A walk along a peaceful valley, looking out for herons, kingfishers and otters.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 213ft (65m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Riverside, field-edge and cross-field paths, 12 stiles
Landscape River, meadows and farmland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 211 Bury St Edmunds & Stowmarket
Start/finish TM 123512
Dog friendliness Mostly off lead, except where livestock grazing
Parking Gipping Valley Centre
Public toilets At start of walk
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1 Follow the signs from the Gipping Valley Centre to the river. The path crosses a play area, climbs an embankment, crosses a road and descends on the far side. Turn left alongside a fence then bear right between a pair of fishing lakes. Turn right again to walk under a railway bridge and continue along the Gipping Valley River Path.
2 Turn left to cross the bridge at Great Blakenham Lock. Follow the Gipping Valley River Path markers to turn right between the houses and take the narrow passage beside Mill Cottage to return to the river. Stay on this riverside path for 1½ miles (2.4km). You pass beneath the railway line and cross a quarry access road to come to a wider stretch of river with water-meadows to your left. Pass a lock and keep straight ahead at Causeway Lake. Continue around the edge of a meadow, ignoring a footbridge to the right. Shortly afterwards, cross a stile and bear right, following the course of the river. Walk around another meadow with views of the rare breeds farm, then cross a footbridge and follow a narrow path to Baylham Mill.
3 Turn left across the bridge. Cross the railway line and turn right at the road. After 200yds (183m), cross the road and walk through the hedge to pass around the back of Moat Farm. Keep straight ahead on a wide track. Turn left then right to climb between fields until you reach a plateau with sweeping views.
4 Turn left on a field-edge path to drop into the village of Upper Street. The path swings left through a hedge and right across a meadow. Go through a gate and walk down the lane past the church and the old school.
5 At the foot of Church Lane, turn left and immediately right by a sign saying 'No horses please'. The path crosses farmland and briefly enters Devil's Grove before emerging opposite Walnut Tree Farm. Turn left along the lane and right by a pond to pass through a gate and cross a meadow. Go through another gate and keep walking ahead on a cross-field path, then follow the 'circular walk' signs past some rusting farm machinery and keep right on a farm track. Turn left to walk into the village of Great Blakenham.
6 Cross the B1113 and walk along Mill Lane. The road bends left to return to Point 2, where you can retrace your steps back to the car park at the start of the walk.
The story of the Gipping Valley is of a river which has turned full circle, from peaceful rural backwater to industrial corridor and back again in the space of 200 years. Until the late 18th century, the Gipping between Stowmarket and Ipswich was a gently flowing river, meandering through the meadows and popular with anglers and those who had the time to enjoy a walk in the fresh air. All that changed in 1790, when a team of 200 men spent three years working with picks and shovels, building locks and a tow path to turn the river into a canal. For the next hundred years, the Gipping was a hive of activity as mills, maltings and factories were built beside the river and barges travelled upstream as far as Stowmarket carrying timber, coal, bricks and malt.
The arrival of the railway brought a slow decline in river traffic and, by the early 20th century, the Gipping was abandoned and neglected, its waters polluted by industrial waste. An anonymous poem of the time aptly described its plight:
'The sludgey squdgey Gipping
Shall sleep in its fetid bed,
The symbol of human progress,
Fettered and choked and dead'
Just as rail replaced rivers, so roads replaced rail with the building of the A14 trunk road, carving a course through the heart of mid Suffolk on its way from Felixstowe to the Midlands. Much of the gravel used in the construction of the A14 was quarried from the Gipping Valley, further scarring an already damaged landscape. Out of the ashes of destruction, however, has risen a new river whose waters are once again teeming with fish and whose reed beds provide habitats for wild flowers, butterflies and birds. Otters have even returned to the river. The gravel pits have been flooded and turned into tranquil lakes, as popular with fishermen as they are with kingfishers and herons. This walk takes you along part of the Gipping Valley River Path, which runs for 17 miles (27km) from Stowmarket railway station to Ipswich docks, where the Gipping becomes the River Orwell and continues its journey to the sea. You walk beside the river on the old tow path, passing woodland, lakes and wildflower meadows in a narrow corridor between the railway and the A14. Bridges, locks and watermills provide regular reminders of the river's industrial past but these days the valley is almost totally devoted to leisure. The walk begins at the Barham picnic site, where there is a small visitor centre explaining the history and ecology of the Gipping Valley. The rangers here organise a regular programme of guided walks and events.
The Chequers at Great Blakenham serves decent pub food and has a children's play area in the garden. Drinks and snacks are also available at Baylham House rare breeds farm and walkers are welcome to use the café without visiting the farm. Alternatively, take a picnic to the picnic site at the start of the walk.
Baylham House rare breeds farm is located on the site of Combretovium, a strategic Roman fort. Children in particular will enjoy exploring the farm, with its collection of Shetland cattle, Norfolk rams, goats, chickens and kune-kune pigs. The farm is open daily from 11am to 5pm.
Keep an eye out for otters in the River Gipping. According to the rangers, they can easily be confused with mink so you need to know the signs. Adult otters are about twice the size of a domestic cat and have chocolate brown rather than dark brown or black fur. Unlike mink, whose head and body are both visible above water when swimming, the only part of an otter you will see in the water is its head.