Stour Valley, Suffolk
Few scenes are as closely associated with an artist than the Stour Valley, on the borders of Essex and Suffolk, are with the Romantic landscape artist John Constable As Constable (1776-1837). admitted in later life: “I associate my careless boyhood with all that lies on the banks of the Stour. Those scenes made me a painter.”
And surely nothing encapsulates the English rural idyll as well as Constable’s bucolic landscapes, painted around his home at East Bergholt. For many people, his Haywain, Dedham Vale and Willy Lott’s Cottage paintings represent the perfect English scene, with bubbling clouds chasing the sunlight over billowing elms and distant views of sturdy church towers.
ACROSS THE RIVER
An easy circular seven-mile stroll through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty visits the locations of many of Constable’s most memorable artworks.
The walk begins in the shadow of the large, Perpendicular tower of Dedham’s parish church, witness to the prosperity of the 15th-century wool trade. Constable attended the Rev Thomas Grimwood’s grammar school here, walking the mile through the water meadows and across the Stour from his home in East Bergholt every day.
Follow the riverside path along the Stour to Flatford Mill and Willy Lott’s cottage, scene of perhaps Constable’s most famous painting and now the site of a free National Trust exhibition on the artist’s life and work. Art classes for would-be Constables are regularly held here and there’s a convenient teashop.
Continue on the riverside path for about half a mile, then turn left on a lane that leads uphill into East Bergholt, where the unfinished tower of the Perpendicular church resulted in the building of the unusual 16th-century separate ‘bell cage’ in the churchyard. Unfortunately, Constable’s house is no longer there, but his studio still exists in a mansard-roofed cottage on the main street.
THROUGH THE FIELDS
Turn left in the village and then right on to a path signposted Dedham to cross the Stour by a mill, then follow the footsteps of Constable’s “careless boyhood” through the fields to return to Dedham.
Where to see the art: Constable’s artwork can be seen for free at the Walk Through British Art exhibition at Tate Britain, Millbank, London.
MAIN Flatford Mill (oil on canvas) c1816-1817, by John Constable (1776-1837), Courtesy of Tate INSET Dedham as it appears today
Roly Smith has written more than 30 books about walking and the countryside.