202. Aldeburgh to Southwold

September 2008

Before I’d completed my previous walk I’d already booked my train tickets for my next walk, in order to get a good price. However, after the farce of the public transport for my last walk (causing a 2 hour delay), it meant I hadn’t got to Thorpeness (where I had planned) but only as far as Aldeburgh instead. That meant I had further to walk today than I had originally planned (nearly 2 miles), but no more time in which to do it (since my train tickets back were only valid on a specific train and could not be changed without paying a fee) so I’d have to walk quickly on this walk in order to reach my planned destination, Southwold.

I was looking forward to going to Southwold. My parents had been on holiday in the area the previous year and told me how nice Southwold was, so I was looking forward to seeing it for myself. As the journey is now taking longer from home, as I’m getting further away, I had booked an earlier train this time – 7:38 from London. That meant I had to get up before 6am in order to get there in time. I managed it, but it did feel especially early given it was still dark as I made my way to the railway station.

Thankfully my journey this time was uneventful and I arrived at Saxmundham on time (the nearest station to Aldeburgh). Here I had a few minutes to have a quick look around this pretty town before my bus arrived to take me onto Aldeburgh.

Saxmundham

Saxmundham

Thankfully the bus to Aldeburgh was on time too and so I reached there a little after 10:30am, which gave me just over 6 hours to complete the walk, but there is a short river near Southwold. I hoped to have enough time to walk around it to the nearest bridge, but if that was not possible, I had the option of using a ferry instead, to hopefully make up some time if needed.

I was lucky with the weather too since it was a fine sunny day and still quite warm for late Autumn (this was the last weekend in September).

I made my way from the bus stop to the sea front by the lovely old Moot Hall, where I left the shore last time.

Moot Hall, Alderburgh

Initially, there was a nice promenade, so I could follow that heading north, which avoids walking on the shingle beach.

Alderburgh

I like Aldeburgh with some nice buildings along the sea front, many of which I suspect were once still hotels, some still were.

Alderburgh

Alderburgh

Palm trees in some of the gardens gave it a slightly tropical feel. As I reached the edge of the town I came across a rather large shell  on the beach.

The Scallop, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

This is a piece of artwork called The Scallop which was installed in 2003. It has proved controversial locally and has apparently been vandalised on 13 different occasions. There have also been petitions to have it removed. I’m not a fan of most modern art, but I really liked this piece of work. I thought it was well done and seemed appropriate on the beach. It is not as if it takes up all the beach either, as the shingle beach stretches for miles in either direction.

A little north of here the promenade ended, instead become a path over the back of the beach which was shingle. The road now lacked a pavement too, so I stuck to the path initially, but it was quite hard going so I soon abandoned it to walk closer to the sea, where the shingle seemed firmer.

The coast near Aldeburgh

This slowed my progress somewhat but I still preferred it to dodging the traffic on the road. A bit further ahead, the official route of the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Path (now the Suffolk Coast Path) joined my route (for some reason, it misses out Aldeburgh). I had hoped this might bring with it a better surfaced path, but it didn’t seem to, so I stuck to the shore.

Soon I was nearing the village of Thorpeness, which seemed to consist of mostly bungalows, or at least those behind the beach where.

The coast near Thorpeness

The village has an interesting history. Originally a hamlet it was developed into a private holiday resort by Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, a wealthy Scottish barrister and even had it’s own (short-lived) railway station. The family retained ownership until the 1970s when Glencairns’ grandson died, at which point the golf course and many of the properties had to be sold to pay the death duties. A particularly unusual feature, is the House in the Clouds. This was where an ugly water tower was built, but a wooden clapper-boarded house was built around it to disguise it, making it look like a very tall thin house! It is now used as holiday accommodation, though I somehow managed to miss it on my walk through.

It was a pretty village with some (probably fake) half-timbered buildings. One of them seemed to have what looked a bit like a church tower built into the roof.

Thorpeness

There was also this terrace of brightly painted houses. It is certainly an eccentric village!

Thorpeness

At Thorpness the supposed coast path again takes a diversion inland, though I couldn’t work out why, since a footpath is marked on the map right along the coast here. I did wonder however if that had been lost to erosion, as low cliffs began at Thorpness.

The coast near Thorpeness

These looked very soft and I suspected eroded quickly.

The coast near Thorpeness

They looked like sand stone cliffs and I was pleased to find that now small areas of sand were appearing at the shoreline. So I decided that rather than risk the possibly eroded away footpath on the coast or the official coast path further inland, I’d stick to the beach. The tide seemed far enough out there was no danger of being cut off.

The sand came and wet so it was a bit hard going at times, but it was a more direct route so I suspect still took less time than the official coast path with the bonus I was actually on the coast!

My suspicions about erosion were soon proved right, as I came across a concrete structure now on the back of the beach that had once been on the cliff top, probably a relic from World War II.

The coast near Thorpeness

Signs warned of the danger of cliffs falls, but at the shoreline I was far enough away from the cliffs. I’d now reached the end of Thorpeness so the buildings on the cliff tops had ended.

The coast near Sizewell

I had a brief area where the beach became sandy, but then it was back to shingle again. Ahead I could soon seen the large and ugly buildings of Sizewell Nuclear Power station a little over a mile or so ahead.

Before that there was a few houses, isolated from the rest of the village. Just past this house there were steps up from the beach. I decided to investigate this because the shingle was hard going. I found they led to a lovely path right along the cliff top.

The coast near Sizewell

Perhaps my fear that the path had been lost to erosion were wrong (though if so it’s odd the coast path isn’t routed this way).

There were nice views along the low cliff tops here and ahead out to sea I could see a couple of odd structures.

The coast near Sizewell

I initially though these might be all that remained of some sort of old pier, but I quickly realised they were probably connected in some way to the Nuclear Power station at Sizewell. One is marked on the Ordnance Survey map as “Tower” a description which didn’t seem to match what I was looking at (the other wasn’t marked at all). I suspect this is where water is taken from the sea to cool the reactors.

Actually there are two power stations here. Sizewell A had stopped producing electricity in 2006 and was (and still is), in the process of decommissioning, whilst Sizewell B (opened in 1995) is still generating electricity.

At Sizewell hall the path briefly headed through a small wooded area, and under a bridge before returning to the coast.

The cliffs were now much more gently sloping, almost large dunes really, and below was a large area of dunes heading down to the beach.

The coast near Sizewell

Soon the path I was on dropped down, to return to the beach. Here there were a few beach launched fishing boats again.

Sizewell Beach

The village of Sizewell is dominated by the power station but the village itself is actually very small with perhaps a couple of dozen houses and a pub. The power station is large but presumably most of the workers must live elsewhere.

It reminded me a little of Dungeness, though with less abandonment.

Sizewell Beach

Sizewell Beach

The beach at Sizewell

The path went in front of the two power stations (thankfully there were no access restrictions or path closures, as I had found at Hinkley Point back in Somerset). Sizewell A is especially ugly, a large and almost windowless slab of concrete rising above the heath and dunes.

Sizewell A Nuclear Power Station

Beyond it, Sizewell B is mostly a large blue building, but with a distinctive round dome. I could see a couple more structures out in the sea here which are again probably connected with the power station in some way.

Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station

A sign welcomed me to Sizewell beach and warned me to keep to the paths to protect the dunes from erosion (though I suspect another motive was to discourage you from going towards the power station).

The beach near Sizewell

I was glad to be passed the power stations and not longer after I was, a sign welcomed me to Minsmere Nature Reserve. I find it strange how we can switch from ugly heavy industry immediately to a nature reserve, it is such a contrast! It is owned and managed by the RSPB and has a wide variety of habitats, as well as covering a large area. Whilst there is an admission charge, the footpath continues along the coastal side of the reserve, so you don’t have to pay to walk along the path.

Minsmere

Again here I was seeing remains from World War II, with concrete remains lying on the beach. Sizewell was now disappearing from view in the mist and haze behind me and I was back to countryside again. Inland the view over the reserve was largely flat, as much of it is low-lying marsh and lakes.

The beach near Sizewell

Zooming in, I could spot the ruins of an old building inland. From the stone and design I suspected it was a church. A check of the map shows “Chapel (remains of)” so it was clearly a religious building at one time.

Minsmere

Just ahead I crossed over the Minsmere New Cut, a man-made drainage channel on the sluice gate.

Minsmere New Cut

Beyond this I could look inland over the lakes, surrounded by bird hides. In front of these were old concrete blocks that I believe acted as tank traps during World War II.

Minsmere, Suffolk

I could see a few birds on this lake, but without binoculars I couldn’t make out what they were.

Beyond this lake there were people on the beach again, the first I had seen since Sizewell, probably because I was now close to the car park at Minsmere. On the beach were some odd structures. A couple of wooden frames (that looked like they might be swings, except there was no swing), a sort of wooden table and what looked like giant metal woks (I suspect for barbecues). I am not sure who built them or why.

The beach at Minsmere, Suffolk

More puzzling at the shoreline was this structure, with a bell tied to the top.

The beach at Minsmere, Suffolk

I was puzzled as to what purpose this served as it clearly wouldn’t last long against the sea. Perhaps the intention is the waves cause the bell to ring as the tide comes in, I wasn’t sure.

I had now reached the end of the nature reserve, and the terrain almost immediately changes, as cliffs form ahead.

The beach near Dunwich

I was really enjoying the variety of scenery on this walk and enjoying being back beside the waves again. At this point however, the Suffolk coast path which had rejoined the coast at Sizewell, goes on another diversion inland. However there was now a line of firm sand at the shoreline I could see stretching into the distance.

It was now free of shingle and easy to walk in, so I planned to keep to the shore. It seemed highly unlikely there was any risk of getting cut off by the tide because there was a long bank of shingle behind that before I reached the cliffs. There were also several other people walking on the sands so I guessed it not be a dead-end.

However looking up at the cliffs I could also see people walking right along the edge, even though there was no path on the map, but it was an area of open access land (Dunwich Heath) so I decided to investigate.

It turns out there was a good path along the cliff edge, so I decided to follow that instead, I find it is nice to mix and match between the beach and cliff top on a walk if possible and having done plenty of beach walking so far, I fancied changing to the cliff top.

The beach near Dunwich

The cliffs were surprisingly high and so offered a view of the coast ahead curving away to the right, though Southwold was still out of sight in the haze.

Soon I reached an area of heathland, Dunwich Heath. I can see how the “Suffolk Coasts and Heaths” path got it’s name! This was an especially good time of year to do the walk as the heather and gorse was in flower, making it especially attractive.

Dunwich Heath

Dunwich Heath

Along the coast here were some temporary looking flags and some strange shaped constructions made of wood ahead (you can just seem them on the photo below).

Dunwich Heath

I assume another piece of artwork, but there were no signs. I enjoyed the views over the heath especially and was glad I had opted for the cliff top, there is such a variety of scenery along the coast.

After a while a path dropped down to the beach again, at the end of the heath. Since this marked the end of the open-access area of Dunwich Heath I decided to head for the beach again. Here I found a nice area of sand along the shore again, making for easy and enjoyable walking.

The beach near Dunwich

I was passing enough people to give me confidence I’d be able to get off the beach at Dunwich, ahead.

The beach near Dunwich

The cliffs were quite high now and made of soft sand-stone with holes made in them I suspect by Sand Martins that nest in the cliffs. I was passing the remains of a few dead trees on the beach too so I suspect this coast erodes quite quickly.

The cliffs ended as I approached Dunwich and the official coast path briefly rejoined the coast too. Dunwich is a tiny place, but it has a cafe and a car park, and blimey, I was surprised at how crowded the cafe was!

Dunwich beach cafe

I was tempted by an ice cream, but I couldn’t face the queue, so pressed on.

The beach at Dunwich

Dunwich is a small village now (population 84 in 2001) parts of which seem to be in the care of the National Trust. It is hard to imagine it now, but this was once a very important place. In the Anglo Saxon period it was the capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles and at it’s height it was an international port of a similar size to London at the time.

However it fell into a decline when battered by numerous storm surges (the first in 1286) which have claimed the majority of the village in the intervening years. The Doomsday book described it as having 3 churches and a population of 3000 in 1086. All were lost to the sea and legend has it that in rough seas the bells of the churches can still be heard.

So Dunwich is a mere shadow of it’s former self and now a small and fairly sleepy village. It has a pretty shingle beach which was proving popular today, and a couple of beach launched fishing boats. At Dunwich the coastal path had once again gone on one of it’s meanderings inland, around the land side of the Dingle Marshes. The cliffs ended here at Dunwich and I could see there was again firm sand along the shore ahead, however there were also numerous ponds and small lakes on the marshes I could see on the map which I presumed must drain over the beach and might cause me problems.

The alternative and official footpath was longer and inland until Walberswick. I decided to take the risk and stick to the beach. It was the closest route to the coast, shorter and there were no cliffs to cause me issues if the tide came in (I could just head onto the marshes) and I could now make out Southwold in the distance ahead, which didn’t look that far now. The beach route was flat too so I was hoping I would make good progress.

The beach near Walberswick

At times there was mostly shingle rather than sand but it did not take long before areas of sand appeared again. Oddly and presumably connected with the marshes, occasionally I’d come across areas of mud at the water line, rather than sand or shingle.

The beach near Walberswick

However it was easy to get past all of these areas. Water flowing out of the marshes inland never caused me any problems and soon I was beginning to meet people again who I suspected had walked here from Walberswick, which I was now approaching.

The beach near Walberswick

As I got closer, the beach became increasingly sandy and perhaps as a result increasingly populated with families sitting on the beach and enjoying this fine autumn weather.

The beach at Walberswick

Ahead I could soon see the breakwater that marks the edge of the river Blyth.

The beach at Walberswick

The town of Southwold, my destination, is now about a mile ahead, but first I have to get across the river. I checked the time and I had just over an hour before I needed to catch the bus from Southwold. If I took the ferry and then walked from there to Southwold I’d probably be there in about 30 minutes, but that did assume I didn’t have to wait for the ferry. In practice whilst the ferry was marked on the map I didn’t know if it was running and if so how frequently. The alternative was to walk inland, a little under a mile, to the nearest bridge and then return to the shore on the north side of the river and then continue along the coast to Southwold. I suspected this would take me an hour or so and I had slightly longer than that. The river route also meant I’d not have to wait for any ferries and I’d walk more of the shore. So I settled on the latter option.

The tide was clearly quite far out, as the river had a line of mud flats alongside it.

Southwold Harbour from Walberswick

The other side had various fishing huts and boats moored up – it seemed this was quite a well used river.

Southwold Harbour from Walberswick

The path along the river bank was easy to follow and I was quite surprised at how much there was on the other side, the map had suggested just a few buildings, but there were in fact quite a lot, and a lot of people around them.

Southwold Harbour from Walberswick

Most seemed to be fishing related, but it looked like there were also boat yards as well.

Southwold Harbour from Walberswick

I soon reached the bridge over the river. This was once the location of the railway bridge that served the railway line to Southwold. The railway line to Southwold was only ever a narrow-gauge route which had a fairly tortuous history with numerous problems before it  finally opened in 1879 and connected to the main line at Halesworth.

It was never very successful and closed around 50 years later, in 1929. The metal of the tracks was used to create munitions during World War II, which marked the final end for the route. Today (as I was later to do), you have to take a bus from Southwold to Halseworth which is now the nearest station. In fact even the bridge over the river here is a later replacement as the original bridge was blown up during the war, the footbridge later being constructed on the supports of the old rail bridge.

The River Blyth near Southwold

At this more northern point of the river, it was now lined with pleasure craft, accessed via little jetties over the mud from the footpaths on either side. I did wonder how often these boats were used.

Having now crossed the river I now made my way briskly south along the river bank, back towards the coast. As I had seen from the other side, this was quite a busy area (officially Southwold Harbour, though remote from the rest of the town). It was lined with fishing sheds (many selling fresh sea food), a pub, a few houses and various other buildings connected with boating.

Southwold Harbour

Many of the fishing sheds were painted black and it reminded me very much of the old town area in Hastings.

Southwold harbour

Soon I was back to the beach.

Southwold

I’ve heard that the beach at Southwold tends to vary between sand and shingle, depending on what is washed up by the sea, the direction of the wind and so on. Today it seemed to be (mostly) sand and I could now see the attractive looking town of Southwold ahead. Unusually there was a lighthouse, but it was set back a bit from the coast and seemed to be in the middle of the town!

Once again the official coast path was inland, further inland than the road. So I didn’t bother with it, but followed the beach northwards.

Southwold

The beach was initially backed with sand dunes but soon these gave way to an attractive and varied range of beach huts instead.

Southwold Beach huts

Southwold Beach huts

I think these are something of a feature of Southwold and all are painted different colours. Now there was a promenade and I could follow this the rest of the way into the town.

As I neared the town centre there was both a higher and a lower path, so I opted for the higher, for better views.

Southwold

I reached Southwold Pier where I ended my walk for the day, pleased to have made it in time for the bus I needed to catch.

Southwold Pier

Southwold Pier is a lovely traditional pier, mostly made of wood with white-painted wooden buildings on it.

Southwold Pier

This has had a somewhat chequered history. Built in 1900 and was originally 250 metres long, with a landing stage at the far end. The landing stage was destroyed during a storm in 1934. Further storms in 1955 and 1979 reduced the pier further in length until just 18 metres remained. The pier changed owners in 1987 and the new owner set about a project of restoration and rebuilding, which was completed in 2001 and the pier was then 190 metres long and once again has a landing stage.

It is a rather eccentric pier. Rather than the usual arcade, there is an arcade called the “Under the Pier Show”, featuring machines made by Tim Hunkin. These are rather fun and Tim has also built an unusual water-powered clock on the pier.

Southwold Pier

I walked to the end of the pier and enjoyed the views along the coast from it.

Southwold beach

Southwold beach

Southwold Pier

Then I had to hurry back to the town in order to catch the bus.

Southwold

Southwold

Having found the bus stop on the main road I waited for the bus. It was to take me to Halesworth Station where I could then take the train to London and onwards home. Unusually it was timed to connect with the trains, arriving 5 minutes before the train was due and the times of the bus are even listed in the train timetable.

However the bus was late and didn’t arrive until just over 5 minutes after it was due. So I was now worrying that I would miss the train. I got in and took a seat, keen for the bus to get going as soon as possible. Another couple got on and said they wanted to catch the train and asked if we would make it in time. The driver assured them that we would have no problem connecting with the train.

