Author: Kim Humphreys

Explore the Stour Valley with Suffolk Cottage Holidays

As winter approaches, our thoughts may turn now to winter breaks and next year’s summer holidays. This blog post is written by writer Gill Bendall. Gill writes for Suffolk Cottage Holidays (a festival sponsor) and its parent business The Original Cottage Company, as well as writing and editing for a number of national and local magazines. She is the owner of the Coastal Guide. She regularly sails her yacht on the River Stour and knows the area well. 

The River Stour Festival has highlighted the history and importance of the mighty watercourse that marks much of the border between Suffolk and Essex, and celebrated its role as a vital transport route, essential to the economy of East Anglia and the lifeblood for many towns and villages.

But it’s also thrown the spotlight on an area that’s much-loved as a holiday bolthole, a place where those who want to spend time immersed in rural idyll can unwind in the countryside, towns and villages immortalised by a number of internationally-acclaimed artists.

For evidence look no further than Constable Country, so-called because it was the setting for some of the ‘chocolate-box’ scenes painted by John Constable (1776-1837) who, as a schoolboy, would have crossed the river and walked through the meadows from East Bergholt to his grammar school at Dedham.

The subject matter Constable captured is still identifiable more than two centuries later, making holidays here a ‘must’ for those seeking peace and tranquility, and a world apart from some of Suffolk’s more bustling tourist locations. Walk in the footsteps of the great artist while enjoying a stay at The Old Chapel Annexe in Nayland (pictured below), an incredible piece of Suffolk history cleverly converted into self-catering accommodation.



Further upriver, Suffolk’s famous Wool Towns are inextricably linked to the River Stour and are additional holiday honeypots. Surrounded on three sides by water meadows and gently rolling hills, Sudbury is the largest, famous for its historic links to Thomas Gainsborough – he was born here, and the surrounding countryside inspired much of his work – and its beautiful blend civic buildings and private dwellings. Make the most of the setting with a riverside stroll or electric boat ride along the River Stour, and stay awhile in the comfort of a self-catering cottage courtesy of Suffolk Cottage Holidays.

A veritable picture of prettiness, Lavenham is famous for its woven blue broadcloth – once exported as far as Russia – and is known as England’s best-preserved medieval village. Once the 14th wealthiest town in the country, Lavenham is home to more than 160 listed buildings, some of them almost cartoon-like in their wonkiness. Right in the heart of town, Pilgrims (pictured below) is an utterly charming holiday cottage offering a perfect view over the building famed for its role as Godric’s Hollow in the Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows film.

For a getaway closer to the busy mouth of the River Stour, Suffolk Cottage Holidays’ sister-company Suffolk Secrets offers a beautiful barn conversion on the Shotley Peninsula. Lake Farm Barn (pictured below) at Holbrook is surrounded by well-groomed grounds and sleeps up to six people, while up to two well-behaved dogs are welcome too.


  • Rural retreats specialist Suffolk Cottage Holidays is part of the Original Cottages family of local holiday cottage letting agencies, all offering in-depth knowledge and an on-the-ground service to homeowners and holidaymakers across England and Wales. To find out more, call 01394 389189 or log on to the website.

End of WW1 and the Stour Estuary

This blog post looks at an historic event that took place in the Stour Estuary at the end of World War One, and also a commemoration of the Kindertransport journeys made by children in World War Two.

In November 2018 over 168 German U-Boats and support vessels were escorted along the River Stour by British ships. To commemorate the mass surrender of Germany’s submarines on the Essex coast at the end of World War One, a model U-boat made of willow has been created and now sits on Dovercourt Beach.

To read about this chapter in the history of the Stour Estuary click here.

A video telling the story can be seen here

Story courtesy of BBC News and Harwich Haven Surrender and Sanctuary U-boats in Harwich

A Thousand Kisses: The weekend of 1st/2nd December marks the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the first Kindertransport in Harwich in 1938. Between December 1938 and May 1940 almost 10,000 unaccompanied mostly Jewish children were brought to Britain from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland in what became known as the Kindertransports.

An exhibition telling the story of the Kindertransports through the experiences of eight children will be on display at the Harwich International Terminal (adjacent to the berths where the children’s boats docked) from 24 November, and then at the Harwich Mayflower Heritage Centre from 1st to 7th December.

