Walk This Way
A wealth of waymarked trails and off-road routes mean it’s easy to explore Suffolk on foot.
Sensible footwear and a sense of adventure are the only essentials for a walk – and from leg-stretchers through forests and farmland to family strolls around historic sites, Suffolk is full of opportunities for those who want to get out of the car and back to sightseeing basics.
Several well-known and some long-distance paths run through the county, including the Suffolk Way – a 113-mile route that starts at Flatford and finishes at Lowestoft – while, close to the border with Norfolk, the Waveney Valley Walks are a series of circular routes that follow the 77-mile Angles Way. Elsewhere, other challenges include the Stour Valley Path that threads through Constable Country, the Mid Suffolk Footpath that links Hoxne to Stowmarket and, closer to the coast, the 60-mile Sandlings Walk that meanders between Ipswich and Southwold.
Early summer each year sees the start of the Suffolk Walking Festival. An ideal way to explore the region on foot, walks cater for all – from easy to difficult, with the kids or with your four-legged friends. Pub and teashop stops are often scheduled for those who need some encouragement to keep going, while a series of Fringe events continues the fun.
Ancient forests and woodlands cover much of the county, so they’re a natural choice for a nice family walk. Rendlesham Forest – infamous for reports by the US Air Force of UFO sightings in 1980 – has numerous trails to follow and an amazing play area complete with climbing frames, log tunnels and adventure courses. And on the other side of the county, near to Thetford, Santon Downham transforms from an off-the-beaten-track destination midweek to one that’s very well known – and busy –at weekends. The River Little Ouse runs through the forest and there is a good chance of seeing deer, kingfishers, crossbills and woodpeckers during your visit.
Nearby, Brandon Country Park is a woodland with a range of trails, beautiful at any time of year but especially in late summer when the heathland turns purple as the heather blooms, and in autumn when the arboretum is ablaze with colour. In prehistoric times Brandon was a flint-mining town, and its ancient flint mine is the only one of its kind open to the public. Today it’s also known as the doorway to The Brecks – one of the great natural areas of Britain, spanning 370 square miles across Norfolk and Suffolk.
For slightly more manicured surroundings, plan a trip to Thornham Walks, a landscaped parkland criss-crossed by 12 miles of paths and part of the Thornham Estate to the north of Ipswich. A café, restaurant, folly, pets’ cemetery and walled garden add to the interest here.
Suffolk is home to many historic houses and ancient castles, and there are walks to be enjoyed around all – Clare Castle Country Park, for example, is the setting for a series of six walks varying in distance from two to seven miles. Fantastic views of another favourite Suffolk castle, Framlingham, are found on the The Brownsord Way, a circular 11-mile route that can be shortened thanks to several cleverly-planned access and exit points. The walk gives panoramic views of the town including the castle, church and college, and passes through undulating farmland and along woodland tracks which are a haven for native plants as well as wildlife.
The National Trust cares for many of the county’s major attractions and actively welcomes walkers. Starting from Manningtree Station, its Flatford and Constable walking trail – featured in ITV's Britain's Favourite Walks: Top 100 – is a four to seven mile walk that explores the picturesque Stour Valley and Dedham Vale, made famous by the 18th-century paintings of John Constable.
The hauntingly beautiful Sutton Hoo estate, home to one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time, is the setting for a three-mile walk that links the visitor centre with the River Deben and the wider surrounding landscape.
Close to Bury St Edmunds, Ickworth Park can be traced back to Domesday. Originally managed as a working estate, its modern status as a pleasure ground dates back only as far as the early 18th century. A number of waymarked routes and cross-country paths will take you through diverse habitats and scenery, including some remote areas and ancient woodland where you might enjoy see deer.
Wildlife, wildflowers and wool are all themes for a self-guided walk from Lavenham to Long Melford, largely following the route of the old GER Lavenham to Long Melford railway line. Alternatively, the Melford Hall to Sudbury Three Mills walk starts from Long Melford and meanders through Sudbury's famed water meadows and past old water mills before ending at Gainsborough's House and then his statue in Sudbury Market Place.
A circular route around Clare and Cavendish allows you to explore two more picture-perfect Suffolk Wool Towns. It’s a challenging walk with climbs and descents, gates and stiles en route, but there are pubs at each end to reward your effort.
And some of Suffolk’s religious history can be discovered on an Angels and Pinnacles walk, which takes you on a tour of four churches – Woolpit, Rattlesden, Shelland and Hessett – to combine the best of the countryside with the county’s magnificent medieval heritage.
Suffolk’s well known for its friendliness, but three locations here have special Walkers are Welcome accreditation: Clare, Eye and Shotley have each met the criteria for membership of this national initiative that promotes walker-friendly towns. Walkers are Welcome aims to encourage towns to be attractive destinations for walkers, with top quality information on local walks, excellent walking opportunities, and well maintained, improved and signposted footpaths and facilities.
So what are you waiting for? Dust off your walking boots and book your next walking holiday in Suffolk.
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Photo credit: @spanielLife on Instagram
Written by Gill Bendall