With wind-driven rain bouncing off the windows, recollections of balmier days seem in order. Some 20 years ago, dragonflies danced along the riverbank as we made our way in bright sunshine down the Gipping Valley following, by and large, the route of an old towpath. The River Gipping flows south-east through Stowmarket to Ipswich and has a rich and varied history, passing through areas that show many different aspects of the valley’s character.
Our day started with a short train ride from our base at Ipswich up to Stowmarket where the trail starts just a stone’s throw from the railway station. With some eighteen miles ahead of us before we reached Ipswich, there was time for only a brief visit to the Museum of East Anglian Life before we swung onto the trail.
Swung was appropriate as we ducked and weaved along the obviously little-used early stage which clung to the riverbank flanked by a mile or more of industrial sites. The contrast between the environments to left and right could hardly have been greater and the birds and water lilies were a welcome sight.
Before long we broke free from this sandwich and wandered along quiet peaceful paths without a soul in sight. Whilst the Gipping Valley is popular, it seemed that it’s used more as a base for circular walks along and from it. Certainly, there were stretches that were wildly overgrown, bringing trekking poles into use to ward off nettles.
Fortunately, such stretches were short and, despite the villages and roads to hand, lent an air of wilderness to the walk. With the river as our companion, there was no shortage of visual interest and the level ground made for fast progress despite the heat. We’d allowed for refreshment with water bottles and flask but realised that a tearoom would be welcome.
Clambering up to a road from the bank, as if by magic, a sign appeared offering just the thing and we strode off down the road to Alder Carr Farm. What a sight! Tables groaning under the weight of fresh farm produce and fresh cakes on offer in the café. A little self-discipline on the cake and tea front and a refilling of water bottles were the order of the day and we had to pass up the delicious fare on offer as daysacks could not handle what we wanted.
The miles unfolded and even the presence of the river and lakes did nothing to ease the heat. Baylham Rare Breeds Farm proved a useful stop to replenish supplies and enjoy a picnic lunch. Despite the miles still to walk, the opportunity to explore the whole site and feed the animals was too good to miss. It’s really hard not to be entertained by the antics of goat kids but it was the serious focus of the adults on food that set an example on pursuing goals with determination.
A breeze sprang up as we resumed the trail and it was very welcome. We planned to stop again at the Gipping Valley Visitor Centre (now closed and derelict) but cast around for a while before finding it some way off the main route and then only by asking a fisherman. A school party turned up as we did but our main interest was the cold water tap that provided both drink and an al fresco shower.
The next target halt was Bramford Meadows, just a short walk from Ipswich and a good place to finish off the picnic lunch. Or so we thought. True, Bramford Meadows, the river and church were lovely but the trail seemed to drag on and on towards Ipswich. Indeed, the last section on pavement brought a few groans but as we retrieved the car from the railway car park, there was a real sense of satisfaction at completing the whole trail.
With hindsight, we would have left the ‘sightseeing’ of attractions to another day rather than add some mileage to what turned out through the heat to be a long day. Tucked away in the hotel bar later in the evening, the heat was just a memory, dulled by a good meal and a couple of beers. Excellent but not the end of the Gipping Valley for us.
Early morning saw us drive up the valley and beyond to West Stow Country Park. It was the Anglo-Saxon Village reconstruction that beckoned and it was well worth a visit. A short visit, however, as we sped back to base at Ipswich to start our second active day.
We cycled from the hotel to join the circular Gipping Valley Cycle Route – some 34 miles with what turned out to be more ascents than anticipated. Not serious stuff, though, but the heat bouncing back off the tarmac sapped stamina after only a few miles. For once, we wished for a cloudy day but it wasn’t to be and quite rightly so as far too many of our outdoor days are spent wishing for clear blue skies.
Sticking mostly to the route described in a handy leaflet, we diverted by accident and design, exploring small sleepy villages as well as the larger towns of Stowmarket and Needham Market. We stuck to sandwiches and water for most of the day but the Sorrel Horse near Barham was too much of a temptation and we dawdled away a pleasant half hour in this classic English pub.
It was still light when we reached the hotel. One of those truly balmy summer evenings that makes it a joy to be out in the fresh air. Reflecting again on the days’ activities, we had to agree that Ipswich’s slogan, ‘Ipswich? You’d be surprised’, was spot on.