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

Saturday 29 December 2018

Gipping Valley Way - Needham Market to Ipswich

near Pipps Ford

A 13 mile walk following Suffolk's River Gipping between Needham Market and Ipswich

A riverside walk tracing the route of the River Gipping as it heads through Suffolk to join the tidal waters of the Orwell at Ipswich. A gentle ambling route that twists and turns through the countryside which presents a perfect summers walk.

Needham Market to Ipswich Riverside Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

  • Start location: Needham Market 
  • End location: Ipswich 
  • Distance:   miles (  km)
  • Total Gain:   ft (  metre)
  • Total Descent:   ft (  metre)
  • Min Height:   ft (  metre)
  • Max Height:   ft (  metre)
  • Walk Time:  
  • Walk type: Linear
  • Walk Grade: Easy river side path
  • Terrain: Footpaths throughout


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. There are links to printed maps and links to downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.



Details of public transport that is required for the walk

First Group - Bus Service
Service Details
88/88A/89 - First Group 88/88A/89 bus services connecting Ipswich, Needham Market and Stowmarket.

Route Verification Details

  • Date of Walk: 2016-08-27
  • Walk Time: 08:30 to 14:00
  • Walkers: Griffmonster, Kat
  • Weather Conditions: Warm day becoming increasingly overcast

Walk Notes

This is a good walk for summer when the sun is shining and the gentle Gipping River trickles its way through the Suffolk countryside. There are old mills, there are little bridges and old locks which are no more than weirs these days presenting an interesting journey. It is a stereotypical English rural landscape. Admittedly the main A14 is never too far away so there is always the distant moan of traffic but it is easy to forget about this, even more so, I would guess, if one is a townie and used to such noises.

First buses offer a regular service linking Ipswich and Needham Market. Unfortunately there are no evening or Sunday buses which limits time available for the walk. An alternative is to use the train as there is a station at Needham on the main line to Ipswich with an hourly service that runs throughout the evening.

Given the time and inclination this could become a veritable pub crawl with several villages close to the footpath, including Great Blakenham, Claydon, Bramford and Sproughton, all of which have at least one pub. However on this occasion, there was a timetable to keep to in order to catch the bus back home from Ipswich to Leiston. Plus there was also the temptation of a beer festival at the Briarbank Brewery at the end of the walk.

The course of the river presents the old industrial past when the river was part of the Ipswich and Stowmarket Navigation providing a navigable route from Stowmarket through to the open sea which bought trade and prosperity along the course. There are some magnificent examples of former mill buildings including the Quintons Mill at the start of this walk. A myriad of former locks are encountered with some being restored to their original glory and information boards detailing the history of the lock and the Navigation.

Either side of the river throughout this walk are numerous lakes created from former gravel workings. There is even an Aggregates Trail, a 4.5 mile route that uses existing footpaths and the Gipping Valley Way as a means to discover the history of Aggregate extraction! So that is one for all you budding aggregate fans out there.

The route is picturesque throughout and even as it approaches the urban sprawl of the ever expanding town of Ipswich, the walk keeps to green area that surrounds the river. It is only the very final stage that full urbanisation is encountered where the usual signs of bored youth are greeted on all and sundry concrete surface. Bridges and walls daubed with graffiti by hands with little or no artistic ability. I guess it is just the yobbish equivalent of a dog peeing up a wall to scent their territory. I got nothing to say so am going to say it anyway sort of mentality.

The final stages of the river through Ipswich reveal evidence of tidal flows and this is where it changes its name to the Orwell. It is at this point that it has become a true urban river with rubbish and debris littering the course. There is the compulsory river shopping trolley and the obligatory parking cone left stranded at low tide. The riverside path offers a similar scene of a less than salubrious area where the sculptures intended to highlight the history of the river are vandalised and abused. Groups of disaffected young men stand and sit menacingly around talking in foreign tongue. The evidence of drug use and copious empty tins of cheap beer and cider testament to the habits of such gangs. Admittedly in the broad daylight no-one pestered us but it did provide a sense of apprehension in passing through this short stretch of path. .