To find out more information about events click here

Our Outstanding Landscape – now and the future

This blog post comes from Cathy Smith,  Communications, Funding & Development Officer of the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Project


The Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Stour Valley is an outstanding place, and it has been nationally designated too, helping us recognise that it has many special qualities for us today and for future generations.

The landscape of the Stour Valley with its vibrant communities and rich agricultural history has inspired generations of artists, writers and painters. As well as these strong cultural connections, the valley has abundant wildlife living in the mosaic of habitats along the river valley. Large numbers of visitors are drawn to appreciate and enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of the countryside and explore its rich historical associations.

The River Stour is the heart, and I’d say soul, of the area. The main river and its tributaries touch every part of the area, and although you can’t always see it, the water course is life giving and a rich focus of activity for people and wildlife. The Stour Valley Path is a 60-mile walking route that also runs the length of the river from source to estuary, and a hike or stroll along the route will show you all it’s many wonders. The River Stour Festival is another great example highlighting the variety of cultural and natural events and activities that enhance our experiences.

But we must also look to the future.

When Defra wrote their 25 Year Environment Plan (Jan 2018) they included an announcement of a Designated Landscape Review. This Review, of both National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), will report back to Michael Gove in 2019. 2019 is also the 70th Anniversary of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. A fitting time to look once again at how your Essex & Suffolk AONBs are delivering local priorities too.

This week (20 October 2018) Defra began its public ‘Call for Evidence’. Everyone can – and should – submit comments to Defra, via their consultation pages, see their news report: The deadline is Tuesday 18 December 2018.

Nationally there are common themes across all the designated landscapes – including wildlife, land management, agriculture and recreation. We also have local priorities that we will take to the Review Advisory Panel about at our face-to-face, and when we submit our response to the consultation.

Here in the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley the AONB team and its Partnership is already delivering against the 25YEP, and we have a thriving agriculture sector, a healthy rural economy, beautiful landscapes and rich habitats for wildlife. Looking forward, we have pressure from infrastructure and building developments, a keen interest in further enhancing biodiversity through countryside management and the work of our wonderful volunteers, and we strongly believe that supporting our community groups with advice and grants can deliver great benefits locally.

We hope you get out as much as possible to enjoy our outstanding landscape soon and that being in the landscape will help you think about how we can all support it – conserve and enhance it – for many more generations to come!

Cathy Smith


October Garden Clippings

As autumn comes to the Stour Valley, SB tells us what’s happening in her garden on the banks of the River Stour. Many thanks to her for these interesting insights.

Autumn mornings can be breathtaking at sunrise when an early morning mist forms over the water meadows opposite us. The mist suspends above the river itself in low, wisp-like, endlessly moving shapes and rolls in dense swirls across the meadows, gently caressing, creating an ethereal curtain across the valley. The dark forms of the cattle can just be seen through the mist. Overhead the geese fly in formation accompanied by their constant calls to each other; a stirring sound of the wild. When the Canada geese return to the water meadows it is a sure sign autumn has arrived. There are Greylag geese amongst them too.

Before I write about happenings in the garden I must just tell you of an experience I had when out walking my dog. We were walking up a tramline in a nearby sugar beet field when I spotted a worm on the surface of the soil. Attached to the tail of the worm was a black beetle, which was pulling with all its might, twisting onto its back with the effort at times. The worm did not seem to be particularly distressed and proceeded on its way slowly but surely being stretched out by the beetle tugging in the opposite direction! I watched with morbid fascination as the worm continued to elongate. All of a sudden the small end section of the worm broke off and the beetle scuttled off with its prize! The worm continued on its way seemingly unperturbed.

The walnut tree is being raided by land and air! The grey squirrels are busy doing what squirrels do and no doubt we will have walnut seedlings popping up all over the garden as usual! The air raids are by the rooks who fly off with a walnut firmly in their beaks back to the rookery.

The ivy flowers have been literally abuzz with insects of all sizes including bees, butterflies, ladybirds and hornets. Ivy is such an important food source at this time of year and obviously greatly enjoyed by so many insects.

We planted a spindle tree in the spring, Euonymus europaeus ‘red cascade’ (pictured), by the sluice gates and despite its small size it produced several stunning fruits for us and gave us a hint of what is to come when it matures.

