1st May 2014 Nayland to Bures Bures to Nayland is a short distance by car. The valley road snakes for about four miles along the north side of the river Stour, through the old parishes of Wissington and Nayland, and then through the old parishes of Wissington and Nayland again, for at one time, they lay as alternate quadrants along the river bank with no geographical connection between the halves of each parish. Nowadays the map shows the civil parish of Nayland and Wissington as one. We meet at Bures, Ebb Tide, Secret Informant, Marsh Samphire and myself (Master F. has mysteriously gone missing these last couple of walks), and drive to Nayland in order to walk back to Bures.
The day had started sunny at about 7 o’clock, but swiftly turned to cloud which in turn brought rain, persistent and sometimes quite hard. This rain is going to continue for pretty much the full length of our walk, driving cows into the shelter of trees and hedgerows, and leaving sheep looking like so many saturated mops in a drive-through car wash. ‘’Once you are wet’’, Secret Informant encourages us, ‘’you cannot get any wetter’’ although this, we will discover, is not entirely true. Perhaps Master F. has access to a better weather forecast than the rest of us.
Soon into the walk we cross a field full of cows. For most of my life I have been very relaxed about walking past cows until a couple of years ago, I heard about a farmer who sustained severe injuries through being trampled by her own herd. These days, whenever I pass cows, I always keep a look out for an escape route. I have my eye firmly fixed on a four foot high barbed wire fence with a water filled ditch to its far side. I keep close to the fence. The other three are unperturbed, waving their hands occasionally to shoo the cows away, which works. ‘’they’re not dangerous ones, they’re too small’’ asserts Secret Informant with confidence.The cows follow us closely, and I am relieved to cross a stile and to suddenly recover the emotional capacity to feel sympathy for the poor damp things. Never trust a footpath diversion. A sign tells us that the footpath has been diverted, and this leads us down to Wiston church – Wissington is now more usually called Wiston – in itself no bad thing for it is a modest and attractive building, unlike the blingy Suffolk wool churches that we’ve encountered many times, and somewhat smaller than the house next to it, which may once have been the vicarage. We ignore the signs relating to privacy and entry rights, and pass into the mill garden, where the path confusingly runs out. Ebb Tide investigates the garden, which looks potentially passable except for a swan’s nest in the middle of the path. We return to the original footpath which heads north, across the valley road, and back onto St Edmund’s way. Past an ornamental lake containing a Mandarin Duck, and through a private nature reserve, and up a hill to emerge at Agar Fen (Arger Fen? Ed.). Past a house with an extension draped in blue plastic sheeting, apparently scene of a recent fire. It is unusual, in my experience, to find a fen on top of a hill, and Argar Fen ( Make up your mind. Ed.) is just such. We realise we have taken a wrong turn when we see the blue-draped house ahead of us as we approach from a different direction, however, a walk is not a walk without at least one wrong turn on its length, and this is our second, making it a very good walk indeed. An additional bonus is Secret Informant’s discovery of St George’s mushrooms by the pathside. These are named after George, a Roman soldier of Greco-Palestinian descent, patron saint of Georgia, Egypt, Bulgaria, Catalonia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Russia and Syria, and who is famous in this country, of course, for picking mushrooms, and the fact that he was outstanding in his field led him to be adopted as a mascot of the English national football team (also known for standing around on fields) and various right-wing political groups. Which is not to imply that mushroom pickers-least of all Secret Informant – adhere to either of these tendencies. We pass a sign which causes us to speculate on the standards of equine literacy in Suffolk. There are degrees of wetness. The footpath leads us through a field of oilseed rape in full bloom. The rain has eased off, and I was beginning to congratulate my self that at least my trousers were still fairly dry. Twenty yards into the rapefield, being brushed by heavily rained-upon brassica napus and my trousers are soaked; shiny and heavy with water, testing the supportive capacity of the belt which is holding them up. This continues for another 150 yards, shoes becoming heavier with the claggy clay, until the rape gives way to broad beans. The earth becomes stony and then sand as we descend a hill. We have been enthusiastically following ‘St Edmund’s Way’ for the last couple of walks, which runs from Manningtree to north of Thetford, so it is distressing to find, reading Wikipedia, that ‘’Almost nothing is known about Edmund’’. Does this mean that St Edmund’s way is a complete fabrication, a piece of marketing akin to calling the Stour Valley railway ‘The Lovejoy line’? Very hard to find any information about the history of St Edmunds way, but it was apparently a pilgrim’s route, meaning that it was travelled possibly not by St Edmund himself, but by adherents to the sizeable cult that developed in his name. Our next detour,(intentional this time) takes us to St Stephen’s chapel which was built in the 13th Century to commemorate, confusingly, St Edmund, on the spot where he was allegedly crowned king. By the 13thc, Edmund was also the patron Saint of England, although there is some confusion about this because apparently Edward the Confessor also had a claim to this title. This is not the arcane dispute that it might seem, for patron sainthood is a vibrant political issue in these parts.. Recently there was an attempt to revive Edmund, and to oust St George the mushroom slayer, who was a mere parvenu established in the 15thc. A Suffolk Radio presenter, Mark Murphy launched this campaign fearlessly. “I don’t have anything against St George, in fact I still have some cross of St George bunting left over from the World Cup hanging up in my back garden but let’s be honest he hasn’t really caught on has he?’’ A petition to this end was presented to the house of commons by the M.P. for Bury St Edmunds, who was bound to have been a Tory, for fantasy history is a fundamental article of conservative faith. Edmund was killed in the Viking wars of the late 9th century, one of his slayers being Ivar the Boneless. Now, that would be a fine name for a patron saint. Stephen’s chapel is also the place from which to view the Old Bures Dragon, whose outline is carved into the hill opposite. An information board quotes the following from the Chronicle of St Albans Abbey, written in 1405; In these days there appeared lately an evil dragon of excessive length with a huge body, crested head, saw-like teeth and elongated tail, in the land of the village of Bures near Sudbury… The locals attempted to shoot it, but the arrows sprang from its back ‘’with a jangling as if they were hitting bronze plates’’, and the dragon flew away, never to be seen again. We walk down the road into Bures, and Ebb Tide and Secret Informant are diverted by the sight of an L.E.D. streetlamp, which none of us had seen before. You read it here first. Into the pub at Nayland – a polite establishment on the banks of the Stour, where our wet and mud-bespattered appearance distinguishes us from the other patrons. ‘’Been for a walk then?’’ someone kindly enquires.