Saturday, 14 March 2009

Darsham to Saxmundham

Darsham to Saxmundham 11 km

Note: This cycle route is also travelled by the 521 service operated by Anglian Buses.

0.0 km From Haw Wood Farm campsite head northwest towards A12 main road.

0.7 km turn left (heading south) at the A12/Little Chef towards Ipswich.

1.0 km pass the right turn for the Bramfield/A144 road to reach Halesworth.

1.5 km the first left turning of Lymballs Lane offers a quicker route to the pretty village of Westleton and the ancient city of Dunwich, now almost entirely lost to the sea, and its beaches and coastal rides.

2.3 km ‘The Street’ on your left is signed for The Fox Inn 01728 668436 which is a popular pub and weekend lunch spot offering roasts and all the trimmings etc. The 521 bus serving Leiston and Beccles stops outside The Fox Inn.

Opposite the turning for The Street on the A12 is the White House, a Georgian farmhouse also offering B&B. From here the A12 starts to descend towards a level crossing 1 km ahead.

The Street leads into Darsham proper. 200 m east past The Fox Inn is Priory Lane and 300 m north of that on Priory Lane is Byways Bicycles 01728 668764 offering a full range of services for the cyclist including hire.

700 m from The Fox Inn east along The Street is All Saints Church, Darsham, a pretty mediaeval church with Romanesque details sited beside some traditional cottages.

The name of the village of Darsham derives from Deores Ham; home of the deer. This name is borne out by early reference to local roadways as chaseways. There was hunting in this area as late as the 18th century.

At 3.0 km Lily's Pantry/Jet Petrol/Londis/Smith & Wesby 01728 668228 are all under the same management providing a petrol station, locally sourced groceries and general supplies and hot food to eat-in and take away. The petrol pumps are not 24 hours and the air line requires coins.

The fields opposite the petrol station were the site in WW2 of RAF High Street, an early radar station part of Chain Home which originated at Bawdsey Manor, in Suffolk.

The radar station had four 240ft receiving towers made from wood and five 360ft transmitting towers made of steel. The wood towers stood in a close formation and the remains were blown up in the 1960’s.

3.10 km Darsham train station is on the East Suffolk line and enables a return to Halesworth in under ten minutes. The old station house is now The Country Centre, run by The Woodcraft Folk and is available for hire to accommodate groups of up to 22 people. Also on the station forecourt is the Halfway Café, reportedly a motorcyle friendly transport caff, so called because it is halfway between Ipswich and Lowestoft.

From here the road climbs out of dip for the level crossing. When you reach the crest of the hill, there is another lane on your left that could take you to Westleton & Dunwich as well.

From the top it is possible to coast into Yoxford although take care with your speed as the road begins a series of bends and at 4.3 km there is dangerous right hand bend at the junction of the B1122 Middleton Road where traffic from your left has a habit of pulling out in front of cyclists and the road narrows on the bend.

It is worth being assertive with your road occupation (i.e. get into the middle of the lane) as a vehicle overtaking you here could then force you into the kerb if they encountered something coming the other way from around the blind corner. For my own safety, I usually hop onto the pavement here.

Although you are probably to busy with traffic to notice; on your right at this corner are two attractive houses; Satis House, a hotel and restaurant, and Cockfield Hall.

Cockfield Hall is a grade 1 listed private house standing in 40 acres of historic parkland, dating from the 16th century.

It is no ordinary Tudor and Jacobean manor, but, according to the Times Newspaper, and Wikipedia, what the historian Sir John Summerson called a prodigy house — a mansion designed to entertain the monarch.

Sir Arthur Hopton who built a large Tudor house here was knighted for valour at the Battle of the Spurs in 1513. He was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, attended the coronation of Anne Boleyn in 1533 and the christening of Prince Edward in 1537. As heir also to vast estates in Yorkshire, he was called to play a major role in quelling the Catholic rebellion in 1536. Two years later the Henry VIII granted him the dissolved Priory of Blythburgh in Suffolk and he entertained the king at Cockfield at least once.

His son Sir Owen, as Lieutenant of the Tower of London, had a rather different “royal” visitor, Lady Katherine Grey, sister of Lady Jane Grey; the latter was briefly proclaimed queen in 1553 but was executed by Mary Tudor. Katherine was imprisoned first in the Tower of London and finally at Cockfield, where she died within a year and is buried in Yoxford church.

Sir Owen sold Cockfield and in 1597 it was bought by Robert Brooke, an alderman of London whose son, succeeding in 1600, had even loftier ideas and remodelled the house in grandest Jacobean style to receive James I. From the Brookes, Cockfield passed to the Blois family (pronounced Bloyss) in the 1690s, owners of extensive estates in both Norfolk and Suffolk.

