Events flow as festival makes the River Stour the star of a special year

Members of the River Stour Festival steering group gather to discuss the event at the River Stour Tr

Members of the River Stour Festival steering group gather to discuss the event at the River Stour Trust's Education and Visitor Centre at Great Cornard. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The mighty, much-loved watercourse that marks most of the border between Suffolk and Essex is to be celebrated during 2018 as never before.

Painter Simon Carter points out a River Stour feature to a group on a walk organised by The River Ru

Painter Simon Carter points out a River Stour feature to a group on a walk organised by The River Runs Through Us last year at Flatford. Picture: STUART BOWDITCH - Credit: Archant

Whatever way you pronounce it, the River Stour - that’s either rhyming with power or with poor - is a mighty East Anglian watercourse that has a wealth of social and natural history as well as an immense modern importance.

It’s certainly got power - enough to propel its billions of gallons almost 50 miles from its source in east Cambridgeshire to the North Sea. And there is nothing poor about it, rich as it is in wildlife, landscape and cultural significance.

For much of its length the border between Suffolk and Essex, it is a river celebrated for centuries as a vital transport route, essential to the economy of vast swathes of East Anglia. It has been an inspiration to internationally acclaimed artists such as John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and Alfred Munnings. Now it is to be celebrated as never before.

A year-long festival will honour the river’s culture and communities as well as its landscape, much of which nationally designated and protected as the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

A foraging walk organised as part of the The River Runs Through Us project was a success last year -

A foraging walk organised as part of the The River Runs Through Us project was a success last year - the project has led to the creation of the River Stour Festival this year. Picture: JAMES RAVINET - Credit: Archant

Organisers hope the event will provide an impetus to arts, nature, health, the environment and businesses in the Stour Valley and beyond, and have an ambition to “connect” local people and visitors with “the rich landscape on our doorstep.”

A steering group worked virtually throughout 2017 to organise a wide-ranging festival programme of art, music, poetry, literature, exploration, history, walks, swims, boating and exhibitions. The group includes representatives of local authorities and charities, businesses the Dedham Vale AONB, the River Stour Trust, the National Trust, Essex and Suffolk wildlife trusts and the Field Studies Council at Flatford.

Most Read

The seed for the festival was sown by artist Ruth Philo, of Bulmer, near Sudbury, who is working on a project with sound artist Stuart Bowditch centred on their film The River Runs Through Us. The project has involved Stour walks and swims and the film will be screened in pubs and galleries in the Stour Valley.

“During the project we met so many people and heard of so many ideas about the river and what it means to people that we thought our project could be expanded into something much more,” said Ms Philo. “There were so many ideas and so many people wanted to be part of it. We had our first meeting about the festival last February at the National Trust visitor centre at Flatford and lots of people attended and no-one said no to it - everyone wanted it to happen.”

Gaining “constant inspiration” from the Stour, Ms Philo said she had a strong personal connection with the river. “My father worked for the Essex Rivers Authority and surveyed locks on the river and so, every week, he’d be looking at it,” she said.

She did not move to the area until 1988 but is now captivated by the Stour. “Everyone values the river and there’s always a lot going on that is connected to it,” she said. “The festival is a way of bringing everything together and it will bring many people together. It will bring three counties together. The river is an absolutely vital part of the social fabric of this part of Suffolk and Essex – and up into Cambridgeshire too.”

The festival has received funding from the Dedham Vale AONB Sustainable Development Fund (SDF). The AONB funding officer Cathy Smith said: “Introducing a festival to showcase the outstanding River Stour and Dedham Vale AONB on the Essex/Suffolk border was seen as an important activity by the SDF panel when considering the range of projects who applied for grants in 2017/18.

“The AONB is keen to support the development of the River Stour Festival with a £2,500 grant, and are contributing some of our own team-led walks and a family Nature Day to the events on offer in 2018. The SDF particularly likes to support projects that benefit the communities in the Stour Valley, encourage them to enjoy and care for the outstanding landscape of the river valley, and that can also boost the local economy. The River Stour Festival ticks all of those boxes.”

The tourism potential of the festival is being highlighted strongly, with sponsorship coming from Suffolk Cottage Holidays, part of the Suffolk Secrets holiday letting agency group.

Nigel Chapman, chairman of the AONB’s Joint Advisory Committee and a member of the festival steering group, added: “A festival like this will draw people to enjoy, exercise and relax in and around the AONB and wider valley. We welcome everyone into their own discovery of the Stour Valley and aim to enthuse and inspire them to build a long-term love of this outstanding landscape.”

Fellow steering group member Sarah Pugh, owner of the Sea Pictures Gallery, Clare, added: “The very nature of my gallery focuses on our connections with water. Rivers link to the sea and therefore we are all reminded by them that we are an island nation.

“The Stour has provided the lifeblood for many towns and villages - Clare for example is a wool town with 2,000 years of history and that history is inextricably linked to the Stour. Rivers were the starting points for much of civilisation in Britain and the festival will celebrate all the many aspects of how vital the Stour has been, and still is.”

More than 50 events and six special festival exhibitions are scheduled to follow throughout the year. More information about the festival can be obtained from the website.

More information about The River Runs Through Us can be found via the website.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter