Thread­ing the Stour Val­ley

A cir­cu­lar walk via the cloth town of Haver­hill

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

WHEN it comes to won­der­ful Suf­folk walks, the Stour Val­ley has so of­ten got it all sewn up. From Clare Coun­try Park to Gainsborough’s Sud­bury water-mead­ows, Nay­land’s an­cient Knoll and pic­turesque Con­sta­ble Coun­try, the river’s thread runs through a rich patch­work of his­tory, pass­ing ev­ery­thing from fine mer­chants’ houses and mighty silk mills to pic­tureper­fect weavers’ cot­tages. But what about the un­sung cloth-lands fur­ther up­stream? Haver­hill still has ties with its tex­tile his­tory in its world-renowned shirt-mak­ers, Gur­teen. But, al­though a silk mill moved here from Spi­tal­fields in the 19th cen­tury, it was the pro­duc­tion of coarse linen and cot­ton ‘dra­bett’, des­tined for farm-work­ers’ smocks, which re­ally put the town on the tex­tile map. Here the river slopes are home to a su­perbly prac­ti­cal lit­tle walk, well suited to all sea­sons, and which bears all the much-loved Stour Val­ley trade­marks – his­tory-rich vil­lages, un­du­lat­ing land­scapes and the oc­ca­sional breath­tak­ing vista.


In the tiny vil­lage of Barnardis­ton, four miles north-east of Haver­hill, All Saints’ church seems like it could cer­tainly do with a new out­fit, if not a large dose of TLC. But once you’ve con­tin­ued up past Three Cocked Hat wood and fol­lowed the an­cient green track­way, Bun­try Lane, past Tay­lor’s Farm to St Peter & St Paul’s in the next vil­lage, you’ll soon see how it has surely been play­ing sec­ond fid­dle to its Ked­ing­ton coun­ter­part for cen­turies. To­day, the porch of the al­most aban­doned church is slowly go­ing green in­side with envy (and al­gae), its doors both great and small, sadly shut to pil­grims and passers-by, its pul­pit and holy tomes, just dis­cernible through the low win­dows, are home now only to hun­gry wood worms and book worms alike. A trained eye might spot how the nave pre-dates the 13th cen­tury chan­cel, but there’s lit­tle to tell you that it re­sides in the outer en­clo­sure of a me­dieval manor, whose moats and carp pond are hid­den on pri­vate land – two of Suf­folk’s mere hand­ful of sched­uled an­cient mon­u­ments.

The land­scape which rises up holds yet more mys­ter­ies. Walk this way in the au­tumn when the hedgerows are drip­ping with deep red rose hips, hawthorn and briony berries and it feels like there could be some truth in lo­cal le­gends. Was this Blood Hill, the site of Boudicca’s last stand against the Ro­mans? Ru­mours are rife about Ro­man vil­las in these parts, with ev­i­dence of re-used Ro­man bricks in lo­cal me­dieval build­ings and even a Ro­man hypocaust lurk­ing un­der­neath Ked­ing­ton’s church. In win­ter, seams of high hedgerows scarfed up with Old Man’s Beard give wel­come pro­tec­tion from cut­ting winds, mak­ing the views which they even­tu­ally give way to, more breath­tak­ing. High and gen­er­ally dry un­der­foot, it’s easy-go­ing ter­rain. Come spring­time, the green lanes burst into a bright liv­ery wor­thy of their name, and in sum­mer, the rolling clay es­tate-lands reach for their time-hon­oured coat of many colours. Spot the rare yel­lows of Sul­phur clover and del­i­cate pink blooms of spiny rest-har­row, the tall stems of crested dog tail and the lowly dwarf this­tles.

There’s some­thing de­light­fully un­hur­ried about the an­cient lane that even­tu­ally opens out, de­scend­ing through the farm­steads to the lin­ear ham­let of Dash End. Time enough to try to un­pick the com­plex ta­pes­tries of the past, in search of that nee­dle-in-the-his­tor­i­cal-haystack con­nec­tion to the Barnardis­ton left be­hind. Near Squir­rel Cot­tage, first a pre­car­i­ously perch­ing long-eared owl, then a plucky pheas­ant, draw the eye up to the neat­est top-nots of thick, tightly trimmed thatch. And sud­denly the penny drops. Wasn’t Sa­muel Barnardis­ton the man be­hind that most his­tor­i­cal of hair­cuts, the orig­i­nal 17th cen­tury model of the un­usual short-back-an-sides ‘Round­head’ look? Even if he ended up near Ip­swich, his folk surely hailed from here, a pow­er­ful Pu­ri­tan fam­ily and staunch lead­ers of the Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans in Suf­folk, but where was the ev­i­dence?