This could have been a let down to the end of the walk, but after this short insight into the towns underbelly, the road is crossed and the scene is transformed into the rejuvenated dockside which has become the towns Waterfront area. A mixture of bars and restaurants mingle with the buildings of its former industrial past and ships, yachts and various river vessels moored in the expanse of water.

Sproughton Mill
Sproughton Mill


A riverside walk along the Gipping Valley.

Alight from the bus at The Swan stop in Needham Market, opposite the Rampant Horse pub. Cross the road and follow the B1078 Coddenham Road for 400 yards at which point there is a junction with the road passing under a railway bridge on the left. Proceed under the bridge, following the road around past the car park to the lakes. Continue past the former black boarded mill on the left and just beyond on the right is a footpath sign which marks The Gipping Valley Way.

From this point the route is clearly marked throughout. The path follows the river past several lakes and then runs alongside the railway to emerge onto a road. Turn left and follow the road down to a mill where the path continues on the right once again alongside the river.

At Great Blakenham, the path briefly departs from the river, to navigate around the riverside houses, then passes over a bridge to continue along the opposite side of the river. At the far end of Great Blakenham the path meanders through woodland. At the end stage of this keep to the well trodden path out onto the road. Cross the road bridge to the opposite side of the river and continue along the riverbank at the edge of the heathland.

When another mill is encountered, the path once again crosses the river, briefly follows the road to the right to descend back down to the river on a path through the undergrowth. More heathland is encountered as the path continues onwards, soon passing the village of Bamford that sits on the opposite bank.

The next bridge encountered is the Sproughton Road Bridge which the path passes under alongside the river. The Wild Man pub can be found by taking the access onto the bridge and then walking into the village. The pub is 300 yards from the bridge at the crossroads.

The path continues alongside the river and soon comes to two railway bridges which marks the urban area of Ipswich. Keep to the path past a housing estate, under a road bridge and onto Handford bridge where the route path crosses the bridge and follows the river on the opposite bank. This soon emerges onto West End Road. Cross the road, and follow the path on the small grassed area by the river which is now known as The Orwell. Keep to the path all the way through to the bridge on Bridge Street. Cross the road, and continue alongside the Waterfront area. At the Isaacs on the Quay pub, take the alleyway to the side and on the right at the back of the pub is the Briarbank brewery. The is a brewery tap room is located in the building above the actual brewing room.

Baylham Mill
Baylham Mill


The Wild Man, Sproughton View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Bramford Road, Sproughton

The name of the pub is said to derive from a local legend concerning a 'wild man' who was saif to have been caught on the site when it was being built in the 16th century. The legend states that this rough old hermit lived in Devils Wood which was on the north side of the River Gipping. The wood has long since gone, having been replace by a sugar beet factory in 1924-25 and more recently the land sold on for housing development.

The pub is a family oriented easting establishment with Adnams ales on offer


Appears to be very much a family oriented pub with activities going on during the afternoon we visited. It was a little disappointing on the choice of ales with only two available and both being Adnams, but the Southwold Bitter was a thirst quencher after a long morning walking

Briarbank Brewery, Ipswich View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Fore Street, Ipswich

Small microbrewery behind the Ipswich waterfront that started production in 2013. An exceptional and ever changing range of ales is always on offer with regular beer festivals where the brewery offer other hard to find brews from across the country.


As luck would have it the Briarbank Brewery had a beer festival on. What more can one want than a beer festival at a brewery. As expected with Briarbank, the ales on offer were certainly nothing run of the mill. Excellent choice. Excellent beer.

Lock at Great Blakenham
Lock at Great Blakenham


Ipswich and Stowmarket NavigationView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The River Gipping rises near the Suffolk village of Mendlesham, close to the village of its namesake and whose parish it flows through on its way to Stowmarket. It then continues to Ipswich where, around the point that it becomes tidal, its name turns to the River Orwell.

