A walk through farmland and woods, by a Tudor mansion and a fine church.
Distance 6 miles (9.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs 45min
Ascent/gradient 213ft (65m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Farm tracks, field and woodland paths, 8 stiles
Landscape Farmland, woodland and views of Holy Trinity Church
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 196 Sudbury, Hadleigh & Dedham Vale
Start/finish TL 864465
Dog friendliness On lead across farmland
Parking Church Walk, Long Melford
Public toilets Gatehouse of Kentwell Hall
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1 Starting from the Black Lion Hotel, walk up the west side of the green towards the church, passing the almshouses of Trinity Hospital on the way. Bear left around the church and walk through the rectory garden. Cross a stile, then turn right across a paddock and head for the corner behind the stables. Cross two more stiles to reach a meadow and continue straight ahead until you reach the long drive to Kentwell Hall.
2 Turn left and walk beside the avenue of lime trees towards Kentwell Hall. When you reach the main gate, turn left to walk through the grounds with good views of the hall. Follow the waymarks to turn right beside a hedge and continue straight ahead on a wide track that crosses farmland with sweeping views to both sides. Ignore tracks leading off to right and left and continue towards Kiln Farm.
3 Just before the derelict farm buildings, turn right on to a track running between the fields and the woods. At the second wood, Ashen Grove, turn left on to a shady woodland path that crosses two areas of grassland and swings right through the trees to emerge on to a field-edge path. Continue straight ahead on a cross-field path, that cuts through a hedge and makes its way across the fields towards Bridge Street. Cross a lane and walk past a recreation ground, then go over a pair of stiles to reach the A134 by the Rose and Crown pub.
4 Cross the main road carefully and take the left fork opposite. Almost immediately, turn right on to a path alongside Chad Brook. Stay on this path for about 1¾ miles (2.8km) as it crosses a footbridge to the west side of the brook, then clings to the stream between farmland to the right and woodland to the left. Ignore the first path off to the right. At the end of the woods, the path suddenly swings right to climb around the edge of a field and return to the A134.
5 Cross the road again and keep straight ahead along Hare Drift, now a tarmac lane. You reach Long Melford between a garden centre and a pub, directly opposite the entrance to Kentwell Hall. Cross the road, turn left and walk back down towards the green.
During the 15th century, much of England was in economic decline but the wool towns of South Suffolk continued to prosper on the lucrative trade in wool, cloth and silk. Among the lasting legacies of this period are the so-called 'wool churches', financed by rich merchants and built in the Perpendicular style. Some of these churches are cathedral-like in their stature, out of all proportion to the size of the congregation they can expect. There are fine wool churches at Lavenham, Sudbury, Cavendish and Clare, but perhaps the greatest of all is Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford.
The church stands alone at the top of the green, utterly dominating its surroundings. This is the only parish church in England to have its own separate Lady Chapel, a feature normally reserved for cathedrals and abbeys (look at the multiplication tables painted on to the wall, that show that the Lady Chapel was also once the village school). The north aisle of the church contains some of the finest 15th-century stained glass in England. Look for the 'rabbit window' above the north door, featuring three rabbits sharing three ears, thought to be a reference to the Holy Trinity.
Long Melford means 'long mill ford' and the village boasts the longest main street in England, running south from the green for almost 2 miles (3.2km) and lined with antiques shops, art galleries and pubs. Two names crop up repeatedly in the history of the village. Sir William Cordell was a Speaker of the House of Commons who was granted the manor of Melford after the dissolution of the monasteries - it had previously been a hunting estate for the monks of Bury St Edmunds Abbey. He built Melford Hall, where he entertained Queen Elizabeth I in 1578, and he was also responsible for the founding of Trinity Hospital for '12 poor men' in 1573. His richly carved tomb can be seen in the chancel of the church.
The other great Melford family were the Cloptons of Kentwell Hall. It was John Clopton, a clothier, who helped to fund the church and it is full of monuments to his family, including a recumbent statue of Sir William Clopton, 'whose door was ever open to the poor.' The Cloptons had their own entrance to the church and their own chantry chapel, even their own separate font for holy water, cleverly set into Sir William Clopton's tomb.
The present owners of Kentwell Hall are Patrick and Judith Phillips, who have revived this Tudor mansion as a living history museum. Don't be surprised to see monks, merchants and maidens in Elizabethan costume as you glance over the wall during one of the regular recreations of Tudor life.
The Black Lion Hotel, at the start of the walk, serves lunches and cream teas in a Victorian walled garden in summer. The Rose and Crown at Bridge Street and the Hare near Kentwell Hall are other pubs along the way which serve food. There are numerous dining options along the main street in Long Melford, including the Bull, a 16th-century coaching inn.
On the green at Long Melford is a red brick Elizabethan conduit, built around 1550 to supply water to Melford Hall and to the village. The grassy area around the conduit is left unmown in order to attract wild flowers such as orchids and cuckooflowers.
It would be a shame to visit Long Melford without looking in at Kentwell Hall, especially if you are there during one of the recreations of Tudor life that take place at bank holiday weekends and over several weeks in June and July. The village's other Tudor mansion, Melford Hall, is a National Trust property with landscaped gardens, a panelled banqueting hall and a room devoted to the children's author Beatrix Potter, who was a frequent visitor to the hall.