Starting in the very middle of Ipswich this ten mile river walk takes in some stunning Suffolk countryside, but also some historic industrial heritage as it passes through the villages of Sproughton, Bramford, Great Blakenham, Baylham and of course the lovely little Needham Market, in the very heart of Suffolk.
The true start of the walk is, of course, at Stoke Bridge where the tidal saltwater River Orwell estuary turns into our lovely little Gipping. The very origins of the town of Ipswich begin here, when an Anglo-Saxon settlement sprung up in the 6th Century at the natural ford. The settlement became known as Gippeswick, the town on the Gipp. By the time of the Domesday Book there were two bridges crossing a natural peninsula that separated the busy trading port of Gipswich (Ipswich) from Over Stoke.
A bridge certainly existed here from at least the late 13th Century. An iron bridge engineered by Ransomes was built in 1819, replacing an earlier stone bridge which was swept away in floods. In 1923 there was a fire at dockside warehouses belonging to Burtons & Saunders. It was so fierce the heat buckled the steelwork of Stoke Bridge which then had to be demolished. It was replaced by the present concrete southbound bridge which was built in 1924. However demand for a second bridge grew as modern traffic put severe congestion on the little two way structure and a new northbound bridge was built in 1982.
Just to the left here our walk begins on the clearly waymarked River Path. It begins next to the busy little skate park where just a little way in from Stoke Bridge we see a bronze sculpture known as Against the Tide. It was unveiled in 2004 and was an integral part of the River for All Project which aimed to improve the look of the River from Stoke Bridge to Constantine Weir, driven by the Ipswich Wildlife Group – part of the River Action Group – who secured funding for their ambitious improvement project from the Heritage Lottery Fund, backed up by the Nationwide Building Society.
Against the Tide (2004) at the start of the Gipping River Trail.
There is an information board here telling us that on the opposite bank was sited the original Stoke Mill and a large mill pond. It also informs us that the large unsuffolk-like Sarsen Stones we see were large boulders of hard sandstone, dug from the river bed and placed on the new “improved” pathway here back in the 1970s. That clears that one up for me anyway as I remember seeing them being quite new as a young boy and wondering where on Earth they had come from.
The tow-path here hugs the Gipping and is sandwiched to the right by a rather ugly flood barrier, behind which is “scrap” land rife for urban redevelopment. In fact this lucrative Riverside location was earmarked for flagship regeneration that failed to find sufficient investment and lapsed into what could have been, an all too familiar story all over Ipswich. There is a fascinating insight into this story at the Ipswich Proposal.
What is hard to believe is that virtually the entire east bank of this river, all the way to Princes Street (and beyond) was a thriving, spectacularly busy goods depot, consisting of marshalling yards, miles of sidings and a round-the-clock shunter service complete with (in it’s day) a state-of-the-art coal depot that served Cliff Quay Power Station through a network of railway lines that stretched all around the Wet Dock. The area has changed dramatically with Cardinal Park and Grafton Way replacing the railway-town feel of Commercial Road, a road specifically built in the 1850s to serve the depot. And thus Ipswich was put firmly on the map as an important railway junction and freight depot, central for the entire East Anglian region.
Just before Princes Road Bridge (originally known as Station Bridge) we soon catch a glimpse of the back of the original Station Hotel and just a little further (across the road) Ipswich Station. This was Ipswich’s second station, opening in 1860, the original of 1846 was south of Stoke Tunnel and was part of the Eastern Union Railway that sought to link Ipswich with London and then on to Bury St Edmunds and further west. This railway was of course the ultimate rival to the Gipping Navigation. With it’s ability to carry passengers and goods far quicker it was clearly the end for the outdated canal system. It also closely follows the Gipping for its entire length, crossing it several times as we shall see on our long hike along it’s banks.
Before long we reach the impressive Sir Bobby Robson Bridge, a footbridge spanning the river and providing access to the new Voyage Development that replaced the old-established Ipswich factory of Ransomes and Reavell (later Compair Reavell) infamous for its tank and machine-gun manufacture during the First World War, re-located in 2005 and totally flattened.
12-storey tower block known as 10 Reavell Place and the Sir Bobby Robson Bridge.
