Trav­ellers’ tales

Lind­say Want dis­cov­ers a host of his­toric com­ings and go­ings, plus a right old Mid-Suf­folk menagerie on a gen­tle coun­try jour­ney by the River ‘Rat’ near Stow­mar­ket

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

A cir­cu­lar walk around Rat­tles­den

Rat­tles­den. Now there’s an in­trigu­ing place in the back of Mid-Suf­folk’s be­yond. Set about ex­plor­ing the vil­lage from some­where near St Ni­cholas’ church and whether you take the High Road, and I take the Low Road, I’ll be at the whale­bones afore ye. Well, pos­si­bly. The pubs en route are very tempt­ing.

But whale­bones there are, and a church door han­dle al­legedly forged from an old lo­cal an­chor - not bad for an en­larged con­ser­va­tion-area-of-a-cot­tage-clus­ter about 32 miles from the coast as the crow, buz­zard or gull flies. It boasts a trickle of an epony­mous river – River Rat­tles­den – which lo­cals en­dear­ingly re­fer to as The Rat, per­haps in cel­e­bra­tion of some res­i­dent ro­dent of re­pute. Add to this, ru­mours of blood­hounds on a nearby air­field and all sorts of lo­cal mon­key busi­ness and its ir­re­sistible half-tim­bered houses and thatched cot­tages sud­denly seem just a small part of the at­trac­tion. Oh, how his­tory leaves us grap­pling with all sorts of co­nun­drums, but for­tu­nately, there’s noth­ing like a good walk to see how the land re­ally lies and come up with the con­nec­tions.

There’s sure to be a spring in your step as you set out on your trav­els from Rat­tles­den recre­ation ground. Just part of Orwell Meadow, the site was ac­knowl­edged back in me­dieval times as the source of the River Ure, later re-named in parts as the rivers Gip­ping and Orwell. So far away from the great Ip­swich es­tu­ary, in such an idyl­lic in­land en­clave, it all seems a tad far-fetched, but then so too was the stone, shipped here all the way from Caen in Nor­mandy, landed on long-gone ru­ral Rat­tles­den quay­sides and des­tined for the great abbey con­struc­tion site at Bury. Lo­cal late-me­dieval monk and poet John de Ly­dgate wrote about it cen­turies later, so it must be true. And to think that some of the tim­bers in the thatched cot­tages here along Bird’s Green surely date from his day.

Many a his­tory book has Rat­tles­den moor­ing its ori­gins firmly to the boats (‘Rates’) full of 9th cen­tury Danes (‘Doe­nas’) which re­put­edly nipped up-river, past would-be Stow­mar­ket, to con­tinue west­wards against the flow, be­fore their crews dis­em­barked in the high val­ley­lands for a spot of wild camp­ing. Be­yond Orwell Meadow, past the al­lot­ments full of roots of a dif­fer­ent kind, ever-bare and sil­very trees stretch out their branches above the sheep graz­ing plains of Brook Vale, ghostly re­minders of an oft for­got­ten river bank, ban­ished now to los­ing it­self in its own me­an­ders.

Across the chan­nel, be­trayed by tall reed mace and dot­ted by del­i­cate pink wil­lowherb, the foot­paths of Back Road steer a par­al­lel path, trac­ing the course of the river just as the bright sun­flow­ers which fill the field mar­gins turn their heads to fol­low the sun. When the corn­fields on the rise up to Clop­ton Green’s es­tate shoot, at Bird’s Wood, shim­mer gold in the high sun of sum­mer, and the buz­zard

stretches out its wings full-span to catch currents of the ethe­real kind, this sleepy cor­ner of Suf­folk al­most whisks you away on a whim to Provence. Let the mind’s eye magic up a rocky gorge or two and a don­key called ‘Modes­tine’, and the green lanes may even carry you off to the land of Robert Louis Steven­son’s fa­mous trav­els. Well, this too is ‘An In­land Voy­age’ for sure.

