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Counties > Essex > Manningtree


MANNINGTREE This station is often preferred to Colchester because it is marginally easier to park the car (though nothing is free) and easier to get a seat. Manningtree town itself has a charming frontage on to the Stour, known as the Walls, where homeowners have houses worth from £250,000 to £800,000. Legoland-style executive houses have leeched on to it. Visitors to the port are struck by the swans and sailing barges. The social life is mixed – old skippers and commuters drink together in the pubs – and the Stour Choral Society adds a cultural note.

East Bergholt is one of the set-piece villages in this area, sprawly but prime commuter territory, where houses go for up to 25 per cent more than similar ones nearby. Constable wrote of it in 1776: ‘I even love every stile and stump and every lane in the village.’ He painted it enough times, and the cottage he used as a studio is still there, as is Willy Lott’s cottage, which he made famous by painting. It doesn’t see the with tourists quite as much as other local sightseeing spots. A three-bedroom detached cottage might sell for £240,000. A modern four- or five-bedroom detached house that would sell for £430,000 in Ipswich would fetch at least £150,000 more here. Houses at Flatford Mill, the hamlet nearby, are similarly fought over. The mill, which was owned by Constable’s father and painted by the man himself, attracts so many visitors that there are now one-way lanes.

Dedham is positively stockbroker now. Despite the tourist influx in the summer, it is a place that people still dream of moving to. Sir Alfred Munnings’s home, Castle House, where his paintings are on display, lies just to the south. Those who live in the High Street are martyrs to the tourists who make parking and shopping impossible. Even a little two-bedroom flat here will cost £235,000 and most properties cost around 25 per cent more than those in other villages. One resident of many years remembers how quiet it used to be. ‘It looks beautiful at eight o’clock at night when nobody is here.’ Her commuting husband used to park in a field to catch the train at Manningtree. Now he will wait three hours to get on a train that allows him a seat. There is a farmers’ market once a month at the Parish Church.

Good for: those happy to live in an oil painting.
Local knowledge: Since 1943 much of the precious river valley and its watermeadows at Flatford Mill has been in the hands of the National Trust which has leased it to the Field Studies Council. Constable described his feelings about it in a letter to a friend: “The sound of water escaping from mill dams….Willows, old rotten banks, slimy posts, and brickwork. I love such things. As long as I do paint I shall never cease to paint such places.”
London terminal: Liverpool St
Journey time: 62 mins
Season ticket: £4400
Peak trains: 5 per hour
Off-peak trains: 3 per hour