First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Cavendish lies perfectly arranged for a painter’s canvas. Why John Constable never got himself along here to capture the thatched and pink-faced cottages on the village green, and the flint tower of St Mary’s Church peeping over their shoulders, is a mystery. Even on this blowy winter’s morning under a scudding grey sky, the composition seemed flawless.
We passed crooked old Tumbleweed Cottage, half pink and half green, and turned down a path among poplars to cross the slow-flowing River Stour. Out in the fields a green bridleway led through gently rolling country, the meandering of the invisible Stour marked by grey and gold willows. Wide ploughed fields slanted up from the river, their crests bristling with hedge oaks. From this high ground we looked back to see Cavendish church tower poking up above the trees. Then it was down again over the sticky fields to a wandering green lane between banks of iron-rich, burnt orange soil across which burrowing badgers had spread their bedding.
On the outskirts of Clare the grounds and ancient flint buildings of the Priory lay very quiet and still. Opposite rose the castle mound with its tall fragment of Norman masonry. In 1865 local ‘detectorist’ Walter Lorking unearthed a gold cross and chain in the castle grounds. It had been lost there 500 years before by King Edward III, and contained a fragment of the true cross in a tiny compartment. Walter was more than happy to sell it to his Sovereign, Queen Victoria, for the rather appropriate sum of three gold sovereigns.
There was beautiful pargetting – ornate plasterwork – on many of the houses in Clare, and a host of scowling and howling Green Men to guard the doorway of the village church, the ‘cathedral of the Stour Valley’. I left my companions to linger among the antique shops of Clare, and hurried back to Cavendish along the high ground north of the river. The cold wind tousled me all the way, pouring out of a sky ridged with grey billows of cloud, a wintry ceiling for the furrowed ploughland below.
Start: George Inn, Cavendish, Suffolk CO10 8BA (OS ref TL805465)
Getting there: Bus service 236 (Haverhill-Sudbury)
Road – Cavendish is on A1092, between Long Melford (A134) and Haverhill (A143)
Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorers 196, 210. NB: Detailed directions, online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From George Inn, left (east) along main street. Opposite Bull Inn, right on path (fingerpost, yellow arrow/YA) to road (810464). Right across Pentlow Bridge; on along B1064. In 300m, on left bend, right (812461, ‘Bridleway’) along field edges. In ½ mile, through trees (805458) and on to Bower Hall. Just before first barn, left (800455) up field edge. 50m before hedge at top, right (803450, post with YA) across field to hedge end of green lane. Follow it (YA) to road (749449). Right downhill.
Just before reaching river, left by waterworks hut (797453, ‘Bridleway’) along green lane and field edges. In 1 mile, bridleway bends right (782449) to river bank (782451). Left here (‘Bridleway’) to road at Hickford Hill (777447). Right; in 200m, right across field (fingerpost) to cross river (775450). Fork left across meadow to cross weir (774451) and on. In 350m, opposite car park and castle mound, pass metal bridge on right, and in 50m turn left (770451) through stone gateway into Clare Priory grounds.
Returning through gateway, turn right and immediately left across footbridge into Clare village. Right to church (770455). Follow A1092 Cavendish road out of town. In 300m, left up Harp Lane (773454, fingerpost); pass sheds and keep ahead through trees, following ‘Stour Valley Path/SVP’, YAs and ‘Heritage Trail’ purple arrows/HT. Opposite Hermitage Farm (775463) bear right up field edge. At top, left through hedge (778464, HT) and on along field edge, aiming to pass roofs and outbuildings of Houghton Hall (785466). In another 600m, at field bottom, right (791468, SVP, HT, fingerpost). In 150m, left and right over 2 ditches (792466, SVP, HT) and on to road at Mumford Cottages (796468). Right; in 450m, right down field edge (SVP, HT, ‘Cavendish’). At bottom (802465), left through hedge (SVP); diagonally left across field; path beside graveyard into Cavendish.
Lunch: Plenty of cafés and pubs in Clare and Cavendish.
Accommodation: George Inn, Cavendish (01787-280248, thecavendishgeorge.co.uk) – smart, stylish, comfortable