A TRIP DOWN GIPSY LANE

One path leads to an­other, un­til you hap­pen upon Gipsy Lane – a spe­cial Suf­folk spot where time is happy to park it­self a while, just like the painted wag­gons of days gone by. As it makes a B-line for Bux­hall Fen Street, it’s a wide, well-trav­elled trail, the green­est of green tracks, canopied by a leafy tar­pau­lin. Here, the mere crackle of branches above, or wisp of mist weav­ing low be­tween the trees of the alder carr, are enough to kin­dle nos­tal­gic im­ages of camp­fires and cook­ing pots, of chil­dren tam­ing song­birds to feed from lit­tle fin­gers and moth­ers craft­ing pegs and prim­rose bas­kets from wood col­lected from the coppice.

“To live out of doors with a woman one loves is, of all lives, the most com­plete and free,” wrote Steven­son. Maybe such happy, itin­er­ant folk - work­ers vi­tal to farm­ing Suf­folk’s ever-turn­ing wheels of prepa­ra­tion and har­vest - were go­ing about their busi­ness here when the lo­cal wain­wright passed through in 1896. Fol­low in his likely foot­steps along green and an­cient Church Lane. He too would have caught sight, across the fields en route to Shel­land Green, of Great Fin­bor­ough’s fan­ci­ful church spire. Mind you, ‘Phip­son’s folly’ was still very new in those days and the lit­tle church at Shel­land – one of just six in Eng­land ded­i­cated to that no­to­ri­ous Scot with di­vine de­signs, King Charles the Mar­tyr – was still in pri­vate hands. The wain­wright’s path was a pur­pose­ful one. The church’s new owner was keen to put a personal brand stamp on the place and com­mis­sioned him to paint its Ge­or­gian in­te­rior in the same bright colours as his wag­gons. Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, the gar­ish colours sur­vived sub­se­quent re­dec­o­ra­tion in the still quite psy­che­delic 1970s. Pop in to­day though, and you’ll be re­lieved – or dis­ap­pointed

- to dis­cover that 2010 dec­o­ra­tors gen­tly toned them down to more sub­tle and con­tem­pla­tive pas­tel shades.

It’s colour­ful stuff in­deed, this lit­tle patch of Suf­folk. Pick your way through Shel­land’s dan­de­lion and ox­eye daisy-dot­ted green, pon­der­ing why the church font is topped with a pineap­ple, or the hymn reper­toire of its rare bar­rel or­gan boasts a trib­ute to Si­cil­ian mariners. Past the thatched cot­tages, the great or­angey-pink brick chim­neys of Rock­ylls Hall are eye-catch­ing. They date from the 17th cen­tury, so what of the me­dieval manor site, and its rare and highly renowned his­toric pigsties?

On the high ground be­yond Bird’s Wood, Tu­dor Clop­ton Hall joins in the lo­cal game of dis­guise, hid­ing behind curves and col­umns, Ge­or­gian win­dows and sym­me­try, peep­ing out furtively be­tween trees and over hedges. Look hard, though, as its par­tial me­dieval moat is still vis­i­ble to the front of the hall.

What goes around, comes around. Back in Rat­tles­den, the cast iron vil­lage sign forges all the links be­tween church, river, an­chor and whale­bones. But why no ref­er­ence to wheel­wright, Richard Kim­ball, who in 1634 led lo­cal Pu­ri­tan pil­grims to a new life in Mas­sachusetts Bay? Or to those US cit­i­zens who re­turned cen­turies later to pro­tect our coast and coun­try­side, the 447th bomb group who op­er­ated out of Rat­tles­den air­base? It’s some­thing to scratch your head about as you pass the mon­key-puz­zle tree or pay homage to the gib­bon ‘gar­goyle’ on St Ni­cholas’ church.

THE WALK 1

Start at Rat­tles­den recre­ation ground off Bird’s Green (Road). Head up the con­crete path along­side the pav­il­ion. At the al­lot­ment gates keep left, taking the grass path straight ahead to the first of three stiles. Stiles one and two lead into river­side mead­ows.

