High Street, Dedham
Pevsner describes Dedham as "easily the most attractive small town in Essex" and as we arrive here with our friends Dave and Chris we are inclined to agree. We parked near Dedham Mill and walked up to the High Street to see the church of St Mary the Virgin.
This is a typical wool church, started in 1492 in the Perpendicular gothic style.
A little further up the High Street is the former Grammar School in pair of early Georgian houses. John Constable apparently went to school here.
We walked further along, and continued into Brook Street then Crown St to see two sets of almshouses. Barfield's Almshouses date from 1834.
Dunton's Almshouses, further up the road, date from the 16th century but were rebuilt in 1806 and modernised in 1966. They are less visually interesting.
We retraced our steps and headed across the fields towards the River Stour.
This was slightly confusing as we have only recently completed the Stour Valley Path in Dorset. After walking across the water meadows we reached a bridge across the river with the National Trust tea shop known as Bridge Cottage on the far bank. A family of swans enlivened the foreground.
After crossing the river into Suffolk, we turned right passing the exquisite Valley Farm on our left ...
... to reach Flatford Mill, where Constable painted the celebrated Haywain.
Nearby is Willy Lott's House, the subject of another of Constable's pictures.
We now retraced our steps and walked up the hill away from the river and along a path by the road to reach East Bergholt. Pevsner describes St Mary's church as "eminently picturesque" with its incomplete tower and brick west end.
The church was begun in the 15th century and the tower in 1525. It seems that construction soon stopped, never to be resumed. The church bells were placed in an unusual structure in the churchyard called a Bell Cage and are still rung from there.
From here, we walked back a little way along the road and turned right to walk down a track towards the river and return to Dedham across the water meadows, finally reaching the bridge and mill.
Conditions: cold with a threat of rain.
Distance: just over 4 miles.
Map: Explorer 196 (Sudbury, Hadleigh and Dedham Vale).
Rating: four stars. Full of interest.