Eastern Promise; the Beauty of East Anglia Inspired Constable and Charms Londoners. High-Speed Links Now Allow More People to Live the Rural Idyll and Benefit from Top Schools and Country Life an Hour from London, Says Anthea Masey

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THE stunning region of East Anglia is now within the grasp of Londoners. Its winning combination of an easy commute to the City, good schools, affordable large homes, beautiful countryside, pretty villages and family-friendly communities have made this county a favourite choice for those moving out. Its top three destinations are the areas around the riverside town of Woodbridge; the Dedham Vale, known throughout the world as "Constable country"; and the watery landscape of the Shotley peninsula. All three are areas of outstanding natural beauty, a designation just below that of national park. The Dedham Vale covers 90 square miles and follows the course of the River Stour.

Here you will find Flatford Mill, the small hamlet of houses clustered around a millpond made famous by John Constable's painting, the Haywain. The site is now owned by the National Trust, but the tranquillity of the spot, which has come to symbolise this corner of England, remains remarkably unaltered since Constable's time at the beginning of the 19th century.

The nearby village of East Bergholt, where you can still see the studio where Constable painted, is characterised by winding lanes and high hedges, behind which lie some of the most desirable period homes in the county. The vale's other highlight is the village of Dedham itself, with its wide high street, fine timber-framed and Georgian-fronted buildings and welcoming coaching inns. The Old Grammar School, where Constable was a pupil, is one of the finest Georgian buildings in the village; another is Sherman's Hall, a school founded by the Sherman family, who later emigrated to the United States and gave their name to the Sherman tank.

Commuters from Dedham Vale can travel into Liverpool Street from Colchester.

It is a remarkably short journey time of around an hour.

Woodbridge overlooks the River Deben and sits on the edge of the 156 square miles of the Suffolk coast and heath, designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. This region stretches south from Lowestoft to the mouth of the River Stour, just north of Felixstowe, and protects heathland, reed beds, salt marshes and mud flats.

Surprisingly, this scenic corner of East Anglia is linked with Clerkenwell, one of London's most historic and slightly more gritty neighbourhoods. In the 16th century, Thomas Seckford, a merchant from Clerkenwell, became the town's major benefactor.

Woodbridge School, the coeducational independent school, which is one of the main attractions of the town for families, is still supported by the Seckford Foundation.

Woodbridge's winding Georgian high street is a mixture of red brick and painted render, decorated with huge hanging baskets and full of tempting shops. Here, you will find books new and second-hand, tempting delis and interesting interiors stores, such as Global Trading, which specialises in French-style painted furniture. At the top of the town, by the fine parish church of St Mary's, is the Grade I listed Shire Hall with its double staircase, over which cascades a riot of flowers. Pubs, antiques shops and a violin maker are cluttered around the square.

Down on the riverside, Woodbridge's famous tidal mill has now been restored as a museum. The railway station is close by.

Woodbridge has a few through trains to Liverpool Street with a journey time of just over 90 minutes, although many commuters drive to Manningtree, which is about an hour from London, or Ipswich, which is just over an hour and a quarter. …


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