Sudbury Ramblers launch new wool towns walking trail
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
With spring just around the corner, there’s no better time than now to dust off your walking boots and get ready to explore Suffolk.
Whether you’re an avid hiker or a casual walker, I’m sure we can all agree there’s nothing better than a ramble in the countryside, seeing what our beautiful county has to offer.
Rich in natural beauty and heritage, Suffolk sure has it all.
That’s why one local group has decided to trial a new 50-mile walking route linking up all of the county’s historic wool towns and villages.
The term ‘wool towns’ refers to a group of settlements in south Suffolk that were at the heart of the woven cloth industry during the medieval period.
The new route – which is being trialled during its inaugural ramble on Wednesday, March 23 – will take walkers through Sudbury, Clare, Long Melford, Lavenham, and Hadleigh.
Keith Brown, chair of the Sudbury Ramblers, says of the project: “It was an idea that was brought up during the start of Clare Walkers. The leader of that group, Derek Blake, was interested in trying to form some sort of long-distance route linking up the wool towns. So I was tasked with getting this together by planning some routes, and it all escalated from there.”
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The route was originally due to be unveiled in 2020 – to tie in with the Sudbury Ramblers’ 50th anniversary – but was unfortunately pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sudbury Ramblers is one of seven Suffolk-based walking groups in the Suffolk Area of Ramblers, and was the first group to be established in the area in 1970. “We organise walks in and around the county, as well as organise holidays and promote walking, paths, and rights of way,” Keith adds.
To trial the route, Keith and the ramblers will be doing a section each month.
“We will go from Sudbury to Boxford, then over to Hadleigh before heading to Lindsey Tye. From Lindsey Tye we will go to Lavenham, then Long Melford, followed by Clare, and Belsham before coming back to Sudbury.
“It certainly takes in part of the county that many people may not have seen before. It gives walkers the chance to see the wonderful countryside here in Suffolk, and each of the individual wool towns have a lot of history and architecture to offer.
“We’re still in the infancy stages of organising the route, and we’ve haven’t done the whole thing yet - but we want to see if it’s a viable walk for people to do.”
If all goes to plan, the next stage will be to have the walk properly signposted for future generations to enjoy.
Expressing the importance of keeping walking routes alive, Keith adds: “There’s always a need for new trails. Some of the footpaths we’ll be using may be less trodden than others, but it’s a great way to get people treading on these paths.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it, and we’re very keen to get people walking. And of course, it should hopefully bring business to more remote parts of Suffolk.”
To find out more about the new trail and the Sudbury Ramblers, visit sudburyramblers.org.uk
The wool towns: what to do and what to see
Perhaps the most popular and picturesque of them all, the village of Lavenham is a sight that has to be seen to be believed. Dubbed by some as ‘the Venice of Tudor England’, Lavenham was once at the epicentre of the medieval wool trade, making it one of the 20 most wealthy settlements in England at the time.
Today, it is home to a number of listed buildings from that period that are well-preserved and definitely worth checking out, including the Guildhall, the Little Hall, the Wool Hall, and The Crooked House.
Lavenham is also a great place to grab a spot of lunch or a bite to eat. Choose from a number of restaurants and tea rooms, including the award-winning ice cream parlour Hadley’s at Lavenham, The Greyhound pub, and The Swan at Lavenham to name a few.
Proudly named ‘Suffolk’s smallest town’ Clare is chock full of history and things to see. Nestled on the River Stour, visitors to this gorgeous settlement can enjoy the likes of Clare Country Park (which is home to the ruins of a 13th century castle that overlooks the town from a 60ft high motte), Clare Ancient House Museum, and Clare Priory.
If you work up an appetite on your rambles, be sure to stop off at Honey Hill – the town’s one-stop-shop for authentic pizzas, or Smalltown – a bakery that specialises in coffee, sweet treats, and sourdough.
Quintessential Long Melford is famed for its long high street filled with shops and galleries, and two Tudor mansions – Melford Hall and Kentwell Hall.
The village is also home to 100 listed buildings, including the spectacular Church of the Holy Trinity – a medieval wool church constructed between 1467 and 1497.
If you stop off here on your adventures, there are a number of places to grab refreshments from, including The George and Dragon Hotel which is set within an historic coaching inn, The Hare Inn, and Nethergate Brewery which has a tap room open seven days a week.
Dating back to Saxon times, this ancient market town set in the heart of Stour Valley is a popular spot for visitors year-round. The town’s market was established in the 11th century, and its booming textile trade prospered well into the late Middle Ages. Today, Sudbury is famed for its silk weaving industry – so much so that Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company has been dressing royals for years and holds a royal warrant.
Sudbury is also known as the birthplace of famed artist Thomas Gainsborough, who helped put the region on the map thanks to his watercolour paintings.
As you get to know the town and its sprawling countryside and meadows, be sure to stop off and enjoy some of the local fare. Places worth grabbing a bite to eat from include Dough & Co which prides itself on woodfired pizzas, or The White Horse pub which serves freshly-cooked classic pub dishes.
Home to 250 listed buildings, Hadleigh is brimming with history and makes for a great day out on foot. Visitors can marvel at its 15th century timber-framed Guildhall, the Deanery Tower, St Mary’s Church, and a number of buildings that feature ‘pargeting’ - a highly-detailed style of plasterwork that dates back to the 17th century.
If you get peckish while exploring, there are some great places to stop off at, including Cobblers Café & Wine Bar, The King’s Head and Jet Lounge.