Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Alde Valley Walk

Beversham Mill

An 16 mile walk along the East Suffolk Line Path between Leiston and Wickham Market

Although the official route for the East Suffolk Line Path links the stations at Saxmundham and Campsea Ashe, this provides an alternative route using the local bus service to link the two ends. Highlights along the route include the picturesque Beversham Mill and the legendary Blaxhall Stone which is said to progressively grow in size.

Leiston to Wickham Market Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
LeistonView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Wickham MarketView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
16 miles
Walk difficulty
Easy

Transport:

First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
64 - First Group 64 service connects Ipswich, Woodbridge, Wickham Market, Saxmundhamm, Leiston and Aldeburgh. Unfortunately this was made into a 2 hourly service from August 2015
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2012-08-11
Walk Time
09:30 to 15:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Warm summers day with plenty of sunshine

Walk Notes

This is part of the East Suffolk Line Walk, the section known as The Alde Valley Walk, although this specific route uses Leiston rather than Saxmundham as its starting point. This is primarily because we live in Leiston but also the convenience of the First Group 64 bus service provides a link between Leiston and Wickham Market. This is an enjoyable and easy walk and probably one of the best sections of the East Suffolk Line Walks. The bulk of the walk is footpaths across farmland with some small sections through woodland. Most of the farmland is arable and one could have a veritable feast with the variety of crops that we walked through; onions, potatoes, sugar beet, carrots, sweetcorn, wheat, barley and amazingly something that looked distinctly like marijuana though was probably common or garden hemp (see more below). The other theme throughout is the railway which is crossed numerous times and can be seen virtually throughout the entire route with frequent trains passing bound for Saxmundham, Lowestoft and Ipswich. One unexpected gem was the picturesque Beversham Mill, restored and landscaped and only viewable by walking the footpath. You really do have to walk the route to witness this as it cannot be seen from the road.

In Search of The Blaxhall Stone

I have to admit I did not do my homework before this walk. I knew that the legendary Blaxhall Stone was located somewhere along the route but did not know exactly where. It took a subsequent visit to locate the stone as these days it is somewhat hidden from view. We had walked straight past Stone Farm, the location where it rests, without realizing we had passed it. The yard in which is found, nestled up against the farmhouse, is now gated off with a wickerwork fence atop the stone wall surrounding the house preventing a view of this curio, and certainly blocking all access. The old sign, describing the stone's history, that used to sit under the "Stone Farm" nameplate on the wall has now been taken down and to all intents and purposes it appears that the current owners are attempting to distance themselves from this piece of folklore history. Having said that, they have added a small viewing port cut out of the wickerwork fence where one can steal a look at the stone.

Footpath Obstructions

One thing I have noticed during this year (2012) is the amount of footpaths being obliterated by crops. There have been many frequently walked routes that have been made impassable by landowners not reinstating them once the crop has been planted. I am not certain why this appears to be such a nuisance this particular year but guess it may be down to the local government cut-backs resulting in councils not having the funding to enforce the rights of way as stringently as they used to. It should be known that you can complain via the Suffolk Council website and, from my experience, this does have an effect that will lead to a successful conclusion. The council web-page allows the user to enter a description and precise location of the issue using map grid coordinates which can be generated using the online Grid Reference Finder. I have added a permanent link to the main page of the Great Walks site and urge those who find obstructions to notify the council about them.

This particular walk had a couple of issues with regard to obstructions caused by overgrown footpaths and paths that had not been reinstated by the landowner. Beyond Gromford, and heading towards Beversham, the path leads through a section of woodland known as Whin Covert. Once in among the trees there is a small clearing with a fenced pen full of chickens to the right and no clear markings as to where the path goes. Eventually we found a gate that led through the remaining woodland and onto pasture land. This was only 20 yards of footpath but was completely overgrown with ferns and bracken. It took a bit of chopping to get through but was passable.

Having got through this obstruction and then across a drainage ditch the path leads across a crop field to the River Alde. Here the path was obliterated by a tall crop that looked distinctly like cannabis. Yes, Marijuana! I kid you not. We had to brush through this in the general direction where we assumed we needed to head as the view was masked by the long thin fingered leaves. I have to assume that this crop was a commercial hemp or flax rather than the ritual herb of Rastafarian's. It would appear that this crop is regularly planted around this area as we encountered similar a few years ago along this section. Such crops are easy enough to get through, though it does involve some flattening of the plants. When one encounters crops that need earthing up such as potatoes it does present a much more difficult obstacle and in some instances aan alternative route needs to be found which has been the case on two footpaths around Leiston this year.

