A lesson in Suffolk architecture on a cross-country walk from a pretty village to a historic town.
Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 525ft (160m)
Level of difficulty Hard
Paths Field paths, country roads, town streets, 1 stile
Landscape Undulating farmland between Kersey and Hadleigh
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 196 Sudbury, Hadleigh & Dedham Vale
Start/finish TM 001440
Dog friendliness On leads across farmland
Parking The Street, Kersey (between church and Splash)
Public toilets Off High Street, Hadleigh
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1 Walk down the main street and cross the Splash, the local name for the ford. After passing the first house, turn left along a path then right through the allotments and climb a field-edge path to a road. Walk left for 150yds (137m) then turn right on a fenced-off path. At the end of the meadow, turn right beside a ditch, crossing a footbridge and arriving at a road.
2 Turn left and in 75yds (69m) go right on a bridleway between the trees. The path bends right and descends towards a farm. Turn right along the farm track and briefly right along a road, then left by a shed to cross a field. Turn left alongside a stream and cross a footbridge, then climb steps and continue uphill towards a road.
3 Turn right for 100yds (91m) then left on to a farm drive. Walk round to the left of the farm buildings and look for a narrow path between fence and hedge. When you reach a track, turn right and go left at a telegraph pole to cross the fields. Cross a footbridge and continue straight ahead before bearing half-left to meet the A1071. This path may be diverted by crops so it is best to follow the obvious route rather than sticking to the right of way.
4 Cross the road, bear left across a field and turn left along a shady green lane. Turn right on to Castle Road. Walk to the end of this road then cross Friars Hill and walk past the cricket ground with the cemetery wall to your right. Pass through a gate and turn left across the recreation ground to arrive at riverside meadows. Cross the footbridge and walk through the car park on to Bridge Street.
5 Turn right and right again to walk along High Street. After 400yds (366m), turn right along Church Street to reach St Mary's Church. The Guildhall is on your left. Walk through the gate to the right of the Guildhall (if this is closed, walk around the building to the left). Continue straight ahead to reach a road, then turn right to cross Toppesfield Bridge.
6 Ignore the signposted Riverside Walk and turn to the right on a field-edge path behind the riverside park. When the path divides, keep left to climb to Broom Hill nature reserve and continue up Constitution Hill. Turn right at a wide track and continue to a road, where you turn left.
7 Cross the A1071 and look for a wide track signposted to Kersey Vale. At the corner of a field, keep to the right to drop down towards a cottage. Cross a footbridge and stile to the right of the cottage and turn right along the lane to return to Kersey. Just after you pass a small green, follow the road round to the right and then turn left past the primary school to St Mary's Church. A steep footpath alongside the churchyard returns you to the main street.
The village of Kersey, nestling deep in its own small vale, is one of those places that captures the essence of rural Suffolk. Medieval houses and cottages line the main street, climbing up steep slopes to either side of a ford. Children throw bread to the ducks. A thatcher works on a roof. Come here on a summer day and it is such a perfect scene that it is easy to forget that most of the locals have gone off to work in Ipswich and that the people you see are tourists.
This walk takes you across the fields from Kersey to Hadleigh, a historic market town full of interesting buildings. From the 14th to 16th centuries, Hadleigh was a centre of the wool trade, and many of the half-timbered merchants' houses along the High Street date from that time. Timber-framing was common in East Anglia, using oak from coppiced woods, with large uprights used to build the main frame and the spaces between the timbers filled with 'wattle' (smaller sticks bundled together with twine) and 'daub' (a mixture of mud and straw) before being coated with whitewash or lime. Even those houses that appear to have Georgian brick façades are often timber-framed underneath.
Another common feature of Suffolk architecture, both here and in the other wool towns, is pargeting. This involves decorating the façade of a house with ornamental plasterwork, often in the form of symbols. There are several fine examples along Hadleigh High Street. Although pargeting is generally associated with the 17th century, there has recently been a revival of interest in this East Anglian craft and it is starting to appear on houses once again.
In the churchyard at Hadleigh are three contrasting buildings, each constructed from a different material. St Mary's Church, like most Suffolk churches, is built of flint, though unusually it has a spire rather than a tower. The 14th-century Guildhall is timber-framed and has been used as a market hall, workhouse, grammar school and corset factory before finding its present use as the town hall and council chamber. On summer afternoons you can enjoy a cream tea in the walled garden.
The red-brick Deanery Tower of 1495, six storeys high and surmounted by turrets, was built for William Pykenham, Archdeacon of Suffolk and rector of Hadleigh, as the gateway for a planned manor house. In 1833 it was the setting for one of the first meetings of the Oxford Movement, that aimed to restore traditional Catholic values and ritual to the Church of England. The three buildings together form a surprisingly harmonious ensemble, and the same could be said of Kersey and Hadleigh as a whole.
The pargeting above Randolph Antiques at 99 High Street, Hadleigh features the Tudor rose and the arms of Elizabeth I, as well as a golden lion.
The Bell, beside the Splash in Kersey, is a medieval inn full of old-world character. Further up the street is another good pub, the White Horse. There are plenty of options on Hadleigh High Street, including cafés, pubs and the George Inn, a historic coaching inn.
In summer, make sure to have tea in the gardens of Hadleigh Guildhall, open every day except Saturday. The Guildhall is run by the Hadleigh Market Feoffment Charity, who also offer guided tours of the historic building on Thursday and Sunday afternoons.