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The Skies Above Mildenhall

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Bridleway and riverside footpath, town streets, 2 stiles

Landscape Mildenhall town and valley of River Lark

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 226 Ely & Newmarket

Start/finish TL 713745

Dog friendliness Dogs should be kept under control

Parking Jubilee car park, Mildenhall

Public toilets At car park

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1 Walk up King Street as far as the Mildenhall Museum, in an old flint-faced building on the left. Turn left along Market Street to enter Market Place, with its parish pump and 16th-century Market Cross. Cross High Street, turn left and immediately right along Church Walk to walk through the churchyard and continue along a narrow road.

2 At the end of the road, turn left and follow the bridleway signs around to the right past the cricket ground. The path is shady and tree-lined at first, then it passes behind a cottage and continues across the fields on a track leading to Wamil Hall Farm. After passing the farm buildings, keep straight ahead on a concrete lane that bends left and right towards a large house enclosed by a brick wall. There are views across the river to Worlington church and of Mildenhall airfield to your right.

3 Keep straight ahead on a grassy field-edge path and continue for ¾ mile (1.2km) until the path turns sharply right to meet a road at West Row. Turn left here, passing a group of bungalows. When the road bends right, take the second left into Ferry Lane which leads down to the River Lark at Jude's Ferry.

4 Walk past the pub and take the steps down to the river to turn left on to the riverside path beneath the bridge. This path will take you all the way back to Mildenhall. The walk back is completely different in character even though you are rarely more than ¼ mile (400m) from your outward route. Previously it was all wide open spaces and skies, now it is the river that dominates and you are more likely to see herons than military planes. Keep to the river bank, passing through kissing gates either side of a garden and climbing to a bridge behind Wamil Hall Farm. Eventually the path turns away from the river to briefly rejoin the outward route.

5 Turn right at the cottage and when the path divides after 300yds (274m), keep right beside the river, passing behind the cricket ground. When the river divides, cross a bridge to reach an island by a small lock. Climb to the road bridge and cross to the south bank, then turn left along a gravel drive that soon becomes a riverside path. Cross the river over a pair of arched bridges and bear left at the playing fields to return to the start of the walk.

The sight and sound of aircraft taking off and landing will be a constant backdrop to this walk in the shadow of Mildenhall airfield, the headquarters of the 3rd United States Air Force in Europe.

RAF Mildenhall opened as a British bomber base in October 1934. Just four days after its opening, it was the scene of one of the most dramatic events in its history as King George V and Queen Mary attended the start of the England to Australia air race, held as part of the city of Melbourne's centenary celebrations. The early leader was Amy Johnson in a De Havilland DH88 Comet, but the race was won in another DH88 by Charles Scott and Tom Campbell Black, who covered the 11,300 miles (18,180km) in a time of 70 hours, 54 minutes and 18 seconds. Rather less impressive was a Fairey Fox biplane, which reached Melbourne 116 days after the race began.

During World War Two, Mildenhall was one of a number of Suffolk airfields used by Allied forces - there were others at Lakenheath, Lavenham, Flixton, Eye, Mendlesham, Metfield and Parham. Wellington bombers from Mildenhall engaged the German Navy within a day of war being declared, and throughout the war they continued to attack German targets as well as providing cover for Allied troops during the D-Day landings in Normandy and the evacuation of Dunkirk. In all, some 200 aircraft from Mildenhall were lost and 1,900 men killed in action during the course of the war.

The American presence at Mildenhall began in 1950 and it is now the gateway to Britain for more than 100,000 military personnel each year. The annual air shows, held in May, are the biggest of their kind in the world and always attract huge crowds.

Mildenhall's other claim to fame is the Mildenhall Treasure, the most significant hoard of Roman silverware ever discovered in Britain. The story of its discovery is almost as remarkable as the treasure itself. In January 1943, Gordon Butcher was ploughing at West Row when he found a metal bowl buried in the ground. He showed it to his boss, Sydney Ford, who happened to collect antiques. Between them they dug up 34 pieces of blackened silverware, including plates, spoons, goblets and bowls, and a great dish almost 2ft (60cm) in diameter, richly decorated with scenes from Roman mythology. Ford took the objects home, cleaned them up and kept them on his mantelpiece for three years until eventually someone persuaded him to take them to the police. In 1946 the hoard was declared treasure trove and given to the British Museum. Ford and Butcher received a reward of £1,000 each.

Where to eat and drink

Jude's Ferry pub, at the halfway point of the walk, has real ales and home-cooked food in a delightful setting, with riverside gardens, mooring for boats, and an adventure playground for kids. Alternatively, you can pick up picnic provisions or filled rolls from Barleycorn or A Taste of the Best, both on the Market Place at Mildenhall.

While you're there

The Mildenhall Museum contains a complete replica of the Mildenhall Treasure, the originals are in the British Museum in London. There are also galleries devoted to local history, ecology and RAF Mildenhall.

What to look for

Aircraft enthusiasts can try to identify American warplanes in the skies above Mildenhall. The base itself is understandably off limits, but for a close-up look at F16 fighter/bombers and other military planes, you can visit the observation area at nearby RAF Lakenheath, signposted off the A1065 from Mildenhall to Brandon.

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