Here along the banks of the river Stour, with the county of Essex on one side and Suffolk on the other, England’s favourite landscape painter John Constable spent half his lifetime finding inspiration for great art.
Flatford Mill was owned by Constable’s uncle Abram and here, within only a few hundred yards, you will find the scenes that inspired no fewer than six or seven of Constable’s great paintings – including the famous the Hay Wain, the Mill Stream and Willy Lott’s House.
Now it is owned by the English National Trust, which runs a museum and information centre in nearby Bridge Cottage, with informative tours of the scenes Constable painted available. The river meanders, the turquoise sky boils with summer cloud, cattle stand in the water and hopeful swans eye-up our picnic.
There is also a pleasant tea garden and on the summer afternoon I visited a number of families had hired a boat to splash up the River Stour for awhile.
Constable moved to Hampstead following his marriage but unspoilt English countryside continued to influence his art for the remainder of his life. He wrote in a letter to a friend in 1821: “I should paint my own places best”, he wrote, and “painting is but another word for feeling”.
An English countryside walk: Flatford to Dedham
Setting off from Flatford, the squat tower of Dedham’s 15th-century church of St Mary the Virgin is always in view – although not always as it appears in the paintings as Constable often changed the height and position of the church to suit his compositions.
The church houses one of the few Constable paintings on a religious theme – The Ascension. So unusual is the subject matter for the painter that for many years the church did not realise it was a Constable and were about to sell it when the identification was made.
Dedham was one of the opulent wool towns in the 15th Century and sits beside the River Stour where John Constable’s father had a watermill (since replaced with a Victorian one).
This landscape is beautiful at any time of the year. If the forecast is not bright sunshine, why that just shows the landscape at its most beguiling: Constable’s paintings are famous for their clouds!
These villages, with their flint and stone churches and country pubs are full of charm and there’s nothing like a good country walk!
By Natasha von Geldern