Dedham Vale is categorised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and you’ll easily see why as you walk along the River Stour’s banks.
It straddles the Essex-Suffolk border and is still easily recognisable from Constable’s paintings. The artist John Constable was born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, but went to school in Dedham, Essex. Although his most famous painting, The Hay Wain, depicts Willy Lott’s cottage over the Suffolk border at Flatford, the part of the valley located on the Essex side of the county boundary is just as worthy of a visit.
A walk alongside the Stour takes you past reed banks lining marshes and wide grassy flood plains dotted with trees. It’ll take you about 90 minutes to stroll from Manningtree railway station to Dedham High Street via Flatford, where you’ll find the famous mill and also a lock. A little electric boat ferries passengers from Flatford to Dedham on Wednesdays and weekends, but it’s only about 3.5 miles if you want to walk the whole route.
When the sun’s shining, it’s a good opportunity to rent a boat and take a leisurely row down the river to blow off all the cobwebs and stresses of urban Essex living. Right now, the flowers are coming into bloom and leaves are starting to appear on the trees, making this a beautiful location for a walk. And at the end, there are plenty of little shops and cafes in Dedham just waiting to be explored.