The river splits here, it is hard to see now but the saltwater Orwell followed the freshwater Gipping side by side. And near to this “fork” there was an open bathing place a natural part of the river that filled at high tide to provide ideal shallow swimming and known as West End Bathing Place. Hard to believe now, but there was another actually on the docks at Halifax. The tow-path here joins West End Road, near to the former Handford Lock, now the Handford Sluice. It was here that a “tributary” river veered off to the right. It was known as Alderman Canal but was once the Upper Gipping. Since canalization it can be followed up to Portman Road football ground near to the original Handford Mill. To follow the Gipping Trail cross the road here and take the footpath to the LEFT of the weir.
Centuries ago there was another bridge here, Friars Bridge, this whole area was marshland known as Portman Marshes. Important men from Ipswich known as Burgesses and Portmen had the right to graze horses or cattle on these salt Marshes for centuries, but did you know that this area was originally called Odenholm Marshes? Just imagine if that name had persisted Ipswich Town FC might well be playing football at Odenholm Road Stadium?
Next stop is London Road, where, next to a Burger King and Starbucks (perhaps a chance to fill our flasks with tea or coffee?) we have to cross the busy road to rejoin the tow-path on the other side of this modern concrete bridge. The tow-path continues behind a retail park and then swathes of suburban west Ipswich. On the opposite bank stood the former Handford Hall, which gave this whole area it’s name, now only remembered in Handford Road. This “settlement” distinctly separate from Ipswich had it’s origins as the Anglo-Saxon Hagenfordabrygge, meaning Hagen’s Ford but there is evidence to suggest that a Roman road cut across the river here from the garrison town of Colchester.
On the opposite bank from our tow-path you can still see heavy industry. Manganese Bronze set up a foundry here during WW1 at the site of the former Handford Hall Farm. They manufactured artillery shell cases and later bearings, famous even for making the bearings that support Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Company thrived until the 1960s when it was sold to the Delta Metal Company who concentrated on very lucrative aircraft parts manufacture until 1998 when the Delta Group sold the company to Cerro Metal Products and in 2007 it was further purchased by the Bolton Metals Group and renamed Bolton Manganese Bronze.
Meanwhile we soon arrive at an information board near to Riverside Road. There is some history on this board, informing us of the rise and fall of the Gipping Navigation and also of a tale that is steeped in local folklore that as far back as the 11th Century Caen stone was shipped upriver here to be offloaded north of Stowmarket and then on to Bury St Edmunds for use in constructing Bury Abbey. Sadly this story has very little evidence as the abbey actually procured stone from the quarries of Barnack, Northamptonshire, which belonged to the abbot of Peterborough, through the direct mandate of William the Conqueror, who also ordered that the usual tolls should be remitted for its conveyance. In any case, if it had come from Caen it would have been far easier to move the stone from Normandy via the Great Ouse and the River Lark rather than the Orwell. Still it is a good story and one that still persists.
Before long we have to pass under our first railway bridge. This is the Felixstowe/Lowestoft branch line that snakes its way in a huge semi-circle around the north of Ipswich and opened in 1859. A little further on a brand new bridge carries the Bacon Factory Curve over the Gipping. This 1415m section of track was constructed in 2014 with the aim of allowing freight trains direct access from the busy Port of Felixstowe to the Midlands and the North, without the intricate “turnaround” snarl-up at Ipswich Goods Yard previously encountered. It takes its unusual name from Harris’s, a well-known bacon factory with a deep-rooted Suffolk tradition. The factory closed in 1996 and the site was flattened. If you look across the river the site is now a rather ungainly frozen food warehouse. But then again as we have seen the banks of this beautiful river have a long and proud history of industry and commerce all the way to Stowmarket.
There is another railway bridge now, this time it is the busy Norwich mainline with trains constantly thundering up and down as we follow it’s path, crossing under it several times on our long arduous hike upriver. To our left is Boss Hall Industrial Estate, spawned from a Co-op Federal Warehouse and busy Dairy (both now gone) but before these there actually was a Boss Hall here right up to the 1950s. The name comes from the de Bois family who owned land here as far back as the 13th Century. But the name now has a connection to a remarkable piece of jewelry, the Boss Hall Brooch. This beautiful cruciform brooch was found in a woman’s grave, excavated in the Boss Hall Industrial Estate and dates from the late 7th century. It is made of gold with cloisonné garnet inlay and gold filigree panels. Cloisonné is a decorative technique in which compartments are created by soldering thin metal strips vertically onto a metal backing, thereby creating enclosed cells. These cells are then filled with something to create a beautiful design – typically enamel or gemstones. In the case of the Boss Hall brooch, the material is garnet. It was truly a magnificent and exciting “find” for the Suffolk Archaeological Unit, who worked on 22 graves at the site in 1990. It is the property of Ipswich Borough Council who have previously exhibited it at the Town Hall’s Gallery 3.