The cygnets are dispersing, only three now come to the back lawn on a regular basis. A swan was seen forcefully attacking one of the cygnets in the river, I am not sure if it was the parent or an interloper. The cygnets are “encouraged” to leave by the parents in due course, so perhaps this process has begun. In all my years living here I have never witnessed a cygnet flying for the first time. This morning, I did see one “running” up the river, flapping its wings in the manner of a swan launching itself but it sank back down onto the river. A trial run, perhaps!


Poems of the River Stour

This blog post features two poems written by Linda Bevan and Jo Porth, both members of the Sturmer and District WI. Jo Porth is Secretary to the Sturmer Village Hall Charity.  Their committee has been organising some events to celebrate the River Stour Festival in Sturmer, including a fun run, showing the film The River Runs through us and a photo competition. Whilst Jo’s poem portrays the beauty of the Stour, Linda’s poem shows us another dimension of the river, when it is in flood. 

We will feature some more poems from members of the Sturmer and District WI in coming weeks.


Flood in Sturmer by Linda Bevan

Woken up in the morning

S’posed to be an early warning

Open the door

Look at the floor

Water lapping – just a few feet

Cars making a tidal wave through The Street


Run to the back

Peer into the dark

Water lapping – just a few feet

Back and front soon will meet!


On the email

On the phone

Write to the Councillor

Have a moan


Then anxiously waiting to see how high –

Phew by noon it’s receding

Highways finally answers our pleading

Clears that gully but it’s too late – our neighbours cars have met their end

There’s no chance they’ll ever mend


Next morning

Review the damage

Mud on the drive

Garage swimming


But every cloud has a silver lining they say

At least now I can throw all that junk away!



Across Broad Meadow by Jo Porth 

Across Broad Meadow the River Stour,

A cottage built with Tudor power,

For fifty years has been our home,

Where ancient man and Romans roam,

The river running through the Mere,

Now home to heron, fox and deer,

Badgers, otters all live here,

Tawny owls that call at night,

Barn owls with their ghostly flight,

Buzzards call, with their cat like sound,

Wigeon and mallard abound,

Daises and orchids can be found,

The River Stour where swans swim,

And in the summer swallows skim,

Across Broad Meadow the River Stour,

In Sturmer Mere our hidden bower

September Garden Clippings

This blog post welcomes back SB with more Garden Clippings from her garden on the banks of the River Stour, with more wonderful insights into the wildlife living on the river.


The much-needed rain finally came.  The water butts have filled up and the hosepipes are stored away in the garden shed.  The lawns seem to be growing at such a pace, making up for lost time perhaps!  The weeds are following suit.  My dahlias are now blooming joyfully and add a splash of colour to the vegetable garden.  I do have a problem with large numbers of earwigs inside and eating the flowers this year though.  I have added a few upside-down flower pots stuffed with straw on bamboo canes, in the hope of luring them away from the flower heads.  

The duck weed has now started to disperse.  The kingfisher is once again regularly seen back on his favoured spot in the millpool sitting on a branch of the fallen willow, two or three feet above the surface of the water.  One must always pause and enjoy the fleeting spectacle of this fabulous bird.  The five cygnets are now fully grown and are displaying hints of a paler hue in their plumage.  Four remain together, usually with an adult but one is bolder and is often seen asleep, alone, on the back lawn while the others are elsewhere.  Yet another brood of moorhens are scuttling about!  The surviving member of the last brood is now independent.  There are four chicks, still very tiny and one looked very poorly a couple of days ago.  It was plaintively calling and extremely weak, unable to stand, when I spotted it on the back lawn.  The mother did come to it and was fussing around but whether she managed to revive it with food or not I do not know.  Sadly, I fear not.

My greenhouse is full of tomato plants and peppers.  The tomato crop has been the best I have ever had and there are still many more hopefully to ripen.  They are all cherry tomatoes.  Outside in one of the raised beds I have grown some plum tomatoes which are producing a good crop.  I noticed that one or two of the greenhouse tomatoes had been partially eaten and then I spotted the culprit – a large caterpillar residing in a leaf.  It is the caterpillar of the Bright-line brown-eye moth, also known as the tomato moth.   With such a large crop I was happy to share the bounty with the caterpillar!

