13th June 2014
It’s Friday the thirteenth and the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures set to skyrocket into the mid-twenties. Parking next to Cavendish Church, we set off, following the Stour Valley way which passes either side of the river itself, stitching the border between Essex and Suffolk. The landscape is hilly in these parts, a little further to the north the contours show 120 metres, which is practically alpine by Essex standards. Past the pub which faces Cavendish’s sloping village green, and then the school, pausing to consider the stern edict from psalm 34 sitting over the door.
Unlucky for some.
Down a lane lined with cow parsley. A lone brimstone butterfly acid-luminous against the quickthorn, the barley by now well on its way. Through a farmyard where a flourish of opium poppies adorn a pile of rubble.
As we crest the ridge, the valley opens up in front of us, with Clare lying amongst the trees.
Down a wooded footpath into the town, where Secret Informant notices a fungus on the trees that neither he nor Ebb Tide had seen before. It seems to have a shell which is almost crustacean and clings to the dead tree like a limpet. A specimen is prised off the bark, with no little difficulty, in order to investigate it (It turns out to be Alder Bracket). The path takes us through Clare Castle Park, beneath the ruins of the Norman motte and bailey structure, and then, quite dramatically, the remains of a Victorian railway station. One of the advantages of not doing any research before walking is that things like this catch you unawares. Every information site that I have looked at subsequently mentions this as a ‘unique feature’ of the park, but it comes as a complete surprise to me.
A sign on the road announces Claret Hall, and our path takes us down its driveway.
This now blamelessly comfortable-looking house was apparently a wreck in the late 70’s when it was rented by prog-rock band The Enid. Left high and dry by the arrival of punk, they built a recording studio there in which Kim Wilde recorded her hits.
We stand by a silo on an open hillside overlooking Stoke-by-Clare to the east. The place-name ‘Stoke’ is fairly ubiquitous across England and we are wondering about its provenance, and it turns out (thanks again S.I. for the research) that it derives from the old English Stoc meaning place, and became refined by usage to mean either a religious settlement or a secondary settlement, so the various Stokes that we have come across on this route presumably mean ‘Not-so-important-place-near Clare’ or Nayland or wherever.
It is hot and the hottest part of the day, so we stop for a water break. It is not unusual when you’re wandering around the countryside to find empty bottles lying around, the spores of clandestine social gatherings. What is very unusual is to find a beer bottle that is still unopened. In fact probably as unique as Clare’s castle and railway station and well worth a visit. We left the bottle in situ, and the map reference is as follows; TL 757438.
Into Stoke-by-Clare, where signs on the village green advertise opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and talk in the local shop is of who is doing what to carry the campaign forward. Behind a school, a local resident monitors us…
…and the path winds through a riverside meadow and into woodland. We emerge into Baythorne End park, a seventeenth century manor house sits atop a sweep of parkland, its architecture gracefully echoed by a stately wooden shed, porticoed, that overlooks the boating lake. Baythorne End sits between two disused railways, the Colne Valley line from Chapell, via Halstead to Haverhill – ‘The line that never killed a passenger and never paid a dividend’ – and the line from Long Melford toward Haverhill. Our path takes us under a bridge carrying the remains of this latter, and we head up a lane, turn left up a final incline through a field, and back to Sturmer.