** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
There is a tendency to travel further afield in the Summer, and for many of us the pleasant shady walks in Thetford Forest, and the well-maintained facilities at West Stow Country Park, Suffolk, will already be well-known. This issue aims to provide the background to West Stow, and some suggestions for shady Summer walks.
West Stow, Suffolk
Archaeological studies showed that between 450 and 650 AD, an Anglo-Saxon settlement occupied a sandy site near the River Lark, 6 miles NW of Bury St Edmunds. The settlers either advanced in shallow boats up the River Lark, or on foot along the trackway called the Icknield Way, the oldest road in Britain, being in Saxon times already at least 2000 years old.
Today, the Country Park stands on the same site, and reconstructed houses of the Anglo-Saxon village gives visitors the opportunity to picture life during this early period of history. In particular, special events, such as costume drama, and demonstrations of crafts, such as weaving, basket making, and metal and leather working give visitors a chance to interact with modern-day Anglo-Saxons .
Most walkers, however, will visit the Country park to walk round the attractive lake & by the river, and to roam more widely in the adjacent Kings Forest, which is a part of the East Anglian Forest known generally as Thetford Forest.
Development of West Stow Country Park
The site was originally part of West Stow Heath, forming part of the adjacent Culford Estate. In 1886, this part of the heath was sold to the local council, and later a sewage farm was established at the east end of the site. This did not close until 1953, when the area was used for mineral extraction, and then, in the 1960s, as a municipal rubbish dump! When the dump was full, a gravel pit was dug at the west end of the site, and the landfill site landscaped with the topsoil. During excavation of the gravel pit, the Anglo-Saxon site was discovered and investigated, and subsequently the reconstructed village was built on the original ground. At the east end of the site, the building and chimney of the old pumping station remain. In 1979, the Country Park opened officially, comprising 150 acres of heath, sparse grassland, swamp, woods, and the lake. It is possible to walk over 2 miles on made-up paths.
The Visitor Centre (opened 1988) and Angles Café overlook a bird feeding area with hides, and information boards relating to wildlife are distributed round the site.
Forest on the Norfolk-Suffolk Border
The Breckland, around Brandon and Thetford, until the 1920s was a region of dry, unstable sands, much uncultivated. Land became available between the wars due to the depressed state of agriculture, which produced great poverty in Breckland, and led to many farmers subsisting on the produce of rabbit warrens. The first land for tree -planting was acquired by the Forestry Commission from 1922, and gradually more added until 80 square miles were planted with trees, mostly Scots and Corsican pines, making Thetford Forest the largest in England. Adverse climatic conditions (rainfall average 23 inches/annum, cold Winters, dry Summers ), and a poor soil (deep sands, or shallow sand over chalk) dictated the choice of conifers. In the post-war years, opening of much of the forest to the public, amenity planting of deciduous trees, and development of car parking and recreational facilities, has given us the lovely forest we can now enjoy.
Walking in the West Stow locality
The best map to use is the Explorer 229. Several Long Distance Paths (LDPs) pass through West Stow, emphasizing its importance in the network of walking routes. These include: The Lark Valley Path; The Icknield Way; and the St Edmunds Way.
–But consider first easy walks in the immediate vicinity of the park, where a leaflet is available from both the café and the Visitor centre to guide your steps around West Stow Country Park itself. The shop attached to the café also has leaflets on some of the other routes described below.
—Nearby, on the junction of the A1101 with the minor road to West Stow village is the Ramparts Field Carpark and picnic site. In Summer, it is well worth pausing for a short stroll here, and admiring the wildflowers. The short grass may be bright with the white flowers of meadow saxifrage in April, small clumps of the rare maiden pink, and yellow biting stonecrop in June, and purple vipers bugloss and rose-bay willow herb in high Summer. In Winter, you will have to be content with the odd gorse bloom.
Off the A1101, between Lackford and Flempton is the Lackford Bird Reserve, with several hides, giving views of birds on several attractive lakes. The recently opened Visitor Centre has excellent displays and facilities. An agreeable walk of a couple of miles is possible here, with many pleasant distractions. However, be warned that it is not safe to walk here from either Lackford village or Flempton, as the busy road has no footway or verges, nor does there seem to be any route on foot into the reserve other than down the driveway off the A1101.
