6th June 2014
No Parking on the Croft the sign enjoins, The Croft being an approximately triangular grass sward leading down to the River Stour in Sudbury. It is fringed with trees and parked cars, and Ebb Tide manages to squeeze his estate into a tight space with impressive accuracy. Down by the river, parents with children are feeding ducks, and scores of fish flicker lazily in the sun-dappled water, secure beneath a ‘No Angling’ notice. We cross a bridge, Ebb Tide, Secret Informant and I, and on to the water meadows. We walk straight into a herd of cows.
Regular readers will know that I am less than enthusiastic about walking close to cattle and I indicate a path, hopefully, that leads us away from the herd. ‘’we want to go to that bridge’’ says Secret Informant decisively, pointing to a path that goes straight through the middle of the herd. I feel that Ebb Tide and Secret informant have possibly missed a vocation because they are supremely confident at shooing off cattle and might have done well on the great plains of America in the late 19th century. We reach the bridge safely. We are retracing the steps we took earlier this year, heading towards Brundon mill, where we take the trail that follows the disused railway line from Sudbury to Long Melford. The trail is fairly well populated with dog walkers and a couple of horse riders.
We leave the line before it reaches Melford and the path we are following moves as if to bypass the town. We pass a signpost from which the village of Pentlow has been mysteriously whitewashed out, which triggers Secret Informant’s memories of his schooldays in Salisbury and of the village of Imber which had been evacuated and taken over by the military in 1943. He had a teacher who was a member of the committee of 100 whose car had a sticker; ‘Remember Imber’. Pentlow however, has suffered no such fate. We drive through it on the way back to check and it is still very much there, and features clearly on other signposts.
Towards the village of Liston with an ancient church, then across water meadows containing another herd of cows. Cows of course, are rarely dangerous and the only time when you have to be particularly careful is when mothers have calves nearby.
Past a football ground (‘Please keep off. Area has been treated with weedkiller’), onto a cricket ground, down an alley in which there is a sign reminding us that ‘There’s no such thing as the dog poo fairy’ and before we have time to fully consider the implications of this, we are pitched into Long Melford High Street.
By now, it is hot and the tea shops of Long Melford are doing a brisk trade. There are beauty salons, barbers, boutiques and a shop selling financial instruments (‘Tailored solutions to suit your business needs’). Another shop is selling wooden boxes, which are piled outside. They are constructed to look like old-fashioned grocer’s delivery boxes with a handle inbuilt across the top and the names of tradesmen on the side who may or may not have existed, the kind of boxes which might nowadays be used for gardening trugs by those of a fanciful disposition. They are about a eighteen inches long and eight wide, maybe six inches deep. They sell for £25 each, and bespeak a deep desire for nostalgia, and a preparedness to pay for it.
Long Melford Hall sits on the east side of the high street, stately in its red-brick Tudority. The gatehouse alone could accommodate a family of 16. No one knows exactly when it was built, and it is still lived in by the Hyde Parker family (I wonder if there is a Finsbury Parker family or a Victoria Parker family, or even perhaps a Gidea Parker family), although it was given to the National Trust in the 1960s. Beatrix Potter was a relation and visited regularly. I have never been particularly fond of the works of Ms Potter, despite my parents’ best efforts, however, my grandson is avid for Peter Rabbit, so I was disappointed to see that we had missed a Mr Macgregor’s Garden day.
Up the short hill to the church, through the churchyard and the footpath takes us through a horse farm, and we are directed by the wayposts through (Too many ‘throughs’. Ed)an unusual metal and chain style (‘’Have you seen one of these before?’’ I ask Ebb Tide. ‘’There’s another one over there.’’ He replies wittily, pointing to the other side of the track.) and into a small wood, across a meadow –nice view of Melford Church behind us – which takes us to the drive of Kentwell Hall, stately in its moated Tudority. Had we wished to visit the hall, it is plain that we would have arrived on the wrong day;
But we hadn’t and we continue without disappointment, pausing only to admire the Tudor concept of what constitutes suitable accommodation for doves.
The rest of the walk takes us through mainly arable farm land, which is good because it means no cows. We are sad to reach the point where St Edmund’s way and the Stour Valley path part company. St Edmund’s trail heads north to the town that bears his name. We turn west. The paths are well-maintained, indeed we are able to observe footpath maintenance at close quarters as a couple of tractor lawnmowers bear down upon us as we climb towards Glemsford village.
The barley is beginning to turn and the oilseed rape to darken. Cavendish village lies in a fold in the low hills and is concealed from us until we are upon it. It has a more than usual number of vintage cars on its streets, and , speaking to the owner of one, he tells me that there is a rally the following morning and that cars have arrived from as far as Kent and Wiltshire, which are considerable distances in a Morris 8 with a flat-out speed of 40 m.p.h. Further on, there is an MG parked next to a Morgan and they, I imagine, might go a little faster.