By the time we’d reached Halesworth station we were 3 minutes late, just in time for the train and I was pleased to see we pulled up right in front of the station building. However when the couple who also wanted to catch the train went to get up he told them to sit down for a minute as he had to turn around the bus. They asked to get off first, worried about missing the train but he assured them “we’ve plenty of time yet”. Here was clearly a bus driver that would not be hurried!

By the time he had turned the bus round and opened the doors at last, I walked onto the platform just as the train was approaching the platform.

I was glad we’d made it (just in time!) and that I already had a ticket, as there would have been no time to buy one without missing the train. Thankfully the train was on time to London.

This time once I reached London I stopped for a meal with some friends who had gone to London for the day before taking the train home from London Waterloo. It was a nice meal and nice to catch up with friends, but stopping for a meal did make for a long day – I did not get home until gone midnight, and I had been up since before 6am!

This was a wonderful walk which I very much enjoyed. This time I was walking right next to the sea or on the edge of the cliffs almost the whole way, other than the brief walk around the river Blyth at Southwold. I was impressed with the variety of scenery to be found here, with sandy beaches, shingle beaches, marsh land, beautiful areas of heath and even some cliffs, something I’ve not seen for a while. There was also a brief area of industry around Sizewell which whilst not pretty was still interesting. I was also pleased to have found a shorter and more coastal route than the official coast path. Southwold was also a lovely town to have ended in. I ran out of time to explore it on this walk and so was looking forward to coming back.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Logistically it is a pain if you are driving to Aldeburgh because there is no direct bus links between Aldeburgh and Southwold. Instead the route is to take a bus from Southwold to Halesworth station, the train from Halesworth station to Saxmundham and then a bus from there to Aldeburgh, which takes around 1 hour 50 minutes.

First Norfolk and Suffolk Route 64 : Ipswich – Rushmere – Martlesham – Woodbridge – Melton – Ufford – Wickham Market – Saxmundham – Leiston – Aldringham – Aldeburgh. Hourly Monday – Saturday. No service on Sundays to Aldeburgh (Ipswich to Melton only on Sundays). It takes around 30 minutes to travel between Saxmundham and Aldeburgh.

Great Anglia TrainsThe East Suffolk Line : Ipswich – Woodbridge – Melton – Wickham Market – Saxmundham – Darsham – Halesworth – Brampton (by request only) – Beccles – Outlton Broad South – Lowestoft. Trains run hourly Monday – Saturday and once every two hours on Sundays.

Konect bus route X88 : Southwold – Blythburgh – Wenhaston – Halesworth Station – Halesworth – Ilketshall – Bungay – Broome – Ditchingham – Kirstead – Brooke – Poringland – Norwich. Hourly Monday – Saturday. No service on Sunday to Southwold (it runs between Halesworth and Norwich only on Sundaus).

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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201. Snape to Aldeburgh

August 2008

I was looking forward to returning to the open sea on this walk, as I would complete my walk around the river Alde and return to the shore at Aldeburgh. I had planned for this walk to walk from Snape to Aldeburgh and then walk a little way south along the spit towards Orford Ness and then continue north to Thorpness. However once again my plans were thwarted by the unreliable public transport in Suffolk.

A few weeks previously I had booked a train ticket from London Liverpool Street to Melton station for just £6. This was timed to connect with the bus to Snape. I then planned to return from Thorpness where I’d take a bus to Saxumndham station and the train back from there to London. I’d booked another £6 ticket from Saxmundham back to London. Both of these tickets were non-refundable and valid only on the train specified.

I got to London Liverpool Street OK but once there, there was no sign of the 9:38 train to Lowestoft I was booked on, which was due to take me to Melton. There was a 9:38 to Ipswich, but that was all. This didn’t bode well. I went to find a member of staff to find out what was going on. Apparently I had booked my ticket to travel on the same day as the start of something called the “V Festival”. This turns out to be a music festival that takes place each year in Chelmsford, where my train was due to call.

At the time, trains from London to Lowestoft ran directly from London, once every 2 hours (now they run hourly between Ipswich and Lowestoft and you have to change for London). As the line between Ipswich and Lowestoft is not electrified, 3 carriage diesel trains are used. The rail company had decided this would not be sufficient for the expected crowds heading to this music festival and had instead decided to run an 8 carriage electric train from London to Ipswich and as a result I’d have to change at Ipswich for the diesel train onto Lowestoft instead. I was assured this was a guaranteed connection and there was only a 5 minute wait at Ipswich so I’d still arrive at the scheduled time, because the direct train was scheduled to wait this amount of time at Ipswich anyway.

I was a bit annoyed about it, because train times are not meant to be changed once these Advance tickets are on sale (which are only valid on the specified train) and it also meant I’d now not have a reserved seat. Thankfully I found the train and headed to the front carriage, furthest from the entrance in the hope of avoiding the worst of the crowds. I certainly managed that, there were just 3 passengers (myself included) in the carriage when the train left London and I don’t think there were ever more than a dozen passengers at any point to Ipswich. I guess the expected crowds hadn’t materialised.

All seemed to be going well until just outside Ipswich the train ground to a halt. The driver then announced we’d be waiting a few minutes as another train was occupying the platform we were due to arrive at, and we had to wait for it to depart. As you’ve probably guessed by now, the train occupying the platform was the one I was meant to connect with, the “guaranteed connection” to Lowestoft. Sure enough, once we arrived at Ipswich the train to Lowestoft had already departed. The next one was in 2 hours. I was extremely cross with the incompetent rail operator (National Express East Anglia, at the time), that had changed the train schedule so I now had to change and then scheduled both trains to use the same platform, when there wasn’t enough room for both trains, ensuring I’d miss the “guaranteed” connection. I was of course not the only one – many of the other passengers were expecting to make this connection.

Thankfully the train company had a member of staff on the platform who explained that because we’d missed the connection, a taxi would be provided (at their expense) to our destination, avoiding the 2 hour wait for the next train and we were directed to the front of the station where taxis would be arranged. Sadly it turned out the taxi would take us to the station printed on our tickets only (Melton in my case), and not our final destination (Snape in my case). I explained to the member of staff I was trying to get to Snape and showed the member of staff the bus timetable with the bus I intended to catch from Melton and offered to pay the difference in fare, if the taxi would take me to Snape rather than Melton. Sadly I was told this also wasn’t possible (though they did apologise), as another passenger for Wickham Market station would also be in the same taxi.

By the time they had arranged the taxi (as they had to wait a while for them to arrive) and it had then driven me to Melton I was over 30 minutes late and had missed the bus to Snape, as I expected I would. I had about 1 hour and 45 minutes before the next bus. There were no taxis at Melton station. So once again my plans had been messed up by the poor public transport in Suffolk.

I consulted the map and bus timetables. I looked to see if I could do the walk in reverse instead, but the buses from my intended destination, Thorpness, served Saxmundham station and not Melton, and the next train to Saxmundham was in 90 minutes.

In the end I settled on another “plan B”. Instead of walking to Thorpness and trying to walk out along some of the shingle spit towards Orford Ness, I’d take the next bus to Snape and make it a shorter walk, finishing at Aldeburgh. I worked out that would be a little under 6 miles – a very short walk, but it was all that I could fit in on the time available. This is because I still had to catch the train I had booked from Saxmundham home later in the day – if I caught a later train I would have to buy a new (and much more expensive) ticket. I was disappointed, but at least the day would not be a complete waste.

I now had over 90 minutes to wait for the next bus and to be honest, there wasn’t a lot to do in Melton. I decided to fill the time by walking along the river back to Woodbridge, and take the bus from there, instead. Although I’d walked this stretch before I knew it was an easy and very pleasant walk.

The River Deben, Melton

The River Deben, Woodbridge

So I set off on this unplanned walk. I won’t detail it all again since I’ve covered it before. However the tide was high (hiding the mud flats) and it was a warm sunny day. It was therefore a lovely walk and was just what I needed to soothe the stresses of all the train problems and disrupted plans.

The River Deben at Woodbridge

The River Deben in Woodbridge

It also gave me more time to explore lovely town of Woodbridge. I also decided to stop for an early lunch and pint of the local Adnams beer at the Kings Head in the centre of the town.

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

By the time I’d done this it was time for the bus to Snape. Thankfully this was on time. This time I remembered to get off the bus at Snape Bridge rather than the village. At last I was underway!

The River Alde at Snape

I was following the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths path (now the Suffolk Coast Path) which initially followed the north bank of the river Alde. The river was lined by reeds and was peaceful and beautiful, no doubt helped by the fact the tide was in, so I was looking at water rather than mud.

The River Alde near Snape

It being a fine weekend there were a few pleasure craft on the river too.

The River Alde near Snape

Sadly this path lasted only for half a mile or so, whereupon I reached Snape Warren nature reserve. Here the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths path turned inland, as there are no further footpaths or public access anywhere along the banks of the river until Aldeburgh. An information sign told me about the wildlife that could be seen here (various rare birds and butterflies, mainly) and that it was managed by the RSPB.

The path north was a pleasant path, wooded for much of it’s length and with some sections of boardwalk provided over the muddy parts.

The Suffolk Coast Path near Snape

I followed it north for about half a mile until it emerged on the minor road east of Snape. Here I turned right onto a footpath heading east (the southern of the two paths here), known as the Sailors Path and part of the route of the Suffolk Coasts and Heath path.