The Continual Rise of Closing Pubs

One aspect of this walk that was most notable was the lack of pubs. I had planned to walk through to the Dog and Duck at Campsea Ash for a rest, a spot of lunch and a well earned pint. This was quite a hike but there was nothing nearer the half way mark and as we had not visited this hostelry for a couple of years it deserved our custom. Formerly called the Talbot Inn and originally part of the station buildings this establishment had a good reputation for its food, and although we would only need a snack it was something to look forward to before we embarked on the final couple of miles into Wickham. On arrival, to our amazement, we found the pub had closed down. Despite the large sign on the side of the pub declaring its opening hours, all the doors were locked and bolted with no sign of life either inside or out. The interior decoration did not look as if it was a vacant pub but with further enquiries I found it had ceased trading just 6 weeks prior to our visit. This was a real let down, not only because we were fully looking forward to a break and refreshment but also we both needed to relieve ourselves. This presented us with a problem because there are no public convenience in the village, none on the station which is nothing more than a platform these days and the only place we could find was to hide behind a tree to respond to the calls of nature there.

The number of pubs that have closed in East Suffolk over the last few years is astonishing and is testament to the Governments crusade against drinking where their unscrupulous taxes are forcing the common public to drink at home where they can consume vast amounts of cheap supermarket booze in an unregulated environment. This particular walk we had passed The Volunteer at Leiston (closed October 2011), the Butchers at Knodishall (closed early 2012, though this has reopened more recently), The Chequers at Friston (closed 2010) and now the Dog and Duck at Campsea Ashe. To think that only a matter of three years ago we could have undertaken a pub crawl on this route, now there is not even a chance of a drink unless one goes off route into Blaxhall village. If you want a drink you have to carry a tin of fizzy beer or a bottle of wine and drink like a tramp and then piss up trees. What is this land coming to?

To make up for this let-down we had to hike into Wickham Market where we found The George Inn still open for business. How long this stays in business is anybody's guess but no doubt the British Government will try every means possible to close it down with more beer taxes. I guess the great British institution of the Public House will soon become consigned to the annals of history and we will all be drinking home brew in garden sheds or at house gatherings which are now becoming all the more frequent.

April 2013 Pub Update

The Old Chequers in Friston reopened in November 2012 incorporating a new restaurant. The Butchers Arms at Knodishall also reopened around the same time. I do hope that they both manage to stay in business during these difficult trading times.

However, The George at Wickham Market suffered a devestating fire in April 2013 and it looks certain that this, the only pub in the village, is unlikely to reopen. A report can be found in the EADT.

The River Alde
The River Alde

Directions

The East Suffolk Line Walks use existing footpaths to connect stations along the East Suffolk Railway Line. The walks are well marked out with the distinctive waymarkers.

Leiston to Gromford

This walk joins the official East Suffolk Line Walk at Gromford. From Leiston walk out along Haylings Road to Knodishall. Continue through the village until the Sandlings Path is met just to the south of the last buildings. Take the right hand side towards Friston along a farm track. As Friston is approached there is a footpath on the left with diagonally crosses a field. Cross the style at the end, turn right until it meets the road then left down into the village.

Cross the road by the old Chequers pub and continue along the road opposite up the old windmill where the Sandlings path goes through a gap between the houses on the right up to Friston Hall. Keep in front of the buildings of Friston Hall, and keep to the main track, ignoring the Sandlings sign that departs to the left towards Snape. The track leads down to the main road, where it crosses and heads down to Croft Farm. Walk through the farm yard then turn right in front of the cottages. Keep to the footpath, crossing the road and bearing round to the left until it meets the next road.

Gromford to Campsea Ashe

Follow the road down the hill until there is a footpath on the right through some woodland. Take this and follow it out across the fields and up the side of Botany Wood to the railway crossing. Keep to the track until it meets a road and continue directly across and down a footpath to the next road. Turn left until there is a track on the right alongside the woods known as Burnters Covert. Keep to this track alongside the fields until there is a footpath on the left down the hill to Whin Covert. The path heads into the woodland and then comes to a clearing with a chicken coop to the left. The footpath continues straight ahead through a gate which can be masked by ferns and bracken. The footpath here can be overgrown but it is only a short length until it emerges onto pasture land down to the footbridge across a drainage ditch. The path then cuts diagonally across the next field and follows the River Alde around to a crossing next to a ford. Continue on the track up the hill to the road and go straight across at the junction where it emerges. A track on the left, a few hundred yards up the road, leads down to Beversham Mill. This turns into a footpath that crosses the railway and heads up towards Blaxhall.

