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Festival celebrates the best walks Suffolk has to offer

suffolk walking festival image from previous year ANL-160430-224415001
suffolk walking festival image from previous year ANL-160430-224415001

We miss so much as we rush through life, driving everywhere, viewing the world through a windscreen.

The landscape flashes past, fascinating buildings go un-noticed.

Suffolk Walking Festival 2013, Sudbury to Long Melford - ANL-160430-224614001
Suffolk Walking Festival 2013, Sudbury to Long Melford - ANL-160430-224614001

There is really only one way to fully appreciate the beauty all around us ... on foot.

Going for a walk is great exercise, lifts the spirits, and lets you discover hidden gems in even the most familiar places.

That’s why Suffolk has declared 2016 the Year of Walking.

It kicks off this month with a mega-celebration of some of the best walks the county has to offer.

suffolk walking festival image from previous year ANL-160430-224255001
suffolk walking festival image from previous year ANL-160430-224255001

The Suffolk Walking Festival packs more than 70 of them into three weeks starting tomorrow (May 14).

They cover every corner of the county and there is something for everyone.

It could be a challenging hike or a stroll around the streets of an historic town.

The aim is to get us on our feet and out enjoying the fresh air and wonderful views.

Each walk has a theme, and they range in length from a gentle stroll of one mile, to a challenging 60 miles in 24 hours.

Some will take you around towns and villages steeped in history. They include guided tours in Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket, Sudbury. Lavenham and Clare.

Others strike out through open country, with the chance to enjoy the Suffolk landscape in all its variety from rolling fields to coastline, heaths and marshes.

There is even a speed-dating ramble where a walk through the countryside could lead to love or lasting friendship.

Also on the list are stress-relieving mindfulness walks, a ‘pramble’ for parents with prams, photography, birdwatching and Pilates walks, a gentle stroll for sufferers of dementia and their carers, and the ever-popular Horrible History For Families in Ipswich.

Some include a cream tea or other refreshments and all are an informal and sociable way to explore the county.

And while we can all find something in our local area, there is also the chance to explore further afield.

The walking festival, already an annual event, is supported by local authorities and spearheaded by the county council’s Discover Suffolk project.

We know walking is good for us. But possibly best of all, it also makes us happy.

Claire Parker, Green Access Manager at Discover Suffolk, has overall responsbility for the festival.

“Most of us know that walking is good for our health,” she says, “and that it can help to prevent or manage a range of conditions such a type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

“For me this is all really important, but what I really love about walking is much more basic than that.

“Very simply, walking makes me feel happy. It’s really hard to feel sorry for yourself when walking, especially when that walk is through green countryside or by a meandering river.

“Walking for me is head space ... I can think, ponder, appreciate and sometimes just stop and enjoy the moment. It’s my feel good factor!”

BBC Radio Suffolk broadcaster Lesley Dolphin, who is patron of the festival, says: “The Year of Walking will be celebrating two of my very favourite things, walking and Suffolk.

“The aim is to inspire people to build more walking into their everyday lives and to discover what fun it is.”

Tony Goldson, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for health, sees it as a big step on the way to making Suffolk England’s most active county.

“The purpose is to celebrate walking in the county, promote walking events and encourage new walking opportunities.

“The festival does a wonderful job of demonstrating how easy and inclusive walking is, and what a fantastic county Suffolk is to walk in.

“It is making a very positive contribution to our ambition of becoming the most active county in England.”

James Finch, cabinet member for highways and transport, is also enthusiastic about the project.

“With these walks you can really experience our unique Suffolk countryside and towns, using rights of way and established footpath networks throughout the county.

“You can enjoy our outstanding landscapes from Newmarket to Lowestoft, see historic villages such as Nayland and Flatford in the Stour Valley, take to the coastline and the exciting challenge walks, or gain insight into the history of our towns.

“I hope that whatever the weather throws at us in coming months you will find an event that suits your spirit of adventure.”

Local events begin with Where Two Rivers Meet on May 14 – an exploration of Bury’s rivers and water meadows.

It is followed on May 15 by Have You Noticed? – a walk around central Bury looking at interesting architectural features as well as those quirky things that people walk past daily and never realise are there.

On the same day there is a circular walk around the parish of Norton, using public footpaths.

The Hawkedon Cirular Walk on May 17 is a walk through undulating countryside with lovely views visiting Stansfield and Somerton along the way.

Discover the benefits of Nordic walking on May 21 with an hour-long taster session starting from West Stow Country Park.

Walk the Burma Road on May 22 is a circular walk across fields to Lavenham airfield, with a tour airfield and old buildings, plus the chance to see World War Two vehicles and hear airmen’s tales.

May 22 sees a repeat of the Where Two Rivers Meet walk in Bury.

On the same day there is a Mindfulness Walk in Bradfield Woods where you can learn the art of mindful walking in an ancient woodland containing Suffolk’s oldest living things.

On May 23 the A to Z of Bury St Edmunds will take you on an historical tour of the town starting at Angel Hill and covering the whole alphabet.

A Stroll Through the Ages on May 25 is a walk and talk about different parts of the market town of Stowmarket, from football to foundry to factories.

A Walk in the Park on May 27 is a gentle walk in Lakenheath Park for people who prefer a shorter walk. Afterwards, return to the Peace Memorial Hall for refreshments and cake.

Over in Lavenham on the same day Broad Tales About the Broadcloth will reveal how wool production brought huge wealth to the medieval town and how we still use some of the sayings from that period.

Redgrave Ramble on June 2 is a circular walk on the border of Suffolk and Norfolk via Angles Way, Redgrave and Lopham Fen, the source of the Waveney and Redgrave village.

Melford to Lavenham Pillbox Trail on June 3 walk follows the route of a World War Two “stop line” designed as a defensive system in the event of invasion. Much of the system is still in place – if you know where to look.

There is another chance to do Bury’s Where Two Rivers Meet walk on June 4, and another mindfulness walk on the same day at Knettishall Heath near Thetford.

The Speed Dating Walk, which starts in Lavenham, is on June 4.

On June 5 the Stowmarket to Bury Linear Walk is great opportunity to discover what lies beyond the A14. The 20-mile route starts at Stowmarket railway station and goes through Dagworth and Haughley before stopping for lunch at Elmswell, then continuing through Norton and Thurston to Bury station.

Walkers preferring shorter distances can leave at Elmswell or Thurston.

To view the full walks programme and book tickets, visit the website www.suffolkwalkingfestival.co.uk.

Brochures are available from Suffolk tourist information centres.