Railway Walks

Julia Bradbury presented an excellent TV series about Railway Walks.. One that was left out is in our own home county of Suffolk. It passes between Lavenham and Long Melford – quintessential English towns, real honeypots for visitors from home and further afield. To visit both is easy enough – it takes about 15 or 20 minutes drive from one to the other but if you are happy to walk, there is another way – one that avoids the road, one that passes through some beautiful Suffolk countryside.

This post is a walking guide should you wish to follow the path between the towns. If you decide to check it out, I do recommend you use the appropriate OS map to ‘fill in the gaps’ 🙂

The photography was taken in the spring, summer and autumn.It does I hope, give you a real flavour of what this walk is like in all its seasonal moods. As you read the post, you will see numbers in brackets… these refer to the numbered photographs.

In the mid 1800’s the rail network had links connecting Mark’s Tey, Sudbury, Clare, Long Melford and Lavenham. Sudbury still has a railway link but lines to the other places mentioned have long since gone; the section of line between Long Melford and Lavenham closing in 1965. This was not the end of the story however – echoes of the old line remain to this day in the guise of an excellent alternative to the road if you want to pass between the towns – and are happy to expend some calories along the way.

Lavenham to Long Melford Railway - 1Lavenham to Long Melford Railway - 2
At the Lavenham end, the route starts at the north end of the town; close by the bridge on the Bury road – the first visible sign of the old line. Within the first minute of the walk you join a path that passes under a canopy of trees (photo 1). If the thought of walking about four and a half miles is too daunting, the first of a couple of routes back to the town is about 300 metres down the path. The second is a little way further on..

After a few minutes walking, the path leads you up onto a minor road. This is the second route back into Lavenham. If you want carry on, cross over the road to rejoin the path. The bridge over the line may have been filled in but if you look closely to the right of the path, you can see what remains of the old abutments. There are two more bridges further on.. one is another road bridge and the other crosses a small river but more about that one later.

The next kilometre is fairly straight and flat with glimpses of the countryside on either side. The canopy of trees becomes thinner and fails altogether at times giving you sight of the sky.

You reach a second road bridge. This one is still in service and you can pass under the road that runs between Lavenham and the aptly named ‘Bridge Street’. Soon, you enter a cutting (3)- on the right bank, trees have established themselves and along the top, a tall hedge and fields beyond. The cutting follows a long curve to the left and after about half a kilometre, the line and surrounding countryside level out. Woods are in front of you and on your right you will see a reminder of less gentle times. A Pill box (4)… you will see more of these (7 and 8) as you go further.

Lavenham to Melford 3Lavenham to Melford 4Lavenham to Melford 5Lavenham to Melford 6Lavenham to Melford 7Lavenham to Melford 8
You have a choice at this point. You can continue along the old railway or choose to walk a path through the wood (5). It runs only a few metres from the track but it offers a slightly different route on the way to Long Melford or on your way back.

The wooded section lasts for two or three hundred metres and then the path enters an open field. Woods remain on the right but your path lies along its border with the field.

The line of the woods follows a gentle curve to the left. As I walked the old line at this point, I wondered what it was like during the war years. There were three airfields close by this line so it must have been at the centre of less than friendly attention. Certainly, the pill boxes would suggest as much. I also wondered if passengers looked about them at time – the views from this point must have been beautiful.

Returning to the present (!), you see a farm track on the right. Almost straight ahead however, is your path – look for the entrance to an avenue of trees. The old line runs on top of an embankment for about 750 metres at which point you pass into an open field. The path runs alongside the hedge that borders the left of the field. Photo 6 gives a view that looks back towards the avenue of trees.

Soon, the path takes you sharply to the right and for the next kilometre or so, you part company with the old line. You enter a narrow wood and cross a stream; one you will cross again further on. When you exit the wood, turn left and your path follows a field boundary with the woods on your left.

Here, Suffolk could almost be said to have ‘rolling’ countryside 🙂 Keep an eye out for two more pill boxes (7 and 8) on your left. Though they are right on the edge of the field, they are well hidden. One, we only saw on our way back – Elder is doing its best to reclaim the ground it stands on but the 70-year old concrete has so far, proved indomitable.

Lavenham to Melford 9Lavenham to Melford 10Lavenham to Melford 11Lavenham to Melford 12
After about 500 metres, the path turns to the right and you now walk the closest thing this walk has to a hill (9)! At the top, you are close to the Long Melford bypass. You can, if you wish, cross the road here and continue along the farm track which ends at the north end of Long Melford. Just before you reach the road, there is a Garden Centre with a cafe 🙂

If you wish to continue on the longer route, follow the footpath sign to walk with the bypass to your right. The path, after a little while, moves away from the road and passes under another avenue of trees (10). For a few hundred metres, your route takes you downhill and at the bottom, a bridge takes you over the same stream as before (11 and 12). You have also rejoined the old line at this point… The bridge has low parapets but the risk of any accident is mitigated my large amounts of undergrowth and ivy that keeps you to the centre of the path.

After crossing the stream, the path continues straight on and eventually, you reach a point where you have to cross the Long Melford bypass. From this point, the last remaining kilometer is by road until you reach the main street of Long Melford – conveniently, right next to the Bull 🙂

You will find a good range of ‘watering holes’ to have a well deserved cuppa (or something stronger) before making your way back!

For more historical information about the old railway line, click here.

I would welcome any suggestions or comments you may have about this blog 🙂 so please use the facility, below, to leave your thoughts…

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