17/9/2016 There are many places in Suffolk that no guide book, and hardly even a local, will ever direct you to. Many of them I don’t know the names of, if they even have names. But because they are anonymous, ‘mundane’ – taken for granted as part of the landscape – or hidden away out of sight, they possess a peculiar attraction to me. Apart from the fact that they are simply beautiful and idyllic. I could easily take my bike, thoughts or a book and while away a few minutes or hours sitting in the grass at any of these places and arrive home feeling like I’ve had a holiday, as I have done on many occasions. I often also return in possession of some inspiration or a solved problem. There will no doubt be many more secret spots to add to this collection over the months and years to come…
This place of course has to come top of my list. It does, at least, have a fitting name. It is a place I go to watch swallows, admire the orchids, look for elderflowers and blackberries, walk, sit, listen and dream.
Pond and meadow between Kettlebaston and Preston St Mary
I discovered this place a few years ago when I walked dogs regularly in Kettlebaston, an adjacent village to Hitcham. A footpath up the (diminutive) River Brett leads to a sheep field, and just beyond it, a little meadow where willows have been planted (but why, as usual, in straight lines?). On the near side of the meadow is a clear, weedy shallow pond with a jetty. It looked a fairly unfrequented spot until recently, when the jetty was mended and a kind of summerhouse erected next to the pond. It doesn’t (yet, at least) blend in with the landscape, but I would dearly love to fling open the doors, put an inflatable camping mattress in it and spend a night there… I spotted a kingfisher last week which is always a sure stamp of magic. On the other side of the sheep field is a giant coppice poplar, which I first mistook for a willow, having discovered it in winter. It looks as though it has a network of caves and tunnels in its coppice stool which would tempt many a creature to make a home inside.
Great Green, Burgate (near Diss)
What a strange and wonderful place. I love the idea of living in a huge circle along a bumpy and pot-holed track round a large, pond-rich, semi-wild marshy common that you can barely see to the other side of. It feels as though it is in the middle of nowhere, despite being less than half a mile (as the crow flies, but more like 2 by road) from the main road between Bury St Edmunds and Diss. On my map, and from the road entrance to the Green, it looks as though the gravel track runs right round the perimeter. Exploring on foot, however, I discovered that on the far side it turns into a grass track, which adds to its sense of remoteness. It took some searching to find out for certain that this is an official common, as I did not know which village it belonged to and it was not listed under Great Green alone. I have since discovered it is not just Burgate that boasts a Great Green and Little Green: its neighbour, Thrandeston, is also in possession of both, which I expect sends many a confused visitor in the wrong direction, as it almost did to me. It is one of a number of commons in this area, the largest of which is Mellis, also strange and wonderful, just a couple of miles away.
Hawstead Lane (between Hawstead and Sicklemere)
When taking a back route home to avoid queues at the two roundabouts on the way out of Bury St Edmunds, I discovered this little lane along a valley leading towards Sicklesmere. I have only just now found out its name by looking it up on a map. The first time I went this way I encountered several escaped (I assumed) large white goats on the road, which of course endeared it to me immediately. I have since enjoyed seeing them where they are supposed to be: on the meadows in the valley on the south side of the road where horses, ponies, sheep, alpacas and chickens also reside. I have had no more meetings with goats; only rabbits, hares and birds.
Some of the meadows were flooded last winter and flocks of geese took advantage. This summer a beautiful poppy field appeared up the hill on the north side of the lane. This is old England: rolling countryside, small meadows bounded by hedges, and far more trees generally than in most other areas of East Anglia. There is an old windmill in the distance, which I have now discovered is the Grade II listed tower mill at Great Whelnetham, called Tutelina, or Clarke’s, Mill. It is just such a pity there is no public footpath along what must be a stream running along the lowest point of the valley, judging by the stands of willows. The map tells me that it is in fact the River Lark – all the more incentive to try and find some not-too-illegal way to explore this area. It is a miracle I ever make it home from Bury St Edmunds at all.
Lanes between High Town Green, Rattlesden and Castle Farm, Felsham
This is a favourite cycle route of mine. Directly north of Rattlesden Airfield and just beyond Punchard’s Farm, where we used to buy unpasteurised Jersey milk until they stopped producing it a few years ago in favour of Angus beef, there is a lane on the left which soon passes a farm with several small yards and a flint wall running along the road. On the opposite side of the lane is a pond. There were pigs in the yards when I was a child, and, if I remember rightly, huge numbers of ducks on the pond and on the lane. There is nothing supernatural about it; however, so many years passed between the formation of these memories and my discovering the place again by chance 7 years ago, that I had almost begun to think it was a childhood myth or dream: a place which never really existed except in my head, or if it did, it must be in some distant land that I would never find again. The pigs are no longer there and the duck population has (perhaps) dwindled, but it still retains the mythical quality it had in my imagination for so many years.
Following an anti-clockwise loop towards home, this lane leads to an even smaller lane, so narrow that grass grows down the centre of it. On the right hand side is one of the most beautiful of all medieval Suffolk farmhouses, with a lovely little roofed entrance gate.