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A walk through the landscape that inspired one of England's greatest artists.
Distance 3.7 miles (6km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 246ft (75m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Roads, field paths and riverside meadows, 9 stiles
Landscape Pastoral landscapes of Stour Valley
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 196 Sudbury, Hadleigh & Dedham Vale
Start/finish TM 069346
Dog friendliness Dogs should be kept mostly on leads
Parking Free car park next to Red Lion, East Bergholt
Public toilets In car park and at Flatford visitor information centre
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 Turn right out of the car park, past the Red Lion pub and the post office, then turn right along a lane, noting Constable's early studio on the left. Continue along this lane, past a chapel and a cemetery, through a gate and down the left side of a meadow to cross a footbridge. Climb the path on the far side for marvellous views of the Stour Valley and the church towers at Dedham and Stratford St Mary.
2 Turn left at a junction of paths to walk down Dead Lane, a sunken footpath signposted 'Dedham Road'. At the foot of the hill, turn left on to a field-edge path. The path goes right then left to cross a stile on the edge of Fishpond Wood. Walk beside the wood for a few paces, then climb another stile into a field and walk beside the hedge to your right. The path switches to the other side of the hedge and back again before bending left around a belt of woodland to Fen Lane.
3 Turn right along the lane, crossing a cart bridge and ignoring footpaths to the left and to the right as you continue towards the wooden-arched Fen Bridge. Cross the bridge and turn left to walk beside the River Stour towards Flatford on the wide open pasture of the flood plain.
4 Cross a bridge to return to the north bank of the river beside Bridge Cottage. Turn right here, passing a restored dry dock on the way to Flatford Mill.
5 Walk past Willy Lott's House and turn left past the car park. An optional loop here, on a National Trust permissive path, leads right around the outside of Gibbonsgate Field beside a newly planted hedge. Otherwise, keep left on a wide track and go through the gate to join another National Trust path through Miller's Field. Stay on this path as it swings left and climbs to the top of the field, then go straight ahead through a kissing gate, crossing two stiles to reach a T-junction of footpaths. Turn left here along the edge of the meadow and continue down the drive of Clapper Farm to reach Flatford Road.
6 Turn right along the road. At the crossroads, turn left passing the King's Head pub and Haywain Tea Rooms on the way back to East Bergholt. Stay on the pavement on the right side of the road to walk through the churchyard and return to the start of the walk.
John Constable (1776-1837), the greatest English landscape painter of all time, was born in East Bergholt and spent his childhood among the leafy lanes and pastoral landscapes of Dedham Vale. Even after he moved to London to join the Royal Academy, he returned to Suffolk each summer to draw fresh inspiration from the bucolic scenery of meadows, valleys, rivers, farmland and boats. He claimed to have seen pictures in these scenes long before he ever picked up a pencil and they remained his favourite subject throughout his life. 'I associate my careless boyhood with all that lies on the banks of the Stour. Those scenes made me a painter and I am grateful,' he wrote.
This walk takes you through the heart of Constable Country, which looks remarkably as it did when he painted it. Artists can still be seen with sketchbooks in hand, painting in the open air as Constable used to do. Several of his best-known works were painted in the vicinity of Flatford Mill, a watermill once owned by Golding Constable, the artist's father. The mill itself is now an environmental studies centre but you can stand outside and gaze across the mill pond at Willy Lott's House, familiar to art lovers around the world from its appearance in The Hay Wain. Willy Lott was a local farmer who lived in this house for 84 years and is said never to have travelled further than the churchyard of East Bergholt, where he is buried. Constable saw his friend Willy Lott as a symbol of the stability of the English countryside and this painting, more than any other, has come to represent the essence of rural England. It is on display in the National Gallery in London.
The walk passes a number of sights associated with John Constable. His childhood home, East Bergholt House, is no longer there but a plaque on the railings marks the spot. His first studio is near by. On Fen Lane you walk along the route which Constable took on his way to school in Dedham each morning. Best of all, you get to stand in the places where Constable produced some of his finest paintings, such as The Cornfield, The White Horse and Boat Building at Flatford Mill. If you want to know more, the National Trust organises one-hour guided walks from Bridge Cottage in summer, where you visit the scenes of the paintings in the company of an art expert. Constable Country has become a popular place to visit and it can get crowded on summer weekends. If you can, come during the week or out of season, when the landscapes take on a completely different hue.
Bridge Cottage at Flatford is a 16th-century thatched cottage owned by the National Trust, with a free exhibition on Constable and his paintings. The Granary, along the road to Flatford Mill, is a black-timbered, thatched farmhouse with a museum of rural bygones and rowing boats for hire on the river.
Don't miss the medieval bell cage in the churchyard at East Bergholt, erected in 1531. The church bells here are some of the heaviest in England, weighing approximately 4¼ tons (4.3 tonnes). The oldest dates back to 1450. The bells are still rung by hand on Sunday mornings. Near by, in a corner of the churchyard, is the tomb of John Constable's parents, Golding and Ann Constable.
The Red Lion, at the start of the walk, offers typical pub fare including daily vegetarian specials. Children are welcome to eat in the garden. The National Trust tea rooms at Bridge Cottage serves light lunches and snacks. Other options near the end of the walk are the King's Head and the Haywain Tea Rooms in the Burnt Oak district of East Bergholt.