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Constable Country, car free travel made easy with the Hopper Bus

If you are planning a visit to Constable Country this summer, things have just got a whole lot simpler for those wanting to leave the car behind and enjoy a more relaxing style of travel.

The Dedham Vale Hopper Bus, a hop-on/hop-off service that runs from Manningtree Train Station  in a circular route through the Vale via Flatford, East Bergholt and Dedham, will be operational throughout the visitor season from 2nd July to 29th September on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and at the weekend, between 10am and 4.45pm. You can flag the bus down at any point along the route and get on or off wherever it’s convenient and as often as you like.

The charge for an all day ticket is modest at £3, with children and those in possession of a bus pass, travelling absolutely free. It’s a friendly, flexible service, designed to encourage car-free travel in the Dedham Vale and it makes a visit even more enjoyable and relaxing, allowing travellers to sit back and enjoy the lovely countryside in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Constable's Suffolk. The River Stour, Flatford, Suffolk

A Suggested Itinerary…

I was invited to try the Hopper Bus out for myself recently, and started my journey at Manningtree Station which is on the main line for trains going to Colchester, London, Ipswich and Norwich. If you are able to travel to Manningtree by train, I would recommend this option.

We boarded the comfy new bus at 10am and our first hop-off point was Flatford, where we alighted just outside the main carpark. A short walk took us to the RSPB Wildlife Garden,  which was recently planted to show how we can all encourage bees, butterflies and other wildlife into our own gardens. It looks stunning and their mission to plant a haven for wildlife has certainly been accomplished, with butterflies and bees galore, enjoying the sunshine and flowers.

RSPB Flatford Garden Stour Trusty II, The River Stour, Flatford, Suffolk  RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden, Flatford, Suffolk

A few steps further down the lane is Bridge Cottage, which is owned by the National Trust and houses an exhibition about John Constable. The painter lived and worked in East Bergholt and Flatford and painted some of his most well-known pictures here, including The Hay Wain and Willy Lott’s Cottage. Make sure you walk to the end of the lane to see these world-famous scenes, little changed since the 19th century when they were immortalised by Constable.

The River Stour flows through the Dedham Vale and we were treated to a trip on Stour Trusty II, an electric launch that operates a waterbus service between Flatford and Dedham. A boat trip here is an absolute must, in my view; it was the highlight of the day for me and a delightful way to admire the scenery from a slightly different perspective. The waterbus runs throughout the season on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays and a one way trip is £5 for adults and £3 for children. The boat can accommodate people with disabilities too, including those in wheelchairs.

Stour Trusty II, The River Stour, Flatford, Suffolk

Top tip copy

You could walk from Flatford to Dedham, taking the same route that John Constable took every day to get to school; have some lunch or a cream tea in the village and then get the boat back to Flatford, leaving from the Dedham Boathouse Restaurant.

We hopped back on the bus and went on to Dedham where we had a delicious cream tea with warm fluffy scones, real clotted cream and Tiptree strawberry jam at the Essex Rose Tea House. Dedham is a place to linger for a while and is worth a saunter up and down the main street. Do take time to visit Castle House, a little way out of the centre of the village, which was the home of painter Sir Alfred Munnings RA. It’s now a museum dedicated to his life and work and is full of his paintings and furniture. You can also visit his art studio in the grounds of the house; it’s wonderfully atmospheric and his paint-splattered artist’s overalls are on display, along with some of his sketches and sculptures, note books and brushes. It feels as if he has just stepped outside and will be returning at any moment.

Also worth a visit is the Dedham Art & Craft Centre in the middle of the village. Over 30 artists and crafts people sell their work here, spread over three floors in a converted church. There’s also a tearoom with homemade cakes, lunches and excellent coffee.

Our day out ended here and we hopped back on the bus for the scenic drive back to Manningtree Station, but there are other ways of getting back to the station if you prefer: you could make your way back to Flatford via rowing boat (available to hire from the Dedham Boathouse Restaurant), the Stour Trusty II which also leaves from the Boathouse, or on foot, which would take 30 minutes or so. You could then pick up the bus from Flatford to the station, or walk along the footpath, which would take about half an hour.

East Bergholt, Suffolk East Bergholt, Suffolk

Other things to visit on the Hopper Bus route include East Bergholt, the village where John Constable was born. His house no longer stands, but there is a plaque on the garden railings in the centre of the village, indicating where it once stood. Don’t miss the church, which has an unusual bell cage, erected as a temporary(!) measure in 1531, which houses the heaviest bells that are rung by hand, rather than ropes and wheels. The five bells have a combined weight of 4.25 tons and are still in regular use.

Also worth hopping off the bus for is Hall Farm at Stratford St Mary. It’s a lovely farm shop, delicatessan and cafe, serving lots of homemade goodies. A very pleasant hour can be spent here over lunch, watching the landscape with the farm animals in the field right outside the windows.

Cycle Hire: Available through Cool Pedals who offer bikes for day hire and also organise cycling holidays in Suffolk and Essex. They will book your accommodation, provide the bikes and transport your luggage for you.

More information about the Dedham Vale can be found on the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley Project website and a timetable for the Hopper Bus can be downloaded here.

Written by Karina

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