Enjoy a weekend in... Dedham

Philip Morgan explores the joys of Constable Country and finds out why, more than 150 years since John Constable's work, it remains a place to find inspiration<br/><br/>Images by Philip Morgan

East Bergholt, Flatford and Dedham make up the picturesque area known as Constable Country on the border of Essex and Suffolk, but it is Dedham that stands as the proud Essex tower within this triumvirate. With the River Stour separating the two counties and running through the middle of the landscape, it is an area in which time seems to stand still, the landscape seemingly unchanged since the scenes depicted in John Constable’s paintings.Driving by, heading for the nearby towns of Ipswich or Colchester, it is all too easy to rush past. But add just a splash of bright sunshine and you have the perfect conditions to explore the beautiful scenery of Dedham and the surrounding area.Dedham was a prosperous town in the 16th century, generating income from wool and well placed on the river for barges to come and go. Today, many of the beamed, Georgian buildings still exist in good condition providing an air of times gone by.The main street is dominated by The Church of St Mary the Virgin, with its imposing 130-foot tower visible throughout the landscape and playing a significant part in several of Constable’s paintings such as The Stour Valley and Dedham Village. The church itself dates back to the 16th century and inside its sheer scale and ornate glass windows make it worth a visit. Beyond the streets of Dedham are the charms of Constable Country and following the path by the side of the winding river takes explorers towards Flatford Mill. Flatford Mill has been made famous by the numerous paintings and pictures of which it is the subject and the mill itself is a hive of activity in the summer, bringing tourists from all over the world to see the surrounding landmarks, including Willy Lotts Cottage as featured in The Haywain. The cottage itself was that of the farm labourer who was born and lived in the cottage who is thought to have only left it for four days in his life. It is almost in its exact original state since he lived there in the 17th century. Today the mill is used as a field centre for students but in Constable’s time his father ran and owned the mill while he pursued his interest in painting and chose to paint the area he knew best. John Constable was born and lived in the village of East Bergholt on the Suffolk side of the river in 1776 and his iconic pictures of the landscape, such as The Haywain, Dedham Vale, The Cornfield and many others capture the idyllic way of life in the Stour Valley.A walk across the river and up the hill towards the village of East Bergholt takes you approximately one-and-a-half miles from Dedham, although the scenery makes it seem far less than this. The flint walls of the church of St Mary the Virgin in East Bergholt make it distinctive and different from the other buildings in the village and the church dates back to approximately 1350.The sight of Constable’s childhood home is also clearly visible with a plaque, although sadly a modern house stands in its place today. Just across the road, discreetly down a side street, is the small first studio where Constable did his work which he first purchased in 1803. The studio is still in good order with yellow paintwork, its status clear with a plaque and serving as a reminder of its significance as well as Constable’s difficult and humble early career. In fact, he did not sell his first landscape until he was 39 years old.Exploring this countryside, it is all too easy to see life as Constable saw it in his pictures, with the quiet tranquillity only disturbed by bird song or the sound of cows in the distance and the occasional rowing boat passing by. It is equally obvious why this beautiful landscape remains popular with painters of the current generation and, equally, anyone who enjoys the countryside.Fun-filled SaturdayA different type of shoppingA scattering of delightful little shops make Dedham an ideal place to pick up something a little unusual. Among others, don’t miss the Dedham Art & Craft Centre which is home to a range of furniture as well as work by local artists, while Osborn & William is a wonderful traditional toy shop.A trip down the riverWhy not hire a rowing boat from The Boathouse in Dedham for a chance to explore the River Stour from the water and relax those weary legs. And when you get back you can indulge further with an ice cream or even an evening meal in The Boathouse Restaurant.Dining delightsA trip to Dedham is a time to indulge, so why not make time to visit one of the county’s destination restaurants, milsoms. This stylish and contemporary bar and brasserie has a no booking policy, but all-day dining ensures you will get your table. There are also 15 rooms available to make your day out an enjoyable weekend.

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