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Archive for June, 2011

No, not a policeman, but archetypal rural riverside England as depicted by one of our greatest artists

Manningtree to Dedham and Flatford Mill, Essex/Suffolk border

Flatford Mill pond as depicted by Constable

Flatford Mill pond as depicted in The Hay Wain (click to compare with Constable's painting)

Many years ago, a school trip took me to the National Gallery in London. Amongst the priceless collection was one painting which really captured my imagination: The Hay Wain, a depiction of a long-lost rural scene in the English countryside. The work of John Constable, the setting for The Hay Wain was the mill pond at Flatford Mill, owned by Constable’s father, and not far from where Constable was born and raised in East Bergholt in the Stour Valley. I bought a postcard of Constable’s painting, which remained blu-tacked to my bedroom wall for years after. Every now and then I would study it closely, marvelling at the detail conveyed by the artist: the foliage on the trees, the light captured in the cloudy sky and the rippling reflections in the water of the mill pond. Aware that Constable depicted a real location in his painting, Flatford Mill was somewhere I had in the back of my mind to visit for years. I finally got there on this walk, which also took in the meandering River Stour, the historic village of Dedham, and, as has become the pattern on recent walks, a country church or two. Although it lacks the dramatic views of, say, the South Downs, the gently rolling countryside around and about – part of Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – is stunningly beautiful nonetheless.

Start/Finish: Manningtree Station TM094322

Length: 8½ miles/4 hours

How to get there: Manningtree is on the line between London and Ipswich/Norwich, served by direct NXEA trains from Liverpool Street, taking around an hour either way.

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Giving a warm but windy welcome to Britain’s newest National Park

Polegate to Southease, Sussex

On the South Downs Way

On the South Downs Way

The last time I visited the South Downs, the area was still only designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (I say ‘only’ but being an AONB is impressive in itself of course) and was yet to attain full National Park status. Although the creation of the South Downs National Park was announced in March 2009, and the Authority set up to administer affairs began interim operations in April 2010, it was only in April 2011 that the SDNPA became fully active as Planning Authority for the area. So it seemed appropriate to head back to the chalk hills and steep woodlands to celebrate the culmination of a campaign for National Park status that began in the 1920s. The stunning landscape is defined by the area’s geology: as in the North Downs but in a mirror image, the hills consist of a steep scarp slope facing north and a shallower (but still quite steep!) dip slope facing south towards the sea. In fact the South Downs are part of same geological system as the Chilterns and North Downs, the Weald-Artois anticline that also gives rise to the Weald. The dramatic topography results in steep climbs and stunning views which is why I return again and again. And, of course, for the social history: a plethora of prehistoric remains and some of the most beautiful churches to be found anywhere.

Start: Polegate Station TQ582047

Finish: Southease Station TQ430054

Length: 12¾ miles/6 hours

How to get there: Both stations are on Southern’s network. Polegate is between Lewes and Eastbourne and is around 90 minutes from London; Southease, on the Seaford branch, has an hourly service and requires a change from Lewes to return towards London.

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