A simple 11 mile walk across the Suffolk heaths and woodland from Leiston to attend the annual Westleton Barrel Fair.
Despite a brief thunderstorm, a fantastic Summers day was had at the Westleton Barrel Fair 2012 living up to its expectations with all the usual fun and merriment. This years event featured music from Westleton's Doc Cox and Leiston's Random Blues Company, morris dancing from the Rumburgh Morris Dancers, outside bars from the White Horse and the Westleton Crown and, of course, the ever popular, chaotic, breath-taking and entertaining barrel races. This is a unique annual Suffolk event and well worth taking the time out to visit.
Leiston to Westleton Walk - Essential Information
- Date of Walk
- Walk Time
- 11:30 to 16:30
- Weather Conditions
- Sunny summers day
So, I cheated on the walking this year. Having a morning appointment to attend and with the need to be back home by 4ish, I ended up cycling across to Westleton. The day started out with glorious blue skies and bright sunshine making a very warm morning. However, on arrival at the village green, and with a pint of Green Jacks Summer Dream to sup, a threatening dark cloud moved over the proceedings and with a flash, bang and wallop, rains issued from the heavens. Folk flocked to the refuge of the covered stalls or took shelter provided by the broad leaved trees at the bottom of the green. Others cowered under umbrellas and families could be seen hiding under makeshift shelters of blankets, bags, clothes and whatever else they could lay their hands upon. One of the organizers was running around the PA system speakers hastily covering their electronics in black bin liners and I watched this scene sitting on a bale of hay, getting wet but determined to see the storm out, thinking that the heat of the day would soon dry any dampness once the rain had passed. What changed my mind was when my beer glass started filling quicker than I was drinking it. This was the prompt to seek refuge with the crowds that were cramped into the confines of the beer tent. The rain did not last long and even though clear blue skies did not return, it was still warm, the sun shone intermittently and the ground soon dried out.
The initial heats to the Westleton mens barrel races had to be cancelled when there was not enough entrants to warrant the heats, the final later in the day being the only race. This was a disappointment. Come on you men of Westleton, show us what your are made of! Get your act together for 2013. Nonetheless the All-comer races had several heats for men, women and children and as usual were thoroughly entertaining with bashes, crashes and downright blatant hindering of the opposition, just like it should be.
Music on a stage next to the duck pond was provided by Doc Cox, probably better known for his musings years ago on the BBC's television programme Thats Life as well as his rather childish and naughty single entitled The Winkers Song (misprint) which I remember first hearing in 1978 in a pub in Fulham. This song is always worth a snigger, though he doesn't seem to perform it these days. Today Doc Cox lives in Westleton and has a wealth of parodies to sing about his observations of Suffolk life including the humorous 'Sizewell B' done to the tune of The Beatles Let it Be, and a whimsical song about typical Suffolk directions which ends up with his car in the river. Very entertaining and he can, on occasion, be found performing at the Eastbrige Eels Foot squit nights. I have to admit I have even borrowed his guitar on a Volunteer Folk Nite to perform Wally The Wasp - I don't think he was too impressed at this street urchin hammering his expensive guitar which he insisted had cost the equivalent of a small car!
In addition to the light hearted parodies of Doc Cox was some good old fashioned blues music from The Random Blues Company. A selection of cover versions of rock and blues and easy to sit, listen and watch whilst consuming a fine pint of beer!
The route uses a mixture of tracks, lanes and footpaths including a small section along the Sandlings Walk
During wet days it is best to take the main road from Leiston towards Theberton and then head down the Eastbridge lane on the right just past the Abbey ruins. In dry weather a more rural route is to head out of Leiston on Valley Road. Once past the terrace of cottages past the railway bridge there is a footpath on the left that leads out past the sewage farm and onto Lovers Lane. turn left and keep straight on down the track at the top of the hill. This eventually comes out on the Eastbridge road where you need to turn right and head into the village. Pass through the village and on the Minsmere road. Where it turns a sharp right keep straight on into the woods. Keep a lookout on the left for a footpath that branches off of the track. Take this until it comes out on a country lane. Turn left and follow the lane down into Westleton. Return is just the reverse of this route.
The Crown, Westleton View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- The Crown, Westleton
A Coaching Inn that dates back to the 12th century. Offering food and accommodation and guest ales from local breweries. It has dining areas and terraced gardens at the rear.
The Crown had an outside bar on the village green serving a selection of guest ales including Green Jack's Summer Dream and Gone Fishing, Fat Cat's Bitter, Grain's Blonde Ash and Humpty Dumpty's Nord Atlantic. The Summer Dream was exceptional, this elderflower flavoured golden ale is easy drinking and just the thing for a lazy summers afternoon watching barrel races! All the ales were reasonably priced at a mere £3.00 a pint. Excellent
Westleton Barrel FairView in OS Map | View in Google Map
The Barrel Fair was started by two locals, Charlie Alexander and Jim Fisk as part of the Westleton Carnival in 1951. By 1953 it had become an individual event which involved racing wooden barrels down the main street. This soon proved to be rather dangerous and subsequently the barrels were pushed up the street, which was much safer.
Together with the barrel races, dances were also held at Westleton, Middleton and Darsham in order to choose a Barrel Fair Queen and her attendants. After 15 years the new Inspector at Leiston Police Station felt that the closing of the street in order to hold the dance was causing a problem, and unfortunately the Barrel Fair gradually wound down. It was resurrected in 1995 and moved to the village green and has proved to be extremely popular ever since, attracting visitors from far and wide.
Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information
Summary of Document Changes
Last Updated: ... 2016-01-16