The intricate Anglo-Saxon Boss Hall Brooch, unearthed in 1990.
Next up is Chantry Lock, it was built here next to a quiet wooded area known as Devil’s Wood (I wonder why?) But staring you in the face now is the huge giant block that is the flagship LDH La Doria’s Warehouse, built in 2019 at a cost in excess of £40M. You can see it for miles, from virtually all west Ipswich and as far away as Bramford village. Love it or hate it it truly is an amazing structure, built on the site of the old Sugar Beet factory, well-known to generations of Ipswichians with it’s distinctive tall silos that were demolished rather unceremoniously in 2018 after standing sentinel here for over 80 years. The Plant was originally built in 1924 by the Anglo-Dutch Sugar Company on a 100-acre site with much of the original machinery second-hand and dismantled from a factory in Holland then shipped to Felixstowe. It also had a direct link to the railway line with several “goods” lines and it’s own shunter diesels and wagons. The cast-iron bridge that carried this busy traffic across the Gipping still stands, albeit rusting and gated.
We have left the conurbation of Ipswich now, breaking free of the austere industrial landscape and emerging into Babergh, a truly rural region of Suffolk, although the industrial heritage persists all along the river. You might notice too that the river seems to be dead straight now, obviously man-made. This is the canal-builders short cut known as the Chantry Cut. The River Gipping dips south in a great sweeping horseshoe, so the engineers cut a clean line across the top, reducing the journey by at least a mile here.
Some local people are surprised to learn that this area is known as Chantry, associating the name only with the sprawling housing estate that is most definitely a part of Ipswich. In truth the boundary of Sproughton once extended much further eastwards and included Sproughton Chantry Hall, now a Sue Ryder home in IBC-owned Chantry Park. However farmland, including the water meadows around the River Gipping were originally Chantry lands providing income for paying Chantry priests in Sproughton church.
It isn’t long before you hear the roar of the busy A14, carrying it’s endless stream of speeding vehicles up and down the County. I wonder how original barge-men would have reacted to such frantic transport. Lorries roar along at 60 or 70 mph, rushing tons of freight from the Port of Felixstowe and directly to towns and distribution centres all over the UK. Yes, I wonder what your hard-working barge skipper would have thought as he meandered the 17 mile route from Stowmarket to Ipswich in approximately 7 hours – that’s a very sedentary two and a half mph. Back in the Canal’s “heyday” between the opening in 1792 and the coming of the railways in the 1840s these barges would ply loads such as manure, coal, gun cotton, corn and hops which were charged at one penny per ton per mile, about three pounds ten shillings for a 30 ton load. Barges were making approximately 30 trips a week. There is an interesting little story about a certain James Austin who was appointed as surveyor in October 1804, and who did a runner in 1805. The Trustees of the Navigation offered a princely reward of 10 guineas if he could be apprehended and placed in jail.
Just past the A14 flyover is the Anglian Water treatment works, chances are you smelt it a little further downstream anyway. The footpath cuts round the dilapidated old 1970s structure at present (May 2020) but I wouldn’t be surprised if some or all of these buildings were soon demolished. The footpath might well be “redirected” at that point.
Across the river we now catch a glimpse of the back gardens from houses on the fringe of Sproughton village and before long you arrive at the village’s Millennium Green. This beautiful 4 acre meadow next to the river was created in 2000 as part of Millennium celebrations. In November it plays host to a community fireworks display. Just in sight is the lovely little parish church and then under a very low bridge that carries the road to Ipswich you are greeted by the beautiful Vista that is Sproughton Mill with a wonderful Mill pond in the foreground. The mill itself dates from about 1820, being rebuilt by accomplished civil engineer Sir William Cubitt. William was Chief Engineer at Ransomes, the World famous Ipswich manufacturing company, but he also worked on canals docks, and railways, as well as being the proud inventor of the good old prison treadwheel.
