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on your doorstep ■ constable country

Pretty as a


Spring 2011

■ Constable’s Hay Wain


e have spent many happy hours tramping along Dedham Vale, where we live. The Vale is celebrating its 40th year this May as a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. My children’s favourite walk with the dogs is between Dedham and Flatford down the Stour River. In the summer the water meadows are filled with buttercups and the gnarled silvery willow trees trail their branches in the cool brown water of the river. The young John Constable would have walked the same two miles along the riverbank every day to school in Dedham

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National Trust

■ Willy Lott’s cottage on the River Stour

The National Gallery, London

Straddling the Essex and Suffolk borders, picturesque Dedham Vale is known as Constable Country as it was where artist John Constable lived and painted many of his famous works. Clare Mann lives in the heart of this idyllic landscape and gives a guided tour


on your doorstep ■ constable country

constable viewpoints

■ The River Stour

The viewpoints from the following paintings by Constable are still clearly recognisable today at Flatford Mill, along the Stour River and in Dedham Vale.

“Dedham remains unspoilt, despite the coach-loads that arrive in the summer”


■ Visitors to Flatford compare old paintings with the present view

from his home in East Bergholt. It is one of those walks you never tire of. There is always plenty going on: fellow dog walkers, children from the field centre at Flatford Mill on a mission, artists with easels entranced by the famous landscape and rowing boats on the river on summer days. When the children were younger, they fished for hours. They never caught anything, although large pike lurk in the deep shadows. There have been some best-forgotten incidents too. Plum, our English Bull Terrier, on the scent of a ham sandwich, trampled a painter’s canvas drying in the sun. Then the time when Plum ran amok amongst the clotted cream-coloured cows – only wanting to play with them. When we left London, our main desire was to find a house with a view. That we have, looking south-west up the Stour Valley from Higham. From our field, we can count five churches: Higham, Dedham, Stratford St Mary, Langham and Stoke-by-Nayland. There are some Constable sketches of Higham church, which might have

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National Trust

Dedham Vale

● The Hay Wain, 1821, now in the National Gallery ● Flatford Mill from the Lock, 1811, in the V&A ● Boat-building near Flatford Mill, 1814, in the V&A ● The Leaping Horse, 1825, the Royal Academy ● Boys Fishing ‘A Lock on the Stour’, 1812, part of the Fairhaven Collection, Anglesey Abbey ● The Entrance to Fen Lane, 1817, The Tate ● A Cottage in the Cornfield, 1817, V&A ● Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden (his family home in East Bergholt), 1815, Ipswich Museum

been drawn from our field. Another famous local artist, Sir Alfred Munnings, was a regular visitor to our house. He was an old friend of Freddie Boucher, who lived here. Boucher was a keen horseman and, by all accounts, a great character. The story goes he kept a favourite horse in the drawing room after it had won a race at Newmarket.

constable tour Our view up the valley changes with the seasons. In winter, water meadows are frequently flooded where the River Brett meets the Stour at Stratford St Mary. The water brings great flocks of geese and swans, cackling and calling late into the night. Occasionally the floodwater has frozen and we’ve been able to skate on the shallows. The National Trust owns Flatford Mill. There is a tearoom and small museum with guided tours and talks about Constable. Willy Lott’s picturesque cottage,

Spring 2011

on your doorstep ■ constable country

10 things to do in dedham vale and the stour valley

immortalised in The Hay Wain, remains unchanged, overlooking the millpond where ducks still paddle. Throughout the year, both the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley Project and National Trust organise walks of varying lengths throughout the vale with a knowledgeable guide. The popular Walking in the Footsteps of Constable tour never fails to enthral our family and friends. Maps, drawings and reproductions of Constable’s paintings are produced at various vantage points to compare past and present vistas. We learnt that his huge six foot masterpieces were in fact painted in his studio in London, reconstructed from his hundreds of sketches of Dedham Vale. From Fen Lane, leading down from East Bergholt, Constable sketched and painted the landscape over and over again. The two oak trees depicted in Dedham Vale Morning still stand today. The church in East Bergholt is unusual in that it has no tower (probably because of lack of funds at the time