This followed a track which soon turned right to New England Farm where the path continued ahead and narrowed. I could see nice areas of heathland off to the right, but sadly there is no path over this.

Snape Warren Nature reserve

Just past this I passed an odd line of what looked like large ceramic pen caps heading in a line off beside the path. This turned out to be a work of art called Crossed Paths. To quote the website what I was looking at was in fact “‘briquetage’ cones – low fired red clay vessels used when evaporating saline water over a fire to get salt”. So now I know!

Artwork on Snape Warren

The path continued east and soon entered an area of woodland again, which was again quite pleasant.

The Suffolk Coast Path on Snape Warren

Although not by the coast when there was breaks in the trees I did at least have distant views of the river to my right.

The River Alde near Snape

The path went in and out of the trees and on this warm summers day the shade of the trees was quite welcome.

Black Heath Wood near Snape

In amongst the trees I came across some sort of terracotta pots which turned out to be another artwork.

Artwork in Black Heath Wood near Snape

These are apparently “terracotta figurative forms referencing the pottery from Neolithic times to Anglo Saxon pre-glazed wares to remind us of the generations that have passed through forest“.

As the trees thinned I again had views over the gently rolling heath-land alongside the path.

Heathland near Snape

I was now further from the river which had now been reduced to a tiny silvery slither just below the horizon.

The River Alde near Aldeburgh

Continuing along the path I had now reached an area of land on my right called Hazlewood Marshes. This is another nature reserve, this time owned by Suffolk Wildlife trust. Sadly the map on the information board didn’t show any other paths than the one I was on, so I was not able to get any closer to the river.

So instead I continued along the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Path for another half a mile where it emerged onto the A1094. The Suffolk Coasts and Heaths path follows this road for about half a mile (as did I), as the closest accessible route to the coast. Although there was no pavement there was at least a grass verge wide enough to walk on for most of the way.

After this half a mile I had reached the edge of Aldeburgh where the road then got a pavement. Somewhat strangely, given the path I was following is now called the Suffolk Coast Path, it then turns north to join the coast a mile or so north of Aldeburgh and missing out Aldeburgh and it’s beach entirely.

I didn’t want to miss out on Aldeburgh and the coast there, so I left the coast path and continued on the road. It was a fairly boring trudge of about a mile to reach the church and then the town centre.

Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh was a delight, which made it all the more surprising the Suffolk Coast Path misses it out! It was a beautiful village with numerous old buildings, some half timbered and many brightly coloured. On reaching the sea front I came across the Moot Hall. This was the town hall and dates from 1520 and is now a museum (though it was closed today).

Moot Hall, Aldeburgh

Beyond it is the beach. It is shingle, like many beaches in Suffolk and as I’ve seen before, fishing boats were pulled up onto the shingle.

Aldeburgh beach

Aldeburgh beach

Aldeburgh beach

As it was a fine sunny day there were quite a few families sat on the beach enjoying the surroundings. It was nice to see the sea again, after rounding the river Alde.

As the path had been simple and part of the walk was on roads I had reached Aldeburgh with still enough time to head south a bit towards Orford Ness, which I now did. The shingle beach was hard going so I reverted to the road, which meant I got to see more of the town, too.

Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh

Near the edge of the town I reached what was once obviously a lighthouse. I was not sure what it was used for now though, it looked a bit run-down.

Aldeburgh

The shingle spit leading to Orford Ness is just a few metres wide at this point so I could also cross the road to see the estuary of the river Alde which was now lined with moored boats.

The River Alde, Aldeburgh

I continued along the spit to a Martello tower I could see ahead.

Slaughden

This turned out to be the site of the old village of Slaughden. The Martello Tower itself was constructed in 1806 and the walls are seven feet thick! It was built as defence against Napoleonic invasion. Now nothing apart from the Martello tower remains of the village.

At it’s peak in the 17th century Slaughden had 3 quays used for fishing, boat building and trading and employed 600 people. However the river Alde began to silt up and hence business began to decline. Decline continued and a scheme to build a harbour never got off the ground. By the beginning of the 20th Century only 20 families remained. Coastal erosion was now also threatening the village. Villagers had apparently got used to opening their back and front doors to let the sea flow straight through into the river during storms.

The erosion got worse and the homes begun to be destroyed, with the pub succumbing in 1922. The last house was lost in 1936 and now only the Martello tower remains. It is a sobering reminder of the power of the sea.

Now it was time for me to head back to Aldeburgh for the bus. The town is very pretty with a wide high street with pretty buildings, which also had bunting out, adding to the charm (despite the somewhat chaotic “parking”).

Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh

I liked Aldeburgh very much. I soon found the bus stop and was pleased that the bus to Saxmundham arrived only a couple of minutes late.

This got me back to Saxmundham in time to catch my train home. Saxmundham too was a pretty town (everywhere in Suffolk seems to be!) though it was also very sleepy. It seemed one of those towns where everything closes at 5pm and everyone goes home – it was like a ghost town with no one about!

Saxmundham

Saxmundham

Saxmundham

Having had a quick look around the town I headed for the railway station for my train home. The train arrived on time, showing “London Liverpool Street” as the destination on the display, so I was hopefully that my journey home would be smoother than the one here.

As the guard came round to check tickets and after the problems in the morning I thought I’d double check with him this train would indeed be running through to London and he confirmed that it would be. 5 minutes later he then announced over the tannoy that for “operational reasons” this train would now be terminating at Ipswich and we all had to change there for London. Not again! And why had he just told me it would be going through to London when it wouldn’t be. I was not at all impressed with the train company (National Express East Anglia). Though thankfully National Express no longer run any rail franchises in the UK, so we can at least be grateful for that! This time I had about 15 minutes to wait at Ipswich for a train on to London but at least there were plenty of seats.

This had not been an especially good coastal walk, because other than half a mile or so along the river I’d not actually been next to the river or sea again until I reached the end at Aldeburgh. At least though the path had been good and through some pleasant areas of woodland and heathland, even if it wasn’t right next to the water. Aldeburgh itself was lovely though and a nice place to end the walk, as I could look forward to returning. I could also see from the map that there were now no more large rivers or estuaries ahead along the coast of Suffolk, so I’d be able to follow the shore the rest of the way to Norfolk, which I was looking forward to.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Unfortunately, it is now very difficult to do this walk by public transport, due to most of the buses to Snape having been axed. It is only possible to do this walk by public transport on weekdays as there are only 3 buses per day to Snape on weekdays only, see below.

If doing this walk on a weekday it is suggested to do the walk in reverse, starting from Aldeburgh and walking to Snape. The times here are correct at the time of writing (May 2018), but are likely to change, so do double check. From Snape you need to arrive by 18:39. Take bus number 65 from Snape (The Crown) at 18:39 to Leiston (Car Park), arriving at 18:54. Then you depart from Leiston on bus 64 at 19:29 arriving at Aldeburgh at 19:44. Both these buses are operated by First Norfolk and Suffolk. Alternatively, if you don’t mind an early start there is a bus (no 65) from Aldeburgh at 6:45am arriving at Snape at 07:15am. Finally you could drive to Snape and walk to Aldeburgh. From there you can take bus 64 at 16:05 arriving at Woodbridge (Turban Centre) at 17:15. Then depart Woodbridge (Turban Centre) at 18:04 on bus 65, arriving at Snape at 18:39. Or depart from Aldeburgh at 17:05 on bus 64 arriving at Woodbridge 18:15. Then depart Woodbridge at 19:04 on bus 65 arriving at Snape at 18:39.

First Norfolk and Suffolk  route 65 : Ipswich – Rushmere – Martlesham – Woodbridge – Melton – Eyke – Rendelsham – SnapeLeiston. Two buses per day Monday – Friday in this direction, one bus per day in the opposite direction (which starts from Aldeburgh).

First Norfolk and Suffolk route 64 : Ipswich – Rushmere – Martlesham – Woodbridge – Melton – Ufford – Wickham Market – Farnham – Saxmundham – Leiston – Aldringham – Aldeburgh. Hourly Monday – Saturday. On Sundays the service only operates between Ipswich and Melton and does not server Aldeburgh.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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200. Snape to Orford

July 2008

Having explored Orford Ness on my last post I’m returning to Orford to continue north along the coast. Well actually I’m not – I’m going to somewhere called Snape and walking back to Orford instead as that worked out easier to plan with the limited bus service at the time. Orford is at the mouth of the River Alde and so I now need to walk around this river.

I was pleased to have been able to book another bargain-basement train fare for £6 each way from London to Melton. Once I got to Melton station I took the bus to Snape rather than Orford because I’d otherwise have a long wait for a bus to Orford (neither bus ran very frequently at the time, neither bus runs at all now, sadly). Thankfully all my trains and buses ran on time and so I arrived at Snape just after midday.

Before I started this walk I thought Snape was a character in Harry Potter (specifically, Professor Snape), but it turns it is also a place in Suffolk (whose residents are probably sick of Harry Potter!). It is also the lowest point at which you can cross the river Alde (or is it the river Ore), at Snape Bridge, which is why I headed there today. Oddly as I mentioned last time this river seems to have two names, but I’ve no idea why. Wikipedia clarifies things (a bit?) by saying it’s the river Alde but that it is known as the River Ore for the final section (around 11km) of the river, but it doesn’t specify why it has two names!

