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Rowley, Poley, Hartest and Boxted

Discover a link with a well-known nursery rhyme on the rooftop of Suffolk.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 394ft (120m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Quiet country roads, footpaths and bridleways

Landscape Views over Suffolk from high farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 211 Bury St Edmunds & Stowmarket

Start/finish TL 833525

Dog friendliness Keep dogs on leads

Parking Hartest village hall

Public toilets None on route

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1 Turn left out of the village hall car park and cross the road to reach the village sign. Continue along the south side of the green, passing the Crown Inn and All Saints Church. Keep on this road as it bends to the right, leaving the village behind to climb Hartest Hill. Along the way you pass a peaceful burial ground.

2 When you reach a public footpath leading off to the right, pause at the summit of Hartest Hill to admire the extensive views over High Suffolk and Hartest nestling in its own little valley. Stay on this road for a further ¾ mile (1.2km). Turn right when you get to the junction to reach Gifford's Hall and continue until you reach the next bend in the road.

3 When the road swings left at Dales Farm, keep straight ahead on a bridleway, which clings to hedges and field edges as it descends towards Boxted. When you reach a road, turn right to walk into the village itself.

4 Turn left when you see a sign to Boxted church. Cross the bridge over the River Glem and stay on this road as it climbs out of the village. When the road divides, keep left. About ½ mile (800m) after leaving Boxted, you reach the church, hidden among the trees, with views over Boxted Hall from the churchyard. Retrace your steps into Boxted (for a short cut, you could leave this section out, but you would be missing one of the high points of the walk). Returning to the start of Point 4, turn left, pass the electricity sub station and keep left towards Hawkedon when the road divides.

5 Approaching the first house on the left, look for a public footpath, half-hidden between tall hedges to your right. This path is known as Roger's Lane. At times it can become very muddy and overgrown, in which case a simpler alternative is to go back to the junction and return to Hartest by road. Otherwise, keep on this path as it ascends the hill.

6 When you get to the top of Roger's Lane, turn right along the road to descend into Hartest village, with more wonderful views. The road ends at the village hall, which was erected by Thomas Weller-Poley in 1888.

In the Poley chapel at Holy Trinity Church, Boxted, stands a life-size alabaster sculpture of Sir John Poley (1558-1638), wearing a golden frog in his ear. Historians have puzzled over the meaning of this frog, but the answer almost certainly lies in a nursery rhyme. You probably remember the rhyme:

'A frog he would a-wooing go,

Heigh-ho, says Rowley,

A frog he would a-wooing go,

Whether his mother would let him or no,

With a Rowley, Poley, Gammon and Spinach,

Heigh-ho says Anthony Rowley'

The Rowleys and the Poleys were old East Anglian families whose sing-song names were too good to resist. Gammon and Spinach evolved out of the names of two other families, Bacon and Green. And the frog? This just could be a reference to Sir John Poley, who was killed in battle while fighting in France. According to legend, his horse swam back across the English Channel and made its way to Boxted Hall.

The Poleys and Weller-Poleys have lived in Boxted for more than 600 years. Many of them are buried in the family chapel, where their names are recorded on a marble scroll. The chancel of the church contains a pair of oak effigies of William Poley (died 1587), dressed in armour, his head resting on a helmet, and his wife Alice in prayer. Near by, above the altar, a stained-glass window commemorates Hugh Weller-Poley, a more recent member of the family, who was killed in action at the age of 20 in 1942.

Holy Trinity is set high among the trees overlooking the moated, half-timbered Boxted Hall. This must be one of the most delightful small churches in Suffolk. The chancel has a rare 17th-century hammerbeam roof, while the north aisle is divided into separate pews, one for the Poley family, one for their servants (the latter now houses the organ). When the church was threatened with closure in the 1990s, the villagers got together to restore it. Although fewer than 100 people live in the parish, they managed to raise over £20,000.

Hartest, where the walk begins, has shared a priest with Boxted since 1224. This is a picture-book village set around a triangular green with thatched cottages and a fine avenue of chestnut trees. The most unusual sight is the Hartest Stone, a large glacial stone found in the neighbouring village of Somerton and dragged here on a sledge drawn by 45 horses to celebrate the Treaty of Utrecht, which awarded Gibraltar and Menorca to Britain in 1713. The nearby village sign, erected in 1990 to mark Hartest's millennium, features the stone and also a stag or hart, the original name for the village being 'hart's wood'.

Where to eat and drink

The Crown Inn, set back from the village green in Hartest, has large gardens, a children's playground and a wide-ranging menu including fresh cod, plaice and haddock from Lowestoft. The traditional Suffolk pink coloured building was formerly the 16th-century Hartest Hall, owned by the Bishop of Ely. The current landlord rejoices in the name of Mr Beer! Salads and snacks are also available at Gifford's Hall in summer.

What to look for

On an outside wall of Holy Trinity Church, to the right of the timber porch, look for the scratch dial, a simple form of sundial that would have been used to indicate the times of church services. Inside the church, look out for the plaque to Philip and Martha Hamond, erected in 1679 by Edmund Plume, 'whose wife was sister and whose sister was wife to the above Philip Hamond'.

While you're there

Gifford's Hall is a 33-acre (13.4ha) smallholding owned by John and Jeanie Kemp, who welcome visitors to explore their largely self-sufficient lifestyle. On the small estate you'll find vineyards, wildflower meadows, rare breeds of pigs, sheep and goats, a rose garden, sweet peas and 1½ miles (2.4km) of countryside and woodland walks. There is also a winery, with regular tours and tastings, and a shop and tea room selling the Kemps' produce. Gifford's Hall is open from Easter to September, from 11am to 6pm daily.

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