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suffolk walking festival image from previous year ANL-160430-224415001
suffolk walking festival image from previous year ANL-160430-224415001
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We miss so much as we rush through life, driving everywhere, viewing the world through a windscreen.

The landscape flashes past, fascinating buildings go un-noticed.

There is really only one way to fully appreciate the beauty all around us ... on foot.

Going for a walk is great exercise, lifts the spirits, and lets you discover hidden gems in even the most familiar places.

That’s why Suffolk has declared 2016 the Year of Walking.

It kicks off this month with a mega-celebration of some of the best walks the county has to offer.

The Suffolk Walking Festival packs more than 70 of them into three weeks starting on May 14.

They cover every corner of the county and there is something for everyone.

It could be a challenging hike or a stroll around the streets of an historic town.

The aim is to get us on our feet and out enjoying the fresh air and wonderful views.

Each walk has a theme, and they range in length from a gentle stroll of one mile, to a challenging 60 miles in 24 hours.

Some will take you around towns and villages steeped in history. They include guided tours in Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket, Sudbury. Lavenham and Clare.

Another, in Sudbury, focuses on folklore. Who knew the town was the legendary scene of a battle between two dragons?

The spectacular flowering of the early marsh orchids on the town’s river meadows are the highlight of another walk.

Others strike out through open country, with the chance to enjoy the Suffolk landscape in all its variety from rolling fields to coastline, heaths and marshes.

There is even a speed-dating ramble where a walk through the countryside could lead to love or lasting friendship.

Also on the list are stress-relieving mindfulness walks, a ‘pramble’ for parents with prams, photography, birdwatching and Pilates walks, a gentle stroll for sufferers of dementia and their carers,and the ever-popular Horrible History For Families in Ipswich.

Some include a cream tea or other refreshments and all are an informal and sociable way to explore the county.

And while we can all find something in our local area, there is also the chance to explore further afield.

The walking festival, already an annual event, is supported by local authorities and spearheaded by the county council’s Discover Suffolk project.

We know walking is good for us.

“But possibly best of all, it also makes us happy.

Claire Parker, Green Access Manager at Discover Suffolk, has overall responsibility for the festival.

“Most of us know that walking is good for our health,” she says, “and that it can help to prevent or manage a range of conditions such a type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

“For me this is all really important, but what I really love about walking is much more basic than that.

“Very simply, walking makes me feel happy. It’s really hard to feel sorry for yourself when walking, especially when that walk is through green countryside or by a meandering river.

“Walking for me is head space ... I can think, ponder, appreciate and sometimes just stop and enjoy the moment. It’s my feel good factor!”

BBC Radio Suffolk broadcaster Lesley Dolphin, who is patron of the festival, says: “The Year of Walking will be celebrating two of my very favourite things, walking and Suffolk.

“The aim is to inspire people to build more walking into their everyday lives and to discover what fun it is.”

Tony Goldson, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for health, sees it as a big step on the way to making Suffolk England’s most active county.

“The purpose is to celebrate walking in the county, promote walking events and encourage new walking opportunities.

“The festival does a wonderful job of demonstrating how easy and inclusive walking is, and what a fantastic county Suffolk is to walk in.

“It is making a very positive contribution to our ambition of becoming the most active county in England.”

James Finch, cabinet member for highways and transport, is also enthusiastic about the project.

“With these walks you can really experience our unique Suffolk countryside and towns, using rights of way and established footpath networks throughout the county.

“You can enjoy our outstanding landscapes from Newmarket to Lowestoft, see historic villages such as Nayland and Flatford in the Stour Valley, take to the coastline and the exciting challenge walks, or gain insight into the history of our towns.

“I hope that whatever the weather throws at us in coming months you will find an event that suits your spirit of adventure.”

Local events begin with the Three Valleys Walk in the Boxford area on May 16.

A Lunch Date with Clare on May 20 includes visits to the Augustinian Priory, parish church and Ancient House Museum.

Walk the Burma Road on May 22 takes in a tour of Lavenham airfield, plus the chance to see World War Two vehicles, and hear airmen’s stories.

On the same day the Chadbrook Circular Walk passes through farmland and ancient woodland around Long Melford.

May 25 sees A Ramble Around Leavenheath, including famous woods managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, while A County Border Ramble on May 26 starts in Nayland and crosses into Essex to capture brilliant views of the Stour Valley.

Sudbury has England’s Silk Capital, focusing on the history of the its silk industry, on May 27, with Duelling Dragons and Other Legends later the same day. Common Lands and Orchids is on May 28, and In Gainsborough’s Footsteps on June 5.

The story of how Lavenham became rich on wool is told in Broad Tales about the Broadcloth on May 27, and there is a Melford to Lavenham Pillbox Trail, following a wartime defence line, on June 3.

The Speed Dating Walk, which starts in Lavenham, is on June 4.

To view the full walks programme and book tickets, visit the website www.suffolkwalkingfestival.co.uk.

Brochures are available from Suffolk tourist information centres.