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Situated on the north bank of the river Stour in Suffolk in the parish of East Bergholt, Flatford is a hamlet extending for approximately 300 yards along the river.
Flatford is central to the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. As the name suggests, the River Stour here is flat and not as deep as other fords. However,
- the ford at Flatford was only useable when the water levels were low.
- the lowest place with a ford useable throughout the year, was actually upstream at Dedham.
The landscape around Flatford is an excellent example of a lowland English Countryside – a gently sided enclosed valley and a meandering river with flood meadows and grazing cattle. There are also many timber framed buildings and on the sky line there are church towers, which were built at the peak of the Cloth Trade 500 years ago.
All these features are visible in John Constable’s best-known landscapes which he created 150 years ago. To this day, if you visit Flatford, you will find the locations where he sketched them – they have changed very little in all that time.
Car Parking & Blue Badge
The car park is clearly marked. If you are a member of the National Trust you can park free. There is a car park charge for non members.
If you are disabled and have a Blue Badge, please take the left turn before the National Trust car park down Flatford Lane signposted ‘To the Field Centre’. Please drive SLOWLY because the road is narrow. When you get to the bottom of the hill you will see a sharp turning on the left. Take this left turn and you will see spaces allocated to parking for Blue Badge holders.
In the far left corner of the car park you will see the National Trust ‘Welcome Kiosk’ and an information board.
During the working day in the summer, you will be greeted by National Trust staff who will explain the layout of the site, what to look for and where to walk as well as the location of the shop, toilets and tea room.
Beyond the Welcome Kiosk is a sloping path about 130 yards long which leads to the centre of Flatford. The path slopes to the bottom of the hill. Most of it is fairly even but towards the bottom there are 16 steps about 3 inches high with strong hand rails on either side.
After walking down the sloping path and navigating the last 16 steps you will come out onto a service road called Flatford Lane.
Immediately to your right you will see the RSPB Wildlife Garden
If you cross the road you will see:
- A sign inviting you to the Constable Exhibition
- Blue Badge parking spaces
Moving towards Bridge Cottage the road divides into two.
- Follow the road round to your right and you will see Flatford Bridge
- Cross the bridge and to your right you will find a footpath along the river bank to Dedham and to your left a path to Flatford Lock and other footpaths.
If you don’t turn right for Flatford Bridge but walk straight on down Flatford Lane, you will pass the corner of Bridge Cottage and towards a picket fence. The picket gate takes you to the entrance to the National Trust Tea Room and Shop.
Walk straight on past the picket fence (and National Trust Shop) and on your right you will find:
- the entrance to the Dry Dock
- the open air picnic and outside tea area
Walk on a little further down Flatford Lane, past the entrance to the Dry Dock and you will find
- Flatford Granary (right hand side)
- Flatford Mill (right hand side)
- Valley Farm (left hand side)
- Willy Lott’s House (straight ahead)
The total distance from Bridge Cottage to Willy Lott’s House is about 250 yards.
Valley Farm, which is the oldest and best quality building in Flatford. You will find it on the left hand side of Flatford Lane – almost opposite Flatford Mill.
Note: There is no public access to the Granary, the Mill, Valley Farm, Willy Lott’s House, but access to everything else is free.
In the production of this web site some of the sources used were provided by:
Suffolk Record Office, Field Studies Archive, River Stour Trust Archive, National Trust Archive, Essex and Suffolk Water Archive, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service, Joyce Baker Archive
Other sources include, River Stour Navigation Company by J.S. Hull, The Suffolk Stour by A.J.R. Waller, Anne Sanders – Suffolk Review, Essex & Suffolk River Stour Navigation by John Marriage, Flatford Constable Country by Ian St John, Visiting the Past by Bob Horlock