The Great Outdoors

Throughout the Heart of Suffolk, we are home to stunning Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, nature reserves and open spaces

Feel free to wander

Throughout the Heart of Suffolk, we are home to stunning Areas of Natural Beauty (AONB). You’ll find patchwork landscapes, untouched nature reserves and open spaces in the great outdoors here.

Voted one of the best places to live and visit, our superb destinations are perfect for exploring. Many of the walks and trails referred to below are available on the Love Exploring app.  This fun app locates nearby trails and is completely free! You will be able follow different guided trails and activities for people from all ages and walks of life. Whether you want to unwind and focus on mindfulness or simply discover different areas there’s no limit. Furthermore, it’s also a great activity for families with kids who fancy an Augmented Reality adventure. 

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

There are 46 AONBs in Britain. These areas are defined as ‘an outstanding landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so precious that it is in the nation’s interest to safeguard them’.

These areas cover 18% of the British countryside. They have been identified as AONB’s to ensure that their character and qualities are protected for future generations to enjoy.

We are lucky to have two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Heart of Suffolk. The Suffolk Coast and Heaths, and the Dedham Vale, which covers the area known as Constable Country. This is where the artist John Constable was born and lived, painting many of his most famous artworks.

The Dedham Vale AONB


Needham lake

Dedham Vale is often referred to as Constable Country. This AONB covers the area around East Bergholt, Dedham, and Flatford where the artist John Constable was born.

Constable’s most famous works such as The Hay Wain and Willy Lott’s Cottage were painted in Flatford. Flatford Mill is also now an education centre managed by The National Trust with an exhibition, a tearoom and gift shop. The RSPB also have a wildlife garden which is open to the public. Lastly, if you’re feeling energetic, you can hire rowing boats for a trip on the River Stour, or you can take a leisurely river cruise on the River Stour Trust boat.

Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB

River Orwell estuary, taken from Shotley

Shotley Peninsula falls within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This stretches from Shotley and the River Stour in the South, to Beccles in the North. One of the best ways to explore the Suffolk Coast and Heaths area is on foot or by bicycle. The countryside team have produced several guides to enable visitors to get the most out of their trip to the area.  The team look after the area with support from the Adnams brewery, the European Union, and local councils.

The Shotley Walk Explorer Guide includes a few potential stops depending on your interests. The HMS Ganges Museum tells the story of the world-famous Royal Navy training establishment. The Stour and Orwell estuaries are a haven for up to 40,000 wading birds every autumn. The Shotley Heritage Park is a wonderful stop with seven areas of community owned woodland and foreshore.

The Alton Water Explorer Guide takes you around Alton Water which stretches across some 400 acres. It’s the perfect location for an hour long to a full day walk. This trail will take you by Holbrook Creek and up to the ‘Tattingstone Wonder’.

Further publications are also available to download or purchase, including more walks and cycle routes. These guides can be found via the Suffolk Coast and Heath website.  You’ll also find the digital and interactive trails on the Love Exploring App

More Rivers and Water within the Heart of Suffolk

Needham Lake

The beautiful Stour Valley wanders from Newmarket through to Dedham Vale AONB. The full Stour Valley path is an incredible 60 mile path following the the river route. Along the way walkers can enjoy the lush tranquil countryside in this stunning part of Suffolk. Explore and enjoy the rich history and natural beauty.

Needham Lake is a 32 acre popular countryside attraction. It’s been consistently ranked among Visit England’s top most-visited free attractions in the UK, and was ranked fifteenth during 2021 just behind the British Museum! It is the third most visited free attraction in the East of England. Part of the site is a Local Nature Reserve – with wetland areas, meadows and a small woodland. It’s home to a variety of wildlife – in the summer you can find many species of dragonflies and small birds.

Look out for the nest boxes found throughout the site. Wild flowers are plentiful with pyramidal and bee orchids easily seen from the paths. Needham Lake also has the brilliant café, Duck and Teapot. The café is wheelchair friendly and provides delicious hot drinks and snacks after a day of wandering around the park.


The Best Outdoor Destinations

Cornard Country Park

Cornard County Park is a vast open green space covering over four miles. It includes a beautiful nature reserve containing wild flower meadows and woodland. An ideal place to stroll and unwind.

Eye Castle

Eye Castle is a scheduled ancient monument in the Mid Suffolk town of Eye. Originally the castle was a small Norman ‘motte and bailey’ built around 1068 following the Norman conquest of England. The castle was only important for around 200 years and fell into disrepair in the late 13th century. The castle site was later used as a jail, a private house, a workhouse and a school. New interpretation on site tells the story of Eye Castle and its links to both local and national events.

The castle grounds are open from Easter to October between 9am and early evening daily, and weekends during winter months. There is no parking on site. However, you can use the town centre car park and follow a waymarked route that leads to the castle.

English Heritage

Experience history that inspires and entertains. English Heritage protect the internationally important historic sites, some of which are located here in the heart of Suffolk. You can use their online map to pin point where you’d like to visit English Heritage

National Trust

Europe’s largest conservation charity takes care of our precious natural landscapes and historic destinations. National Trust believe history and beauty is for everyone to enjoy and we agree! Between Lavenham Guildhall. Lavenham Guildhall, Melford Hall, Flatford and Pin Mill these sites open the world of historic wonder and artist inspiration.

RSPB Sites

Wolves Wood is a woodland near Hadleigh in Suffolk and is one of seven ancient woodland areas which used to cover East Anglia. A wide range of birds can be seen all year-round, including nightingales nesting in the hedgerows and great spotted woodpeckers foraging high in the trees.

Flatford Wildlife Garden is family-friendly and designed to inspire you with ideas to take home to your own gardens and community green spaces. Located in the idyllic village of Flatford, where John Constable used to paint, this charming site features carved wooden garden creatures, a living willow tunnel and is buzzing with nature. With seasonal events and knowledgeable volunteers to offer advice on wildlife-friendly gardening, there’s plenty here to enthuse visitors of all ages to create homes for nature.