Feb 242024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Lavenham - medieval houses lean together in the High Street Lavenham Church - demonic lion guards the west door Lavenham Church tower from Park Road Lavenham Church tower from Park Road 2 Lavenham Church tower across the plough 1 Lavenham Walk - the muddy old railway path Balsdon Hall isolated among its trees sugar beet mountain near Peek Lane Lavenham Church tower across the plough 2 Lavenham Church tower across the plough 3

Lavenham is ridiculously pretty, its High Street an unbroken run of delectable medieval buildings, each one more cranky, crooked and colour-washed than the last. No wonder the young American flyers of 487th Bomb Group, stationed nearby during the Second World War, came to walk its fairytale byways and drink and yarn in the impossibly beamy and lopsided old Swan Inn. Here the graffiti and signatures they scribbled on the wall plaster are lovingly preserved under glass.

Medieval Lavenham grew rich on the wool trade, a prosperity witnessed in its wonderful houses, guildhalls and great cathedral of a church. And it was a massive economic slump in Tud
or times, caused by competition from cheaper and better cloth produced elsewhere, that fixed Lavenham’s buildings in aspic. The impoverished townsfolk couldn’t afford to modernise or demolish them, so in their early medieval glory they remained through the succeeding centuries.

A cold west wind blew out of a wintry sky as we followed the trackbed of the old Long Melford branch railway out of the town. Arable land lay on either hand, the heavy dark soil sliced by recent ploughing into long gleaming furrows. We watched a trail of seagulls following a distant tractor, each new furrow no sooner opened than lined with screeching, squabbling birds.

Spring was beginning to knock on winter’s door. Hazel catkins trembled in the wind, daffodil spears were pushing up along the hedge roots, and over the open fields the first skylarks of the year poured out their continuous, ecstatic song. But winter was not done yet. Grey-headed fieldfares, overwintering from Scandinavia, flocked round a stark concrete wartime pillbox, crowds of goldfinches twittered in the treetops, and the mud of the winter rains lay black and stodgy underfoot.

Beyond the bare skeletons of beech and oak in ancient Lineage Wood we traversed fields of river-rolled pebbles to cross a tangle of old moats at Balsdon Hall farm. The yellow-faced 17th-century farmhouse lay tucked away behind trees, a remote setting among the fields. A characteristic rural Suffolk landscape, agricultural and unsmartened. Sugar beets lay heaped in roadside ramparts ten feet tall, and the great flint tower of Lavenham church rose across the waves of ploughed earth like a landlocked lighthouse.

How hard is it? 5¾ miles; easy; field and old railway paths

Start: High Street, Lavenham CO10 9QA (OS ref TL 915491)

Getting there: Bus 753 (Bury St Edmunds – Sudbury)
Road: Lavenham is signed off A134 (Bury St Edmunds – Sudbury)

Walk (OS Explorer 196): Up High Street, over ridge and down. In ⅓ mile fork left (017496, ‘Lavenham Walk’). In 100m, left along old railway. In 100m, right (‘Dyehouse Field Wood’). In 200m right by bench (914497, ‘St Edmund Way’) across field. Left along hedge. At Park Road, left (908497); in 300m, right along old railway (911494). In 1⅓ miles, Paradise Wood ends on left (893484); in another 300m, left (891481, arrow post) on field track. At Balsdon Hall Farm, follow farm drive between buildings (898484) to 3-arrow post at fork, with Balsdon Hall on right (900484). Ahead across fields to road (906476). Left; in 400m, left up Harwood Place (808480). In 50m, right (‘Byway’) along Peek Lane for ½ mile to road (909487). Left; in 200m, right (907487, fingerpost) on field path to road (913490). Right to Lavenham Church. Leaving south door, left along south side of church, then north side of graveyard to kissing gate. Follow tree avenue and walled path to Hall Road (914492); right to High Street.

Lunch/Accommodation: Swan Hotel, High Street, Lavenham CO10 9QA (01787-247477, theswanatlavenham.co.uk)

Info: Lavenham Information Point (01787-247983)

 Posted by at 01:42

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