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Charsfield - 'Akenfield' Then and Now

Read the classic book then walk the landscape around a village immortalised in literature.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 262ft (80m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths, farm tracks, meadows, lanes, 2 stiles

Landscape Rolling countryside of arable farmland and orchards

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 212 Woodbridge & Saxmundham

Start/finish TM 254564

Dog friendliness On lead on farmland

Parking Charsfield village hall

Public toilets None on route

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Walk along The Street from the village hall, passing the Three Horseshoes pub. When you reach the Baptist chapel, turn left and walk up Chapel Lane. The road bends left and climbs to a summit with good views over the village and the tower of St Peter's Church.

2 Turn right at the end of the lane. After 100yds (91m), turn left on to Magpie Street and stay on this lane for about ¾ mile (1.2km) passing apple orchards on the left. Just after Pear Tree Farm, go left through the hedge on to a field-edge path. Keep to the left-hand side of the field and turn right on a grassy track that runs through an orchard where blackcurrants are grown. Bear right around a hedge and keep straight ahead on a paved track that passes between apple, pear and plum trees before descending to The Hall.

3 Turn left along the road. For a short cut, you could stay on this road to reach Point 5. For a longer walk, turn right in 150yds (137m) on to a cross-field path. At the far side of the field, keep straight ahead on a grassy track to climb towards a distant line of poplar trees, then continue ahead along the side of the next field.

4 Turn left past an old barn and fork left by a pond to walk past Moat Hall and along Martins Lane. After 600yds (549m), turn left across a meadow that runs behind a white house. The path turns right, bears left around a field, then turns sharply right as it approaches a line of trees. Look for a gap in the hedge and scramble across a ditch to reach a field with a huge oak tree at its centre. Turn right here along the edge of the field. In the corner of the field, take the overgrown path through the hedge and turn left on to a wide orchard track. At the end of the orchard, turn left and immediately right to cross a plank bridge through the hedgerow and bear diagonally right across three meadows to reach a road.

5 Turn right along the road, signposted 'Charsfield Street'. After 400yds (366m), turn left on to a wide track that climbs between fields. Turn right at a path junction and stay on this path across the fields, passing the small primary school before reaching St Peter's Church. Turn right and walk downhill to return to the start of the walk.

In 1969, the poet Ronald Blythe produced a book that has come to be seen as a classic account of English village life. In it he recorded the memories of a generation of farm workers and painted an affectionate portrait of a way of life that was disappearing fast. The book was called Akenfield and it was based on the village of Charsfield.

Blythe claimed never to have heard of oral history, but that is what Akenfield is. The book comes alive with the voices of the villagers, from the wheelwright and the saddler, to the gravedigger and the district nurse. Farmers, schoolteachers, horsemen and thatchers all gave him interviews and the result is a fascinating collection of tales. We hear from the doctor, the priest, the union leader and the Chairman of the Women's Institute, the magistrate, the vet and the survivors of World War One.

In many ways Charsfield was, and still is, a typical Suffolk village. It is not particularly pretty - in fact, says Blythe, if it was ever threatened by Ipswich overspill it is doubtful whether any preservation society would bother to save it. It has a mix of old cottages and modern council housing. And yet, according to Blythe, with its 'tall old church on the hillside, a pub selling the local brew, a pretty stream, a football pitch, a school with jars of tadpoles in the window, three shops with doorbells? it is the kind of place in which an Englishman has always felt it his right and duty to live.'

Even as Blythe wrote the book, Charsfield was changing. Mechanisation meant that the blackcurrants no longer had to be picked by hand. Incoming professionals were building new bungalows on the hillsides. Many of the older residents had never left the village except to fight in the war, and a trip to Ipswich or even Wickham Market was once a major event. Now there were people who travelled each day to Ipswich to work, and there was even one businessman who commuted to London. As you walk around the village today on a quiet weekday afternoon, you can be sure that number has increased. The shops have gone and the fields are mostly empty of workers, though at least the pub and the school have survived.

Akenfield is a hymn to the Suffolk countryside and to a way of life which has been lost. Blythe does not romanticise rural poverty. We meet Davie, born in 1887, who cannot read or write and has lived alone in the same house since his parents died when he was ten years old. You would be unlikely to meet anyone like Davie in Charsfield today.

What to look for

Much of the land around Charsfield was replanted with fruit orchards after it changed hands in the late 19th century and the new owners decided to replace the traditional cereal crops. Among the fruit trees and bushes you will see on this walk are apples, pears, plums, blackcurrants and gooseberries.

Where to eat and drink

The only option on this walk is the Three Horseshoes at Charsfield, a recently refurbished free house offering a good selection of local ales and home-cooked food.

While you're there

Easton Farm Park, 3 miles (4.8km) north east of Charsfield, is an award-winning model farm with a Victorian dairy, a working blacksmith's forge and rare breeds of farm animals. Children can have great fun here feeding the animals and watching the cows being milked, and there are also free pony rides and an indoor play barn. The tea room offers local food and wine, and local produce is also available at the farmers' markets which are held on the fourth Saturday of each month.

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