Today it is little more than a country stream until it gets towards the sprawl of Ipswich. However centuries ago this was a navigable waterway from Stowmarket to the open sea. There is recorded evidence that the Danes used it as a navigation as far back as 860 AD.

During the 1700s the first plans were drawn up to improve the navigation which were initially met with strong opposition from the Ipswich Corporation. Despite this, continuing efforts resulted in the Ipswich and Stowmarket Navigation being opened in 1793 which included tow paths and locks along the canalised waterway. Unfortunately its use was short lived and with the coming of the railway in 1846, river trade dramatically reduced until the early 1900s when little river craft remained on the river. The River Gipping officially closed as a navigation in 1932 and subsequent years of neglect soon resulted in the waterway becoming completely impassable to all craft.

In more modern times there has been a concerted effort to restore the navigation. The Inland Waterways Association began by reinstating the tow path in the 1970s which resulted in the creation of the Gipping Valley Way. Since then there have been additional restoration works on locks and bridges and the inclusion of information boards which detail the history of the waterway and the restoration works being undertaken.

One noticeable fact that leaps out at anyone who studies the map of the River Gipping is the name change when it reaches Ipswich, continuing out to the coast as the River Orwell. It would appear that the name of Gipping is a modern term that may have been adopted by the canalisation of the river to provide a navigable route in the 18th century. Prior to this there is a lot of evidence to suggest the name of the Orwell, or Urwell, was used throughout the entire course of the waterway.

Holinshed's chronicles, a collaborative work published in several volumes and two editions during the mid 1500s certainly uses the names of Ure and Urewell in its description of the river:

The Ure riseth not farre from Bacton, Urus in Hertesmeere hundred, and thense descendeth into Stow hundred by Gipping, Newton, Dagworth, Stow (beneath which it méeteth with a water comming from Rattlesden, by Onehouse) and so going on to Nedeham (through Bosméere and Claidon hundreds) to Blakenham, Bramford, Ypswich, receiving beneath Stoke, which lieth ouer against Ypswich, the Chatsham water, that goeth by Belsted, and so into the Ure, at the mouth whereof is a marvellous deepe and large pit, whereof some mariners saie that they could never find the bottome, and therefore calling it a well, and joining the name of the river withall, it commeth to passe that the haven there is called Urewell, for which in these daies we doo pronounce it Orwell. Into this haven also the Sture or Stoure hath readie passage, which remaineth in this treatise next of all to be described.

It is interesting to note that this description uses the name Ure until it meets the deep and large pit when it attains the name Urewell. There have been suggestions that this pit was the location of the present day Ipswich docks which has subsequently become the waterfront area. It is also noteworthy that during the enabling of the navigation in the 1700s that a number of very deep and dangerous pits were found in the stream between Stowmarket and Ipswich.

There have been a lot of suggestions that the name of Ipswich derives from the River Gipping, originally the town being named as Gippeswic. If the river was not known as the Gipping until more modern times then this derivation cannot be true. Gippeswic is a medieval name and an alternative derivation is that it originates from an Old Saxon personal name or from an earlier name of the Orwell estuary, unrelated to the name of the River Gipping.

Holinshed's chronicles also appears note that the Ure rises at Urus in Hertsmere hundred which does suggest that this could possibly be where the name of Ure is taken. However there are other ancient sources, including the Angle Saxon Annals, which suggest the name of Urewell comes from an ancient port named Orwell, sometimes spelt as Arwell or Arwen. The location of this port is unknown and various sites have been suggested including land that jutted out into the sea close to the present day Felixstowe through to Ipswich itself. Many have suggested the town may well have succumbed to tides and storms in a similar manner as that which beset Dunwich.

River at The Meadows, Claydon
River at The Meadows, Claydon


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

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2021-12-12

2017-05-02 : Initial Publication
2018-12-29 : General website updates
2021-03-17 : Update website improvements and removal of ViewRanger reliance
2021-12-01 : Removal of ViewRanger links due to its imminent demise


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