A memorable walk around Kentwell and Long Melford

Long Melford: the hospital and almshouse established by Sir William Cordell in the 16th century.

Long Melford: the hospital and almshouse established by Sir William Cordell in the 16th century. - Credit: Jayne Lindill

A circular walk around Long Melford recalls the county's part in preparing for wartime invasion

Suffolk's such a peaceful place it's hard to imagine it was once at the frontline of defending the country against invasion. Yet there's plenty of evidence if you know what you're looking for.

Walk along certain parts of the coast and you'll encounter 200-year-old Martello towers, built to keep out Napoleon, and more recent Second World War fortifications in she shape of concrete blocks strung out on the shoreline. Designed to stop tanks and other vehicles in their tracks, festooned with barbed wire they'd have proved quite an obstacle to men and machines. But supposing an invading army had got past them? What then?

Beautiful Kentwell Hall at Long Melford

Beautiful Kentwell Hall at Long Melford - Credit: Archant

It's easy to think that defending the country stopped at the coast, but as Robert Liddiard and David Sims document in their Guide to Second World War Archaeology in Suffolk, Britain's response to the threat of German invasion made the Suffolk countryside some of the most heavily fortified anywhere in England. Defensive ‘stop lines’ of pillboxes, barbed wire, anti-tank blocks and ditches were drawn across the landscape, linking up villages and towns that became 'nodal points', all intended to impede the enemy and hold back armoured columns that were expected to advance inland after breaching beaches and ports.

They were never put to the test, of course, but in 1940 a German invasion seemed certain as forces were being massed in the ports of Northern France and the Low Countries, ready for operation Sealion - their target southern or eastern England, or perhaps both. As Liddiard and Sims describe, the stop lines criss-crossed the country from Somerset to Yorkshire and Essex to The Wash. East Anglia formed part of Eastern Command and Suffolk had seven stop lines. The most important and heavily fortified was the Corps Line which started at Colchester in Essex, entered Suffolk at Bures and ran north, passing Sudbury, Lavenham, Bury St Edmunds and Mildenhall, before heading further west and joining the river Great Ouse. 

Growing up in Suffolk, when the Second World War had ended barely two decades earlier and was still fresh in the minds of the adults in my life, I was always aware of its impact on Suffolk's rural communities and the traces left behind. 'Pill boxes' - mysterious, squat, concrete bunkers with horizontal slits from which to see and fire on the approaching enemy - were everywhere it seemed, by roadsides and fields, even in people's gardens. Many survive and have become part of our rural landscape, along with other remnants of defences such as ditches and tank traps, spigot mortar positions, and concrete road blocks. As Liddiard and Sims argue, they're an important part of the county’s history and deserve to be protected.

Holy Trinity Church is a constant companion on a walk around the village.

Holy Trinity Church is a constant companion on a walk around the village. - Credit: Jayne Lindill

The southern half of the county had the greatest concentration of defences as the River Stour was considered strategically important. The Sudbury area, up through Long Melford and Lavenham, was particularly well defended and there's all sorts of wartime archaeology to be seen - perfect for a November walk. Along the way is Kentwell Hall, the lovely Tudor mansion at Long Melford, which was requisitioned during the Second World War as a major army transit camp. A small garrison of soldiers was based in the hall to run the camp which was set up in the grounds and, at times, held up to 3,000 soldiers, many of whom were involved in the D-Day landings. 

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Walk this way...

1 The walk starts in Long Melford. There are a couple of car parks - one at the Community Association Old School, another at the village hall, in a small street just off Hall Street (the main street), opposite The Bull Hotel. Both are free but a small donation in a box for the purpose is welcome. I choose the village hall car park and head north over Chad brook towards the church, passing a row of centuries-old village houses (left) and the wide expanse of the green. I wander up Church Walk past Trinity Hospital, built and endowed by Sir William Cordell, one-time Speaker of the House of Commons.

Holy Trinity Church at Long Melford

Holy Trinity Church at Long Melford is one of the great churches of Suffolk built in the time when the county prospered from wool production. - Credit: Jayne Lindill

2 It's hard not to linger at Holy Trinity Church. The graceful building - testament to Long Melford's status as a wealthy wool town - has some of the finest medieval stained glass in the country. Eight windows in the north aisle show the friends and family of the main funder of the church, local wool tycoon John Clopton (his memorial is in the Clopton Chantry). Some are religious (there's a particularly poignant Pieta) but mostly they're a unique record of 15th century costumes, heraldry and hairstyles. They're also now in need of restoration and an appeal for £500,000 is underway. (longmelfordchurch.com)

The plaque telling the story of the Holy and Blessed Trinity Hospital, Long Melford.

The plaque telling the story of the Holy and Blessed Trinity Hospital, Long Melford. - Credit: Jayne Lindill

Back in the churchyard I go past the tower in the direction of the rectory. The drive goes right but I go straight ahead, over a stile and follow a fence for a few metres to a squeezer stile on the right. Across the paddock to another squeezer stile in the far right corner and through a belt of trees I emerge into Kentwell Park. 

3 The wide, mown path takes me to a stile on the far side and onto the avenue of lime trees that leads up to Kentwell Hall. The avenue was planted in 1678 and during the wartime requisition of the hall was used to hide tanks and heavy guns on concrete laid between the trees. I stroll up the avenue and, just before the hall gates, bear left, following a waymarker along a woodland track. Reaching a wooden gate, I turn right along a field edge marked Stour Valley Path. Through another squeezer stile, I follow the track between arable fields for about 400 metres.

4 At a crossing of paths by Pond Plantation I turn left and take a wide path which follows the edge of the wood. It's a pleasant stretch with lovely views. Staying with the hedge across the fields, I come to a waymark and head down to the foot of the field, exiting through a gap near the right hand corner and crossing a footbridge. I follow the edge of a long meadow, passing farm sheds on the left and reach the B1066 at Cranmore Green Farm. 

Beautiful scenes around Long Melford.

Beautiful scenes around Long Melford. - Credit: Jayne Lindill

5 A right turn takes me along the road for about 200 metres where I find the enclosed footpath on the opposite side of the road by Mill Farm. I go over a footbridge crossing the River Glem, across a field to another footbridge and up across a flinty field to a hedgerow. I follow the path, emerging into a field and turn left. I carry on until the path bends right across a field towards a bungalow and joins a track. I follow the track to a T-junction.

6 Turning left, I cross a gravel drive, then a wooded lawn to a bridge, along the edge of a meadow to Cranmore Green Lane. I turn right and follow the lane for about 600 metres until it meets the A1092.

7 Crossing over I find the enclosed footpath that climbs gently and then descends for about 400 metres, going left at the bottom of a field. I follow the fence for about 200 metres reaching Cranfield, a thatched cottage.

The countryside surrounding Long Melford

The countryside surrounding Long Melford holds relics of World War II defences against invasion. - Credit: Jayne Lindill

8 Going left around the cottage I follow a concrete track past a sewage works (well, they have to put them somewhere) for about a kilometre. Where the track splits at Bulney Moors I go left and follow a delightful green lane back to Long Melford where it ends at the Old School. Refreshment at The Bull seems like a good idea...

Compass points

Distance/: 5.5 miles/8.8km

Time: Approximately 2.5 hours, plus some time in Holy Trinity Church

Getting there: Sudbury then A131 and A134 to Long Melford

Parking: Village Hall, off Hall Street; Old School. 

Access: Tracks, field edges, minor road (briefly), squeezer stiles, footbridges

Map: OS Explorer 196 Sudbury, Hadleigh & Dedham Vale

Ts & Ps: Long Melford