11 miles (18 kilometres) with lovely son and silly dog. Circular walk through Suffolk villages. August, sunny with light breeze. Flat as the proverbial.
TL;DR A very long walk to the shops to get an ice cream. The path disappears and we find a Bank Holiday fête.
If it’s possible to be in a more tranquil and rural backwater then I’ve never found one. In this part of Suffolk the earth is as flat as the cardiogram of a dead mole we found, and the pace of life is almost as slow. It’s August Bank Holiday weekend, and we’re a thousand miles and several shots of adrenalin from Carnival.
Mellis Common is how England would have looked a few hundred years ago before common grazing land was taken from the villagers into private hands. It’s a huge expanse of grassland now designated a nature reserve and the farms are dotted around the edges. There is no shop and a pub which marches to the beat of its own drum in regards to opening hours.
In other words, it’s a peaceful idyll and we’ve never breathed so much air, or seen so many speckled wood butterflies. At night we lie on a blanket in the railway field and watch the bats until the light fades completely so then we stare at the stars and count satellites.
But today we’ve decided to see the lie of the land (flat) and the other villages hereabouts. You never really know a place until you’ve walked it. Besides, we fancy an ice cream.
We head across the common to the village and as soon as we reach it we leave it up Dam Lane. The breeze is making the trees creak and through the trees I can see either side is the now typical Suffolk August sight, dry golden wheat stubble fields, parched and baked. Suddenly we spot a hare capering through the field. We watch it for several minutes as it runs, stops, sits up and runs again. It seems huge, I love hares immensely, it always seems a privilege to meet one.
We’re heading for Wortham and the Village Shop. We don’t need much (which is fortunate as the shop is tiny) but we buy lunch of local ewes cheese and crackers and some bread for later and eat at a table outside. The Wortham village pub has gone, we later find another in Gislingham also gone, I hope someone comes along to rescue them, this one is looking very forlorn with grasses overtaking the beer garden. If they don’t hurry the whole place will be devoured by vegetation.
We’re now heading to Burgate where there’s a blackberry bush that lovely son swears has the finest crop he has found in Suffolk. On the way we walk through some rather excellent fields which belong to the nursery, rows and rows of hardy perennials, many in flower. For someone who used to run a garden centre this is an excellent field: buttery Hemerocallis, Echinops, Phlox, lovely furry Stachys byzantina.
At the hamlet of Burgate we circumnavigate the wood, the shade is very welcome, before we are walking on paths through the middle of fields. Some of the paths are tiny, it must be awesome before the crops are cut. It’s a long and golden path following a water channel which summer has swallowed up, and there are wild hops in the hedgerows.
After a little welcome copse where we stop for water, at Stubbings Entry (misnamed, Stubbings Entry is firmly shut) things start to go wrong. Firstly there’s a giant tortoise which seems weird. Then the footpath disappears. It looks like the farmer has ploughed it over and we are now walking across a long stubble field, or trying to. We can see where we think we are heading so we plough on. Briefly we find the path again before it disappears once more, swallowed up by wheat stalks and hard clods and i’m disoriented. Shovell is struggling, we are now bickering and there’s no way round to another route. We decide to carry him, he can’t walk on it. At least one of us is happy.
It’s with huge relief we come through a gap in the hedge to find the path clearly laid out again in the next field (thanks farmer) and we start to feel positive about Gislingham. And Gislingham rewards us very well, because as we enter the village we see a sign on the village green announcing it is Bank Holiday flower festival and would we like some tea and cake. Damn right we’d like tea and cake, for we have been sorely tested and we’ve earned a victoria sponge.
The flower festival turns out to be in the church, which is all very Village Green Preservation Society, and very lovely and we briefly get excited about the tombola. Then a tractor comes by pulling a car and we wonder just how much more excitement we can take. We cast our votes for best flower display and then after an ice cream from the (well stocked) village shop it’s time to head home. I’ve spoken to more people in the last 30 minutes than i’ve spoken to in 3 weeks and it’s exhausting. It’s a relief to plod back to Mellis and see the empty common again, knowing the only voices we will hear this evening is a yelling deer and Shovell barking at every conceivable invisible member of wildlife.
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The GPX for this walk can be found here. The Ordnance Survey map for this area of Suffolk is Explorer 230. Please shop in indie bookshops if you can.
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