I got off the bus in the village centre. If I’d have done my planning a little better, I’d have realised I’d have been better getting off the bus at Snape Maltings. This is right by the bridge (which has footpaths on either side of the river from the bridge, which I’ll be following) whilst the village centre is around 500 metres further north from the bridge. This meant I’d have to walk back along the road the 500 metres or so back to the bridge.

Still it gave me the opportunity to see the village of Snape which (as seems to to be the case for all the villages in Suffolk), is very pretty.

Snape

Snape

I headed south alongside the road, which thankfully had a pavement so I didn’t have to keep dodging the traffic. Soon I had reached the river Alde at Snape Maltings. This too was very pretty.

Snape Maltings and the river Alde

The beautiful original malting buildings are still present here, though the malting ended in the 1960s when the company that ran it went bust. It was converted to a concert hall and music venue in the 1960s after the local composer Benjamin Britten was looking for a new venue for the Aldeburgh music festival. It is still used for the same purpose today. The bridge is rather more in the functional rather than pretty category, however.

Snape Bridge, Suffolk

At the time of my visit the buildings of Snape Maltings were clearly undergoing some sort of refurbishment work at the time of my walk, as can be seen below. I later found this was because Aldeburgh Music had recently purchased a 999 year least of the site and as a result were investing in the building by creating new rehearsal space, amongst other things.

Snape Maltings

It was nice to see these once industrial buildings had found an interesting new use rather than being demolished as sadly often seems to happen.

Snape is another of those places where the coast seems to have been re-aligned. A footpath is marked on the map that I suspect followed what was once the south bank of the river. But the old bank beside the river had been breached, meaning the path wasn’t usable and now had mud flats on one side and the river on the other and with a couple of breaks in the bank. So instead I continued until I had reached the south end of the maltings complex where I could turn off the road on the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths path (now called the Suffolk Coast Path).

The path soon headed over an area of marshy land but helpfully a board walk had been built meaning I keep dry feet!

The Suffolk Coast path near Snape

The path continued around the edge of some fields close to the estuary until I had reached the point the old footpath rejoined the route at a placed called Iken picnic spot, where there was a small car park and some picnic benches.

Just past here I was now alongside the river Alde. It was very pretty with one of those Thames sailing barges I like moored up (even though I’m not quite far north of the Thames).

The River Alde near Snape

The Suffolk Coast Path continued along the shore here in front of a small wooded area, concealing a couple of houses. The path was right beside the river here where there was a thin but welcome strip of sand.

The River Alde near Snape

At the end of this woodland, the Suffolk Coast and Heaths path turned south, inland. This is because that path (now the Suffolk Coast Path) cheats (in my opinion!) here by missing out the walk beside the banks of the river Alde and instead taking a straight route due south to the river Butley which I crossed last time.

I wanted however to walk a more coastal route (as per my rules), so I ignored the official route and continued on the footpath along the coast. This was initially good, but soon there were numerous boggy and marshy bits so it was not the easiest path to use.

The River Alde near Iken

I passed Iken Hall and soon after this the path reached an area of marsh amusingly marked on the map as “Troublesome Reach”, I can imagine some boats must have got in trouble here at some point.

The River Alde near Iken

Here the path turned inland to the road, as did I, though it was a minor road. After a few metres I came to a junction. A dead-end road headed left to The Anchorage and the church but as it was a dead end road (that didn’t lead to any footpaths either) of only half a mile, I instead turned right, with the existing road.

This takes me through the village of Iken, which seems more a name given to the few remote and scattered dwellings around here than an actual village with a centre. I passed a grand house and continued to the hall and junction about half a mile ahead. There were distant views over the fields to the river, but I was now almost a mile from it, because there is no access to the river here (I’m beginning to see why the Suffolk Coast path heads inland here).

The River Alde near Iken

At this junction I continued ahead on the road, now called Ferry Road to head for the hamlet of High Street (I was amused by the name, given there were few buildings, and no shops). I followed this road for almost a mile passing a caravan park on the right and soon reached High Street, with a couple of houses and a farm just off to the left. Here the road simply ended, but a footpath continued straight ahead.

This was initially a good track but soon narrowed to a path that was poorly signed, so I had to keep checking the map. It crossed a little footbridge and soon I was back beside the river Alde, relieved to get off all those roads. The land to the left was signed as a nature reserve here, Alde Mudflats, which perhaps explains the lack of access (it is managed by Suffolk Wildlife Trust).

Alde Mudflats

So instead I turned right to follow the footpath alongside the banks of the river. The river was noticeably wider than when I had last seen it.

The River Alde near Aldeburgh

The footpath along the top of the river was clearly rarely walked and in dreadful condition. It was heavily overgrown and uneven, but the undergrowth was thick enough I couldn’t really even see where I was putting my feet. In places, it was also blocked by gorse bushes, which I had to squeeze past. It was not good at all.

After more than half a mile of difficult walking along this the map suggested the footpath now dropped down off the sea wall and followed the south side of the drainage ditch between the sea wall and the fields. However the top of the sea wall was now neatly mown grass. Later on I could see the footpath rejoined the sea wall anyway, so I decided to ignore the official footpath and keep to the sea wall, which was now easy to walk thanks to the short grass. I had no trouble following this route, until the official path rejoined the sea wall.

Just before the river meets the sea, it turns sharply right, which is the start of the shingle spit leading to Orford Ness. On the south (or now west) side of the river where I was the path also turned right to head south, with the banks of the river. Over to my left I could see the town of Aldeburgh where I hoped to reach on my next walk.

The River Alde near Aldeburgh

I was reminded that the road that led here was called Ferry Road and presumably there was once a ferry over the river here (the slipways are marked on the map), but it doesn’t operate now, so I had to walk around it. It seemed so close and yet to walk there it is well over 10 miles!

The river was now full of yachts, I expect in some sort of competition, or perhaps all just from a local club, heading out at the same time.

The River Alde near Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh looked quite nice from this side of the river, but I was a bit frustrated I’d have to wait a while to take a closer look!

The River Alde near Alderburgh

Soon I rounded the bend in the river to now turn south and head away from Aldeburgh and towards Orford. On the left I soon passed a Martello Tower on the narrow spit of land at the other side of the river, a reminder how well this coast has been defended in the past.

The River Ore near Alderburgh

It was feeling hot and humid now and clouds were gathering over Alderburgh, I was getting nervous there might be a thunderstorm, because I was a long way from any shelter and following a raised bank beside a river meant I was also about the highest thing around.

The River Ore near Alderburgh

It felt remote now with few buildings around and just the sound of the water gently lapping at the rivers edge. In the river itself I passed the rotting remains of another wooden structure (or perhaps an old boat).

The River Ore near Alderburgh

Inland was just miles of flat marshland, criss-crossed with drainage channels and grazed by sheep.

Sudbourne Marshes near Aldeburgh

The path was difficult again now, uneven and overgrown in places, but at least the route was obvious, just keep to the river bank. After about a mile I passed a little creek with a pump house behind it.

The River Ore near Aldeburgh

At this point the shingle spit on the other side of the river was deserted though it was high enough I couldn’t quite see over to the sea beyond it.

I continued on the river path beside the rather featureless Sudbourne Marshes but soon there was more of interest to see on the other side of the river. I was soon passing large masts.

Cobra Mist, Orford Ness

At the time I didn’t know what they were, but now I know (from my visit to Orford Ness) they are the old Cobra Mist site. The buildings alongside are the old radio station buildings I think, which were later used by the BBC World Service (but now disused).

The River Ore near Orford

Continuing south for another mile or two along the marshes, I was getting a bit bored with passing marshes, marshes and more marshes on the left (there was no variety), but at least I had the buildings of Orford Ness to look at on the other side, as I was soon level with the lovely old lighthouse there.

The River Ore near Orford

A few yachts made their way down the river too. I hadn’t seen any other people on the footpath but the river was at least being used.

The River Ore near Orford

Soon I was nearing Orford and beginning to see more boats moored up in the river, a sign a settlement is near.

The River Ore near Orford

Sure enough I was soon entering a boat yard, marking the start of the village of Orford.

The River Ore at Orford

Just beyond this I reached Orford Quay, where the boats to Orford Ness depart from.

The River Ore at Orford

I had now joined up with my previous walk. The flat path along the river was not that interesting and being flat I had made quite good progress, so I had about an hour before the bus I needed to catch was due. Having previously visited the castle I decided to re-walk a short stretch of the marshes south of Orford, to fill the time. So I wandred south for about half a mile slowly along the river enjoying the views and the peace and quiet, before walking back to the quay.

The River Ore at Orford

The River Ore at Orford

The River Ore at Orford

From here I then followed the road back to the main square of the village in order to catch the bus back to Melton station for the train home.

Orford

Orford church

Orford

The bus arrived on time, so I was soon on my way to Melton. Once there I had about a 30 minute wait for the train. As I had discovered before there isn’t a lot at Melton Station so I headed down to the river for a short walk up and back before the train arrived, as it was now a nice sunny evening.

The River Deben near Woodbridge

Ship wreck

The River Deben near Woodbridge

Fortunately the black clouds I saw at Aldeburgh didn’t amount to anything and soon dispersed again. From Melton my train back to London was on time and I took the tube across to London Waterloo for my onwards train home.

