Suffolk’s best walks: A 5.5-mile circular from Bramfield to Wenhaston and back
- Credit: Lindsay Want
An autumn circular walk takes Lindsay Want from Bramfield, to Wenhaston and Thorington near Halesworth
Bramfield just sounds like the right sort of Suffolk place to start an autumn walk. Its name conjures images of hedges dripping with wild bramble berries and orchard boughs bending heavy with Bramley apples.
Its legends, handed down through Bungay folk ballads, talk of the Bramfield Oak - a landmark tree rather than a hostelry - at the time of Hugh Bigod's Waveney-focused flight from Henry II's men. A couple of centuries earlier you'll find the Domesday Book raving about 'Bromfeld's' extensive woodlands, excellent for grazing pigs.
Both acorns and fruit were traditionally big on the menu here, with the Blyth tributary slopes a ripe old spot for celebrating Apple Day in October even up until just a couple of decades ago. Today, it's a great, outspread cloak of arable and pasture, with precious leafy pockets of wood and heathland, as it extends eastwards to Wenhaston and the flood plains of the River Blyth.
Like many Suffolk villages, the trick with Bramfield is not to judge it by the main road, but to approach it from a different angle. Walk along Bridge Street, past Berry Cottage towards the pink houses and neatly thatched shelter on the A144's tiny triangle of green.
Here, you're not only unknowingly under the protection of Bramfield's one-time timber palisade castle, but also treading in the footsteps of merchants and pilgrims.
In medieval times, the village came to establish itself around the 'King's Highway' which ran east to west between Dunwich and Bury St Edmunds.
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Its north-south orientation came later, long after the demise of Suffolk's early trading ports, as a result of growing commerce out of Halesworth to the London road (A12), and the introduction of the railways as a speedier distribution alternative to the Blyth Navigation route.
At the crossroads, the rambling Queen's Head inn has its garden practically in the churchyard. Inside thatched, 14th century St Andrew's church you can just discern remnants of a medieval shrine and there's a richly painted and magnificently ornate rood screen.
But outside, what's that mighty, detached flint tower amid the gravestones? Unique in Suffolk, it could be the remains of an earlier church, a defensive watch tower or even a manorial bell tower.
Beneath golden falling leaves, Bramfield Park's redbrick crinkle-crankle wall is a real picture, while across the lane, a crenulated folly pops its head above the hedge as you take to the cross-meadow path.
Onwards, across rail and roadway, you soon reach the north side of the valley, where a row of poplars whisper the whereabouts of the river-line. The water-meadows are wide, but the fields towards Wenhaston, beyond the historic Rabett family seat are wider still.
Back in 1892, during renovations to their church, Wenhaston folk took down an uninteresting white-washed wooden panel from inside left it out in the churchyard.
When the rains came, and washed away the white layers, the vivid colours and detail of a virtually intact 1520s doom painting were revealed, complete with images of kings and the Brueghelesque faces of demons corralling souls into the jaws of hell. It's definitely worth popping into St Peter's to take a peek.
Down the street, the Star Inn leads the way to Blackheath, not another picture of doom and gloom as its name might suggest, but a rather refreshing tale of redemption.
Delightful Merton Wood was planted by the Woodland Trust 20 years ago to replace an old donkey paddock. Below it Church Farm, with its reedy marshland and diverse copses, remained untouched for decades when Yarmouth man Peter Elsey had the place as a retreat to spend time with his gun dogs.
He saw no need to improve the land agriculturally and became a shining example of conservation when he left this small interface of upland and marshes to Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
From bright dogwoods to bluebells and precious summer marsh orchids, Church Farm reserve is charming at any time of year, but autumn feels extra special. As well as supporting owls, egrets, lizards, bats, rabbits, foxes, even otters, snipe and burrowing bees, it's home to the unusual and outlandish Balancing Barn, a futuristic, mirror-covered building that reflects the rich colours of the season.
The bizarre holiday let is modern and angular, a whole millennium away from the Norman round tower of St Peter's Thorington at the end of its drive. Like Bramfield's tower, Thorington's has a defensive air with deep lancet windows, but its battlements date from the 16th century and its 'Norman' arch was kindly added by the Victorians, just to make it a bit more authentic.
There's much to reflect on as you wander through the pocket of Church Farm woodland. Out in the open again, on the road back to Bramfield, the fullness of the valley's vast cloak comes into view. A coat of many colours, and a truly fitting backdrop to the King's Highway.
A home for wildlife
Thorington, IP19 9JG, OS Map Reference TM420742
Marshland, grassland, and wet and dry woodland copses, support a wide range of plants including southern marsh orchid, marsh marigold and ragged robin. The dykes support wetland plants and dragonflies.
The marshes and grassland are grazed to safeguard the rich mix of plants and provide a supply of insects for skylark, linnet, yellowhammer and other farmland birds. In the drier months, it's home to grass snakes and provides good hunting for barn owls. suffolkwildlifetrust.org/churchfarmmarshes
1) Start at Bramfield village hall (IP19 9HZ). Turn left past school to meet A144. Cross over to continue up Walpole Road to St Andrew's Church.
2) Continue up road, following crinkle-crankle wall (left). Take first footpath (right) over open meadow, then follow path left to cross railway line. Continue straight ahead. Turn right at lane past Edwards Farm.
3) At road junction turn right to go under railway bridge, cross A144 again, continuing straight ahead to Holly Tree Farm.
4) On sharp right bend, take uphill footpath straight ahead. Path turns left, then right to meet a footbridge. Path continues in line with telegraph poles across field, then along field margin path (hedge right) to drop down to road.
5) Turn left onto road, to take footpath over footbridge (right) up alongside farm buildings (left) and through a gate. Continue straight ahead. Path turns left, then right and crosses another lane to reach Church Farm (right). Continue straight ahead, bearing right, then left to reach Wenhaston village and St Peter's Church (left).
6) Turn right, past the community shop (left), school (right) to The Star pub.
7) Turn right into Blackheath village. Just before Drift Bungalow at Well Green (left), take footpath / track (left) downhill. Detour left to visit Merton Wood if you wish.
8) Enter Church Farm Marshes through gate. Continue straight ahead on causeway across marsh. At T-junction of paths go right, along bottom of the river 'cliff', keeping straight on at gates. The path bears left uphill, past the Balancing Barn (right) to Thorington Road and St Peter's.
9) Take the footpath right, just before the road to explore Church Farm woodlands and come out onto the road by a layby.
10) Turn right onto Thorington Road (views across the marshes) and continue to Bramfield. Beyond Hill Farm, road becomes Bridge Street with village hall on left.
Distance: 5.5 miles/9 kms
Time: 3.5 hours
Start: Village Hall, Bridge Street, Bramfield (IP19 9HZ).
Getting there/back: www.nationalrail.co.uk / www.suffolkonboard.com
Parking: Bramfield Village Hall
Access: Field-edge, cross-field and woodland footpaths, roads, kissing gates and footbridges.
Big map to hand: OS Explorer 231
Ts & Ps: Pub, farm/community shop at Bramfield and Wenhaston