Visit Constable Country
Constable Country' is a term widely used to describe the birthplace of one of England's most famous artists, John Constable. But where exactly is this area and what does it mean?
John Constable was born in East Bergholt in 1776 and grew up exploring the countryside of the Dedham Vale. His father was a wealthy corn merchant who owned two mills, one in Flatford and other in Dedham, as well as several barges, which he had built in the dry dock at Flatford, to transport his flour.
John went to school in Dedham (after a short stint at a boarding school in Lavenham) and he would walk there across the fields from his home in East Bergholt. He developed a love of nature and of the Suffolk countryside during his childhood, which inspired him to paint, and this inspiration sustained him creatively, for the rest of his life.
Many of Constable's most well-known paintings are of the immediate area where he grew up: The Hay Wain (1821), was painted from a sketch made at Flatford Mill and features Willy Lott's House; The Cornfield (1826), or 'The Drinking Boy' as Constable called it, was probably of a lane leading from East Bergholt to Dedham; and The Leaping Horse 1825, was taken from a scene between Dedham and Flatford.
If you want to search out these scenes, do bear in mind that some elements (church spires for example), may have been moved by Constable, in order to create a more satisfying composition. This makes it difficult in some cases to identify the exact location.
'Constable Country' (or 'Constable's Country' as he used to call it) includes the three villages which were of such importance in Constable's development as an artist: Flatford, East Bergholt and Dedham. For visitors to the area today however, it also extends to some neighbouring villages such as Stoke By Nayland, which has a lovely church, often painted by Constable; Nayland, on the banks of the River Stour; Stratford St Mary with an excellent farm shop and cafe; and Polstead, which is a beautiful village with a fascinating history. It also has a church with the prettiest of views.
Constable Country at its Best
A jewel in Suffolk's crown, Constable Country is worth exploring at a leisurely pace, by bike or on foot (or in a canoe!) and it is at its loveliest during the off-peak season, when the crowds have dispersed and its beauty and tranquillity can be most appreciated. The spring and autumn are perfect, but if a summer visit is on the cards, consider stopping-by mid-week, or make the most of the long summer evenings and save your exploring for then.
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Constable Country falls within the Dedham Vale, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there is a useful visitor's guide available which has lots of information to help you plan your visit. There are also many walking and cycle leaflets to download or purchase.
What to See
Flatford Mill is now a field studies centre, running courses on art, photography and botany and is not open to the general public (unless attending a course). Visitors can walk around outside it though and look across to Willy Lott's House and view the location of the Hay Wain, which looks surprisingly similar to how it would have looked in Constable's day.
The National Trust have a tea room on the banks of the River Stour and a Constable Exhibition in the beautiful, thatched Bridge Cottage. Admission is free and the exhibition, tea room and gift shop are open from 10.30am - 5.30pm (please check for seasonal openings outside of the main tourist season). Guided walk take place from April to October.
A wildlife garden, owned and managed by the RSPB, is open from 27th March to 3rd November every day from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm. Admission is free.