One day in Constable country 2015
personal account by Noel Mitchell of our coach trip to
the Stour Valley
This was my perfect day out – and I
will tell you why. The sun shone steadily as our
full forty-nine seater wove its way along the lanes of
the countryside where John Constable spent his youth and
the summers of his adulthood.
In my youth I spent my school days
immersed in the Romantic poets, drifting time away in
the art room, and learning of the making of the English
landscape, and especially of rivers and their valleys.
William Wordsworth was my preferred poet. In the early
1800s he wrote of the natural landscape of the Lake
District in language that meant something to “the
At about the same time the Romantic
artist, John Constable, painted the landscape of the
East Anglian countryside. Not artistic imagination but
intimate and realistic portrayals of the countryside as
ordinary people can still see and understand it today.
This trip seemed to pull it all together.
"I associate my careless boyhood",
wrote Constable, "with all that lies on the banks of the
Stour. Those scenes made me a painter, and I am
And we were indeed grateful that
Peter Lawrence, one of our members, thought that a taste
of art history would be a good idea and volunteered to
guide us through that part of Essex and Suffolk that has
become known as “Constable Country”. It turned out that
Peter has been doing this for fifteen years, during
which time he has accumulated a wealth of interesting
information and background knowledge, which he kindly
shared with us.
So, at one particular viewpoint, we
were asked to imagine the boy Constable galloping across
the fields on his pony, on his way to school from his
home in nearby East Bergholt. At another we saw the
simple barn-like building acquired for him as a studio
when it was finally conceded that John did not have to
go into the family milling business. And lots more –
bells and quays and churches and good places to eat.
Best of all was Flatford Mill, which
was owned by Constable’s father. This is where he began;
where he painted the mill, the daily working life on and
beside the river, and where he painted The Hay Wain.
Even in a crowd you can still experience the chill
factor when you stand, you hope, on the very spot where
Constable sat to produce the oil sketches that became
his most famous work. I’ve been there before and I will
certainly go again.