North of the Country Park, on the other side of the road is The Kings Forest, which is largely open access on gravel or grassy rides. Look out for signs advising of forestry operations, and if you venture into the smaller rides, making several turns, be sure to take a compass as well as a map! It is in the less frequented rides where you will more likely encounter deer and the shyer birds. We have seen a rough-legged buzzard and sparrow hawks here, and, on an unforgettable night walk, heard night-jars.
–For a more substantial walk traversing the site, try The Lark Valley Path, which is a 13 mile linear waymarked route between Mildenhall and Bury St Edmunds, passing Icklingham, West Stow, Culford and Fornham All Saints. A bus service runs between the end points of the walk, and some of the buses actually call at the park entrance. Telephone “County Connections” on 01473 265676 for details.
–It is possible to use the Lark Valley Path going W as the start of an excellent 13 mile circuit. Follow the waymarked route NNE out of the Country Park W of the lake, crossing the road and continuing briefly NNE on the rough track, Weststow Road, towards the Kings Forest. In 250yd, at a prominent waymark post, turn left (W) to follow the Lark Valley Path towards, then through Icklingham. At the far end of the village, on a sharp bend in the A1101, turn NNE up the track called Seven Tree Road. Follow this 3 miles to the T-junction with Dukes Ride. Turn E to the B1106. A footpath runs S by the road just inside the hedge at far as Shelterhouse Corner. Here there is a monument to George V, where pick up Queen Mary’s Avenue between fine trees, leading into the long byway, Weststow Road, which returns you to the Country Park.
–For a walk leading out of the forest, take the Lark Valley Path E out of the Country Park past the old pumping house, following waymarks through a strip of woodland, and turning shortly along by the River Lark, to emerge by a charming little bridge where the road crosses. Turn left to follow this minor road to West Stow Church. Almost opposite, the Lark Valley Path enters the grounds of Culford Hall, now a boarding school. The route either follows the right of way along the drive, or a marked permissive way beside the river. In either case one emerges in Culford village, where a path (best in Summer, damp in Winter) is the start of a route to Timworth. From the A134, follow a minor road to Timworth church, and take a right of way from the rear of the churchyard across a point-to-point course to Ingham. A footpath runs W through Place Farmyard across arable fields back to Culford. From Brockley Corner, a sandy byway runs N past a tumulus called “Hill of Health” on the map. After half a mile, turn left on the path to Wordwell Hall. Over the road, a further footpath continues W to the edge of the forest. Follow shady rides along the forest edge to Forest Lodge, and the hard track S, to pick up the road leading W, shortly back to the country park. (12 miles).
This walk can be shortened considerably by turning N on the waymarked path crossing the playing fields in Culford Scholl grounds, and turning E along the road, to join the byway past “Hill of Health”. (8 miles).
The Icknield Way Long Distance Path, runs 100 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon near Dunstable to Knettishall Heath in Suffolk, passing through West Stow. The route is co-incident with the Lark Valley Path from Icklingham to Weststow Road in the Kings Forest . It passes through the Country Park, and from Forest Lodge, makes along the edge of the tree belt to Wordwell Hall, before joining the long byway NNE, then E to D-House. The route uses Euston Drove, and through the Euston Estate, to Knettishall.
The St Edmunds Way, starts in Manningtree, to pass through Flatford, Bures, Sudbury, Long Melford, Stanningfield, Bury St Edmunds, West Stow, Thetford and finishes at Brandon. Approaching West Stow from the E, the route passes through the grounds of Culford Hall, and beyond the Country Park, it leaves NNE along the track variously called Weststow Road, or The Icknield Way (not to be confused with the LDP of that name). A route along the New Barnham Slip takes one into Thetford, then by riverside to Brandon.
East Anglian Forests – Forestry Commission Guide, Ed. Herbert L.Edlin
HMSO, London 1972. ISBN 11 710032 3
The St Edmund Way – A Walk across Suffolk
Jean & John Andrews (£4.25 from 6, Priory Close, Ingham, Bury St Edmunds, IP31 1NN)
The Icknield Way – a Walkers’ Guide
Available from The Icknield Way Association
D. Northrop, 5 Perne Ave, Cambridge, CB1 3RY, tel. 01223 244522
The Value of Trees in Society
A new Woodland Trust Report (see Broadleaf, No.62, Spring 2004, p.7), brings together evidence of the total value of woodland in society, in terms of economic, social and environmental factors.
