A Weekend in Dedham Vale: exploring Constable Country

I know it’s cold and horrible outside but I’m still catching up on my Summer 2022 England adventures and reminiscing on sunshine. Back in early September, I was very politely asked to make myself scarce for the weekend as my husband had his friends visiting. With the alternative being banished upstairs to one room for 2 days, I decided it was a good opportunity for me to go and explore somewhere new.

I looked on the map and settled on Dedham Vale, an area about 1.5hrs drive away – famous for being home to John Constable, the renowned artist. ‘Constable Country’ as Dedham Vale is now known is where he painted his famous paintings such as The Hay Wain and Wivenhoe Park, depicting gorgeous countryside settings featuring horse and carts, country cottages and green fields. It might be a bygone age, but Dedham Vale is one of those places that in 200 years, hasn’t really changed that much.

A copy of The Hay Wain

You can still visit most of the places depicted in the paintings and whilst I’m not a huge art fan, I am a huge fan of beautiful uninterrupted English countryside. So off I went to explore.

Friday: Relaxing in luxury

On Friday night, I drove to my chosen hotel in the area. There are lots of nice ones to choose from – Dedham Hall, Talbooth House, The Crown at Stoke-by-Nayland – or perhaps my choice, The Marquis in Upper Layham. It lies just on the outskirts of Dedham Vale and is absolutely stunning. I stayed in a Vale View room meaning uninterrupted countryside views from my bath; dreamy!

View from the bath!

Saturday: On Constable’s trail

I dedicated the full day on Saturday to exploring in Constable’s footsteps. I thought I’d start with the main event, driving 15 minutes to the hamlet of Flatford to pay homage to The Hay Wain, currently hanging in The National Gallery in London. Here you can find the depicted Willy Lott’s Cottage still standing, and the scene is virtually unchanged in 200 years – with the cottage, pond and sweep of trees.

Not too different to back then!

I then made the short walk to Bridge Cottage, which was once the home of tenants of the Constable family, but today is the site of a lovely RSPB wildlife garden. It’s jumbled with butterflies, dragonflies and flowers and even has a tearoom next door. I treated myself to some cake and watched the world go by.

Bridge Cottage

After the refuel, I decided to take a walk along the River Stour, following one of the ‘top 100’ walks in England. There were people wild swimming, lots of paddle boarding and kayaking, and plenty of row boats too – very English!

A gorgeous English scene

I walked from Flatford to Dedham itself. It’s about a 1hr walk to get there, where I took in the 15th-century St Mary’s Church and enjoyed Dedham’s colourful buildings painted in ochres and flaming reds. I also treated myself to a late lunch and then strolled back to my car along the river.

Picture perfect Dedham

After getting back to my car, I drove the short distance to East Bergholt, Constable’s childhood home. This little village features St Mary the Virgin Church, where the country’s heaviest hand-operated bells are still tolled each Sunday. You’ll also find a sprinkling of decent pubs and cafés. 

After a quick drink, I wiggled my way through some other villages en-route back to my hotel, taking in Raydon and Hadleigh, with Hadleigh famous for its stunning ancient Guild Hall.

After spending an hour there, I returned to my hotel for a tasty dinner and then sank in to a luxurious bath. I slept so soundly in the giant bed – total bliss.

Sunday: Exploring Dedham Vale AONB

After a nice breakfast at the hotel, I decided to explore a bit more of Dedham Vale, labelled an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Whilst I’d explored a small part, there were numerous other beautiful villages to visit before leaving.

I headed to the north of the region, visiting Polstead first. Here I parked up by the village green and walked around; also visiting the lovely village shop for an ice-cream to fuel me before my walk for the morning.

A Suffolk pink thatched cottage

From Polstead I decided to do the 2hr round walk loop to neighbouring Stoke-by-Nayland. Stoke-by-Nayland was absolutely stunning, with some glorious ancient buildings behind the historic church. I also had lunch in the pub there, which was delicious.

