20th June 2014
The River Stour turns north and we follow it. Today we will cross three counties,starting in Essex and moving quickly into Suffolk, skirting the Cambridgeshire border at Great Widgham Wood, turning into that county to join the Icknield Way just south of Stetchworth.
It is an uneventful start. The path leaves Sturmer northward through the hamlet of Roost End, then takes a counter-intuitive bend to the south straight across the heart of a large pea-field, followed by barley where we are able to note the continuing progress of the yield along the colour continuum from green to gold. The footpath at first overgrown, old and underused, suddenly becomes close-cropped, a likely sign that Essex has stopped and we have crossed the county line, for we have known and observed at first hand, that the footpaths of Suffolk are neatly mown. The Stour, to our right lies in a deeply verdant ditch, and we walk at tree top height.
Cat flaps in a fence alongside a field of barley. Well, most likely badger flaps, we surmise. It would be a surprise if rabbits and foxes were accorded that kind of respect in these parts. This one is situated along the footpath, close to a set, just about discernible in the photograph.
Into the well appointed village of Kedington which has an enormous playing field and a community centre which contains a library. It has allotments and a ‘primary academy’ (‘’Appreciating what we have, aspiring to greater things’’). It also has a shop and a pub, draped in England flags, and we experience the sense of poignancy that occurs at regular 4-yearly intervals the day after the England team have been unceremoniously dumped out of the world cup and the optimistic bunting has not been taken down.
We have crossed the river at Kedington, and beside it to our left lies the enormous plant of Karro foods, producers of pork-related products on a large scale. Through a field of inquisitive horses, whose proximity to the pork factory, I am sure, is coincidental.
I always have an eye out for eccentric signage, and we come across the following, placed in front of an impenetrable thicket of nettles, buddleia and brambles, whilst the footpath takes a clear, crop-sprayed line to the right across a corn field.
Through well manicured parkland, with notices warning us of the potential presence of cows with calves. Fortunately for my peace of mind, there are none.
The park is bordered with elaborate double and sometimes triple fencing. There is a complex of mid 19thc barns, and one much older. A walled garden, and an adjacent church. More a village than a farm. The centrepiece of this is Great Thurlow Hall. With Tudor traces, the house in its present state is mainly Georgian, and was the home in the early mid 18thc to tory MP Sir Cordel Firebrace, currently in the hands of the Vestey family, famous for Oxo and Dewhurst the butchers. It is obviously a working cattle farm.
As we approach the hall, the parkland is separated from the formal gardens by a haw-haw , a ditch designed to keep cattle out, whilst preserving the illusion of an unbroken vista for proprietorial overview(More usually known as a ha-ha and not to be confused with Lord Haw Haw, the propagandist for Nazi Germany. Ed.).
Then to Little Thurlow with a venerable-looking church with unusual round windows. These are 17th century, and the church is dotted with features from an 800 year history. The font is apparently 12thc, although the church itself dates from the 14thc and the tower the 15th. We do not go in on this occasion, in fact, the church looks as if it might be locked. Later research conducted by Secret Informant reveals these details. A good account of the church here.
The site also refers to this area as ‘The Greats and Littles’, there are Great and Little Wratting (which we have by-passed), Thurlow and Bradbury. We take a wrong turning somewhere after Little Bradbury. When we realise, we recalibrate where we are on the map, incorrectly. We take what turns out to be a right turning, but as we are reading the map wrong, we don’t know this. We end up, after a deal of head-scratching, following the right path in the wrong direction for several hundred yards before we are able to re-orient correctly. No walk is entirely complete without a wrong turning, and this one was particularly rewarding, being wrong on several different levels.
The path, as it leads into Cambridgeshire is mostly a shaded tunnel of trees, running for probably a couple of miles. We reach the point at which the Stour valley path joins the Icknield way, part of an unbroken ancient trade route running from Wiltshire via the Ridgeway, joining the Peddars way to north Norfolk. Ebb Tide has walked most of this, and we pause to bask in his reflected glory.
We not so far from Newmarket. This is expensive-horse country, studded with stud farms, and forbidding signs.
The path takes us across a gallop, somewhat paradoxically as we by now are moving somewhere between a very slow crawl and a snail’s pace.
We reckon we’ve walked between 12 and 15 miles. Crossing the field into Stetchworth, we have a cheery encounter with a couple of dog walkers. ‘You’ve walked from Sturmer? That must be 25 miles’. We defer to an independent arbiter.