Suffolk walk - fabulous Framlingham

Framlingham Castle

Framlingham Castle - history, splendour and romantic tales... - Credit: Jayne Lindill

A February walk with the history, splendour and romance of Framlingham Castle at its heart.

'Framlingham - a friendly place to linger' it says on the information board at a bus stop in the town. I don't doubt it. On a sparkling winter's morning, sunny, with hardly a cloud in the cerulean sky, there are plenty of folk enjoying a stroll, or an al fresco coffee at one of the cafes, and everyone has a smile on their face.

I'm not sure this is exactly what Roger Bigod intended though, when he built his castle on the hill 800 years ago. With its towering walls, turrets and twisting chimneys, Framlingham Castle is a commanding presence - a Suffolk icon. The views from the top of the walls are stunning, but look a bit deeper and Framlingham Castle provides a fascinating insight to Suffolk's place in the history of Britain. 

The impressive walls of Framlingham Castle

The impressive walls of Framlingham Castle - Credit: Jayne Lindill

Framlingham Castle was built in the 12th century by the Bigods, a hugely powerful Norman family. Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk, started the building but it was his successor, Roger Bigod II who built the enormous stone curtain walls that still stand today, with no fewer than 13 towers. In 1215 Roger fell out with King John when he and 25 other barons challenged the high military taxes levied by the king and forced him to accept the Magna Carta. The king showed his displeasure by laying siege to Framlingham in 2016. The castle withstood the onslaught for two days and then surrendered.

In the 14th century Framlingham passed back to the Bigods via the Norfolks, specifically Margaret, daughter of Thomas Brotherton, 1st Earl of Norfolk, and granddaughter of King Edward I. Margaret was a wealthy and influential noblewoman, thanks to her business acumen and a series of untimely deaths which made her one of the richest women in England. She spent a great deal of her time at Framlingham where she entertained in some style. English Heritage, which now manages the castle, quotes an account from 1385–6 by Giles of Wenlock, keeper of the household, who records that in that year alone they got through 70,321 loaves of bread, 40 casks of red herring, 72½ carcases of beef, 9 wild boar, 151 carcases of pork, 697 carcases of mutton, 24 pounds of saffron, and untold gallons of red and white wine from St Emilion and Gascony.

READ: 5 romantic walks in Suffolk

Margaret’s grandson and heir, Thomas Mowbray, inherited Framlingham and it was then passed down to the Howard family in 1483. But Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was in disgrace for his part in the disastrous marriages of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, so Framlingham came into the hands of Mary Tudor, Henry's elder daughter, in 1552. It was at this point that the castle became the centre of a national crisis.

Mary Tudor. Photo: Copyright CIMS on behalf of Ipswich Borough Council

Mary Tudor fled to Framlingham Castle to await news of whether she or Lady Jane Grey would be queen. - Credit: CIMS on behalf of Ipswich Borough Council

Mary's step-brother, 15-year-old Edward was on the throne. He was a sickly child and Mary, a Catholic, had been named his heir by their father. But Edward attempted to surrender the throne to the Protestant Lady Jane Grey. On Edward’s death the Duke of Northumberland tried to secure the throne for Lady Jane, his daughter-in-law. Learning of Northumberland’s plans to capture her, Mary fled to Framlingham to gather her troops. Thousands of her supporters flocked to the castle and it was while she was there that Mary received news that Northumberland had surrendered and she had been proclaimed England’s first ruling queen.

The pleasure green beneath the castle walls with views of over the mere

The pleasure green beneath the castle walls with views of over the mere - Credit: Jayne Lindill

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Mary restored Framlingham to the Howards but in 1635 the castle was sold to rich lawyer and philanthropist Sir Robert Hitcham. On his instructions a new poorhouse was built on the site of the medieval castle’s hall in 1729. In 1913 Robert Hitcham’s old Cambridge college, Pembroke, passed the castle into state guardianship, and it has been managed by English Heritage since 1984.

So, with its stories of mighty barons, a savvy duchess and a triumphant queen, Framlingham Castle fires my romantic imagination for a 5.5-mile walk which starts in the shadows of those impressive walls. 

The walk

Framlingham has several car parks but I decided to use the one at the castle (£3 all day, free to English Heritage members). I head towards the castle entrance and just before the turnstile turn left and follow the path beneath the walls, crossing the moat over the footbridge. Following it round to the left, I climb up to a small green overlooking the mere. I keep on the path to the far corner and follow it down to a bridge crossing the town's ancient ditch. Ditches are all sorts of things to towns - fortifications or drains. Framlingham's is older than the castle itself and possibly the bounds of a pre-Norman manorial complex.

I go though a gate to a junction of paths where I take the middle way, climbing up to the corner of a field. I follow the path with a hedge on my right, just a fraction too high for me to see over. After a while I find a gap where you I look back for a marvellous view of the castle. 

After about 500m the path meets a lane. I turn left and follow it for about 250 metres until I reach some white gates signed for Great Lodge Farm. I pick up the path through the gates, a sealed track for the next 1.25km which is ideal for winter walking. This is a pleasant stroll though open countryside, with hares racing around the fields and a kestrel hunting just off to my right. 

3 At Great Lodge Farm I follow the public footpath sign left and follow a gravel track, passing some cottages, and turn left at the end, joining a lane.

The surrounding countryside of Framlingham

The surrounding countryside of Framlingham - Credit: Jayne Lindill

A perfect day for a winter walk

A perfect day for a winter walk at Framlingham - Credit: Jayne Lindill

This is a Roman road which runs dead straight ahead through fields for the next kilometre. It occurs to me that if I think walking a Roman road is monotonous, what must building it have been like?

Reaching a road I go left for about 200 metres (with care!) until I find the public footpath sign towards Framlingham Hall Farm. This track skirts the hall and farm buildings, then Dairy Farm just beyond it then comes to junction.

The River Ore is little more than a ditch just north west of Framlingham

The River Ore is little more than a ditch just north west of Framlingham - Credit: Jayne Lindill

I go left along a permissive path, which continues alongside a hedge and woodland until reaching a bridge at the end of the trees. On my left is the River Ore, little more than a ditch here, on its way to meet the Alde and the North Sea. I follow it all the way to a road where the footpath winds around to a gap in the hedge. I cross the road and pick up the footpath and the river on the other side. 

Framlingham Castle

The castle on the hill, or what passes for one in Suffolk. - Credit: Jayne Lindill

A pleasant stroll takes me along the river to a meadow where I climb a rickety stile (ignore the footpath sign to the left) into a meadow. I head towards some buildings and another a stile in the top right corner of the meadow. The path then becomes enclosed as it winds uphill. At the top I turn left and make my way downhill towards the castle and the playing fields of Framlingham College. I turn right at the bottom and follow the road beside the playing fields until I find a gap and the footpath that leads around the mere. 

It's pretty muddy along here at this time of year but there are plenty of opportunities for photos of the castle across the mere. It truly is stunning, rising above the dark, glassy water. Doe anyone leave here without fewer and 100 pictures in their camera? The path comes to an end and emerges back onto the road. I follow it around and into town, wending my way though Framlingham's streets and back up to the castle. Maybe there's time for one of those al fresco coffees...

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Compass points

Distance: 5.5 miles/9km

Time: 2.5 hours (plus time to photograph the castle)

Parking: Framlingham Castle car park £3 all day, free to English Heritage members

Accessibility: Field edges, grassy footpaths (muddy in winter), sealed paths, roads, stiles

Map: OS Explorer 212 Woodbridge and Saxundham

Ts & Ps: Framlingham