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The Mills of Pakenham

Visit a working watermill on an easy walk around gentle farmland.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Bridleways, field-edge paths and quiet country lanes

Landscape Rolling farmland around Ixworth village

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 211 Bury St Edmunds & Stowmarket; 229 Thetford Forest in the Brecks

Start/finish TL 932703 (on Explorer 229)

Dog friendliness Farmland - dogs on leads

Parking Ixworth village hall free car park

Public toilets At car park, beside library

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1 Leaving the village hall car park, cross the High Street and take the path that leads through the churchyard around the right of the parish church. Turn left on to Commister Lane and follow this road as it bends round to the right.

2 Turn left on to a bridle path opposite Abbey Close. Looking left from this broad, tree-lined path, there are good views of Ixworth Abbey, a Georgian manor built around the ruins of a 12th-century Augustinian priory and incorporating the crypt of the original monastery into its design. Stay on this path as it crosses the Black Bourn and makes its way towards a small wood, where it swings right. A footpath on your left after 600yds (549m) gives you the option of a short cut across the fields. For the full walk, keep straight on towards Point 3.

3 Turn left at the end of a hedgerow and follow this field-edge path until you see a metal gate ahead. Turn left here on to a farm track that passes around a wood. Soon after the wood, the short cut rejoins the main walk from your left and you get your first glimpse of Pakenham Windmill up ahead. Stay on this track to reach the main road, the A143.

4 Cross the road carefully and go straight ahead to another crossroads, where you keep straight ahead to reach the windmill. Stay on this narrow road, known as Thieves Lane, as it drops down to Fulmer Bridge, a bucolic spot of meadows and streams. Continue towards a T-junction, then turn left along Fen Road, passing a group of council houses and bungalows before reaching a junction at the foot of the hill.

5 Stay on Fen Road as it bends round to the left into the small hamlet of Grimstone End where you soon reach Pakenham Watermill. Just beyond the watermill, there are views of Mickle Mere, a popular birdwatching spot, to your right. Stay on this road to return to the A143, where you turn left along a pavement path before crossing the main road at a white post to reach a quiet lane on the far side. Turn left here where you see a house with a dovecote in the garden. When you get to the end of the lane, turn right and follow the road into Ixworth to return to the car park.

At one time, almost every village in Suffolk had its own windmill, grinding corn to produce flour for the local bakery. Their turning sails were a familiar feature of the rural landscape but one that is rarely seen these days. Of 500 mills which existed at the start of the 19th century, fewer than 40 remain and only half of these retain their machinery. Others have been converted into modern houses and the majority have simply disappeared through neglect.

In recent years, however, there has been a movement to restore and maintain the last remaining mills to prevent this part of Suffolk's heritage from being lost. Pakenham, near Bury St Edmunds, now has the distinction of being the only parish in England with a working windmill and watermill. The latter, owned by the Suffolk Preservation Trust, can be visited from Easter to September on Wednesdays and at weekends, when the waterwheel turns and the machinery cranks into action to produce genuine stoneground flour.

A mill has stood on this site since the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 and it is possible that the Romans also milled grain here as they are known to have built a fort in the area. The enthusiastic curators will show you around the mill, explaining how water is released from the mill pond to turn the 16ft (5m) wheel, and pointing out obscure industrial features like the 'wallower', the 'damsel' and the Blackstone oil engine that dates from 1904.

From the garden beside the mill pond there are views across the fen to Pakenham Windmill, a five-storey brick tower mill built in 1816 and recently restored to working order. Pakenham is on the Miller's Trail, a signposted circuit of Suffolk villages that takes in half a dozen mills. Among the mills that can be visited in summer are the watermill at Euston, the post mill at Stanton and the tower mill at Thelnetham, which also produces its own organic flour. You can pick up a map of the Miller's Trail at Pakenham Watermill.

Although the two mills are officially in Pakenham, they are closer to Ixworth, where this walk begins. Ixworth is on the site of a major Iceni settlement and also a Roman fort, strategically situated at the junction of the Bury St Edmunds to Norwich and Ipswich to Thetford roads. A modern bypass keeps most traffic away and the result is a quiet village of timber-framed houses along the High Street, which retains a selection of shops and pubs.

Where to eat and drink

The Pykkerell, on the High Street at Ixworth, is a 16th-century coaching inn with beamed ceilings, log fires and plenty of atmosphere, offering a varied menu. In summer you can eat outdoors in the courtyard by the old stables. Picnic food is available at shops along the High Street, including the quirkily named Meat at the Village Store.

What to look for

Look out for the tiny Methodist cemetery in the hamlet of Grimstone End, all that remains of the Ebenezer chapel that once stood on this spot.

While you're there

Wyken Hall, just outside Ixworth, is an Elizabethan manor house with herb and rose gardens, woodland walks, a vineyard and a restaurant inside a 16th-century barn. The gardens are open on summer afternoons, the vineyard can be visited throughout the year. A farmers' market is held here on Saturday mornings.

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