When the path meets a track, turn right, and keep to the right at the next meeting of tracks. Follow the track, turning left as it junctions with a track down to Blaxhall Hall. This emerges onto the road adjacent to Stone Farm where the legendary Blaxhall Stones rests. Turn left then take the public right of way on the right through the farmyard. Continue along the track, diagonally crossing a field. The footpath continues straight ahead over the track it meets. This is a little masked. Do not walk along the track. The footpath now crosses a field and runs down the edge of a wood. At the end of the wood turn right and follow the path through to the road. Turn left and as the road turns round the sharp bend continue straight ahead onto farmland. This soon meets a track, turn right and keep to the track through to the road. Turn right and take the footpath on the left which follows around the two edges of the woodland until it meets a track on the third boundary of woodland. Turn right until it meets a road, go directly over and follow the footpath in a straight line ignoring other paths. Cross the railway, turn right and follow the footpath along the side of the railway into Campsea Ashe.

Campsea Ashe to Wickham Market

Return along the road out of Campsea Ashe, taking the road that you walked in on. Keep to this until it junctions with another road and go straight over down to Quill Farm. Before the track meets the farm, take a footpath on the left, through the woodland until it drops down a series of steps. Turn right and follow the path across the River Deben. Keep to this path which leads under the main A12 and then up into Wickham Market.

A rare set of steps down a steep hill leading down to the crossing of the River DebenMarajuana or just common or garden hemp?
On the left A rare set of steps down a steep hill leading down to the crossing of the River Deben; On the right Marajuana or just common or garden hemp?

Pubs

The George Inn, Wickham Market View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
The George Inn, Wickham Market
Website

A typical town pub that dates from the early 1800's. This is owned by the Pubmaster Group, which was taken over by Punch Taverns in 2003, Friendly local with guest ale and food available.

Sadly, during the night of 17th/18th April 2013 the pub suffered a devastating fire which has resulted in the destruction of this pub.

Review

A busy town pub with a lot of locals watching Rugby on the TV. A guest ale of Wadworths' Red White and Brew was a worthy end to the walk. A refreshing bitterness to this golden ale quenched a thirsty palate. We sat on the wooden benches on the patio area in front of the road and mused on the fact that this was the only pub that remained open in these tough trading days between here and Leiston.

Blaxhall Stone
Blaxhall Stone

Features

The Blaxhall StoneView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Blaxhall Stone is a five ton piece of sandstone which lies in the yard of a farm called Stone Farm on Station Road, some way out of Blaxhall village and at a point of a medieval crossroads. This part of Suffolk does not have any natural stone other than flint so such a huge example of sandstone is both a landmark and a curiosity. In geology terms such an artifact is known as an erratic, which is a description for a stone that was carried away from its natural location by the ice sheets during the glacial age which occurred some 150 thousand years ago. Geologists have identified this particular stone with belonging to a mass of sandstone at Spilsby in Lincolnshore.

Despite this modern geological explanation, the good folk of Blaxhall have a much more prosaic interpretation. They will readily explain that the stone was ploughed up in a nearby field known as 'Wrong Land' at the end of the 19th century. A well known and respected local ploughman and foreman of the farm had noticed it as he ploughed the land because it looked different from the usual flint that was regularly ploughed up. It was the size of two fists and he picked it up and examined it, then at the end of the days work he carried it back to the farmyard and dropped it where it has laid ever since. From that day the stone has steadily grown in size to the 1.5 x 0.6 metre dimensions of present day. One local old man attests ' A tidy time ago, I remember it well, a cat could not walk under the lips of that stone. But now look at it, a dog could walk under it easily'. Even to this day the local folk will still tell you that the Blaxhall Stone is still growing.

The name of Stone Farm where the stone lies is probably no more than a coincidence as in Whites Suffolk Directory of 1844 the property is listed as Stones Farm which predates the commonly accepted date of the Stones discovery.

