80 – Manningtree, Flatford Mill and the Dedham Valley 7.8 miles – 12th September

In short: a glorious, amazing, historic dream of a walk. Classic English countryside on the Essex/Suffolk border. Various types of paths so walking boots a good idea. Readily available and reasonably priced parking at Manningtree station; clean decent toilets at both Manningtree station and Flatford Mill; good quality station cafe for coffee at start and lovely National Trust cafe for pitstop lunch (beware though…hot lunches not served after 2.30pm). 3 hrs 5 mins walking + 20 & 30 mins pitstops.

Ringing the changes on a trip to Suffolk we decide to do a walk en route and choose the National Trust ‘Flatford and Constable Country’ walk which starts at Manningtree station.

We park at Manningtree station – postcode CO11 2HH – where the off peak day rate is £4.50. We make use of the station facilities – fantastically clean and well-appointed toilets and a rather lovely old-fashioned cafe/bar where we have a coffee and scone to kick start our walk.

On leaving the station we cross the forecourt and descending the ramp on the right we pick the footpath up opposite. At the end of this very short (and nettly!) path we turn right onto a well paved path running parallel to the railway line.

We turn right and head under the railway line via an attractive brick tunnel.

We continue to follow this path until it bends left and, a few minutes later, right as we approach the banks of the river Stour.

There are sheep and cows in the fields around us and nearer to the river is marshland – the Cattawade Marshes.

As we reach the river we turn left onto the path here – this path is narrow and overgrown in places as well as slippery with mud near gates in particular so we are glad of having chosen to wear boots today.

Views here are fabulous – marshland plants, the winding river and of course the amazing Suffolk skies – all combine to give an amazing sense of peace.

After a few minutes walking we head away from the river along the path and come to a concrete set of sluices where we turn right to walk alongside them and cross the river at a bridge. Here there is a sign pointing us to Flatford so we know we are on the right track!

This pretty grassy path brings us to an exquisite mill pond…

…and then a lock…

…before bringing us to the bridge across the river leading to the National Trust shop and tea rooms.

We cross the bridge and take the lane right behind the cafe to reach the famous ‘Hay Wain’ view with Willy Lott’s cottage on the bank of the river.

We take umpteen photos – inevitably – the whole setting is so photogenic!

Even the neighbouring properties are stunning:

We retrace our steps, passing the cafe and shop, and take a path on the left up some steps just beyond the entrance to the RSPB garden. These steps bring us out into the car park which we walk through to the road where we turn left – initially walking on the road but very soon on a footpath parallel to it on the right.

We have lovely views across fields with trees and hedgerows on our right.

We cross a couple of lanes arriving from our right but continue on our path until we are opposite a lane heading left downhill to the valley now below us. Views from here are fabulous – and would be even more so if we were each several inches taller to see over the hedges!

At the foot of the hill the lane curves left, right and then sharply left before crossing a bridge.

Just after this we take a tree-lined path off right – once again with gorgeous views all around us.

As we emerge from the trees we find ourselves on a lovely riverside meadow which we cross straight ahead to reach the riverbank. As we reach the river we admire the fabulous view ahead with the Dedham church tower poking out on the horizon.

We turn right to follow the river to the Dedham Road ahead.

At this point the kissing gate out onto the road is blocked by a herd of cows and we have to vault (!) the gate nearby to get on to the pavement!

Here we turn left and cross the river to follow the road straight ahead into Dedham village.

We turn left onto the High Street just in front of the picturesque square ahead – this road becomes Brook Street and we follow it to the bend ahead where we take a footpath on the left beside the entrance lane to Dedham Hall.

The path passes the Dedham Hall complex and we continue straight on bearing left at a National Trust sign to Dedham Hall Farm.

We are walking ahead across a riverside meadow again to approach the river now from the opposite side to our outward journey.

This stretch of the walk is – yet again – a stunner and we spend quite some time taking numerous photos.

The river winding through this lovely landscape with cows in the near distance and gorgeous trees along the banks – all is quite entrancing.

Finally we arrive back at the cafe…just 10 minutes too late for lunch. What a shame – who knew that these sort of hours still existed and in such a touristy spot! Luckily there are a couple of sandwiches left in the fridge and we grab these together with a cold drink and some crisps – they actually turn out to be really delicious so we are pretty lucky in the end. We follow this with a pot of tea, make use of the decent public toilets which are beside the little exhibition centre and retrace our original steps – across the bridge, past the lock and the mill pond to the sluice.

After the sluice we turn left onto the river path and pick our original path away from the river and back towards the railway line and eventually the station.

This is a really fantastic classic walk – perfect for any enthusiast of the English countryside, not just for Constable fans!


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