Silhouetted against the eastern sky, we set off on the Stour and Orwell Walk along the river wall. Stutton Mill can be seen in the distance and Felixstowe beyond it, across the waters.


Stour Valley,

Suffolk

 

11th - 13th March 2011


Following on from our trip to Glastonbury in the west country of England in February, our attention a month later turned to East Anglia. Not being that far from where I live in Hertfordshire, I drove down Friday late afternoon straight from work to the bunkhouse in Brantham Hall, Brantham, near Manningtree, in Suffolk. The Stour Valley Path is a 96-kilometre long-distance footpath in Suffolk, from Newmarket to Cattawade, a village near Manningtree. Another path known as the Stour and Orwell Walk runs for 63 kilometres from Cattawade near Manningtree on the Suffolk/Essex border along the estuaries of the Rivers Stour and Orwell to Felixstowe, where it continues as the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Path. As all the waters it traces are tidal, it may be considered as the first chunk of a Suffolk Coast walk.

My outgoing route Friday from Welwyn Garden City took me past Colchester on the M25, whilst the return home via Ipswich and Bury St Edmonds was a lot more direct. The smallish, though neat, single-storey complex holds a total of 20 beds and though I had initially been allocated a tiny room containing 2 bunks, I was joined later by John Robertson, since the level of interest for the hike was such that the weekend was over-subscribed. The path follows the catchment area of the River Stour. The majority of the route forms part of European Path E2. It connects with the Icknield Way Path, the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Path and the Essex Way.

Conveniently, dinner was a mere stone's throwaway from Brantham Hall. The Brantham Bull pub was within walking distance and the route even shorter if one took the short cut. Though one frequently finds steak and ale or chicken and leek pie on pub menus across the length and breadth of Great Britain, for some strange reason, this particular pub had decided to create a festival out of it, conjuring up images of festival attendees stuffing themselves with pie until they popped or discussing the contrasting culinary merits of one baker's pastry or the fillings with another perhaps. Perhaps it was that I didn't associate this corner of the UK as being synonymous with the English pie, despite it being one of the icons of British cuisine. After all, the town of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire is home to the annual British Pie Awards, the supreme champion netting a 1000 award. Not wishing to appear to be the party-pooper, I joined in and ordered.

 

On the Brantham Hall bunkhouse patio Saturday morning, preparing to leave after breakfast.

 

Two groups setting off from Brantham Hall - one was to follow the Stour and Orwell Walk towards Cattawade, whilst we headed east towards Stutton and Holbrook.

 

View east towards Stutton Mill, taking at the start of the Stour and Orwell Walk where Hall Lane reaches the river wall near the estuary.

 

View south across Seafield Bay towards Manningtree, at the point where water from the wetlands feeds into the Stour via Keebles Sluice.

 

Group photo along the river wall on the Stour and Orwell Walk. [Photo courtesy John Adams (extreme right)]

 

The extent river wall on the Stour and Orwell Walk can clearly be seen in this photo, just east of Keebles Sluice.

 

Just before Stutton Mill, Newmill Creek wends its way into the estuary via Sutton Mill sluice.

 

View near Stutton Mill across the waters of the Stour towards Felixstowe.

 

Directly above the beach near Stutton Park, looking across the Stour estuary.

 

 

Along the beach near Stutton Park, view east (above) towards Stutton Ness and west (below), looking back towards The Rough, near Stutton Mill.

 

Along the beach near Stutton Park approaching Stutton Ness.

 

 

 

After rounding the corner of Stutton Ness, looking across Holbrook Bay from Graham's Wharf (at least, what remains of it).

 

The Stour and Orwell Walk path cuts inland at Graham's Wharf on Holbrook Bay.

 

View of Crowe Hall farm from the Stour and Orwell Walk path.

 

The Royal Hospital School, an independent boarding school with naval traditions, near Stutton.

