Exploring the Dedham Vale's country pubs and tea rooms without a car
Juliette Dyke spends a couple of car free days in the Dedham Vale walking in the footsteps of local artists – and sampling the local ales and cream teas along the way
For those of you who prefer your walking adventures to be short, scenic and interspersed with regular stops at country pubs and tearooms, then Dedham Vale might just be the perfect fit.
The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is criss-crossed with footpaths, cycle trails and bridleways, and many of its top attractions are within a 40-minute walk of Manningtree station. Flatford Mill, where John Constable painted ‘The Hay Wain’, is an easy, two-mile walk along the River Stour, and the medieval village of Dedham, which also has links to Constable and another local artist, Sir Alfred Munnings, is just another three miles along the river path.
If your legs won’t carry you back after all that walking, or you’ve indulged in one too many cream teas, then jump on the Hopper bus service which runs from July to October on a circular route through the AONB’s most popular tourist spots. For a flat fee of £3 you can use it as many times as you like in one day – but do check the timetable as it only runs four days a week between certain hours.
If you fancy a more strenuous walk, you can also pick up the Essex Way from Manningtree station and join the 81 miles of footpaths and ancient green lanes that stretch from Essex to Epping. The Stour Valley Path is another long distance route which follows the valley sides of the River Stour for 60 miles through the Dedham Vale AONB and beyond. If you want to tackle it in stretches, there are guides available from local Tourist Information Centres which will help you plan a route each day and take a bus or train back to your start point.
If you’re exploring the Western edge of the AONB, try the scenic Gainsborough Line from Marks Tey, on the main London line. You could get off in Bures and stock up on delicious pasties and homemade cakes at the superb Village Deli before walking up to Arger Fen Nature Reserve. This is an idyllic, unspoilt place – a perfect spot for a picnic and to enjoy the wildlife, from bluebells and butterflies to evening glow worms, depending on the time of year of your visit. Or you can continue on up the train line to Sudbury with its corn exchange, old inns, Victorian Quay and the Gainsborough Museum, which houses an exhibition and works by the artist who was born and grew up in the very same building.
Finally, another great way to discover the area is to take to the water. The River Stour is navigable from Sudbury to Cattawade with landing stages along the way. You could explore in your own canoe or kayak, as long as you have the correct permissions from the Environment Agency or the British Canoe Union, or embark on a one or two day guided Canadian canoe trip with River Stour Boating. Row boats can also be hired from Flatford or Dedham, or you can catch a ride on the Stour Trusty II, an electric boat run by the River Stour Trust which ferries visitors between Stratford St Mary, Flatford, Dedham and Brantham.
Where to stay
The Threshing Barn and The Cottage are two beautifully renovated, self catering properties set in the grounds of Lamarsh Hall, a 15th century Grade II listed home in a peaceful, countryside location just a short drive from Sudbury.
The Threshing Barn has two en-suite bedrooms, one double and one twin, a spacious living and dining area with a large flat screen TV, fully equipped kitchen and wood burning stove. The Cottage has a double bedroom, large living room with electric ‘wood’ burner and sofa bed, and a kitchen/diner with an electric cooking range, brick floor and exposed beams.
Don’t worry if you arrive late and have missed the shops, as charming host Helen will ensure you have all the essentials for breakfast, including milk, toast, eggs from her own hens and even freshly picked berries from the kitchen garden to sprinkle on your muesli. Helen also keeps horses on site, and if you’re bringing the kids then she positively welcomes them getting involved, whether it’s giving the horses their daily ration of hay or helping out with the egg collecting.
If you’re worn out from the day’s activities and don’t feel like cooking, The Lamarsh Lion is a charming, oak beamed country pub just 10 minutes walk away. It has lovely views over the Stour Valley and even features in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.
>> For more details on places to eat out, see our list of green restaurants and cafés in Dedham Vale and Stour Valley AONB.