Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Constable country

Barely an hour by train from London, it only takes a few steps in the right direction from the car-park at Manningtree station to find yourself in the middle of a landscape not so far removed from those of Constable.

Once the train has gone, the only sound is birdsong, and a distant cockerel. On the telephone wires, a kestrel carefully chooses its prey.

From here it's an easy enough walk through Dedham Vale to Dedham village for lunch, passing through Flatford Mill (and its National Trust tea-garden) both going and returning.

On the way the path passes between hedgerows mostly of hawthorn and blackthorn, with here and there an oak standing proud, and wild roses in bud. Occasional  breaks in the hedge for a gate allow glimpses into the fields and then the path comes out to the valley and water-meadows of the River Stour, and you could begin to imagine yourself into the views Constable depicted.

Passing on through drifts of cow parsley and other meadow flowers, I heard a cuckoo somewhere away in the woods.

At Flatford Mill, the main buildings are in use as a field study centre, and the the all-important National Trust  gift shop and tea-garden are attached to a small exhibition on Constable in the equally small Bridge Cottage. As you cross over the bridge, you can see boats for hire and the path that wanders on towards Dedham through the vale, but my way lay up the hill.

At last, through the hedge, there's a glimpse across the vale to Dedham church and finally, at the top, classic view of the whole of the vale becomes clear:

Crossing the river once more, and passing through more overgrown paths, you eventually get to wander through buttercupped meadows, till you get another climb up the hill the other side and into Dedham. It's a very well-heeled village, with a high street colourfully painted and containing more than one gallery/antique shop/knickknackatorium. The church has an impressively old set of doors and some inventive flower arrangers (I'm wondering if there was a wedding). Further along, there are houses that look as though they belong genteelly in a Jane Austen novel.

There's a choice of routes back to Flatford Mill, through the fields of full-flowered blackthorn and hawthorn and curious sheep, and plenty of time for tea (avoiding the mischievous ducks) before strolling back to the station.

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