 

Two walks had been planned the next day within the Stour Valley, one upstream and one down the estuary. I was in two minds until the last minute and then decided to join Maeve's party heading down the valley. The initial stage of each walk saw both groups heading from Brantham Hall down Hall Lane towards the estuary and once there, one turned left towards Cattawade and the other right, away from the town. The path hugs the estuary, passing Stutton Mill and continuing all the way to Stutton Ness, until one reaches Graham's Wharf, whereupon it cuts inland towards the town of Stutton itself, a beautiful little spot. Across the waters of the estuary, the cranes of the port of Felixstow can be seen. Turning right at Manor Farm, it passes by Bay Tree Farm, picking up Hyam's Lane. We eventually reached the delightful little church of St Peter. I was the only one to enter and view the beautiful stained glass windows, engaging in conversation with a member of the congregation, whilst the rest continued on. A placard outside announced teas and food being served that day. The path leads out the back past Markwell's Farm and back towards the estuary. Within view on the hillside to the left is the Royal Hospital School, an independent boarding school with naval traditions. Established by a Royal Charter in 1694, it was originally located at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, London , moving to East Anglia in 1933. It admits children of 11 to 18 years of age through Common Entrance or the school's own exam. Until relatively recently, entry to the school was limited to the children or grandchildren of seafarers. Until the 1950s, boys of the school were also required to join the Royal or Merchant Navies and as such the education was very much maritime focused. Although this requirement has not been in force for some decades, the school has retained certain naval traditions such as Naval uniform, divisions and an element of marching. The Welsh television presenter, "Griff" Rhys Jones, has a house just below the playing fields of the hospital.

 

 

 

 

Walking through the pretty little town of Stutton on the Stour and Orwell Walk.

 

St Peters Church, Stutton. [Photo courtesy John Adams]

 

 

St Peters Church, Stutton.

 

The Stour and Orwell Walk path near Markwell's Farm, Stutton, with the Royal Hospital School in the background.

 

View across Holbrook Bay at Holbrook Creek.

 

The River Stour is a river in East Anglia, England, 76 km in length, which forms most of the county boundary between Suffolk to the north, and Essex to the south. It rises in eastern Cambridgeshire, passes to the east of Haverhill, through Cavendish, Sudbury and the Dedham Vale, and joins the North Sea at Harwich. The name Stour derives from the Celtic sturr meaning "strong".  The River Stour was one of the first improved rivers or canals in England. Parliament passed 'An Act for making the River Stower navigable from the town of Manningtree, in the county of Essex, to the town of Sudbury, in the county of Suffolk' in 1705, mandating public navigation rights and providing the basis of a joint stock company of London and Suffolk investors who raised 4,800 to cut and manage the river. The Stour valley has been portrayed as a working river by John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and Paul Nash. Constable's connection with the area was especially important, evident in such works as The Stour Valley and Dedham Church c. 1815. Today much of the Stour valley is designated an Area of Outstanding Beauty. It forms the spine of what is known as Constable country. The River Stour Trust, a waterway restoration group, was set up in 1968 to protect and enhance the right of the public to navigate the River Stour. The Trust seeks to restore through navigation from Sudbury to the sea, following on the successful restoration of the locks at Dedham, Flatford and Great Cornard, by reinstating the 10 remaining locks. The Environmental Agency is the navigation authority for the river. RSBP Stour Estuary is a nature reserve managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

 

 

Leaving the Stour and Orwell Walk, along a path through Wall Farm, just south of the town of Holbrook.

 

Crossing Lemons Hill Bridge across Alton Water Reservoir, towards the town of Tattingstone.

 

A house in Tattingstone with rather interesting architecture - possibly a church once?

 

Crossing the railway line very close to Brantham Hall.

 

 

Brantham Hall.

 

Following a path on the sea wall alongside Holbrook Creek, we reached the boathouse near Alton Wharf. At this point a decision was reached to leave the Stour and Orwell Walk path and head back inland through Wall Farm, just south of Holbrook, towards Alton Water Reservoir. En route we encountered a sheep being herded up a narrow channel crossing our path, by a farmer, who yelled impatiently  and beckoned furiously from his tractor for us to get out of the way. This reminded me of the altercation down in Glastonbury with another local farmer. We reached the reservoir and made our way along the path on the northern side past Alton Hall Farm. I can honestly say that, despite enjoying the walk itself, I did not find the views particularly exhilarating. Eventually we crossed the reservoir at Lemons Hill Bridge and reached the town of Tattingstone. John Adams was convinced that there wasn't a clear path back towards Brantham Hall, once we had reached Vale Farm, so he opted to head up the road through Tattingstone and after crossing the A137, pick up a path close to the railway line near Station Farm, which turned out to be somewhat unremarkable. Crossing the railway line, we eventually reached Brantham Hall. It was only after dark the Maeve's group got in, having walked a longer route at her insistence, which did not go down well with one or two folk. Having made a booking for the entire group, we spent the evening back in the Brantham Bull.

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