Melford Hall to Lavenham railway walk, Long Melford, Suffolk
Walk from Long Melford to Lavenham, through woods and open fields, following the route of the old Great Eastern Long Melford to Lavenham railway line.
Along the way enjoy the opportunity to see wildflowers, birds and animal wildlife in their natural habitat. Starting and finishing in these two well-preserved medieval 'wool' towns, you can return to Long Melford by bus, or re-trace your steps if you have the energy.
Melford Hall car park, grid ref: TL867462
Before you start, if you have the time, visit magnificent Melford Hall - home of the Hyde-Parker family, or have a coffee in the tea-room. Starting from the Melford Hall car park, turn right out of the gate, and keeping to the same side of the road, walk 660yd (600m) until reaching the Cherry Lane Garden Centre. Entering the garden centre, walk just past the building entrance and look for the public footpath sign in front of you. This is known as Hare Drift.
The line (single track with passing places) from Melford to Bury St Edmunds, via Lavenham, opened in 1865 and closed to passenger traffic in 1961. Long Melford Railway station building still exists, (now a private house) and is at the far end of Long Melford High Street on the right-hand side. For those who appreciate old steam railways and their history, here is a 1957 picture of a train leaving Melford Station in full steam.
Hare Drift continues along a concrete path until joining the main A134 Sudbury to Bury St Edmunds road. The traffic on this road can be very fast, so cross with great care. Go through the gate on the opposite side of the road, and walking straight ahead, follow the footpath, which after 100yd (90m) or so, continues downhill.
At the bottom of the hill turn left and follow the tree line ignoring a footpath sign to the left (St Edmund's Way). You will find an exit through the trees on the right-hand side after about another 100-200yd (90-180m).
Going through the trees, continue across a small bridge over the River Chad, heading slightly uphill until exiting into a plain with scrub to the right. You can see 'signs' now covered with scrub, showing where the path was/should be.
Point No. 4 is the most likely spot to see deer. None were to be seen when researching this walk, so the deer in this shot are fallow deer at Hatfield Forest. (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hatfield-forest/). Well worth a visit.
Head up the plain for about 200yd (180m) keeping the scrub to your right, until the path runs alongside some woodland to the left.
Follow the path for about 400yd (360m) until reaching a path 'crossroad'. The section after this is a 'permissive' footpath and dogs should be kept on leads.
Keep on for about another 200yd (180m) or so until the path enters 'Lineage Wood' to your left and 'Paradise Wood' to your right. This is the site of an 1891 railway derailment.
On 17 October 1891 a train, 'tank engine' no.169 heading towards Long Melford, left the rails, overturned the engine and at least one carriage. The Suffolk Free Press report on the accident at the time, described the train as being 'thrown' down the embankment. Fortunately there were no fatalities but some severe injuries.
When exiting the woodland you are now entering a section of railway cutting designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Special Scientific Interest
This cutting is an area of heavy undergrowth and will invariably be found to be muddy and/or waterlogged. Selected areas of the banks of this cutting are being returned to grass, and others left as semi-natural woodland. The grassland is mown annually in late autumn and provides a valuable habitat for insects and wildlife.
You will have reached the end of the 'SSSI' section when reaching the Bridge Street railway bridge. The next section is now known as the 'Lavenham Walk'.
Bridge Street railway bridge
According to local legend, the ghost of one Mary Clarke has been seen at this point – she allegedly committed suicide here in 1892 after her lover refused to marry her when she became pregnant.
Continue on the 'Lavenham Walk' which is now owned and maintained by Lavenham Parish Council after divestment from Suffolk County Council in 2012, until reaching some metal gates.
Many species have been recorded along this disused railway line including; common and lesser whitethroat, blackcap, goldcrest, treecreeper, bullfinch, garden warbler and marsh tit; along with records of the unusual, such as pied flycatcher, redstart, whinchat, firecrest, red warbler, waxwing, little egret and red kite. Here is a goldcrest.
When reaching the metal gates you have reached the Park Road crossing. Crossing the road, go through the gates, and continue on for approximately 400yd (440m), until reaching Lavenham High Street to the right of the Bury road railway bridge.
Now cross the road, and continue right up High Street, for approximately 300yd (270m), and turning left into Market Lane walk up to the Market Square. Lavenham Guildhall is across the Market Square, and you have now reached the end of your walk.
Lavenham is famed for its timber-framed buildings, and the Guildhall of Corpus Christi is not surprisingly, one of its finest examples. Browse the new exhibits on local Lavenham history and agriculture, and don't forget to make time for the tea-room and a jacket potato or a scone or two. A favourite is their speciality sausage roll.
Lavenham Guildhall, grid ref: TL916493
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