Rural, urban and industrial landscapes all feature on this walk, together with a fascinating museum.
Distance 6 miles (9.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 213ft (65m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Town streets and footpaths, country lanes, field-edge and riverside paths, 1 stile
Landscape Town, river, farmland and woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 211 Bury St Edmunds & Stowmarket
Start/finish TM 046585
Dog friendliness Dogs should be kept on leads
Parking Meadow Centre pay-and-display car park, Stowmarket (follow signs to Museum of East Anglian Life)
Public toilets At Meadow Centre
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1 From the car park, take the path that runs past the museum and the gates of Abbot's Hall. When the path divides, fork right alongside a high brick wall, then turn right along a lane. At the end of the lane, turn left and look for a narrow path between the houses on the right, just before No 19. Stay on this path as it drops down to the river, then turn left along a wide lane between houses and the River Rattlesden.
2 Reaching a road, turn right across the bridge and fork right when the road divides. Just before the Magpie Inn, turn right through the shopping precinct to reach Combs Lane. Cross the road and walk along the pavement until you cross a small stream just beyond Edgecomb Road.
3 Turn left at the stream by a telegraph pole with a 'Charcoal and Churches' circular walk sign. The path follows the stream then heads through a wood and into open countryside. Cross a footbridge and turn right along a field-edge path.
4 At a metal barrier, turn left along Jack's Lane. Turn right at the T-junction, then fork left along Mill Lane. After 70yds (64m), turn left on a path that runs between parkland and fields. Turn left at the road to pass an old tannery, then head left on a tarmac path at Webb's Close to climb to the centre of Combs. Turn right at the road and walk past the old village school.
5 At the junction, turn right and immediately left, dropping down between the fields. Cross a footbridge and follow a field-edge path to the right. Cross a stile and bear diagonally across the field to reach a junction where you turn left, passing a thatched farmhouse on your way to Combs Wood.
6 Stay on this path as it runs alongside the wood and into a housing estate. Continue straight ahead on the paved path, crossing Lavenham Way and diverting around a school.
7 Turn right on Needham Road, then left along Gipping Way and right towards the paint factory. At the factory, turn left across a bridge and left again on the signed Gipping Valley River Path. Follow this path to the old maltings.
8 Climb the steps to the bridge and turn left along Station Road. Keep straight ahead at the crossroads then go left through the churchyard. Narrow Buttermarket leads to the Market Place. Cross the square and walk through the Meadow Centre to the car park.
Stowmarket, right in the centre of Suffolk, is a typical market town that has developed to encompass a healthy mix of farming, industry and trade. This makes it a fitting home for the Museum of East Anglian Life, a 70-acre (28ha) open-air museum in the grounds of the former Abbot's Hall Estate.
The museum tells the story of the people of East Anglia through displays on agriculture, work and domestic life. Among the exhibits are a recreated Victorian kitchen, an old schoolroom and a collection of gypsy caravans. There are regular demonstrations of blacksmithing and charcoal-making, as well as harvesting in summer. There are also Suffolk Punch horses, local breeds of sheep and pigs, meadows, wildflower gardens and a walk beside the River Rat (which sounds like a character out of Toad of Toad Hall, but is in fact the local name for the Rattlesden).
However, what makes the museum really interesting is its collection of old buildings. Apart from the 14th-century tithe barn near the entrance, which houses a display of farming tools, all of the buildings have been moved here from elsewhere. The oldest is the 14th-century aisled hall of Edgar's Farmhouse, rescued from the neighbouring village of Combs when it was threatened by a housing development in 1971. The roof beams of this half-timbered farmhouse are still coated in soot from the fire that once burned in the open hearth.
Other buildings include a wind pump that was used to drain water from the Minsmere marshes, an 18th-century blacksmith's forge, a watermill, a chapel and a 19th-century factory building containing exhibits relating to East Anglia's industrial heritage.
A new exhibition, opened in 2002, tells the story of Ransomes, the company founded by Robert Ransome, which began in 1789 as a two-man foundry in Ipswich and grew to become one of the biggest producers of agricultural machinery in the world. Ransomes lawnmowers, which included the first petrol mower and the first electric mower ever to be produced, were used on tennis courts and golf courses, at Kew Gardens and Regent's Park, and exported to countries from Russia to Argentina. In 1998, the company was sold to the American corporation Textron but it continues to operate a factory in Suffolk.
The industries of East Anglia were traditionally rural crafts, such as brewing, basket making, rope making and tanning. This last craft was particularly important in Combs. This walk takes you across farmland between Stowmarket and Combs then ends with a riverside stretch by one of the biggest paint factories in the world. It may not be pretty, but ICI is as much a part of Stowmarket's history as the river, the railway, the maltings and the farm.
The Museum of East Anglian Life is open daily from April to October, with limited opening hours in winter. Allow at least two hours. You should also allow time for a walk around Combs Wood, a Suffolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve with wild flowers and shady woodland rides. Dogs are not allowed in the reserve.
Brambles Café, at the Museum of East Anglian Life, has a range of sandwiches, jacket potatoes, salads and hot dishes. Other options on the walk are the Magpie Inn and the Verandah Café, in the old maltings beside the river.
There are several interesting features in Stowmarket. Notice the town clock in the Market Place, erected above the post office (now a bookmaker) by public subscription in the late 19th century, when the clock in the church tower was proving unreliable. The church itself has a modern copper spire, built in 1993 as a replica of an earlier version. Stowmarket Station was built in 1849 and is considered one of the finest Victorian stations in England. It's still in use, on the London-to-Norwich line.