This hadn’t been the most interesting of walks. Snape Maltings and Snape itself were both very pretty and I enjoyed coming back to Orford again. However most of the first part of the walk was along minor roads, inland from the coast. The second part was beside the river but the path was uneven and overgrown and there wasn’t a lot to see, since it followed the river beside flat marshes for many miles, and was not very varied. Still I was pleased that at least for my next walk I be heading back towards the open sea again, to Aldeburgh.

Unfortunately, there is no longer any suitable public transport to complete this walk, unless you live in Suffolk.

Snape has 3 buses on weekdays only at the time of writing. There is one bus from Snape to Ipswich Monday – Friday only, which leaves Snape at 07:15 and arrives at at 7:44 and Ipswich at 08:45. In the other direction there are two buses from Ipswich (at 17:20 and at 18:20) which reach Snape 1 hour and 20 minutes later (at 18:39 and 19:39). This is the only service. Similary, Orford has a single bus every day except for Sunday, at 7:05 which arrives at Woodbridge at 7:44 and Ipswich at 08:35. In the other direction the bus departs from Woodbridge at 17:45 and arrives at Orford at 18:24. I can’t see that these buses can be combined to make this possible as a linear walk using public transport.

If you do live in Suffolk there is the “Connecting Communities Suffolk Coastal” which can be booked for journeys in the area where there is no bus service, but must be pre-booked by calling 01728 635938 (8:45am to 4pm), however this service is only available to residents living in the area and not to those living outside.

The only alternative now is to call a taxi. There are several companies based in nearby Woodbridge or Saxmundham however I’ve not used any taxis in the area so can’t recommend any particular company.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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199. Orford Ness

April 2016

When I walked the coast of Suffolk (in 2006) I passed through Orford but did not visit Orford Ness because I did not have time to include it on the day I did the walk that reached there or to stop the next day and I was not clear how much access there was at the time.

However I decided it was somewhere that looked rather interesting and well worth a visit and that I should go back. However it has fairly limited opening hours (only Saturday not Sunday) and only during the Spring, Summer and Autumn.

As I had already walked this part of the coast I decided to do it for a day trip. Sadly unlike when I first walked here, there is no longer a usable bus service to Orford (the only bus leaves Orford in the early morning and returns in the late evening) so I opted to drive there this time instead.

It took me around 2.5 hours, quite a long drive, and I was not exactly sure how long it would take when I set off but I hopped to reach Orford in time for the first ferry (at 10am). I arrived at the car park with the car clock showing 9:52, perfect timing! It costs £4 to park for the day and the car park was only a minute or two from the quay.

Here I found the National Trust ticket office and purchased a ticket for Orford Ness. The ferryman was already waiting in the same building. On the day of my visit, the ferry ran every 20 minutes between 10am and 2pm (only) to Orford Ness and you can return on any of these boats. There is then a 40 minute break (to allow the ferrymen time to have lunch) then boats resume roughly every 20 minutes (or whenever anyone is waiting) but after 2pm they do not take people too Orford Ness but only from it. I’m told that this is because the National Trust like to limit the number of visitors each day to around 150 to avoid it feeling crowded, with each ferry taking up to 12 people.

As it is not possible to book and I was not sure how busy it would be, this is why I was keen to arrive in time for the first boat. It was also a lovely day in terms of weather for the time of year. Temperatures in the low teens, clear skies and sunny, albeit a little hazy.

There were 9 people crossing on the first ferry and it only takes a couple of minutes. Orford Ness is a shingle spit, but it is a vast spit. Originally the mouth of the river Alde flowed out just south of the town of Aldeburgh, but soon this began to silt, causing a line of shingle to form, this has extended south over very many years to stretch for an amazing 10 miles now. However at the present time, much of the spit is eroding again. There are no towns or villages on the spit, neither are there any roads or proper paths, making it very remote.

On reaching the shingle spit at the little quay we were met by the National Trust warden. I had purchased a little information leaflet at the kiosk in Orford but for those that had not a free map is issued. There are 3 routes over the spit, but unfortunately for me only one was open on the day of my visit, the other two being closed due to nesting birds, the downside of visiting in the spring.

The open route was the red route. On leaving Orford we had been issued with a card detailing your surname and the number of people in your party. We were told this is so the NT can keep track of who is on the spit and ensure no one was left behind at the end of the day. In some ways this is a shame, as I was hoping I might be able to walk along the beach to Aldeburgh when I had done, but it seemed this would not be possible.

Instead we had to ask for the card back before we could get on the ferry, so that the warden knew if there were any cards left at 5pm, they still had people left on the spit. A simple but effective system. After our short briefing about the history of the site we were free to wander the red trail.

The three trails are coloured and marked by regular arrows painted on the tarmac, shingle, concrete or whatever else is to hand!

Marshes at Orford Ness

Orford Ness has a very interesting history. Originally entirely natural the military began to show an interest in it around World War I. An airfield was built on the spit during World War I, although most of the area where this was has since been partly flooded to form salt marsh and most of the buildings have been destroyed by the elements, since it is very exposed.

Later, after World War II, the military activity increased, with the Cobra Mist radar site setup to attempt to intercept radio from Russia, though it never really worked properly. Another rather more sinister activity was the testing of Nuclear Bombs and their detonators which happened here during the 1960s and 70s. It was in the late 1980s that the last of the military activity ceased and it was purchased by the National Trust, who now own most of the spit, in 1993. In later years there has also been other activity with the BBC World Service broadcasting from a mast on Orford Ness until 2012 and the Orford Ness Lighthouse which was in use until 2013.

At the quay there is also a landing craft type vehicle which I think is used to carry vehicles over to the island. Most of the wardens seemed to move about the various areas by bike during the day.

From the collection of mostly temporary buildings at the quay I first followed the track (more a road really) alongside the marsh on the right. Orford, and it’s castle, could be seen beyond.

Marshes at Orford Ness

The first path off to the right was closed (this is the blue trail). So I continued past some information signs about the marsh and birdlife and then took the second track off to the right (the red trail).

Orford Ness is almost two islands, the first, Kings Marsh is mostly marsh whilst further south is the main shingle beach with a stream between them and so they are linked by a bailey bridge. I had now reached the southern edge of Kings Marsh and here there were the remains of some sort of old petrol station and a couple of derelict buildings, one of which looked like an old aircraft hanger.

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

One of the buildings had been restored and now contained a museum.

Here I got talking to the very chatty warden who was outside and told me what to see as well as a bit of history of the site (he used to have to make deliveries here when it was still in military use and so knew a lot about the place). It was nice to talk to someone who knew this site both as it is now and as it was when it was in use.

Once I’d finished chatting I headed inside. It could have been more welcoming!

Naughty me

Orford Ness

Naughty me

I think these signs are old and no longer apply. However if I, and this website, disappear without a trace then you will know they do in fact still apply!

Inside there was a lot of history about the place, including historic maps, old aerial photos and information about the use of the site during World War II. Further along we moved onto the Cold War section where there was information about the testing of Nuclear Bombs that took place here and the detonators. Out on the shingle you could see the remains of the buildings used mostly for testing the detonators and ballistics, half buried (deliberately) in shingle.

The warden told me that they do occasional tours of some of the outer buildings (all of which are now derelict) but he was not sure how much longer these would continue because of the dreaded “health and safety” and the deteriorating condition of the buildings. Sadly these tours were not running on the day of my visit.

Behind the museum building was also a little viewing point where you could look out over the Stony Ditch tidal creek that separates the two parts of the site. There was some bird life here, but not that much.

Stony Ditch

I continued then on the main track heading north east past more buildings. Some were derelict but some still in use, including by the wardens as accommodation and for storage although one was I think in use by a photographic society.

Orford Ness

I passed a track leading over to the Cobra Mist site. The scale of this can only really be appreciated from aerial photos but you can see the numerous aerials in position still. Sadly this area is not open in the spring, so I was not able to visit.

I soon reached the Bailey Bridge, a recent construction by the National Trust to replace old concrete bridges that were unsafe, this took me over the creek onto the pebble area of the site.

The Bailey Bridge over Stony Ditch, Orford Ness

Stony Ditch, Orford Ness

There were the remains of a building on the right here, an aircraft hangar I think.

Orford Ness

I also spotted a hare in the marsh beside the bridge – these are quite common on Orford Ness I’m told but to be honest I am not that clear on the difference between a rabbit and a hare (I think the latter is larger – is there any other difference?).

A Hare at Orford Ness

Out before me now was a vast expanse of shingle.

Orford Ness

This was the really attraction for me, it reminded me very much of Dungeness. Out in the distance were the old radio buildings near Cobra Mist but I’m told these are privately owned but the National Trust have no idea what the owner wants to do with them.

Here I headed out first to the Bomb Ballistics buildings.

Bomb Ballistics building, Orford Ness

This was a sort of control centre and they had high speed cine cameras which fired off shots as the bullets or bombs were fired to capture exactly what happened.

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

The film was processed on one of the other buildings on the site. On top of this building there was a set of binoculars where you could view the whole site.

It gave me a good overview – which was largely an awful lot of shingle.

Orford Ness

The ridges here have allowed vegetation to form but the area is more or less a desert, but because it is such a rare habitat there is all sorts of environmental protections in place.