The river now winds itself between the villages of Sproughton and Bramford, in my view the most beautiful part of the entire walk. It is simply stunning in it’s simplicity, rural tranquility a world away from the busy bustling urban Ipswich, and yet no more than 10 minutes away (by car anyway). Just to our right and sandwiched between the river and the railway line is some lovely old Hazel woodland that is a riot of colour in Spring when the floor is carpeted blue with a sea of bluebells. The woods hide an old manor house known as Sproughton Manor, a magnificent Victorian country house built c1863 for one Colonel Henry Phillipps.
Bramford church next to the unofficial paddling pool next to Ship Lane bridge.
Across the road we pick up the tow-path again and find a very interesting information board, packed full of details on the flora and fauna here. We are now in Bramford Meadows, the area south of the road bridge known as South Meadows but across the bridge it is a designated local nature reserve. Both meadows are a natural floodplain being caught between the low-lying river and the raised railway line. The land was brought by Bramford parish council from Suffolk County Council in 2012. At the same time the ditch, which is the course of the old river was de-silted and a sluice gate was installed. This was all part of a management project to enhance and encourage wildlife. The County Council, who purchased the Meadows in 1992 began the good work by planting 600 trees, mostly alder, ash, white poplar and osier with later plantings of black poplar and willow. The Reserve is an important habitat for a staggering amount of wildlife, it is literally teeming with bird and insect life. At least seven species of grasshopper live here (I didn’t even know there were that many) and the Meadows are known to contain at least fourteen varieties of butterfly including the rare Brown Argus.
As we cut our way along the old Navigation here there is a road lined with houses and bungalows on the opposite bank. This is Mill Lane, containing obviously the old village Mill and soon after a sluice where Bramford Gauging Station maintains the floodwater level. Later there is Fraser Road which leads to Acton Road and the local football ground. To our right the ditch is the course of the old river winding naturally around next to the dead-straight mainline railway track. In 1846 the Eastern Union Railway opened their line between Ipswich and Stowmarket, virtually “stealing” all the canal’s traffic overnight. However a deal was struck whereby the EUR agreed to lease the Navigation and the two happily co-existed side by side until 1888 when the lease expired and the railway offered the trustees £2000 in full settlement for any repairs and handed the Navigation back. From that year the canal above Bramford became virtually disused. Packards and Fisons at Bramford Works and Eastern Union Works kept the Ipswich part of the Navigation open and viable with the locks between here and Stoke Bridge being maintained and repaired. The rest of the waterway quickly became overgrown and derelict.
As you enter the old Bramford Common and pass through a gate into a wild open meadow used by seemingly hundreds of horses you can see the old former Packards and Fisons buildings ahead of you. And what a sorry state they are too!
Local landowner Edward Packard built a warehouse at Paper Mill Lane in 1854 as he pioneered the production of artificial fertilisers for horticulture on an industrial scale. It was the perfect site due to the combination of the River Gipping, which was navigable by barges between Ipswich and Stowmarket from the late 18th century onwards, and the addition of the railway line in 1846 which both provided the means to import raw materials and export fertilisers. Packard was joined in 1858 by Joseph Fison who constructed his chemical works opposite – the North Warehouse on what was then the Eastern Union Works. A lock was constructed, Bramford Lock and a quayside through a dock gate. The whole complex grew to become a busy industrial Colossus, providing vital jobs in what was in effect a very isolated rural part of the county. There was even an on-site pub, the White Elm that existed right up until 1974. The future of the Navigation was quite safe too for as long as the Fertilizer Plant traded albeit only from Bramford Lock to Stoke Bridge, a lifeline in the complex transport network for Victorian fertilisers, essential for the prosperity of the nation’s agricultural industry. It continued working the Navigation until the 1930s and even held its own fleet of barges, one of which (an early Stour steam barge) was discovered in the muddy depths of the Gipping just north of the ancient Paper Mill that has existed here since the Medieval times, originally as a corn mill.
Fisons closed in 2004 but some of the site was awarded Grade II Listed status, especially the remarkable and eye-catching North Warehouse. However the entire site was destroyed by fire in a verocious arson attack in May 2019 and the area has remained in a shabby sorry state ever since. Some people might say, quite cynically, that the unfortunate incident has now paved the way for future development of the entire site – essentially for housing. Watch this space.