The Stone is so much a part of Blaxhall that it has now adopted as part of the Blaxhall village sign. This legend was first recorded by George Ewart Evans in a book originally published in 1956. 'Ask the Follows Who Cut the Hay' is an account which paints a literary picture of the rural history of Blaxhall drawing on conversations with local folk recalling the customs, crafts, dialect, and old smugglers' tales dating from the century prior to the Second World War.

Beversham MillView in OS Map | View in Google Map

A restored watermill at Beversham

In the Alde valley, in the Parham Hundred is the locality known as Beversham. Local legend tells of Beversham having a village on the marshes in centuries gone by and there is some evidence to support this view with the domesday book listing Beversham as a distinct entry and stating that it consisted of an area of 60 acres under the ownership of Hervey de Bourges and occupied by 3 Freemen. Little remains of Beversham these days and even its name it somewhat forgotten apart from the Beversham Bridge over the River Ore. The former water mill that sits just up stream from the bridge is even declared as Glemham Mill in some references. This mill, now renovated, probably dates from the eighteenth century and is adjoined to a house which predates the mill by another century. It still has machinery intact including a breast-shot waterwheel so named because it admits water half way up the wheel which then flows out with the rotation of the wheel and were used when there was only a small head of water. To increase power breast-shot wheels were often built very wide. The area around the mill, and the millpond is now landscaped and the sight makes a excellent picture postcard view of old Suffolk.

Rendlesham MermaidView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Rendlesham legends

In 1895 a book entitled 'Two Suffolk Friends' was published by William Blackwood and Sons. This contained the memories of Robert Hindes Groome, (1810–1889) Archdeacon of Suffolk, as recorded by his son Francis Hindes Groome after his fathers death. Robert Hindes Groome's childhood included a number of years spent at Rendlesham when his father took the curacy of the parish between the years 1813 and 1815. The Rector of the parish, a Dr Henley, was also principle at the East India College of Haileybury in Hertfordshire and as a result was seldom at Rendlesham which entitled the new curate to live at the Rectory. The passage on pages 8 and 9 of the book recalls a couple of pieces of folklore in connection with Rendlesham:

There was a high sandbank not far from the house, through which the small roots of the bushes growing protruded. My brother and I never touched these. We believed that if we pulled one of them, a bell would ring and the devil would appear. So we never pulled them.

In a ploughed field near by was a large piece of ground at one end, with a pond in the middle of it, and with many wild cherry-trees near it. I can remember now how pretty they were with their covering of white blossoms, and the grass below full of flowers—primroses, cowslips, and, above all, orchises. But the pond was no ordinary one. It was always called the ‘S pond,’ being shaped like that letter. I suspect, too, that it was a pond of ill repute—perhaps connected with heathen worship—for we were warned never to go near its edge, lest the Mermaid should come and crome us in. Crome, as all East Anglians know, means ‘crook’; and in later years I remember a Suffolk boy at Norwich school translated a passage from the ‘Hecuba’ of Euripides, in which the aged queen is described as ‘leaning upon a crooked staff,’ by ‘leaning upon a crome stick,’ which I still think was a very happy rendering.

It has been speculated that this pond is the one that is contained in the present day Cottage Wood, alongside the footpath that runs between Ivy Lodge Road and Ash Road. Although in modern times the pond has been masked by the woodland, back in the 19th century this was open with the woodland restricted to beyond the southern end of the pond as can be seen in the 1881 OS map. The pond is clearly 'S' shaped at the far end of a field with trees depicted around it. Although this appears some distance away from the rectory it wouldn't be out of reach for an investigative child with the vast countryside to explore.

There is no further reference to this tale from any other sources, so maybe it was just spoken folklore from the locality or maybe it was just a story made up to prevent children from playing near the water. The fact that this pond also had a reputation of heathen worship may come from the fact that just south of this is a Bowl Barrow. Such a feature is a hemispherical mound used as a burial site and is thought to date from the neolithic to bronze age. One can easily imagine reputations garnered from old folklore to such sites especially as Rendlesham is said to have been the seat of the Saxon kings of East Anglia.

References
Typical landscape that this walk leads through
Typical landscape that this walk leads through

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-16

2013-04-19 : 2013 update on The Chequers, The Butchers Arms and The George pubs
2014-06-22 : Added in feature for Rendlesham Mermaid

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