Way. Turn left, then right by the crinkle-crankle wall to wend your way back into Eye.
On the east-west runway
Signs of the times
Walkers in Brome Avenue