James Cooper, the Woodland Trust’s public affairs manager quotes the health benefits of walking and cycling in woodland beauty being estimated as saving the NHS up to M£4.5 per annum in the West Midlands along, while general tree cover of 20% was thought to add 7% to house prices in parts of Central England and the Welsh Borders.
A Forestry Commission study estimated that the absorption of (airborne) pollution by trees resulted in the saving of 65 to 89 lives in the UK per year. A Northumberland study put the value of woodland for flood alleviation at ca. £1200 /ha. Over a quarter of the 350 million woodland visits by the public each year generate money into the local economy. Residents of tree-lined streets are reported to be in far less conflict with neighbours compared with those in treeless neighbourhoods. For the full report visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/publications Meanwhile, just enjoy a walk in the woods!
The Woodland Trust
Britain’s leading woodland conservation charity offers free public access at nearly all its 1180 sites, covering 19 209 ha. Members receive the magazine “Broadleaf”, and an annual directory of sites. We admire especially the initiatives within the last 20 years of new woodland planting, which has particularly benefited East Anglia. The Woodland Trust is at Autumn Park, Grantham, Lincs., NG31 6LL. tel 01476 581111.
New Bridleway at Bottisham, Cambs.
Four members of RA Cambridge Group attended the official opening on 29 March, of a new bridleway on Cambridgeshire County Council land. It runs from the A1303 “old Newmarket Road” at grid ref. TL 562 600 to Swaffham Heath Road at TL 570 620, and consists of a grassy field-edge path beside a hedge. It is crossed by a footpath from Park End, Bottisham, and the south end connects with the network of byways from Great Wilbraham and Westley Bottom. Thus it makes possible a number of new circuits in the Bottisham – Wilbraham locality. JM
Looking Back – When did that happen?
Coming across a bunch of old Cambridgeshire County Council newsheets called “Countryside Matters”,
Summer Issue, 1990 had an article on the opening of 26 miles of the Ouse Valley Way, “the culmination of a huge programme of work organised by Huntingdonshire District Council.” Today, this has become but one section of a much longer route from the upper reaches of the river in Bedfordshire, to the exit of the Great Ouse into the Wash.
Spring Issue, 1991, refered to the purchase of 164 acres of the Gog Magog Hills by the Magog Trust in 1989. In 1991, 26 acres were sown with chalk grassland mixture, 30 acres were sown as meadowland, and 18 acres of woodland were planted. Some of the trees are now 15 – 20 feet high, and the wildflowers are more beautiful each year…
The same issue emphasised the requirements of the 1990 Rights of Way Act, especially in respect of farmers marking cross field paths across arable fields. Thirteen years on, the Ramblers’ Association is still fighting this battle on our behalf…
Summer Issue, 1991 featured plans for Milton Country Park. Contractors working for South Cambridgeshire District Council had at that time completed a £280 000 demolition and clearance job ready for landscape work to begin. Today, the Country Park is well-established, and users are enjoying the additional benefits of the adjacent newly opened cycle and footbridge over the A14.
Spring Issue, 1992 described the start of the then Countryside Commission’s scheme for Parish Paths Partnership. This scheme, involving some 70 parishes or so per year in Cambridgeshire, gives small grants direct to parishes for managing their local network.
The same issue has a double spread of the problems of litter in the countryside. Here, nothing changes – the major problems are fly tipping, and dumping of old cars. These eyesores are reported regularly to the District Council, not always to any effect. Other problems are litter bins, which, of course, need emptying. Seeing overflowing bins creating a horrible mess after a bank holiday, it confirms my personal view that most tourist sites would be better without them, so that we should take our litter home. JM
Correction – Great Chesterford
In the last issue, describing walks around Great Chesterford, I erroneously described this village as being 6 miles from Cambridge. I had intended to put 10 miles. Eagle-eyed John Capes spotted this mistake, and puts the distance at 11 miles. Thank you, John.-
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© Janet Moreton, 2004