Lavenham to Long Melford Railway Walk
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Guest Blog by Rebecca Scrase on the joys of the Lavenham to Long Melford Railway Walk.
For a girl who grew up in the Lake District, you'd think that challenging, near-vertical climbs would top my walking wish list. Not for a second!
Maybe it's the memories of being dragged ( sometimes literally) up fells by my long-suffering parents (the kind that say, 'there's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing), often in cloud and drizzle, that means that for my adult life l plump for gentle, easy-going walking through quintessential English countryside every time.
It's for this reason that the Lavenham to Long Melford Railway walk is so appealing.
First tick on the wish-list is the terrain. As you'd expect from a trail that for the most part follows the old GER railway line, it's predominantly flat, which means that if, like me, your walking companions are two children under the age of ten, there's no dragging involved AT ALL.
Then there's the surroundings. Flanked in parts by woodland, in others open fields, this is true ambling, stop-and-smell-the-roses-and-just-enjoy kind of walking, the kind that is characterised as much by the flora and fauna en-route as it is by some of the best -preserved medieval architecture in the UK.
The walk starts at the historic Lavenham Guildhall, also known as the Guildhall of Corpus Christi. Originally one of the five guilds in Lavenham and easily the most exclusive, it's now a National Trust Museum and gives a fascinating insight into why the town was one of the wealthiest in Britain (because of its famous 'Lavenham Blue' woollen cloth).
From there, it's on to the walk 'proper' commencing at Lavenham 'Station' and the start of the old railway line. The station buildings are gone now, but knowing that the last passenger train passed through there over 50 years ago (1961), gives a real sense of history, albeit much more recent than much of Lavenham's past.
Continue until you see a pair of metal gates, the road crossing at Park Road, walk on until you reach Bridge Street railway bridge. Just after that, you'll see a fence which signifies the end of the 'Lavenham Walk' section, which leads on to an old railway cutting that's now been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Although this area can be soggy in winter, in the summer, the grass is left to grow, attracting a whole host of grasses, flowers and insects before being mown in late autumn. Underneath, somewhere, live rare giant snails, something my kids were desperate to see but on this occasion, remained hidden (probably for the best).
At the end of the cutting, for about a third of a mile, you'll be flanked by woodland, with Lineage Wood on the right, Paradise Wood to the left. On hot, sunny days, this provides some welcome shade but it's also the site of a rail accident when a train de-railed on 17 October 1891. Luckily, there were no fatalities but some did sustain severe injuries, something my zombie-obsessed kids were, I'm sorry to say, enthralled by.
Keeping the tree-line to the right, continue for about another kilometre until you reach another small area of woodland to your left and, after another 200m, the path turns right crossing through the wood. If you look very carefully amongst the undergrowth, you'll find a WW2 pillbox hidden there, just before reaching St Edmund Way . Turn left immediately after leaving the wood, ignoring the 'St Edmund Way' marker post, continuing instead for about 500 m before reaching the end of the field.
From there, turn right and...wait for it...there's a HILL, not a Lake District kind of hill, but after walking along flat terrain for a while we found it actually quite refreshing to climb (don't tell my parents). Keep walking until you get to the A13 Sudbury to Bury St Edmunds road (parents or people with dogs, take care, as it's quite busy) , crossing and entering the trail on the other side through a gate. Carry on for another kilometre before you reach a lane known locally as the 'Hare Drift'. It's a lovely lane, almost an avenue, which exits opposite Kentwell Hall through the Cherry Lane Garden Centre and car park.
It seems fitting that after starting the walk at one of Lavenham's most stunning buildings, that the walk ends after another 600 m or so along the A1092, at Melford Hall, another equally stunning and, with its turrets, almost a castle-like building, home to the Hyde Parker family who used to host their relation, Beatrix Potter, there. Was she sick of tramping the Lake District fells, too, I wondered? Wander around the Hall and you'll see her water-colours adorning the walls.
After a couple of hours walking through lovely countryside, stopping for refreshments in the tea room is a must.
- Distance: 4.5 miles.
- Time: 2 hours.
- Map: OS Landranger 155 or Explorer 196.
- Flora and fauna: Many species have been recorded along this disused railway line, including common and lesser whitethroat, blackcap, goldcrest, treecreeper, bullfinch, garden warbler and marsh tit - along with records of the unusual, such as pied flycatcher, redstart, whinchat, firecrest, red warbler, waxwing, little egret and red kite. The common spotted orchid flowers between May and June.
- Lavenham Guildhall: open (11am - 4pm week days, 11-5pm weekends) every day until October, after which it opens Thursday - Sunday. The tea room and shop share the same hours. Admission costs from £2.65 per child, £5.35 per adult, family tickets are available.
- Melford Hall: Open Wednesdays to Sundays until October, plus Bank Holiday Mondays. Admission prices start from £3.40 per child, £7.00 per adult, although it is possible to only view the gardens for a reduced price.
- Self-catering accommodation: Suffolk Secrets offers a choice of VisitEngland inspected holiday cottages in Lavenham, Long Melford and Kersey.
- Further information: visit our Wool Towns and Constable Country page for further information