We leave logs dotted around the garden to provide habitat and in places for sitting on.  When mowing the pergola bank it is necessary to roll one of the logs we sit on to one side.  When doing this recently a common lizard was revealed underneath!  Very quickly the log was rolled back into position and, I hasten to add, it will not be used as a seat in the future!  SB


Garden Clippings

This blog post comes from SB who lives on the banks of the River Stour. She regularly writes about the wildlife and changing seasons on the river for the local parish magazine and we are delighted that she has agreed to share her “Garden Clippings” with us on the River Stour Festival blog. I’ll let her tell you about her beautiful garden.

Our garden is situated on the banks of the river Stour at Great Henny on the site of the old watermill. It comprises of an island containing a large pond accessed by a bridge spanning the sluice gates. There is also a wooded area on the island and an orchard. The river forks at the top of the garden forming the island, one fork continues as the main river the other flows through the sluice gates into what was the mill pond for the mill.   The flow exits at the bottom of the mill pond back into the main river. Our house is located beside the mill pond and the main river runs past the back of the house.

Adjacent to the section of river flowing into the mill pond is an expanse of lawn planted out with ornamental trees known as Maggies. Below this area coming down towards the house is our vegetable garden which then leads into our formal front garden. A pergola covered in roses and wisteria runs the length of the vegetable garden and above the path alongside the mill pond leading to Maggies and the Island. Behind the house and adjacent to the main river is our back lawn.

We garden with wildlife in mind and therefore the area around the house is planted in a formal way with the emphasis as far as possible on bee friendly plants but as we move away from the house we focus on encouraging the river banks to grow up with native plants, leave piles of branches, logs etc. gathered from around the garden for shelter and generally trying to create a rich habitat but still retaining a garden feel.

We hope you enjoy reading our garden clippings.



Garden Clippings

 As I write the sun is beating down and the temperature is close to thirty degrees, yet again! What a summer and what a challenging time in the garden! We have several ornamental trees planted on ‘Maggies’, our large area of lawn, some are now showing signs of stress and also on the Island which is surprising when it is obviously surrounded by water! A Catalpa tree, of quite a good size, has really suffered with one branch shedding its leaves completely and another starting to wilt. We have had to pump water out of the river to keep it going and fingers-crossed it will survive as it is a magnificent tree. Watering trees has become a weekly event with buckets being lugged across from the river to wherever it is needed.   We do not have access to mains piped water in all areas of the garden, so a hose is not an option beyond part of the vegetable garden.

The river is getting very clogged up with duck weed in places. This is not good news for the kingfishers, which we haven’t seen for some time now, as their hunting spots get reduced due to lack of visibility. We have kept the mill pond relatively free of duck weed by making a channel into the main river through an area of Norfolk reeds, where the duck weed now flows through and out on the current. The dead willow which blew down into the millpond during a gale provides perfect access to the water for many birds. A quick glance out of the window and I can see a pigeon having a drink from one of the branches just above the water surface and a couple of moorhens, balanced precariously on smaller branches making good use of their large green feet, are pecking at the duck weed caught up in the submerged branches of the tree. The pair of swans and five remaining cygnets use the channel to access the mill pond and they also feed on the duck weed, seemingly sucking it up with relish.

There are a couple of late broods of moorhen chicks which are regularly seen on the back lawn. Little balls of black fluff darting about. A couple of days ago I happened to glance out of the kitchen window and saw a heron swoop in, the moorhen parents immediately attacked the heron with karate type kicks aimed at the towering threat to their chicks. I think a combination of their fearless defending of their young and my hammering on the window scared the heron off for a meal elsewhere.

We are thrilled to have two hedgehogs regularly coming to feed beneath the bird feeder outside the kitchen window. We spotted them eating some mealworms I had put out on the ground for blackbirds, robins etc. I purchased some hedgehog food from the pet shop and they now come every evening for mealworms, hedgehog pellets and a good drink of water from a low dish easily accessible to them and any thirsty birds.

One of my favourite pastimes is to stand by the pillbox on the island and watch all the insects coming and going in the wild riverbank area beside the millpond. It mainly comprises of purple thistle flowers and an eye level large area of hemp agrimony interspersed with nettles. It is a magnet for a myriad variety of bees, particularly the thistle flowers from which only the rear end of the bee is visible as it burrows inbetween the numerous narrow petals. Butterflies including comma and peacock flitter about and alight to feed on the flowers and the air is full of dragonflies swooping and hunting. Large brown hawker dragonflies, like small helicopters whirr past, darting and diving after insects. The brilliant blue and green of the damselflies gracefully twist and turn. There is so much life in just one section of our wild garden.

