Dedham and the Stour Valley

Manningtree station is the gateway to the Dedham Vale and the Stour Valley.

Blessed with timeless beauty that's quintessentially English, this idyllic countryside was captured on canvas by the painters John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough.

Before setting off on the 35-minute walk through 'Constable Country' to Flatford Mill, it's worth a browse around Manningtree, which vies for the title 'smallest town in England'. It has some interesting independent shops, including an excellent heath food store/deli, as well as cafes, pubs and restaurants.

The walk is clearly signposted, taking you on the river path behind the station. You'll enjoy some captivating scenery along the way, before arriving at the Mill, owned by Constable's father. It was in this area that the painter created some of his most famous works, including his iconic picture of the Mill itself, as well as The Hay Wain, which features the delightful 16th century Willy Lott's Cottage. Why not hire a boat and take a leisurely trip down the river?

Another 35 minutes or so walking alongside the river will bring you to the exquisite village of Dedham, where Constable went to school. The main street is lined with wonderful architecture, including handsome Georgian townhouses and quaint half-timbered cottages.

A cyclist's paradise

The meandering byways of the Stour Valley are also ideal for cyclists, and seeing the Dedham Vale from two wheels guarantees plenty of visual splendour. With a network of quiet country lanes and gentle slopes, it’s enjoyable for cyclists of all abilities.

For art lovers there's the Painter’s Trail – a 69-mile cycle route exploring the area's most artistic locations, which can be broken down into shorter stages for easier day rides.

Step back in time

The Stour Valley is also rich in history and heritage. Its beautiful countryside is dotted with architectural gems, including Kentwell Hall and Melford Hall. To visit either of these impressive stately homes, take the train to Sudbury, from where there's a bus link to Long Melford, with services every 30 minutes. Alternatively, there's a lovely walk along the old Stour Valley Railway track-bed.

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