April 4th 2014
(Continued from previous.)
I recently came across the book Frontier Country, in which the author (Brian Mooney), obviously an Essex loyalist, describes how, at this particular spot near Sudbury, ‘’Suffolk bites a chunk out of Essex, pushing the border back behind a sweep of water meadow and rising valley’’. We are indeed skipping to and fro across the county line on this walk, it follows the course of the Stour until Brundon where it cuts westward, away from the river and we follow its line back across the railway on the Suffolk side before crossing back into Essex at some unmarked point along a verge planted with saplings bordering ploughed fields as yet showing no sign of springtime crops.
A small manoeuvre round a lane, passing a sign for Borley, whose rectory was once reckoned to be the most haunted house in England, and then a waypost points into a well-groomed farmyard, and we are somewhat bewildered as to which way we should take. Round a manicured pond and behind a couple of sheds a man is burning a bonfire, he cheerfully points me on my way, although is possibly slightly taken aback when the other five likewise emerge from behind the shed. We are directed across a field of young corn. ‘’They haven’t sprayed the footpath yet’’ he cautions. Sure enough, when we are halfway across the field, the footpath, which had been a fairly visible line of trodden corn, disappears completely.
We follow a hypothetical line to the edge of the field where a stretch of boggy land lies but at its far side it is a broad stream with no way of crossing. Consultation with the map confirms that we have taken a wrong turn, and the footpath follows the far side of a copse that borders the stream. More fields, blossom on the blackthorn and trees showing the first hint of green. Through a yard, and into a garden surrounding an ornamental pond – we are again confused by the local habit of planting gardens across public footpaths, however, find the way and cross a swaying stile to emerge into the village of Belchamp Walter. A brick wall runs alongside the lane, leading to a gatepost atop which sits a piece of blazonry of startling ferocity.
The wolf’s head sits on the gate post of Belchamp Hall, which Ebb Tide later discovers was used as Lady Jane’s gaff in the TV series Lovejoy, with loveable rogue antique dealers wheeling and dealing – a sort of posh ‘Fools and Horses’ – the sort of programme that became very popular during the Thatcher era. In fact Lovejoy was so popular that at one time, in an opportunistic and possibly over-enthusiastic piece of marketing by the newly-privatised railway, the Stour Valley railway was rechristened ‘The Lovejoy Line’.
Belchamp Hall marks the westernmost point of our route, and we turn back east towards Sudbury, slightly delayed by a wrong turning, leading us across two marshy fields before we realise we have gone wrong. Turning back we regain the way, and are climbing the hill towards Bulmer, a settlement of commuter cottages, once the centre of a parish with four manors, its own pest house and a parish workhouse. At this point Marsh Samphire has to leave us to travel to Norwich. Fortunately, her helicopter appears right on time, a rope ladder is lowered as it hovers over the ancient church, and she scrambles up with great agility before being whisked away into the northern skies.
Down the long and narrow sandy lane which leads back into Suffolk and straight to Sudbury. Past the house called Auberies which is where Gainsborough painted Mr and Mrs Andrews, a study of a couple, he complete with gun and gundog, she in a voluminous blue dress against a moody sky, whilst the Stour valley slopes domestically behind them towards Sudbury. The painting, says the National Gallery’s website, ‘’evokes Robert Andrew’s estate’’. John Berger gave especial attention to this painting in Ways of Seeing, citing it as an example of the way in which landscape painting was corralled into rendering nature as property in order to enhance the self-esteem of its owners. Mr and Mrs Andrews do not look as if they would have much time for the Peasant’s Revolt. The Stour Valley railway is currently ‘The Gainsborough Line’.
At the top of the sandy lane leading back to Sudbury(which is called Sandy Lane) there is a sign; unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles, which is as well for the lane dwindles progressively the further downhill you get, becoming virtually an unmade track, until it emerges, suddenly at the Sudbury Tip, and a neighbouring freight yard, from which a queue of heavy goods vehicles are emerging.
As we walk back through Sudbury to the car park, I stop to take a picture of a building. A passer-by stops and informs me that is the oldest working man’s institute in the country. I wonder if anyone can confirm this. Sudbury Local History society?