Wanderer at Large: Essex & Suffolk – Constable Country

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the area north-east of London that includes the counties of Essex and Suffolk.

Willy Lott’s cottage on the River Stour: Constable’s viewpoint for his famous Haywain painting..

Constable Country
Dedham & East Bergholt

The area around Dedham Vale and East Bergolt, on the borders of Suffolk and Essex, is known as Constable Country, named after one of Britain’s greatest artists.

John Constable was born in Suffolk in 1776, the son of wealthy landowner. He was mainly an open-air painter, who created gentle pictures of the visible world – with a long-lasting influence. He was happiest with the vivid, dewy greens of water meadows and mills, under fresh windy skies, his deep knowledge of which he owed to his early life in the local countryside.

For a scenic route through Constable Country, now designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’, exit from junction 30 of the A12, go through Stratford St. Mary, past the water building and over the bridge. Bear left onto Dedham Rd back over the A12.

Dedham Church dominates the village centre. It appeared in Constable’s 1822 work View of the Stour near Dedham. Local places to eat and drink here include Maison Talbooth near Stratford St. Mary, and the Boathouse Restaurant on Mill Lane.

Return to the A12 and exit at junction 31 to get to the village of East Bergholt via the B1070. Turn right onto Gaston Street at the Carriers Arms. Follow the road through the village. The Red Lion is your right, and on your left is St. Mary’s Church (all the churches in this part of the world seem to be dedicated to St. Mary – reflecting a strong Catholic past). Here, Constable’s parents are buried.

The site of Constable’s childhood home is also nearby and marked by a plaque. John was born there. Follow the road as it becomes Rectory Hill. Turn right onto Flatford Road (signed to Flatford – a one-way route).

At Flatford Mill you will a find a National Trust field centre, a Constable exhibition, tea-room, boat-hire and toilets. Constable’s father Golding was a miller and John visited Flatford Mill several times with his him. The artist spent a lot of time painting the picturesque surrounding countyside nearby: “These scenes made me a painter”, he once said.

Explore the area, and seek out the location for perhaps his most famous composition The Haywain which now hangs in the National Gallery. You may recognise it from Willy Lott’s cottage that appeared in the painting. Lott was a local farmer whose house Constable chose to represent on canvas many times.

As you head back up the one-way route to East Bergholt, take the opportunity to look back and admire the scenery, a perfect pastoral viewpoint of Constable Country.

Chocolate box England. Good walking country. Proper relaxing.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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