2

Stile three de­liv­ers you to the Stow­mar­ket Road. Turn left, walk­ing along the road for a few me­tres. It bridges the River ‘Rat’. At a left bend take the track (right) past candy-pink Brook­vale Farm­house (right). Con­tinue straight ahead, ig­nor­ing a first foot­path to the left.

3

At the T-junc­tion/foot­path cross­roads turn right on to the track called ‘Back Road’. It will curve back round to Stow­mar­ket Road, so be sure to look out for the left turn into the wooded path known as ‘Gipsy Lane’. Con­tinue all the way to the road.

4

Cross the road head­ing a few me­tres to the right to find the path known as Church Lane (left - re­stricted by­ways sign be­tween hedgerows). Wide and gen­tly wooded, it leads up­hill, be­fore opening out to fields with views back to Great Fin­bor­ough’s wacky spire. Con­tinue ahead (field mar­gin path). Shel­land’s church comes into view.

5

The church of King Charles the Mar­tyr is usu­ally open, ser­vices and cer­e­monies per­mit­ting. Out of pri­vate own­er­ship only since 1936, it’s packed with Ge­or­gian box pews. Don’t miss the triple decker pul­pit, flock wall­pa­per, bar­rel or­gan and 11th cen­tury font. Out­side on the lit­tle green, cross the lane and go left to take the un­made road (right).

6

Fol­low foot­path signs around the green to­wards Rock­ylls Hall where the Bur­dolf fam­ily were lords of the manor in the late 1200s. Cross the drive­way to the hall to an­other grassed area and re-join the lane. Turn right, down the side of the hall, then go left at the junc­tion and con­tinue for a short dis­tance.

7

Turn right to join a tree-clad foot­path just af­ter a prop­erty (field to left, gar­dens to right). When you reach a field, turn left, fol­low­ing the foot­path round the field, to turn right up­hill to­wards Bird’s Wood. At the top of the hill, con­tinue all the way along the wood­land’s edge (left).

8

At the end of Bird’s Wood, go right across the top of the field to Great Wood. Turn left onto the gravel drive skirt­ing the wood­land, then left at the end of the wood. Next, fol­low the track right, then left, through open fields, turn­ing left again at the next track junc­tion near the agri­cul­tural build­ings of Clop­ton Green Farm.

9

Ahead is Clop­ton Hall with its Ge­or­gian façade. Turn right be­fore the hall, go­ing through the hedge, over a wooden foot­bridge onto a foot­path. Pass farm build­ings, bear left to edge a field be­fore head­ing right at the next cor­ner, then left be­side a dense hedge (right).

10

To­wards Great Fin­bor­ough’s spire, head left, then right onto a wide grassy path which points to­wards the road. Just be­fore the road, turn left down the steep field mar­gin path (par­al­lel to road). Rat­tles­den will even­tu­ally ap­pear, church spire first, out of the deep val­ley. Look out for a wooden bridge in the field cor­ner for a path down to the road junc­tion.

11

Turn right to view the vil­lage sign on a lit­tle green (right), then con­tinue along High Street.

12

St Ni­cholas’ church has a fine in­te­rior in­clud­ing an an­gel roof, art nou­veau lamps and me­mo­rial chapel for 447th Bomb Group. Go left out of the church through the gate by the half-tim­bered house, then right, up Church Path to re-join High Street. Turn left and fol­low the road down­hill.

13

Look out for the whale­bones ( just past the school) strad­dling the river, wooden repli­cas of the originals, made in 2000. Fi­nally turn left to take Lower Road back to meet Bird’s Green (Road) and the recre­ation ground.

Whale­bones at Rat­tles­den

Shel­land Green and Rock­ylls Hall

Shel­land church font

The de­scent into Rat­tles­den Photos: Lind­say Want

A door han­dle made from an an­chor at Rat­tles­den Church

The 447th Bomb Group me­mo­rial chapel at Rat­tles­den church

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