The River Stour in its serpentine windings, its floods and drought trickles, has smoothed out a beautiful shallow valley where Essex and Suffolk meet to stare at each other across their common boundary, the river itself.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
This is cornfield country, broad and gently undulating, well wooded and prosperous, where a pheasant’s life is uninsurable and the medieval timber-framed houses are lovingly and expensively restored.
The Henny Swan stands by the Stour, an old country pub now smartened up, the object of sunny afternoon boat trips from nearby Sudbury. We set out past handsomely thatched Henny Cottage and on up the lane to Middleton among the clustered, dusky yellow buttons of tansy. Young goldfinches with scarlet cheeks and crossed tail feathers bounced in the holly trees. Fields of wheat lay creamy gold under the sun, the crop coursing in matt and sheen before the wind. A landscape with a dip and swing to it, where rolls of straw from already harvested fields lay like giant cotton reels among the stubbles in fields whose headlands were blue with borage flowers.
On a tump near Middleton we halted and sat to take in the view down a valley of cut grass dotted with oaks, on over distant barley fields to the stumpy broach spire of Great Henny church on its ridge, the focal point round which this walk revolves. Pink blooms of centaury shook in the wind, and a young deer sprinted across the grass. A quintessentially English view, the sort you fight and die for.
A rutted old byway carried us southwest between hedges of field maple, hazel and elder, its sandy banks burrowed by rabbits into miniature landslips of orange ochre. At The Ryes a little scarlet George V postbox leaned in the hedge, framed in brambles but freshly painted. This is carefully warded and kept countryside, the hedges newly planted with quince and whitebeam, the field headlands left unploughed as seedbeds for wild flowers.
‘Come and help yourselves!’ invited a woman picking greengages and plums from her hedge in Great Henny. We walked on with mouths full, down by Fenn Farm with its vociferous (but friendly) dogs, by Twinstead with its Victorian fantasy church. On across the barley, round by Great and Little Hickbush, and down again to the dreamily winding River Stour and the beer garden of the Henny Swan.
Start: Henny Swan PH, Henny Street, Sudbury CO10 7LS (OS ref: TL879385)
Getting there: A12 to Colchester, B1508 to Bures, left (‘Lamarsh’, then ‘Sudbury’) to Henny Street.
WALK (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 196):
Leaving Henny Swan PH, left along road (Sudbury direction); in 100 m, left (‘Middleton only’). In ¼ mile, on right bend, left (875386; ‘bridleway’). In 300 m, by footbridge, right (875383, yellow arrow/YA) along field edge. In 300 m follow it to left; in 70m, right (872384) to meet St Edmund’s Way (868385). Right (YA). In 150 m, keep forward (‘Stour Valley Path’, YA) for 700 m to top of rise. Left on public byway (868393, red arrow) for ¾ mile to road by cottages (859385). Right to T-junction (858384); left for 500 m; by ‘Great Henny’ sign, left (858380) up Old Rectory drive (fingerpost). In 150 m, at gate, right (859380, ‘bridleway’) to road (861378). Left; in 400 m, pass side road (‘Church’); on next bend, right (fingerpost) down Fenn Farm drive. Keep right of house (864374; raucous dogs, but not unfriendly!), on downhill between hedges, past YA at bottom (ignore). Ahead for 250 m to T-junction of paths (863372). Left (blue arrow), on under 2 sets of power lines. Just before road at Twinstead church, left (862367, YA) on grassy track. At hedge end, on across field. In ¼ mile pass pylons; down slope, through bushes; left along hedge, through gap (870368). Right with hedge on right, round field edge to road (873369). Left; cross stream; in 100 m, right (873371), following field bank and power lines to Great Hickbush Farm. By farm hedge, left to drive (878371); left to road (874374). Right; round right bend; in 200 m, left (876377; fingerpost) across field to road (875382); right to Greathouse Farm and valley road (880382). Left to Henny Swan.
LUNCH: Henny Swan PH (01787-269238; www.thehennyswan.co.uk)
INFO: Colchester TIC (01206-282920; www.visitessex.co.uk)
Coast Along for WaterAid, 10 September: 250 sponsored UK coast path walks! www.coastalongforwateraid.org www.LogMyTrip.co.uk
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