Spring 2011

■ Boats for hire at Dedham

Dedham Vale

■ Little Hall, Lavenham

Britainonview/Richard Surman

Sir Alfred Munnings Museum

● The Dedham Vale and Stour Valley Project arranges guided walks throughout the year. Numbers are limited and cost £3 for adults, with children free. For those and other events, visit ● The Flatford Mill Field Centre (, in Flatford Mill, offers children, students and adults a range of residential and day courses, which are both environmental and artbased. ■ A portrait of Alfred ● The Sir Alfred Munnings Munnings, circa 1911, by Museum at Castle House, Harold Knight located in Dedham (, houses the largest collection of Munnings’ work. Open April 1-October 31, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 2-5pm, admission £5. ● Drift down the Stour in a rowing boat from Dedham ( for £12 an hour. Boats are also available from Flatford, rowing upstream, at £10 an hour. ● Treat yourself to afternoon tea at the Maison Talbooth ( with a glass of champagne, £16.85 a head. ● Visit Stoke-by-Nayland Church. Constable sketched a studio composition of the church by moonlight, now in London’s V&A Museum. ● Constable was commissioned to paint three altar pieces; the only one remaining in situ is in St James’s Church in Nayland, where it was installed in 1810. ● Early 17th century, haunted Thorington Hall is a Grade II National Trust house, open once a year, on September 10. More information at ● Take residential and day painting courses with DrawEast ( ●The Stour Valley is ideal for cyclists, but bring your own bicycle. The Dedham Vale Stour Valley Project has produced a 69-mile cycle route, which takes in points of interest and accommodation. Available from Hadleigh and Sudbury Tourist offices for £3.50.

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on your doorstep ■ constable country

dedham vale facts getting there From the M25, take the A12 for 60 miles, which takes you straight to Dedham and Stratford St Mary. By train, Liverpool Street to Manningtree takes an hour. Manningtree Taxis, on 01206 393333, are a reliable service.

■ Flatford Mill

of its construction); instead it has a medieval bell cage, which houses five great bells. Constable’s parents are buried in the graveyard and Willy Lott’s grave can also be found there. A plaque in East Bergholt marks Constable’s tiny studio cottage by the village shop. Another plaque on some railings marks the grand house that his father built, but was pulled down in the 19th century.

medieval houses Dedham remains unspoilt, despite the coach-loads that arrive in the summer. It is very much a bustling village with a thriving community. Typical of East Anglia, the handsome Georgian houses along the High Street are just facades. The original medieval houses can be seen from behind. The pretty High Street is centred around the church. There is everything here from a butcher to a traditional tearoom, The Essex Rose. The young John Constable’s initials together with the date 1787, it is said, can be seen carved in the brickwork of Grade 1-listed Sherman House, the old grammar school, on the High Street. Visitors should not miss Castle House on the edge of Dedham; the home and studio of Sir Alfred Munnings, it is now a museum and gallery. It houses a wonderful collection of his drawings and paintings. The Dedham Players (, an amateur theatrical group, put on plays in the Assembly Rooms and in the summer in the grounds of Castle House (mid-July). For those visiting the area, medieval Lavenham ( is England’s finest medieval village and is a must with its 340 listed buildings. The National Trust owns the exquisite lime-washed Guild Hall. Constable briefly went to the Old Grammar School there, in Barn Street. From the pharmacy on the High street visitors can rent an audiotape, which takes them on a 90-minute tour of the village. Elizabeth I visited Lavenham in 1578 with 2,000 servants and squires dancing in attendance, while John Lennon and Yoko Ono took off in a hot air balloon from the Market Square. The market town of Sudbury is also worth a visit, famous for being the birthplace of Thomas Gainsborough. Gainsborough House, his home, is now a museum and gallery (

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The best option for exploring Dedham Vale is by foot; a two-mile path along the Stour River joins Dedham and Flatford. For excursions, a car is essential.


■ The Swan Hotel at Lavenham There is a good selection of accommodation in Dedham Vale: smart pubs, boutique hotels and B&Bs. The Sun Inn (, with double rooms from £105, is in middle of Dedham. Milsoms and the grander Maison Talbooth (, have doubles from £117 and are both close to Dedham. The Crown, in Stoke-by-Nayland, is a gastro pub with chic and contemporary bedrooms (; doubles are from £135. The Granary B&B ( is right in Flatford; doubles are £58. Hillside House B&B is in Higham ( and has doubles for £90. For more information, go to

Britainonvie /Rod Edwards

National Trust

getting around

visiting flatford Bridge Cottage, museum and tearoom are open daily from April to October, and at weekends from November to March. The National Trust’s guided three-hour rambles, Walking in the Footsteps of Constable, and behind the scenes tours cost £6 per person. Visit to book a place on a walk, or call Bridge Cottage on 01206 298260.

more information Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty & Stour Valley Project:

You will need more than one visit to see all the sights around Dedham Vale. The coast is within easy striking distant, with the Stour estuary at Manningtree and the sandy beaches at Frinton. Further afield, but less than an hour’s drive from Dedham, are the sleepy coastal village of Aldeburgh ( and Thorpeness for sailing and golf. Music lovers should take a trip to Snape Maltings (, with its concert hall, galleries, shops and restaurants. We, though, are more than happy just looking at our view. ■ The Stour valley

Clare Mann has lived in Dedham Vale for 12 years with her husband, three children, dogs, pet pigs and bantams. She is a regularly contributor to the Sunday Telegraph Travel pages.

National Trust

Spring 2011

on your doorstep - constable country  
on your doorstep - constable country  

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