Dedham and the Stour Valley

Plan your day out in Dedham and the Stour Valley

You don't have to be an art fan to love the Dedham Vale and the Stour Valley. The sheer beauty of the scenery will knock your socks off and there are plenty of things to do, from boating on the river to shopping for arts and crafts.

The de facto capital of Constable Country, Dedham has a scattering of shops amongst its handsome Georgian houses. Housed in a former church, the Art and Craft Centre has three floors showcasing artisan products, as well as distinctive homewares and gifts.

While you're at Flatford, don't forget to pop in to the National Trust shop, where you'll find range of NT branded products, as well as gifts, garden items, jams, pickles and confectionery.

It may be England's smallest town, but Manningtree has plenty of interesting independent retailers, including galleries and gift shops. The popular delicatessen and wine shop is always worth a visit, as is the excellent wholefood store.

The friendly market town of Sudbury has a good range of shops, including high street names and independent stores. The family-run Winch & Blatch department store has been selling homewares and fashions since 1945.

Beautifully set in the heart of the Dedham Vale, Flatford is featured in some of Constable's most famous paintings. As well as the Mill itself, you can see Willy Lott's House, immortalised in the Hay Wain.

Find out more about Flatford Mill

Legendary artist Gainsborough was born in Sudbury and worked there from 1746-1752. This fascinating museum is based in his birthplace, an elegant 16th century house in the centre of the town. The permanent collection covers the artist's whole career, from early portraits and Suffolk landscapes to works from his Bath and London periods.

Visit Gainsborough's House website

For many years, a visit to Flatford was big on the landscapes and atmosphere, but maybe a bit lacking in information about the man who put the location on the map. Now the National Trust have remedied this with a fascinating exhibition on Constable's life, work and the inspiration behind his most famous paintings.

Find out more about John Constable's Exhibition

Run by volunteers, this interesting little museum has artifacts, photos and publications relating to the history of the town and surrounding area. It's located in the library in the town centre, approximately 15 minutes' walk from the station.

Visit Manningtree Museum's website

There's not much left of the grand 18th century church at Mistley, but what's there is magnificent and well worth a look – two amazing porticoed, classical-style towers designed by the famous architect Robert Adam. They were preserved as a landmark for sailors when the main body of the church was demolished in 1870.

Find out more about Mistley Towers

Enjoy exhibitions of work by contemporary artists in this light, airy space. Many of the paintings and sculptures on display have been inspired by the natural beauty of the Suffolk and Essex countryside and coast.

Find out more about the Boat House Gallery

This is a 'must-see' when you're in Dedham. Explore the life and work of England's most famous equestrian artist, whose work also gives us a window on rural life in the early 20th century. This brilliant little museum is in his former home, a Tudor-Georgian gem which he called the 'house of my dreams'.

Visit Munnings Museum website

A time-honoured Sudbury institution, the Quay is a brilliant little performance venue which presents a year-round programme of drama, music, comedy film and more.

Visit the Quay Theatre website

This award-winning park has everything you need for a great 'al fresco' family day out, including play facilities for children of all ages, gardens, a skate park, tennis courts and plenty of green space for picnics.

Find out more about Belle Vue Park

A living landscape painting, Flatford has plenty to offer visitors in addition to its historical associations with Constable and his family. Take tea by the riverside, hire a rowing boat for a leisurely scull through leafy glades, or simply enjoy the glory of the countryside as you ramble through the green meadows under the big, open skies.

Find out more about Flatford

This 60-mile regional walking route runs from the estuary at Manningtree through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to Newmarket, close to the source of the River Stour. If you're walking east to west, the first part of the trail leads from the Cattawade, close to Manningtree station, to Flatford Mill, Dedham and Stratford St Mary.

Find out more about The Stour Valley Path

The great British tradition of afternoon tea is well catered for in this part of the world, as is the modern preference for artisan coffees. Dedham's most famous establishment is the 16th century Essex Rose Tea House, renowned for its scrumptious cream tea served with Tiptree strawberry jam. Other options include cafés at the Dedham Art and Craft Centre, the Munnings Museum and Flatford, as well as the Tea House at Mistley Quay, which has stunning riverside views.

This part of East Anglia has been renowned for its culinary excellence for decades. Over the years, the traditional village inns have evolved and been joined by top-class restaurants to provide a wide range of mouth-watering eating out options, from haute cuisine to ethnic specialities. Pubs with great food and plenty of character include the Sun in Dedham and the Red Lion in Manningtree, the town's oldest pub. For scenic riverside dining, there's the Boathouse Restaurant in Dedham, as well as the Mill Hotel in Sudbury. In Manningtree, Luca is a welcoming bistro focusing on rustic Italian cooking, and in neighbouring Mistley there's the award-winning Thorn restaurant with rooms, originally an 18th century coaching inn.

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