Author: Barry Eley

Travelling to Long Melford in my 4 x 4 with my faithful companion Coco, a brown coloured Labradoodle, already going grey despite only being five years old. We were travelling south from Bury St. Edmunds on the A134, and turned off on to the A1092.  Which is where the village and the High Street of Long Melford start. Looking at the map, the High Street appears to me, to be like a loose string on an English long bow, where the A134 forms the belly of the bow, as it bends round to both the start and the finish of the High Street. It’s a walk I have done a few times when fulfilling contracts.  But today I have arrived early, so on a whim, I turn right just past the old Tudor pub called ‘The Hare’ and turn in to the grounds of Kentwell Hall.  The long drive leads up to the 16th century house, which is in private ownership and is open to the public most days.   It’s grand with formal lawns, a working farm, a weird looking but rare, giant dreadlock donkey and it has many events going on through out the year.  It reminds me of my first contract to shoot two people here. I completed it on a cold but bright summers day, with peacocks strutting their stuff by the moat that surrounds the house.

But I digress, so drive out of Kentwell Hall and park up on ‘The Green’ having time to kill, and then walk up Church Road.  With it’s small terraced houses and imposing rectory leading up to the Holy Trinity Church.  It’s a huge ‘wool town’ church on the top of a small hill overlooking Long Melford, where it’s been discovered, that it has been a place of worship for over 1000 years.  The current church was completed in 1448.  Walk into the church, where you can take pictures for a donation, where you will find three sides of the church covered in stained glass windows.  Amongst them are the massive brightly coloured, stained glass windows, which have won many awards.  Visit on bright summer days and see how multiple shafts of coloured light, bounce around the church.  Some of the medieval glass dates back to the 15th century, including ‘the hare’ window.  Is that why the pub over the road is called ‘The Hare?’  But don’t forget to look up, as the ceiling of the church is just as impressive.

Outside the Church and opposite the rectory is the Holy Trinity Hospital, a red brick and very ornate almshouse built in 1558, for the poor of Long Melford, and which still caters for them today.  At the far end of Church Walk is a three story, Hotel and Pub, recently renovated, but dating back to the 15th Century called ‘The Black Lion’.  I wonder if it’s true, that it has hidden underground passages running from the church to the pub, which were used by the monks in the 15th and 16th Centuries?

As we walk down ‘The Green’ to give Coco a stretch, we meander passed a row of cottages from different periods, with some older than their façade, as they were given a Georgian look fifty years ago.  All face the second stately home, Melford Hall the National trust site.  But before I walk across to it’s ornate gatehouse, I pass a red brick built, Water Conduit, built in the 16th century to supply water to Melford Hall.  But there’s a story of the local monks, who through out the years, thinking that the dead bodies from the graveyard contaminated the water source closer to the church, often used it.  Yes, I can imagine the Monks from the church strolling down with their buckets having a wash in the open and then taking the water back.  But very small Monks if the size of the door is anything to go by. But Monks stealing water, who’d have thought?

I decided not to walk into Melford Hall, having walked the grounds many times following in the footsteps of Beatrix Potter, and admiring this 16th Century Manor house.  It has some very rare features, like the 6 domed turrets and a regency library.  It’s surrounded by both formal gardens and farmland.  But instead we strolled to the recently renovated Mill House B&B by the ford, where the River Stour runs under the High Street.  As this is where the village get its name from, Mill by the Ford, in the old English, Mell – Ford.  The ‘Long’ comes from the two and a half mile length of the High Street, the longest village High Street in England, hence Long Melford. How many other villages have so much history on four hundred meters of High St?  And it doesn’t stop there.

Jumping back in the car with Coco, she falls asleep having sniffed herself silly with all the new smells she came across.  I pass the old village school and public car park and then ‘The Bull’ a Hotel and Restaurant built in 1450. Opposite is Brook house built in 1495 and was originally an Inn, called the White Inn and you can see why, even today. The road beside it leads to the car park that surrounds the Village Hall and Heritage Centre. This is where you can learn about the settlement that was here in 8300bc. Chat about the Iron Age settlement or when the Spartan Sword was dug up in a local garden.  Alternatively you could walk across the footbridge and discover the blue flashes of the kingfishers, fishing in the River Stour.

But I move on down and park in one of the hundreds of parking places on the High Street. I pop into the Post Office, a tiny place, as I was after cash for my getaway and received a warm welcome and fast service.  The smell from the bakery across the street was enticing, as was the display in the privately owned Butcher’s shop window.  Perhaps I should shop here more often?  But as I had already passed the Cocoanut House built in 1441 to turn coconuts into coconut matting, but now host an art gallery, women’s shops, nails hair and clothing, then may be not, as I am now running out of time to fulfil my contract.

So I chose to bypass all the rest of the numerous Pubs, Hotels, Restaurants, tearooms and specialist shops, like the stained glass art gallery.  I also by pass the Woolpack shop where my wife is enjoying her Knit and Natter group, whilst drinking tea and sampling the teashop cakes from next door.  She brings home all the latest gossip, as well as buying up half the wool in the shop.

As I drive, I think about the little game we used to play when walking down the High Street, as if you look up, the chimneys tell you which are the oldest houses so can you find the Tudor ones with the octagonal clustered stacks of two, four or one of five. Or the game we did with the kids, can you find the ‘Oast house’ hiding opposite the cobbled cottages, the chimney that looks like it’s about to fall down, and has done for the past fifty years.  The hot air balloons hanging around, the medieval oak arch or the leaded light window in the farmer’s wall.  Then I pass the fire station with all the cars parked haphazardly, where the retained firemen have dumped their cars whilst responding to a call out.

Finally I turn right into Borley road just before the Nethergate Brewery site that has a shop, to buy and try their brew.  I pull into the Long Melford Country Park and Nature reserve, where I am to complete my contract.  I take the equipment out of my boot, looking to anyone watching, like one of the many fishermen who come to fish from the banks of the Stour.  With Coco alongside me I find a place to hide beside a flooded gravel pit full of ducks and swans.  I set up the tripod, and then Coco and me settle down to wait for the prey.  They come everyday, having staked out the area, I know where they will be.  They arrive and I select rapid fire.  Coco lies still as I put my finger on the trigger, squeezing gently, the twenty shots are gone in a second.  I move back and make my way to the car.  Coco jumps in the boot, I load my equipment, but I have one more job to do.

I check my camera and yes, twenty perfect, in focus snaps of the Green Woodpeckers, I have been contracted to shoot for next year’s bird watching calendar.  Now I can getaway tomorrow for our week’s holiday with a clear conscious, this Wedding and Wild Life Photography business is looking up. Time to pick up a couple of beers for tonight’s meal.


This guide was written by:

Barry Eley
Suffolk Writers Group