400 contrary ducks on the River Stour!

On the banks of the River Stour at Henny, July 2017…..

“The river is flowing the wrong way.”

“What do you mean?”

“The river is flowing the wrong way!” I repeated. “Look at the current. The wind is blowing the water the wrong way.” It was a breezy day.

“No, no, it’s an optical illusion” said the head organiser of the Henny Fete.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes” was the reply (with an unspoken hint of “Don’t be daft – everyone knows the River Stour flows from Sudbury to Bures”). “Look over at the reeds, the water is definitely flowing towards Bures”.

I really wasn’t convinced but took him at his word.

After a couple of years of supervising Splat the Rat and other games and one year managing the cream teas, last year I had been given the task of being the photographer of the fete and its highlight event, the now annual duck race. (A few years earlier I had been at the committee meeting when Steve suggested a duck race to a chorus of “That will never work” and here we are watching the now annual duck race on the Stour). A boom had been laid across the river to prevent the yellow plastic ducks from going down the weir and this would act as the finishing line. 400 ducks would be carried further upstream in a canoe and then released to swim downstream. Each duck had been numbered and purchased for £3. The “owner” of the duck reaching the boom first would win a superb hamper of goodies. My job was to capture the release, the progress of the ducks down the river and the exciting finish as the first speedy duck reached the boom.

I took my place close to the river to capture the action; behind me the crowd started to take their places sitting on the high river bank at the Henny Swan to cheer on their duck. The intrepid Steve and Barry and 400 ducks set out on the canoe to the release point further upstream. Carefully Steve and Barry tipped the ducks into the river.

To the amusement of the crowd and the consternation of the organisers, 400 yellow ducks started swimming towards Sudbury, despite Steve and Barry’s efforts to make them about turn and head in the direction of Bures. Before long they were at the bend in the river and almost out of sight. To add to the chaos three canoeists paddling down the river had to negotiate their way through the fleeing ducks. Steve and Barry paddled back to the waiting crowd to announce that the wind was too strong for the lightweight ducks and there was no way the ducks were going to co-operate and head towards the boom – the winner would be the duck that had swum the furthest towards Sudbury.

So my intuition was right – today the river was flowing the wrong way (on the surface anyway) and 400 ducks had outwitted us.

The ducks abscond towards Sudbury 2017

On the banks of the River Stour at Henny, July 2018…..

Again I am given the job of fete photographer. It’s a breezy day.

Determined not to be fooled again I walk to the water’s edge to check the flow of the water. Like last year, the wind is blowing against the current, towards Sudbury. Time to check in with the organiser.

“I hate to repeat myself but you do realise that the river is flowing the wrong way again”.

“Yes, we know. This time we are going to put the ducks in by the boom next to the weir and we are putting another boom further upstream as the finishing line”.

All prepared then. No surprises. I take my place on the river bank. The crowd begins to gather behind.

This year there are 430 ducks. Booms in place, Steve and Barry take to the water and tip 430 ducks into the river, corralling them with the boom until the start. And they’re off…..

Ducks released 2018

The ducks start to race upstream carried on the breeze. A lot are driven into the weed and some disappear under the jetty. Steve and Barry and a fellow canoeist try to rescue ducks from under the jetty, using their paddles to send them into the air to rejoin the yellow throng. A few ducks are making fantastic headway, bobbing away towards the finishing boom. Suddenly the wind drops, as if breathing in instead of blowing. The ducks start heading towards Bures! The leaders are now tailenders! The chaos has the crowd enthralled. After a rest, the wind gusts again. The ducks turn and starting heading upstream again, with many being driven into the clutches of the weeds. A few more “one step forward two steps back” moments follow. One duck in particular has a noticeable lead – the crowd start cheering for 190. (The passion of an amassed crowd to cheer on a small piece of floating plastic has to be witnessed firsthand). When it looks like 190 has the race in his beak, he loses momentum and 112 swiftly bobs past him and makes it to the boom.


Heading towards the finish line 2018

Excitement over for another year, the ducks are retrieved and stored for next year’s race.

The river can certainly be unpredictable. 430 ducks can testify that it’s not always “from the source to the sea”.

Kim Humphreys

The Henny Fete and Duck Race is an annual event held at the Henny Swan pub on the River Stour in aid of St Mary’s Church, Great Henny and Henny Parish Room.