We pass under the railway line here and the footpath passes the back of the old derelict Plant and eventually we come to the road. This is Paper Mill Lane, a very narrow but busy stretch of road where we have to hurry a couple of hundred yards down to a concrete bridge that takes us to the left bank of the River continuing past the renovated old Water Mill, now known as Rushbrooke Mill, passing as we go the weir that was once the important Bramford Lock.
Rushbrooke Mill, formerly a Paper Mill and before that a Corn Mill.
We now stay on the left bank as we meander across low-lying water meadows, with the railway line close to our left. This area is now a 14-acre (6-hectare) nature reserve called Paper Mill Reedbed. It was created on land where the ditches were overgrown and quite dry but following a programme of ditch restoration and water control structures installation the land is now much wetter and the ditches hold water all year round. With the encouragement of common reeds the reserve is now home to some several new species of wildlife, especially water voles, European otter and several species of dragonfly and damselfly as well as birds such as kingfishers and sedge warblers and reed warblers. A word of warning here however, the Reserve is owned by Blakenham Farms and the meadows are used to graze their cattle so I would advise you to be careful where you step!
We soon catch sight of the road bridge taking the busy “rat-run” that takes traffic to the west of Ipswich between Claydon and Copdock. We are now approaching Great Blakenham and are greeted by the sight of a power station dominating the skyline. This facility is an enormous incinerator built in 2014 at a cost of £180M Its construction rendered landfill sites across Suffolk obselete as the County Council explored avenues for greener waste and recycling. The burning process here apparently creates enough energy for electricity to be pumped to 30,000 homes and saves Suffolk taxpayers about £8million a year. Around 170,000 tonnes of rubbish comes from Suffolk – with 40,000 tonnes from Norfolk.
When we reach the road between Great Blakenham and Claydon there is a car-park and picnic site. We have to cross the road here then skirt along the river with the busy Claydon Business Park just to our left, reminding us that this rural setting is for all intents and purposes just a giant industrial suburb of Ipswich. There was a lock here, but the tow-path takes us across a narrow spit of land with the canal on the left and Barham Lakes on the right. In 2018 the lakes here were saved from being turned into landfill and new owners began a huge restocking initiative. It is now a major fishing venue with the lakes containing carp, pike, bream, and tench. The lakes themselves were originally called Barham Pits, they are the old workings excavated for Aggregates for local farmers and builders. Hard to believe now with established trees and (in the Summer) beautiful water lilies floating across the water. The lakes are steep-sided and include island havens that encourage wildfowl such as pochard, tufted duck and common tern.
Next up we cut under the railway line again. Here there is an interesting information board that informs us that the 4 mile (7km) stretch of river from here to Needham is known as The Aggregates Trail. The board tells us that during excavation here many ancient remains were unearthed, dating from approximately 40,000 years ago when the Suffolk landscape must have looked starkly different. Bones uncovered have included a wolf femur, hyena jaw and even a woolly rhino jaw.
Just right of us here, on the other side of the lakes is the end of a road called Pesthouse Lane and at an old neglected picnic site there once stood an old workhouse with a very interesting history and a little bit of folklore. This House of Industry was built in 1765 and demolished in 1963. During WW2 it housed Italian prisoners-of-war. But our interest lies further back, in 1850 when inmates rioted and again in 1851 this time causing far more damage and ransacking the institution’s kitchens. These desperate men who rioted were starving, claiming their meagre rations never quelled their hunger. Harsh times. And here comes the folklore bit….. a visitor back in the early days was none other than Charles Dickens, researching social conditions of the time. And, of course, it is said that here he found the inspiration for his famous novel Oliver Twist.
Back to the tow-path and we must now take caution. The footpath is not clear and you must keep your wits about you. Firstly we reach the old mill-pond and the site of Great Blakenham lock and a beautiful weather-boarded watermill that was sketched by local artist John Munnings (1916 – 1987). We have to turn left here and cross the river on a quaint old redbrick bridge. A little way down this track a partly-hidden sign tells us to turn right down another track between some houses. This track leads to a lovely little Church and the old main Ipswich to Bury Road. Just across this road is the old Chequers Inn. If time allows then this could be an ideal stop for a bite to eat and perhaps a pint of local refreshment? However, before you reach the churchyard the footpath turns right and squeezes between two houses. It looks like a dead-end but it isn’t it veers round to the back of some gardens that stretch down to the river before opening up again among nettle-covered meadows.
generations of local children have enjoyed the Gipping.
