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Lavenham Wool Town

Explore the rolling countryside around one of Suffolk's prettiest towns.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 197ft (60m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field-edge paths and tracks, some stretches of road

Landscape Rolling farmland and attractive town

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 196 Sudbury, Hadleigh & Dedham Vale; 211 Bury St Edmonds & Stowmarket

Start/finish TL 914489 (on Explorer 196)

Dog friendliness Farmland - keep dogs under control

Parking Church Street car park (free), Lavenham

Public toilets At car park

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1 Turn right out of the car park and walk down the hill into town. At the first junction, turn right along Bear's Lane. Continue on this road for ¼ mile (400m) until the last house, then take the footpath to the right across the fields. After another ¼ mile (400m), you reach a field boundary. Turn left across a small footbridge and follow a ditch to rejoin the road.

2 Turn right and walk past Weaner's Farm, then turn left at a footpath sign just before a barn. Stay on this path as it swings around Bear's Lane Farm, then turn left on to a wide track beside a hedge. Walk along this track as it drops down to the valley bottom. When the track bends right towards Abbot's Hall, keep straight ahead and fork to the right on a grassy path beside a stream.

3 Emerging from a poplar grove, you arrive at a concrete drive where you must turn right and immediately left. The path swings round to the right to reach a road, Cock Lane. Turn left and stay on this road as it climbs and then descends to a crossroads.

4 Cross the A1141 into Brent Eleigh. When the road bends, with the village hall and half-timbered Corner Farm to your right, keep straight ahead to climb to St Mary's Church. It's worth looking into the church to see the late 13th-century wall paintings and 17th-century box pews. Continue climbing up the same road.

5 When the road swings sharply to the right, look for a path on the left. Stay on this path for about 1¼ miles (2km) as it winds between tall hedges with occasional glimpses of open countryside. Emerging into the daylight, there is a wonderful view of the church tower at Lavenham standing proudly above the town. Walk past Clayhill Farm and descend into the valley, crossing a white-painted bridge.

6 Turn left at the junction and walk into Lavenham along Water Street, with its fine timber-framed houses. Just after De Vere House, turn right up Lady Street, passing the tourist office on the way to the market place. Turn left down narrow Market Lane to arrive at High Street opposite the picturesque Crooked House. Turn briefly left and then right along Hall Road. Before the road bends, look for a footpath on the left, then walk through a meadow to reach Lavenham church. The car park is across the road.

Lavenham is possibly the best-preserved medieval town in England. During the 15th and 16th centuries it grew rich on the wool trade, exporting cloth to Europe, Africa and Asia. At one time its people paid more in taxes than those of Lincoln and York. Merchants and clothiers built the half-timbered houses that still attract visitors today. At times, when tourist coaches clog the High Street, Lavenham is just too pretty for its own good.

Lavenham is an open-air museum of medieval architecture. When the wool trade declined, nothing took its place, with the result that the town centre retains its medieval street plan, a network of lanes fanning out from the market square with its 16th-century cross. Entire streets, such as Water Street, are lined with crooked, half-timbered houses, delicately colour-washed in ochre, mustard and Suffolk pink. Look out, too, for the pargeting such as the Tudor rose and fleur-de-lis on the façade of the Swan Inn.

The artist John Constable went to school here, at the Old Grammar School in Barn Street. One of his friends was Jane Taylor, who wrote the nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (1806) at nearby Shilling Grange. But the biggest name in Lavenham's history has been that of the de Vere family. Aubrey de Vere was granted the manor by his brother-in-law William the Conqueror. Four centuries later, John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, led Henry VII's victorious army at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. This was the final battle of the Wars of the Roses and it was in thanks for his safe return that local merchants built the parish church of St Peter and St Paul. One of the largest parish churches in England, its 141ft (43m) flint tower dominates the skyline. With its rich Gothic tracery, coffered roof, graceful arches, columns and aisles, it is also one of the finest examples of the Perpendicular style.

This walk combines a visit to Lavenham with a gentle country stroll. To give yourself time to explore the town, follow the main walk out into the fields on either side of a broad river valley before ending up at the market square where you can visit the Guildhall and wander the medieval lanes. For a longer walk, extend your stroll by taking Walk 39 to reach two delightful villages to the north east - and still be back at Lavenham in time for tea.

What to look for

The village sign at Brent Eleigh, designed by a local artist in 2000, has aroused mixed feelings among villagers. It features a knight with helmet and shield, rising above some flames ('brent' means 'burnt', suggesting that a large fire took place here). Look for the tiny shamrock on the foot of the post - perhaps a sign that the artist was Irish.

While you're there

The 16th-century timber-framed Guildhall on the south side of the market place was the headquarters of the cloth-making industry and has subsequently been used as a town hall, workhouse and prison. It is now administered by the National Trust. The displays include a museum, an exhibition on the history of the wool trade, a working loom and a walled garden where plants used for dyeing wool are grown. It is open daily from May to September and at weekends from March to November, but closed in winter.

Where to eat and drink

The Angel and the Swan at Lavenham are medieval inns offering a full range of bar snacks and hot meals. For sandwiches and teas, try the Food for Thought tea rooms opposite the Guildhall on Market Place. Other alternatives are the Cock Inn beside the Church Street car park and the Cock Inn at Brent Eleigh, halfway round the walk.

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