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

Beyond there was a circle of concrete, obviously used for something in the past but I’ve no idea what.

Orford Ness

Onwards I now followed the path out to the lighthouse.

Orford Ness Lighthouse

This is over shingle although has been coloured a bit to make the route more obvious – I’m told it is important not to stray off the paths because of the risk of un-exploded ordnance.

Path to Orford Ness Lighthouse

View from the Bomb Balistics building, Orford Ness

I saw some (exploded) ordnance on the way.

Remains of a bomb, Orford Ness

The lighthouse has a very interesting history. It was built in 1792 but there had been lighthouses on this site going back much earlier which had been destroyed either by the tide or by fires (since they were mostly lit with flames rather than electric light).

The current lighthouse had been in use right from 1792 to 2013, when Trinity House decided it was no longer required because the lighthouse at Southwold had been made brighter (I suspect modern GPS navigation systems and the like also played a part). The importance of the lighthouse has been great in the past though as the shingle spit provides a large hazard in the busy shipping lanes leading to Felixstowe and Harwich.

Orford Ness Lighthouse

However the lighthouse is built only on shingle, which has been eroding over the years.

Orford Ness Lighthouse

When the lighthouse was decommissioned in 2013 it was around 15 metres from the high tide line, now as you will see it is pretty much on the high tide line and very likely to be destroyed by the sea in the next few years, another reason I wanted to visit Orford Ness before it does go.

Orford Ness Lighthouse

When the lighthouse closed in 2013 I’m told (by one of the wardens) it was offered to the National Trust but they declined to buy it because the rotating part of the light is on a bed of mercury and they did not wish to deal with the removal and disposing of this. So it was subsequently bought by a private individual, the same person that owns the large old radio station building. Unfortunately, from what the wardens told me, the relationship between the owner and the National Trust is not good. The owner of the lighthouse wants to try to save it buy putting up coastal defences around it. The National Trust is opposed to this, because they don’t believe it will work and will cause more erosion and changes on the other areas of the spit. I can’t help but feel the National Trust made a mistake in not buying it when they had the chance.

Orford Ness Ligthouse

The owner has set up a trust, the Orford Ness Lighthouse Trust to attempt to save it and open it to the public but sadly it was not open on my visit, so I could only see the outside. It was lovely though as I’ve said before I am a fan of lighthouses but it still looked like it was still in use even though it was not. The outer buildings that remain I think houses the oil that used to be used by the light before it was electrified. There also used to be cottages here for the lighthouse keepers but these were demolished when the lighthouse was automated. Having said that there was a very derelict cottage closed by, where the roof had blown off in recent storms. My leaflet from the National Trust said they hoped to restore it – I’m no expert, but it looks well beyond saving to me.

Orford Ness

From the front at the lighthouse all looked well, but heading around the back the extent of the erosion was clear to see. One of the outer buildings had had all the shingle around the coastal side making the foundations visible and at the corner closest to the sea, the shingle underneath the building had been washed away too.

Orford Ness Ligthouse

The lighthouse itself is just about still within the shingle, but it does not look like it has long left. What was once grass around the lighthouse has mostly gone and the drain covers were still there but the brick housing the pipes (or sewage?) were now all exposed and were sort of bee-hive shaped.

Orford Ness Ligthouse

It was both fascinating and sad to see at the same time. It really be a shame when it goes, but I suspect this will be in the next couple of years. (At the time of publishing this post 2 years later in, April 2018, the lighthouse still stands and is open to the public on a few Sundays during 2018 should you wish to visit whilst you still can).

In an attempt to delay the erosion the owner has raised £10,000 to put in some shingle filled “sausages” around the base of the lighthouse (you can see them below) to try to protect it whilst he raised money for metal piling he wants to put in to further protect it – something the National Trust opposes.

Orford Ness Ligthouse

Having investigated the lighthouse I headed down onto the beach – miles of shingle and sand as far as you could see and in fact no towns or villages visible in either direction.

The beach at Orford Ness

The beach at Orford Ness

The route of the trail I was following was now south over the shingle to the Police Tower marked on my map, except that the tower had been lost to the sea a few years ago, so you now had to follow the shingle beach until you came to a sign saying “Police Tower”, then turn right inland to a wooden black structure which looked like a windmill.

Orford Ness Lighthouse

Orford Ness Lighthouse

The Black Tower, Orford Ness

Police Tower base

Orford Ness

Police Tower

From here I turned inland and walked on the shingle to reach this black windmill-like tower.

Path to the black tower

Though time for a last look back at the lighthouse, too.

Orford Ness Lighthouse

Once I reached the black tower one of the Cold War buildings was accessible to the left, so I walked over to this first, before I explored the tower.

The black tower, Orford Ness

The nuclear bombs that were tested here were triggered by an initial explosion using normal explosive which started the chain reaction. These were tested under various conditions here, including freezing and massive vibrations to ensure they would detonate only when they were meant to. The buildings I could see ahead are partly encased in concrete with roofs on top which were designed to collapse and contain any explosion in the event something went wrong. However these buildings are only accessible now by guided tour. I can’t help but wonder and hope that the NT have been around the area with a Giga counter before it was opened up!

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

The building I could reach to was very derelict with the main roof having collapsed and partly flooded with two derelict control rooms on the right.

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

It was all very eery. Heading back to the black tower I was soon joined by another warden (who had told me about the lighthouse) and this too housed part of a museum and you can go up to the top and look out through the windows in each direction.

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

It reminded me of a windmill. Next door was the “Power House” showing all the rubbish and other finds that have been made on the beach over the years.

The Power House, Orford Ness

Remains of bombs at Orford Ness

Orford Ness

This was the last area of buildings to explore and many of them were derelict. This is truly a desolate place which feels very Soviet in nature. It was really very interesting.

Having explored the site I headed slowly back, stopping again in the museum and then heading back to the quay. I did not have to wait at all for the boat and took it back around 1:30pm. I stopped for lunch on the quay, enjoying the view back to Orford Ness.

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

Rather than head straight home, I decided to visit Orford Castle before heading home. This is owned by English Heritage. Although not a huge castle it is quite well preserved and still quite imposing.

Orford Castle

There were several floors to explore inside.

Orford Castle

Orford Castle

Orford Castle

However a particular highlight is that you can go onto the roof and admire the views of Orford and Orford Ness, though the latter was now rather hazy.

View from Orford Castle

View from Orford Castle

View from Orford Castle

View from Orford Castle

I also stopped for another look around this pretty little town.

Orford

Orford

Orford

Once I’d explored the town and castle too, I felt I’d seen Orford and it was time to move on.

I had really enjoyed my visit to Orford Ness. This place is not for everyone for sure, it is isolated, desolate and bleak, but it is also unique and quite fascinating to explore. It is far from the usual National Trust property of a stately home being a collection of unique but mostly derelict buildings, large amounts of rusty metal and miles and miles of shingle. There is nowhere else like it, and I think it is well worth the visit. I was also very impressed at how much of interest there was in and around Orford.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

There is no useful public transport to Orford (the only bus arrives at Orford at 18:24 and only if anyone is still on the bus at that point). Instead if you do not have access to a car then you would need to call a taxi to Orford (probably from Woodbridge, which has a railway station).

Orford Ness is owned by the National Trust who have a website about it here. For 2018 it is open Saturdays only from 31st March to 23rd of June and from 6th to 27th October. Between 26th June and 29th September it is open on Tuesday to Saturday. It costs £10 for adults to visit though this is discounted to £4 for National Trust members (which is the ferry fare).

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198. Felixstowe Ferry to Orford

May 2008

At the end of my last walk I finished at the village of Alderton near the eastern banks of the river Deben. My plan was to walk around the estuary, which I’d nearly completed. However the last stretch from Alderton to Bawdsey Quay, opposite Felixstowe Ferry was entirely on road, as there are no footpaths. That is 5km of road. Then to begin walking north on the coast again from there, the coast path followed the same road back north for another 3km, so I’d be retracing my steps for the first 3km. Combined with the fact that, as I wrote last time, the times of the only bus service to Alderton had recently been changed so that rather unhelpfully I’d have an almost 2 hour wait from a connection between the train and bus and similar on the way back, I decided to abandon walking this short stretch. Even if I drove instead I’d still have to do a circular walk really, because of the limited bus service.

When I wrote my rules I said I wasn’t going to walk around every estuary but instead use ferries to cross, where they existed. They exist here, so I didn’t need to walk around the estuary anyway, so skipping this part isn’t cheating (the Suffolk Coast path also does so). I wanted to do the bits around the estuary that looked enjoyable, but I didn’t think there would be much enjoyable about walking 8km along roads with no pavement – none of which were actually along the coast (the closest it got was about 300 metres away). So instead I decided to return to Felixstowe ferry, take the ferry across to Bawdsey Quay on the other side and resume walking along the coast from there.

So I had managed to book another bargain-basement train fare from London to Felixstowe for £6 (and the same price to return from Melton). I took the train from my local station to London Waterloo, the tube across London to London Liverpool Street, a train from there to Ipswich and finally another train from Ipswich to Felixstowe. The last train was only a single carriage and crowded but at least all my connections worked and I got there on time. From here I took the bus service (which sadly no longer runs) to Felixstowe Ferry. Just a couple of passengers were on board, all of whom got off before we reached the end of Felixstowe, leaving just me and the driver for the last part of the route to Felixstowe Ferry (I can see why the bus route here was cut).