We soon pass under another railway bridge and continue along the old tow-path in the heart of quarry country. All along here there is a long history of quarrying, with most of the pits and lakes simply abandoned workings. In 1973-75 the new A14 bypass was constructed to the right of the river, although at the time the road was known as the A45 and the route took such much-needed relief from the old road through Needham and Stowmarket. Most of the aggregate and foundation work for this road came from the quarries here.
Just across the river here the busy Tarmac Barham sand and gravel quarry continues a centuries-old industry. As we approach Sharmford Lock there is a very large fishing lake called Sharmford Mere. If you stand here looking up at the tower of Shrubland Hall the area seems quiet and tranquil. But the lock once split here and a tributary led to the squeech, complete with private boat-house, all part of the Shrubland Estate. There was no A14 then, the entire region was parkland. A real shame then that Shrubland Hall is now derelict and up for sale with a very undecided future.
There was, actually a plan to branch the canal here and construct a northerly Navigation to Eye in the north of the county. Nothing materialised though, due in part perhaps to the fact that a 3 mile tunnel would have to be dug through the hills at Mendlesham, obviously at immense cost. In fact any plans were quickly made redundant in the 1840s with the arrival of the railway and a new line to Norwich from the EUR Ipswich to Bury line. The canal survived with cargoes of mostly manure, but trade declined steadily until very few barges were still working by 1900. By 1917, it was no longer economical to keep it open, and it closed in 1922, although a formal closing order was not obtained until the early 1930s. The canal then fell into decades of decay until the Inland Waterways Association came up with a plan of restoration, work now being faithfully and meticulously carried out by the River Gipping Trust, with an ambitious plan to restore locks and establish the old tow-path as a new river footpath.
The scale of the Trust’s work can be seen quite clearly at our next stop, Baylham Lock, including the only complete mill along the river, Baylham Mill. Baylham Mill
Volunteers from the Inland Waterways Association are currently working hard to restore the lock here, which is no mean task. The lock was in poor condition for years until it collapsed in 2012. The need for repair was starkly obvious and luckily funding was secured from the Onians Trust and by a bequest from the Mills Family. Also the mill itself which still has the full working gear intact, complete with the Victorian waterwheel and all gears, all sadly rusting away since the Mill ceased working in the 1970s. The weather-boarded building is a striking feature on Mill Lane here, passed by thousands of visitors to Baylham Rare Breeds Farm next door. Inside the entrance, at the farmhouse there are several “finds” from the farmland around here. Because just to the north of this site was the important Roman fort and satellite settlement of Combretovium, a mini-town on the main road north from Colchester striking into the heart of Iceni country, where rebellion had been whipped up by Queen Boudicca. The Romans established the busy fort here as a means of control over the region. It’s importance can be easily overlooked now, not least because there is nothing to see. But artefacts have been uncovered. Plenty of them.
The site was first explored in 1823 by Sir William Middleton when local labourers uncovered a Roman urn containing human ashes. Other finds included pottery, coins, brooches, bricks, tiles, a bronze mirror and oyster shells. Clearly this area was quite an important Roman settlement? And so the evidence mounted up, with crop markings clearly seen from the air for the first time and then more finds, including coated pottery, a bronze dolphin brooch, a bracelet, pins, ring, ligula, nail cleaner with human head, toilet implements, lion head ornament, iron knife, shears, styli, chisels, key, glass vessel fragments, bone counter, pins etc etc. The list seems endless. What a settlement this must have been though, yet if you stand here today and look across the quiet cornfields it is almost impossible to imagine the hustle and bustle of the period.