One of the incredible houses in Stoke-by-Nayland

Unfortunately it was then time to head home, although not before a stop off at Nayland, full of wonky timbered houses and quirky cottages.

I was taken aback by how gorgeous this area of England is – it’s no wonder Constable was inspired to paint, and it seems to remain largely unchanged since that time 250 years ago. It’s great that even now I can fall in love with England again, and I was genuinely sad to have to head home.

If you do decide to visit the area, and want to stay longer, Dedham Vale is also close enough to a number of other areas in Suffolk which are well worth a visit, including Long Melford (for old stately homes), Lavenham (for one of the prettiest villages in England and Harry Potter filming location), Woodbridge (for ancient Anglo Saxon history & castles) or The Suffolk Coast (for beautiful beaches).

As I drove home I thought about this time last year – I had a pretty rough end to 2021 and I reflected that 12 months on mentally I feel so much better, and life wise I’m so much more appreciative of the small things. I reflected that I’m content in my own company, realising that I’m at peace with myself, and really there’s no better feeling than that.

….And just as well really because the house was a total tip and my husband and his friends were incredibly hungover when I arrived home. Deep breaths and back to normality!


  1. The many cottages and homes through your travels in Dedham Vale look wonderful, and the waterfront landscapes so peaceful. It’s nice to hear you’re appreciating these adventures, as your readers more assuredly are, as well ~ thanks for sharing, Hannah 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your Saturday walks look picture perfect, especially along the river. And to end a day like that with a cocktail and in that bath – can’t be much better! And indeed lovely homes in Stoke-by-Nayland. It’s such a beautiful area you visited Hannah. You have so many beautiful pictures… but oh, that bath!
    And I’m also happy to read how well you’re doing since a year ago and to be content in your own company…that’s great!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Corna – I had such a great weekend and for sure this year is better with no more treatment, clinic and hospital trips. You said to me last year with time you become content (that has stuck with me), and I think it’s completely true. You’re able to move forward and be content and grateful for what you have. Like lovely baths and English countryside 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s wonderful to read how you ‘improved’ mentally over the past year … you have done great (in a very short space of time). And you know what – every year will be better than the previous one! Hugs 💌.


  3. Sounds like a really nice solo weekend getaway (and sounds like you escaped the mayhem back home haha). I’d never heard of Dedham Vale or Constable, so I wasn’t even aware this area existed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I got a real feel for the English countryside from your post, Hannah. The countryside here is all cotton fields, dirt, and tumbleweeds! Thatched roofs fascinate me as do the timbered houses and handwritten sign posts. How delightful that you were able to spend a leisurely weekend doing exactly what you wanted to do. It would’ve been hard to get me out of that amazing bath 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh good, I’m so pleased because that was my intention. We are so lucky to have green countryside full of pretty villages – but that comes from being a small country without varying landscapes – the total opposite to the US! Getting out of the bath took a lot of willpower that’s for sure!! Hope you have a wonderful weekend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh those uninterrupted English countryside views! With such inspiring views it would make anyone want to paint! Really lovely area to walk around with you today. I’m glad that the year has brought you peace, contentment, and healing. Sending you thoughts and hugs across the miles for all good things for you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a great excuse to go on a new adventure and take some time for yourself. Bridge Cottage and all those beautiful timbered houses look so charming. I couldn’t help but laugh that you went for an ice-cream before your morning walk!

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  7. Such an amazing solo weekend! I didn’t know about this part of England and as you say, some scene can’t get more English than that! It seems like such a peaceful area and I’m not surprised someone would paint it. Thanks a lot for sharing your adventures with us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad to be able to show people lots of different areas of England, as there are so many parts to explore (as I’m sure there are in all countries). Thanks for reading Juliette, hope you’re having a good week 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. A perfect getaway. You had me at the opening photo of the thatched roof house by the bridge. It sounds like that men’s weekend was a good thing to leave behind. You had the better weekend, I’m sure!


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