Cockfield would never have survived as a private house after 1945 had the Luftwaffe not secured a direct hit on the south wing, destroying 42 rooms and making the house a more manageable size.

Rock star Gene Simmons (lead singer of Kiss) stayed at Cockfield Hall for several months in 2005 while filming the TV series Rock School at Kirkley High School in Lowestoft. An omelet named after him is on the menu at the nearby King's Head. Simmons taught the pub’s cook how to make the chicken, bell pepper and egg white omelet with no butter.

Satis House and Cockfield Hall are reputed to be connected. The hall was the home of the Blois dynasty for over 400 years. Sir Charles Blois (died 1850) is said to have installed one of his mistresses in Satis House across the park. Tradition says that he excavated a tunnel between the two houses so he could make his nightly visits in comfort and security. When the army took over both buildings during World War Two, they're said to have found the entrance to the passage at Satis House but sealed it up again. Unfortunately for this idea, the Hall stands right next to the Minsmere River and the land is so low-lying that the original 16th century Hall was actually built on wooden piles. There’s actually no chance even of a cellar here.

At 4.5 km by the Kings Head, Suffolk’s first “smoke free pub”, the A12 meets the A1120 which is signed as a tourist route westwards to Stowmarket.

350 m along the A1120 which is Yoxford’s main street is Horners 01728 668336, a late opening shop with fresh bread, fruit & veg, groceries, off-licence and a DVD library. Historic Yoxford is worth browsing as it has many attractive buildings, some interesting shops and galleries and quality dining. Main’s Restaurant is a ‘relaxed’ eatery providing affordable meals from locally sourced ingredients.

Behind Yoxford’s St Peters Church (dating from around 1400) is a small industrial building prominently signed ‘Freedom Works’. This libertarian declaration houses a school for flautists and is a venue for the annual Yoxford Arts Festival each August. Next to it, motor mechanic David Parsons 01728 668210 specialises in restoring classic English cars. The village hall hosts a flea market 9 AM - 1 PM on Saturdays with an eclectic mix of vendors, some arty and crafty stalls along with the knick-knacks and WI offerings.

Leaving Yoxford’s charms behind, the A12 is wide and flat and traffic remains slowed to 30 MPH for another 300 m where it then increases inexplicably to 50 MPH (up to March 2009 it was 40 MPH) for the next 1.8 km until you reach the national speed limit sign at the turning for North Green.

At 5.7 km there is a picturesque stand of oak trees (at least I think so) against the wide open Suffolk skies which I’ve been meaning to capture at sunset for some time. From here it’s a boring but thankfully brief 2.5 km slog as the road climbs gently and crests with a level stretch at the sign for Kelsale.

Near here a sign points right to Laurel Farm Herbs just off the A12. Established in 1985 by Chris Seagon, Laurel Farm is one of the leading herb nurseries in East Anglia selling to the retail trade via mail order or personal callers. Chris grows all his plants cold in peat free compost without artificial heating or chemicals.

At 7.5 km a cycle path begins on the southbound side of the A12 for 250m up to the left turning for Saxmundham, signed B1121/Carlton Park. Take this left and about 200m further, after a short climb, the second turning on your right - Rosemary Lane - will be signposted for Tower Plants 01728 603142 with opening hours an on/off schedule of Monday/Wednesday/Friday 10.00am - 4.00pm, Sat/Sun 2.00pm - 5.00pm.

The tower itself is an old windmill built in 1856 by John Whitmore and was worked by wind until about 1905 when a steam driven roller plant was installed. The mill was originally worked as a group of three with a nearby large post mill and a steam mill housed in the building adjoining the tower.

Carlton-cum-Kelsale has plenty of interesting buildings and a church worth exploring and the Poachers Pocket, 01728 602174 is a traditional real-ale family pub providing a garden and lunches and evening meals.

Continue south for another 3 km on the B1121 past housing developments and the Carlton Park Industrial Estate on your right where the road levels off and soon you will see the town signs for Saxmundham proclaiming it was the winner of Anglia in Bloom in 2005. Here the road narrows a bit just before the rail bridge because of parked cars.

At 10.4 km you have reached the end of the journey and arrived at Saxmundham opposite the old telephone exchange and the marketplace (market day is Wednesday). Station Approach on your right (due west) leads, naturally, to Saxmundham railway station 250m further along. Saxmundham has many interesting shops and services and a Somerfield supermarket that is soon to become a Waitrose.


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