John Constable and the Essex Fox
Dedham – Flatford – Cattawade round
Dedham an attractive village in the borough of Colchester is situated on the River Stour and on the border of Essex and Suffolk. Dedham has some of the most beautiful lowland landscapes in England especially the water meadows of the River Stour, the river forming the boundary between the counties of Essex and Suffolk. The water meadows are an ideal place to relax, walk or hire a boat for a paddle down the river. Dedham, Dedham Vale and the River Stour are in the heart of Constable Country where John Constable got his inspiration to paint from. John Constable lived in East Bergholt, just north of Dedham, but went to school in Dedham. Many of his paintings feature Dedham, including Dedham Mill which his father owned, and the 15th century St. Mary’s Church whose massive 131 foot steeple dominates the surrounding Dedham Vale. Dedham was once a wealthy wool and market town and now agriculture is the main industry with mainly arable land of sugar beet and wheat. There is also some grazing of cattle and sheep. The village has become a very popular tourist attraction with plenty to do for everyone, from the young to the old to the disabled. The nearest town is the small market town of Manningtree.
Flatford, also situated on the River Stour just a few miles east of Dedham, is the most interesting and beautiful place with so much to see and do. You can understand how John Constable got his inspiration to paint in this very attractive and quaint dale. His paintings of Flatford often featured the Granary and of Flatford Mill which his father also owned along with Dedham Mill. The Granary is now privately owned and offers B&B accommodation and only yards away is Flatford Mill and Willy Lott’s House both the latter owned by the National Trust and it is here between the two buildings that Constable painted his most famous painting “The Hay Wain”. Flatford Mill is a Grade 1 listed 18th century watermill and attached to the mill is a 17th century miller’s cottage and Willy Lott’s Cottage is 16th century but was restored in 1920’s both the latter are Grade 1 listed. Bridge Cottage, also owned by the National Trust, has a free exhibition of Constable’s work and next door there is a tearoom and shop. Adjacent to the tearoom is the dry dock which was featured in his “Boat Building” painting. Rowing boats can be hired from the landing stage next to Flatford Bridge and river trips on the River Stour Trust’s electric boat are available on certain days during the summer season. There is a large coach and car park at the top of the hill. The car park at the National Trust Visitors Centre is for the disabled where there are public toilets with disabled and baby facilities. Opposite the disabled car park there is the RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden, a new project which opened on the 15th June 2011. The garden has been landscaped and planted with many species of garden and wild flowers to attract wildlife, birds, insects and butterflies to nest and feed. Entry is free and during the summer months children and families can take part in the activities and events of the day. There are a few small circular walks around Flatford which can be obtained from the visitors centre.
The River Stour is 47 miles long and forms most of the border between Suffolk and Essex. Cattawade picnic area is where the River Stour enters the estuary and meets the sea. The picnic area on the Cattawade Marshes and the right of way on the Essex or the South side of the river towards Flatford and Dedham are excellent for bird watching.
We park in Dedham car park and walk to the bridge. We take a short detour to the left to take a look at the lock keepers cottage and Dedham Mill. We then go back to the bridge and follow the Stour Valley Path with the River Stour on our right. When we reach Fen Bridge we do not go over the bridge we turn left, leaving the Stour Valley Path, and follow the lane and cross over the next bridge. We then follow the lane to the left then to the right until we arrive at a road with a seat opposite we turn right. We follow the road then turn right downhill on a no through road next to Flatford coach and car park. This road leads to the new RSPB Wildlife Garden, the visitors centre, the disabled car park and all the attractions. After we have had a good look around the area we carry on to Flatford Mill and Willy Lott’s house. At the end of the road turn left onto a track we are now back on the Stour Valley Path we follow the track for a short way until we come to a gate. Go through the gate and turn right and follow the hedge round to the right going under a pylon to a gate in the corner. Go through the gate and turn left. Now we keep heading forward along the path through the fields until we reach a road with two houses in front of us. Turn right along the road to Brantham and then turn right into Cattawade Picnic Area. Here we take a break then head over White Bridge where the River Stour ends and the sea begins and we cross the border from Suffolk into Essex. We now follow the river path, sign posted Flatford, with the marshes and the river on our right. We come across lots of wildlife and also a fox in a field to our left. We follow this path which brings us back to the bridge at Flatford. We turn left and now walk across the fields keeping close to the river, still on our right. When we see Fen Bridge over the field we head straight on through the centre of the field and pick up the path on a sharp bend in the river. We follow the path which brings us out in Dedham next to Dedham Hall. We turn right and wander through the village to St. Mary’s Church then about turn. At the T-junction we turn left, at the next T-junction we turn right and make our way back to the car park.
A mostly flat walk with only a few slight gradients.
Approx 8.5 miles using OS map 196.
Dedham village is situated on the Suffolk/Essex border between Colchester and Ipswich.
From Colchester take the A12 towards Ipswich. At Stratford St Mary take the B1029 and follow the signs for Dedham. The large car park is on the left just over the bridge.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are public toilets at Dedham down the lane opposite the monument towards the football ground. At Flatford Visitors Information Centre the public toilets have baby changing and disabled facilities. For refreshments in Dedham there are a number of shops, cafe and two pubs the Sun Inn and The Marlborough Head Hotel. At Flatford there is the National Trust Shop and Tearoom, at Brantham there is a pub called The Bull and in Cattawade there is the Crown Inn.