Up with the Lark – running around Mildenhall in search of treasure

Why would you drive to Mildenhall? I mean, it’s in the middle of nowhere and there’s nothing there. Well, that’s how my lazy brain felt this morning at 7am. Getting out of bed early on a Saturday is NOT easy for me. But – Sarah and I wanted to do something together for before I travel “north” so there was nothing for it.

It turned out, as usual, to be a brilliant idea and the 10km run around Mildenhall was fabulous despite the rain. We saw the famous RAF base which has been occupied by the USAF since the 1950s, but failed to spot any treasure hidden within the dark fen soil that was doing its best to make our run as slippy as possible.

For some reason at the moment I can think of nothing better than a run in the mud and murk. And Mildenhall has plenty of that. It has been called Mouldy-hole by a few uncharitable types and has been described in “unglowing” terms by a few travelers. But is has its bright spots.

For a start there is the Mildenhall Treasure. Discovered in 1943, at least 34 items were dug out of a field and not recognized as being Roman silver until after the war. Some argue there might have been more items, with some being sold off before the British Museum got its greedy, but culturally sensitive, little mitts on them. The treasure is still there although the town’s own museum has replicas (though that is closed until renovations funded by Suffolk County Council are complete).

Parking in the Jubilee car park (from the 1977 one I think rather than the soggy 2012 occasion) we set off along the River Lark out of town towards Beck Row. We used the route set out in Walk 16 of the OS Suffolk Walks book. I love running in the country – it’s terribly fitness and wellbeing darling. But there’s something especially good about running along walking routes. It’s like listening to an audio book at x2 pace, or skipping along a film to get to the naughty bits. All the fun, but that bit faster.

This gives me another idea for A Meaning of Liff-ism:

Mildenhall (v) – To do anything at a speed beyond what is thought right and proper.

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Running along the River Lark

Mildenhall has a great history. Lots of quiet bits with lots of noise every now and again. It has had settlements near it since the stone age and, thanks to the habit of those living at the end of Roman Britain’s history in the late 400AD of burying their wealth in hope of better times to come (give it 800 years or so), we also know there were some pretty well-off Latin-types living around there. Anglo-Saxons had a hand there too and the town boasts a market that has been going since 1412.

Leaving the town behind it was all muddy fields and wind. Lots of wind flowing across the fens unfettered by obstacles. We were soon at West Row where we passed what looked like a fantastic pub to go to in the summer – it even looked tempting on a very overcast, wet and windy day. Unfortunately it was too early. The Jude’s Ferry pub (Suffolk Camra’s very short info on it here) has a big beer garden which fronts onto the River Lark and even has moorings for narrowboats. I must ask my friends Amy and James (see their narrow-boating lifestyle blog here – and old blog here ) how you get to it by boat. Or I could look it up – but where’s the fun in that. (Oh – alright, the web is too enticing and I have found information on the Lark here). Turns out the river was known as the Coal River as anthracite was a major trade along it, along with wine taken from King’s Lynn to Bury St Edmunds. Presumably wine imported to King’s Lynn, rather from the King’s Lynn vineyards. Apparently Jude’s Ferry marks the end of the navigable part of the river these days, although, to quote the East Anglian Waterways Association (something I have always wanted to do): “The possibility of re-opening over 2 miles of river up to Mildenhall is now being actively considered. Above Mildenhall the problems would be far greater – the river has been culverted at Barton Mills where the London to Norwich trunk road crosses, whilst there are doubts if there is sufficient water in the river today to provide for navigation. Water shortages bedevilled the navigation throughout the 19th century – only time will tell.”

After that it was back towards Mildenhall via some ultra windy fields (passing a very somber-looking pillbox, a vestige of the Second World War. Here’s a link to a painfully detailed website about Suffolk’s defenses)

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Passing a pill box from the Second World War. It is windy.

Thankfully the village of Worlington offered itself as a windbreak and we slip-slided our way into its beautiful grounds and passed its two graveyards. The first graveyard is within the old grounds and has tombstones dating back hundreds of years, covered in a patina of moss and lichen. The whole village is very beautiful and worth a look. There is even a house (Worlington House in fact, I think – I was beginning to lose my grip on reality as my lack of breakfast started to take its toll on blood sugar levels) which has an enormous, wooden dragon sculpture at its entrance.

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A lichen-covered gravestone face.

Once out of the village we crossed the old Cambridge/Mildenhall branch line railway which had a short lifespan from 1885 until it closed in 1964. It’s fun to see the engine sheds and platform, along with the station attached (now a private house) sitting alone in fields half a mile from the town itself and free of any visible rail link to anything else.

Arriving back at the parking place of Jubilee we had a quick tea at the craft fair, trying to hide our Very muddy legs, and then drove home, happy to have managed to do all that and still get home for 11am.

And now? Well, I am preparing to travel to Svalbard in Norway tomorrow to help gather information and pictures for the Arctic Research Programme – a National Environment Research Council funded polar programme. Never thought I’d say that.

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