Suffolk is the land of beautiful parish churches, par excellence.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
So much money was poured out by well-to-do medieval wool-masters intent on glorifying the Lord and saving their own souls (and showing the neighbours how well they were doing, a pleasing by-product of piety) that every village possesses a miniature masterpiece. Setting out on a sunny morning from Fressingfield, we stopped to admire the handsome knapped flint of the south porch of St Peter & St Paul’s Church, and the carved bench-ends within – maidens with flowing hair, priests and beasts, their faces hacked off by Puritan zealots, but their intrinsic beauty complete.
We walked out into one of those wide, flat-seeming, entirely agricultural Suffolk landscapes whose subtler curves hide shallow valleys. Farm and barn roofs made red squares against the dark blocks of copses, under a sky of fat silver clouds lumbering their way across the blue. The handsome old houses of Viponds Farm and Willow Farm faced their ploughlands square-on. But neighbouring Church Farm, extant on the map, had vanished under the stiff Suffolk clay as though it had never been.
Weybread’s Church of St Andrew with its cylindrical Saxon tower boasted wonderful carved corbels of angels, lions and a leafy-faced Green Man. South of Weybread the landscape changed abruptly from wide open arable fields to steep, intimate grazing valleys, cut with streams, their oaks full of the sleepy cawing of rooks. Near Syleham Hall we leaned on a gate, munching bread and cheese, speculating on what a land of milk and honey this must have been in medieval times with its castles and halls, moats and farms, priories and abbeys and marvellous new churches.
It was the De La Poles, Earls of Suffolk, kinsfolk and friends of the Plantagenet kings, who built Wingfield’s gorgeous church, a stately ship of flint that today dominates a tiny hamlet – the De La Pole Arms, a couple of cottages, and a 14th-century college for priests that stands beside the church in disguise as a Georgian farmhouse. Inside the church De La Poles and Wingfields lie in effigy, exquisitely carved, their weathered old faces full of character.
From tiny Wingfield we joined the cornfield paths once more, making east for Fressingfield. The sun came out, putting a pale dazzle on the fields and spotlighting the scarlet necklaces of bryony berries strewn with such careless grandeur by nature across the skeletal winter hedges.
Start: Fressingfield village car park, near Harleston, Suffolk IP21 (OS ref TM 263773)
Getting there: Bus – Sat only, but convenient times for the walk. Service 40 Diss – Norwich (01379-647300, www.simonds.co.uk).
Road – A143 to Harleston, B1116 to Fressingfield.
WALK (8½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 230):
Leave car park beside hooped barrier; turn left to bollards, right to road opposite church. Left to T-junction; right (‘Diss, Wingfield’) past shop. In 250 m, right (256773) down hedged path immediately after entrance to Post Mill Lane. Follow field edge (yellow arrows/YAs) with hedge on right into valley bottom, across footbridge (251778) and up following field edge. Near end of field, right through hedge (249781, fingerpost, YA), diagonally left across field to far left corner, then through hedge gap to cross Dale Road (248784). On with hedge on right (fingerpost). In 150 m, ignore YA pointing right; continue, to cross next field and on down track for 1 mile to Weybread Church (241801).
From church return down track for 200 m; right (242799, fingerpost) over stile. Across field, through gate and shank of woodland; across footbridge, on and over stile (238798). Up field edge, with hedge on left) for ⅓ mile to Greengate Farm (236794). Left over stile, right up drive to road (233793). Left; in 100 m, just before Boundary Cottage, right across footbridge and stile, and on (fingerpost). Aim slightly left for electricity pole; bear left here, following poles to hedge and on across 2 fields to cross road (231786). Cross stile and on (‘Waveney Valley Way’). In 2nd field, YA points you right (230781); at field corner, left (229781, YA) and on with hedge right for ½ mile to road at Goulder’s Farm (229772). Down Church Road to Wingfield Church, College and De La Pole Arms PH.
Opposite pub, left (230768) through churchyard, then tunnel of trees; on along field edge. At end of field bear left (232768) and on along embankment. In 300 m go through hedge (234770); right down field edge, left (YA) on fenced path. In 500 m, at next hedge on left (239772), go through it and turn left with hedge on left. Walk clockwise round edge of this big field (YA at top) towards Abbey Farm. Beside gazebo, left (239776, fingerpost) into orchard. Dogleg right and left, through wicket gate and on through 2 paddocks (stiles). In field beyond, aim diagonally left to stile (240778); don’t cross it, but turn right across field to stile (241777, fingerpost) onto road. Left for 100 m, before left bend, right through hedge (fingerpost). On over field, into dip, over footbridge (245776), up hedge, through shank of woodland (247774). On over fields to road (250773); left into Fressingfield.
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LUNCH: Fox & Goose, Fressingfield (01379-586247; www.foxandgoose.net; NB closed Mondays); Swan Inn, Fressingfield (01379-586280; www.fressingfieldswan.co.uk); De La Pole Arms, Wingfield (01379-384545; www.delapolearmswingfield.co.uk) – three cosy, friendly pubs.
Try this website for further walks in Suffolk: https://walksinsuffolk.wordpress.com