Idyllic village full of dream homes under two hours from London

Then did you know you can escape to a countryside idyll in less than two hours from most parts of London?

Known as ‘Constable Country’ due to being the home of the famous landscape artist, Dedham Vale is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the border of Essex and Suffolk and is easily reached by car – especially from east London – and it is also possible to get there by public transport.

When you hear someone say the phrase ‘quintessential English countryside village’ they are talking about Dedham.

Visiting for a quick weekend getaway with my wife, we enjoyed taking a stroll through the picture-postcard streets and playing ‘which dream house do you prefer?’ as there are so many to choose from.

Your Local Guardian: A pond just off Dedham High StreetA pond just off Dedham High Street (Image: Simon Murfitt, Newsquest)

May was also a great time to visit as we could marvel at the beautifully kept gardens, with blooming wisteria adorning many of the houses’ walls.  

We visited on the weekend of the coronation, so with the added patriotic bunting on show it felt like we had been transported onto the set of Goodnight Mister Tom.


Where to stay   


We stayed for one night at The Sun Inn, a former coaching inn right in the heart of Dedham, overlooked by the tower of St Mary’s Church on the opposite side of the road.

It is a proper coaching inn, with meandering floors, an elm bar and oak panelled snug where you can spend a relaxed evening playing board games in front of the fire, after eating in the open plan dining room.

Your Local Guardian: The Sun Inn, DedhamThe Sun Inn, Dedham (Image: The Sun Inn, Dedham)

There are seven bedrooms, with some looking out at the church and some out to the garden at the back, which was the case with ours.

Despite being centuries old our room was spacious and comfortable, with a particularly large bathroom complete with giant bath – perfect for unwinding after a long, hard week.

The Italian-inspired menu changes with every season to ensure only the freshest ingredients are used. The food is hearty and homely fare, but it is unlikely to be something you could cook for yourself, so it felt like a real treat.

Your Local Guardian: Gnocchi alla Sorrentina – mozzarella, aubergine, wild garlic, pine nut, served at The Sun Inn, DedhamGnocchi alla Sorrentina – mozzarella, aubergine, wild garlic, pine nut, served at The Sun Inn, Dedham (Image: Simon Murfitt, Newsquest)

A restaurant can often be judged by the quality of bread on offer prior to the meal, and in this case we were pretty sure we were onto a winner when they brought out a rosemary and sea salt focaccia with an olive tapenade.

I would recommend everything we tried, which was the salt cod fritter with saffron and confit garlic aioli, with a little crispy hit from charred spring onions, and a tasty pork shoulder taco.

For our main courses we had gnocchi with mozzarella and aubergine and the gurnard, which came with a crab sauce and saffron potatoes.

Your Local Guardian: Gurnard, crab sauce, turnip, saffron potato, spinach, served at The Sun Inn, DedhamGurnard, crab sauce, turnip, saffron potato, spinach, served at The Sun Inn, Dedham (Image: Simon Murfitt, Newsquest)

This was the first time I had ever tried gurnard and it left me wanting more. I found it to be quite a meaty fish and it was perfectly accompanied by the delightfully rich sauce.

For dessert we went for a chocolate and caramel tart and a baked vanilla cheesecake – this came with fresh rhubarb and ground pistachios, the saltiness and sweetness of each combining for a dish that felt very much in keeping with the season of spring.

I often find desserts are the dish that let a meal down, especially if they don’t offer much more than what you could buy in the shop round the corner, but this couldn’t be further from the case here, in fact the cheesecake was arguably the dish of the meal.

Your Local Guardian: Baked Vanilla Cheesecake, Yorkshire RhubarbBaked Vanilla Cheesecake, Yorkshire Rhubarb (Image: Simon Murfitt, Newsquest)

In the morning there is plenty to choose from, including the fry up, which includes the local Dingley Dell sausages. 

An overnight stay at The Sun Inn costs from £150 for two sharing a double room, including breakfast. The Sun is also offering a 20th anniversary offer on overnight stays, with a 20% discount on bed & breakfast with the anniversary 3-course set menu for lunch or dinner (£200.04 for two people for one night bed & breakfast and 3-course set menu). Valid until till 14 July 2023. Find out more on the 20th anniversary here . To book visit or call 01206 323 351.



What to do


As well as going for short walks around Dedham, there are several longer routes from the village where you can take in the scenic views. The Sun Inn will also lend bikes to its customers.

Or you can even take boat trips on the River Stour, or hire a boat and row along taking in the rolling fields of Constable Country.

Flatford Mill, the inspiration for some of John Constable’s iconic paintings, is a 1.8-mile walk from Dedham and is worth a visit, whether you are an art fan or not. It’s a National Trust property, so if you are a member remember your memberhip card.

Your Local Guardian: The scene at Flatford Mill which John Constable used to paint his piece The Hay WainThe scene at Flatford Mill which John Constable used to paint his piece The Hay Wain (Image: Simon Murfitt, Newsquest)

You can look at the scenes that Constable immortalised in paint back in the 19th century and find out about what it was like to live and work at the mill at that time.    

For more ardent art lovers The Munnings Art Museum is less than a mile from Dedham.

But my suggestion would be not to cram your days with too many activities, just relax and embrace the Englishness before heading back to the big smoke refreshed.

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