Our river path becomes confusing here and it is best to walk down Mill Lane towards the main road. At the railway level crossing turn right and follow the railway line which eventually leads back to the original tow-path. And soon after this we reach Pipps Ford Lock, here the long slow process of restoration continues relentlessly by the River Gipping Trust (the Ipswich branch of the Inland Waterways Association). Visit their website here. Work takes time but the ultimate goal is to fit lock gates and hopefully provide electric boats to once again navigate this historic and scenic waterway. Work has already been carried out at locks and bridges at Bosmere, Creeting and Baylham but to give you a little insight into the scale of painstaking conservation the restoration at Creeting Lock alone took ten years.
Creeting Lock and bridge.
Just past Pipps Ford Lock is Creeting Lock and a beautiful woodland conservation area, as peaceful and tranquil as anywhere in Constable Country. On the other side of the river there are some wonderful old cottages, Pipps Ford itself is a fine timber-framed building and you can also catch glimpses of Bosmere Hall high up on the hill looking down at the Gipping. I feel I have to include one last historic yarn here that I once read about connected with Bosmere Hall and (strangely) the infamous WW1 German ace the Red Baron. This story concerns Flight Commander Cecil Tidswell, he was born at Bosmere Hall and became an accomplished pilot in the fledgling Royal Flying Corps, joining 19 Squadron in Filton, Bristol in January 1916 after a distinguished career as an officer in the infantry and the cavalry. In a dangerous behind enemy lines sortie in October 1916 Captain Tidswell was shot down and killed by a German attack force that included in it’s ranks a young Baron Manfred von Richthofen. The Red Baron. The kill was never confirmed but it seems likely that the Suffolk man was just another statistic for the Prussian who shot down at least 80 British aeroplanes. Tidswell’s grave (under the care of the CWGC) is quite unique too. It stands alone, near Etrincourt where the Germans buried him, marked by a lonely cross. Most war dead were transferred to mass cemeteries on the Somme but Tidswell’s family paid for the grave to stay where the brave young man had been shot down. A remarkable story.
Just over to our left now we can just make out the new industrial units of Lion Barn Estate on the very outskirts of Needham Market. The trail is nearing its end, we are into the last mile on the last leg of our meandering walk.
Bosmere Hall overlooking the last leg of our Gipping Trail.
Next we must pass through a gate and make our way along a wide track and to our left the stunning Alderson Lake. This lake was purchased by the Gipping Angling Preservation Society (GAPS) in 1979 and opened a year later by one Captain Cook. The true river runs it’s course on the far side of this lake, it rejoins the canal a bit further up at Needham Lake.
There’s a bench here with the Aggregates Trail logo but the footpath shares this track with cars of members of GAPS who can park close to their pegs, making it popular for disabled and disadvantaged fishermen. At the end of the track there is another gate and here is Coddenham Road. A word of warning here this is a very busy road and quite dangerous being on a blind bend. But cross the road we have to do. We now have to quickly cross the river bridge to our right then cut into a clearly-signed footpath to our left. We are now within the confines of Needham Lake and just to our left is the black-painted Bosmere Mill. We must head down our footpath, skirting the children’s play area and picnic site that attracts hundreds of visitors here every year. We then turn left and cross a wide wooden bridge overlooking the old Bosmere lock where the old river and the canal meet up again after a long separation. There is a strange little wooden sculpture here known as Friends of the Lake it features a mother and daughter holding a swan, installed in 2001. Keep the lake to your right and head past the little car park and toilet block here within inches of the railway line, often making unsuspecting visitors jump as London-bound expresses thunder by at breakneck speed. You can just see the low road bridge disappearing under the line. This bridge is infamous in these parts having just 8 feet (2.5m) clearance and on a sharp right-hand bend. In the five year period 2014 to 2019 there were a recorded 53 bridge strikes here, a repetitive nightmare that happens again and again.
Friends of the Lake, carved oak sculpture at Needham Lake.So now we’re almost there, following the Lakeside path past the toilet block with the railway (our ever-present companion) on our left and the tranquil lake (a former gravel pit) to our right. This area is known as Station Field, there used to be a football pitch here accessed by a strange little cattle tunnel, and it’s this tunnel we now enter to bring us out to Station Yard and the end of our journey by the impressive Jacobean-style station for the lovely little town of Needham Market. For a walk around this fine town click on my blog Needham Market. And that my friends, is that. A thoroughly enjoyable nine-mile walk comes to an end.Or is it? For the hardier soles the River Gipping Trail continues on to Stowmarket. Worth it if you’ve got the time but not for me, not this time anyway.