Suffolk Walking Festival : The Red Barn Murders

The Suffolk Walking Festival is one of my favourite events of the year. To say that I look forward to it would be an understatement. The festival takes place every year in the merry month of May, across the whole of the county, in towns and villages, and there are many many walks and events to choose from. I’ve taken part in walks along the Essex/Suffolk border over the last few years, including walks based around Lavenham, Boxford and Wormingford.

For the 2018 festival I led a walk around Sudbury called Weave around a Wool Town. I only had a small group but it was a sunny day and we all enjoyed exploring the lanes and historic sites of the town,discussing the role of the town in the Suffolk wool trade in the Medieval period. The walkers had travelled from across Suffolk for my walk, and all of them were taking part in more than one walk, they had all committed to the idea of the festival.

This year I joined a walk around Polstead, which was led by a gentleman called Chris Hunt. Chris was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and led our large group on a walk deep in to the Suffolk countryside. For this walk members of the group had travelled from across East Anglia, including Cambridge, and one couple were having a “staycation” based around the festival, staying in their own home, but joining a different walk every day. That sounded like an excellent idea to me, the comfort of your own bed, but the chance to explore somewhere new everyday.

Suffolk is a county full of old stories, some of them are folk tales, such a the story of Black Shuck, or the Wild Man of Orford. Others are true events that have taken route in the history and folklore of the county. One of the most famous of these tales is that of the Red Barn Murder. The murder took place in the village of Polstead in 1827, when James Corder shot his lover Maria Marten. These are the bare facts of the event, but over the years the story has become surrounded by mystery and conjecture – why did Corder murder Maria, was she pregnant, did they have any other children together, was anyone else involved?

The walk started from the village pond, and Chris led us across the fields and along the country lanes and footpaths that James and Maria would have known. We had the opportunity to stand outside the cottage where Maria lived (now a very desirable Suffolk country cottage), finally ending up at the Parish church of St. Mary back in Polstead, where Maria Marten is thought to have been buried. There is nothing to mark the spot, and nor is there a grave for Corder, for he was hung at the gallows in Bury St. Edmunds. The walk lasted 90 minutes and was about 3 miles in length.

The walk we followed was one devised for the festival by Chris so it isn’t recorded any where. However a similar walk around Polstead, walked at the same of year in May, can be found on the East Anglian Daily Times website. it was walked in 2013, but nothing appears to have changed.

Even if you don’t want to do a long walk, I can recommend a visit to Polstead, it’s such a beautiful, atmospheric and hidden village. I didn’t stop for lunch at the end of the walk, but there is a pub, The Cock Inn, and some of my fellow walkers stopped to have a picnic beside the village pond.

I’m already looking forward to the 2019 Suffolk Walking Festival, it will be the 6th year I’ve taken part.