Ah, just a stroll away down to­wards the Stour. From the out­side, Ked­ing­ton church looks un­sus­pect­ing enough. There’s no sug­ges­tion of the long-lost moated hall be­hind the grave­yard, once home to the ‘Godly house­hold’ of the Barnardis­ton clan. But step in­side (it prides it­self on be­ing open) and it is re­ally all too blind­ingly ob­vi­ous

why Sir John Bet­je­man called St Peter & St Paul’s “a West­min­ster Abbey amongst vil­lage churches”. You have to take your hat off to the place – mighty mon­u­ments, mas­sive tombs, a mano­rial box pew the size of a mini-bus, coats of arms dis­played on colour­ful hatch­ments, ev­ery­thing is here and pretty much all with the Barnardis­ton stamp on it. Of course, the preacher took off more than just his hat and coat when he climbed the triple-decker heights of the pul­pit. By some mir­a­cle of Vic­to­rian lais­sez-faire, like so much of this place, this lofty Ja­cobean loud-speaker de­vice has sur­vived in­tact, com­plete with sound board and canopy. Take time to hunt out the hat hooks and con­ve­nient wig pole. There’s even an hour-glass holder for clergy and con­gre­ga­tion to keep an eye on the length of the ser­mon.

By the al­tar, a late Saxon stone cross found nearby hints at the her­itage be­neath your feet. But, sur­rounded by more than 20 great West­min­ster-Abbey-wor­thy mon­u­ments, there’s hardly need to men­tion the 54 shapely Barnardis­ton coffins cow­er­ing in vaults be­low. Then just as you come to terms with the cen­turies of life, death and ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal clut­ter, there’s an in­vi­ta­tion to take a vir­tual tour of the tower-top views, cour­tesy of the Man­ag­ing a Master­piece project’s smart bit of kit, ‘The Pod’ or ‘Stour-cam’. Back out­side, the Stour Val­ley Path, on the church doorstep, leads north to­wards the rac­ing silks of New­mar­ket and south to­wards the site of the Gur­teen fam­ily’s Vic­to­rian home, on the edge of Haver­hill’s East Town Park. Suf­folk’s 21st cen­tury links with its tex­tile her­itage might not be a stitch on what has gone be­fore, but the con­nec­tion through the land­scape is some­how still there.

Re­trace gen­tle steps to Dash End and steer a more west­erly re­turn path up­hill to Barnardis­ton, one so straight that you’d be al­most tempted to call it a Ro­man ‘road’. New or old, no mat­ter. It dis­sects arable lands that have been hemmed in by hedgerows for cen­turies. And you just can’t help pic­tur­ing here the plough­men of the past who plod­ded home their weary way, dressed in their drab­bet smocks.


Start in the vil­lage of Barnardis­ton ( just off A143, north-east Haver­hill) by All Saints’ Church. With the church on your left, head along Church Lane, fol­low­ing foot­path signs. Past Ley’s Farm (left) leave the main track to turn left onto field mar­gin foot­paths, head­ing to­wards the cor­ner of the tri­an­gu­lar wood­land known as ‘Three Cocked Hat’.


Turn left just be­yond the vin­tage oak. En­joy the views to­wards Barnardis­ton church and its mano­rial site as you head down the field mar­gin. The path then bears right, nar­row­ing be­tween quite high, rel­a­tively re­cently planted hedgerows. Keep­ing right as you fol­low the path, it widens and be­comes more grassy, lead­ing gen­tly down­hill as his­toric Bun­try Lane.


At Tay­lor’s Farm the green lane be­comes con­crete/tar­mac (Tay­lors Farm Road). Con­tinue straight ahead pass­ing a mod­ern brick house (right), then a white property dated 1742 (left). The ‘road’ leads left down to the pic­turesque thatched cot­tages of Dash End, where the right fork sees Dash End Lane com­ing out onto Ked­ing­ton Road at The Limes, a large property with white pud­ding-ball gates. Turn right along the pave­ment to the church.


St Peter & St Paul Ked­ing­ton is open to all daily from 9am un­til 4pm (later in sum­mer), ser­vices and cer­e­monies per­mit­ting. Re­trace your steps back along the road and up Dash End Lane.


Be­fore bear­ing right up to­wards Tay­lor’s Farm/Bun­try Lane, look left for a foot­path by the tele­graph poles. This is a cross­field path which leads di­ag­o­nally across the arable land to a gap in the hedge be­yond.


Once through the hedge-gap, turn right to fol­low the straight field edge path.


The path meets a straight, wide, grassy track with thick hedgerows. (Foot­path signs in hedge!) Turn right. The path leads up­hill, then down­hill, straight back along Church Lane to Barnardis­ton, re­veal­ing views across the rolling land­scape to­wards High­point prison in the dis­tance (left), and to­wards the church and all its se­crets in the next val­ley fold.

Left main pic­ture, look­ing back to Bar­nadis­ton. Be­low left, thatched pheas­ant at Dash End, tombs at Bar­nadis­ton. be­low, Ked­ing­ton church. All pho­tos: Lind­say Want

Above and be­low, Bar­nadis­ton Church with its wealth of his­tor­i­cal ‘clut­ter’, in­clud­ing a wig pole.

Views of Bar­nadis­ton

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