I was pleased to see that when I arrived, the ferry was on the Felixstowe side, though this did mean I didn’t have to wave the bat, which is apparently how you signal you wish to cross if the ferry man is not on this side of the river. The ferry operates weekends-only during April and daily from May to October (there is no service in the winter) and carries foot passengers and cyclists only. I’m not sure how much it costs now and I didn’t note how much it cost me at the time either, but I imagine it’s probably in the region of £2-£4 for a single ticket. I was the only passenger but the ferryman didn’t mind and took me across the river straight away.

The crossing only took a couple of minutes and the ferry dropped me at a little slipway on the beach at Bawdsey.

The River Deben at Bawdsey

Bawdsey Quay is a tiny place consisting of about a dozen houses and the quay I had arrived at, though there was also a small sandy beach.

There is also a large and grand house, Bawdsey Manor. This is quite historic (and very beautiful) as it was in fact the first radar station in the UK and was used for this purpose until 1974. When it’s military use ended it became a boarding school, but this too closed and it was sold on again in March 2017. It is set to re-open later this year as an adventure holiday centre, operated by PGL.

Sadly the coast path on from here stuck to the road inland of here for more than 2 miles. This wasn’t ideal, especially for a coast path. However checking the map I could see there was a beach marked on the map all the way and it looked from the map that the high water mark was above the top of the beach, meaning it should be possible to walk all the way on the beach. The downside was there were numerous groynes marked on the beach, so it was likely not going to be easy.

The other problem, is that it is a shingle beach. Whilst shingle is flat it is also very hard to walk on, as all the stones move about with each step, so you waste a lot of energy. However I decided it was still preferable to the road. Initially there were a few boats on the top of the beach.

The beach at Bawdsey

However soon it was just a large shingle bank, dotted with a few plants. It reminded me a little of Dungeness and the plants are probably quite rare, too.

The beach at Bawdsey

I took a quick glimpse back to Felixstowe Ferry and then continued along the shingle.

Felixstowe Ferry from Bawdsey

A few fisherman were fishing from the shingle beach, but they had left enough room for me to get by behind them. A short distance ahead there was some metal piling at the back of the beach which I think is coastal defence built by Bawdsey Manor.

The coast at Bawdsey

The wooden groynes marked on the map in front of it were in poor condition so were easy to get around, but there was soon another problem. Despite the map suggesting otherwise, the water soon reached the back of this metal piling.

The coast at Bawdsey

Walking on top of it might have been private though I was not quite clear. There were no signs saying so and a line of bushes between me and the house behind so I figured I couldn’t be seen anyway and so continued.

To my left I could see some structures remaining from World War II (I presume) which I imagine were once lookouts.

Old World War II defences at Bawdsey

Beyond this I was a bit surprised to find a footpath sign for the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths path. Not so much because I was on the coast but because according to my map, the route of this walk was on the road about 500 metres inland of here!

The coast at Bawdsey

Perhaps there were two possible routes, and only one marked on the map. Whatever the reason I was glad to see the sign because it provided reassurance that I would be able to get through ahead.

On my left there were now cliffs forming, something I’ve not seen for a little while, lined with bushes and trees so the only route was to trudge along the shingle, as the beach was now wide again.

The coast at Bawdsey

The cliffs were quite pretty, they seemed to be made of a soft sand-stone but given the amount of vegetation grown on them  it seemed they were quite stable.

Sadly one problem of booking train tickets in advance is you don’t know what the weather will be like. It was a windy day, but now it had started to rain too, although only lightly. It felt quite bleak now, with no one around and shingle spreading ahead as far as I could see.

Part way along the cliffs I was surprised to come across this boat left at the base of the cliffs, along with some lobster pots, buckets and other fishing equipment. I did wonder how the fisherman got here, after all if it was walking along the beach why not put it nearer an access point?

The coast at Bawdsey

Soon the cliffs became lower and eventually came to an end by some sort of old World War II structures.

The coast at Bawdsey

I continued along the beach beyond these, past a thin row of trees. Just beyond this the Suffolk Coaasts and Heath path (as the Suffolk Coast path was called at the time) directed me inland with a warning that recent coastal defence works meant it was not possible to get through ahead along the beach. Having been making slow progress along the shingle I decided to heed this advice and so turned inland on the bridlepath, stopping for a last look back at this remote shingle beach.

The coast at Bawdsey

The path was easy to follow along the edge of a couple of fields to reach the small village of Bawdsey which had some pretty houses.

Bawdsey

Here I turned right along the road and passed the rather grander Bawdsey Hall.

Bawdsey Hall

I followed the road north to the junction where there was a school I rather liked the “jousting” scarecrows in the garden.

Jousting scarecrows

Here at the junction I could turn right on a dead-end road heading back to the coast and what was marked on the map as “Gun Site (destroyed)”. This was clearly a heavily-defended coast during World War II presumably due to the proximity of the large and important ports at Harwich and Felixstowe.

The map wasn’t quite accurate though, as it wasn’t all destroyed, there was this large tower still standing and the remains of some walls along the shore.

Old Gun Site near Bawdsey

An information sign confirmed that soldiers were stationed here to look for incoming planes with large search lights that could help scan the skies.

Looking back at the coast it was clear I had made the right decision in following the inland route. I could see the Martello Tower but below it boulders had been piled up on what would have been the beach, to act as coastal defence and behind it it was clear the shore had been eroding fast. The waves were splashing against these boulders so my only way along would have been to climb over them, which would have been very difficult and awkward.

The coast near Bawdsey

North of here there were some man made lakes that I suspected had been connected with this gun site (somehow). In the fields around this the farmer had powerful houses sending jets of water into the air to water the crops in the field but it hardly seemed necessary given it was raining!

The coast near Bawdsey

Now there was a proper path along the top of a low sea wall so I was making quicker progress north now back alongside this remote shingle beach.

The coast near Bawdsey

This soon became a sea wall where an old World War II pillbox was now in the sea and being battered by the waves, so clearly the shore line was further back now than it had been during World War II.

The coast near Bawdsey

Beyond this the beach seemed to be forming a sort of shingle ridge, with some shallow lakes forming behind the beach.

The coast near Shingle Street

I could have walked on the beach, but I decided to stick to the official path that went behind these small lakes, as it was much easier and I was concerned I might find I was cut off by the water flowing in or out of these lakes.

I soon passed another Martello tower, though it intrigued me. It had a modern extension “hat” on top with some glass windows, which suggested it might have been converted to residential use, a thought backed up by some Calor gas bottles on the track just behind it, but it seemed to be accessed by a temporary looking flight of stairs made of scaffolding. I couldn’t believe you’d get planning permission if the access was via scaffolding stairs, so I did wonder what it was being used for.

Near Shingle Street

The path continued along the top of the sea wall just back from the shingle beach. Inland I soon passed another Martello tower, this one a little back from the shore and now in a field.

Martello Tower near Shingle Street

This one had clearly not been converted and was now derelict with grass and plants growing from the top.

To my right there were still pools of water and some marsh between me and the beach. This too had remnants from World War II, like these anti-tank blocks.

Marshes near Shingle Street

I was now approaching the remote village of Shingle Street that I could see ahead.

Shingle Street

The pools of water behind the shingle ended here so rather than follow this fence left I turned right to return to the beach. It was hard work but soon I reached Shingle Street, with another Martello tower on my left, this one had also been converted to a residence by the look of it.

Martello Tower in Shingle Street

Just as I arrived the wind seemed to pick up and a brief but heavy shower passed over, which made it feel a rather bleak village.

Shingle Street

Originally this village was home to fisherman and river pilots for the River Ore (which I’m coming up to). Several buildings were destroyed during World War II (including the only pub). The village is remote and exposed and is under threat from erosion, as the houses are built more or less at the back of the shingle beach which is eroding.

Shingle Street

Still at least there was a nice grassy path in front of the houses, so I didn’t have to walk along the shingle. I wondered who lived here now, it felt very remote.

I continued past the tow of coast guard cottages which were well kept which I found were still being used for their original purpose, as they had “HM Coastguard” signs on the building at the far end.

Shingle Street

As I neared the end of the village, rusty equipment dotted the beach and there were a couple of bungalows ahead. It was a strange sort of place.

Shingle Street

The path continued ahead along the shingle (so not really a path) and out to sea there were no some shingle “islands” forming, as this is the mouth of the river Ore.

Shingle Street

As I neared the mouth of the river there was a huge mass of shingle. It felt rather desolate.

Shingle Street

To my right now was the far tip of Orford Ness. This is a very narrow shingle spit, seperated from the mainland by the river Ore (or is it Alde?).

The River Ore at Shingle Street

It is almost like Chesil Beach, except that unlike Chesil beach the end of the spit does not join up to the mainland again, as you can see above. In fact the river name is confused too. The Ordnance Survey map shows that near the mouth of the river where I am, it’s called the River Ore. Yet further north it is then called the River Alde, I can’t work out why the river seems to change name part way along it (or perhaps the OS map is just wrong).

Anyway, this shingle spit stretches north for almost 10 miles and there are no roads along it. This earns it the title of the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe. Most of the shingle spit was bought by the Ministry of Defence who used this remote and inaccessible place to conduct secret military tests during World War I and II and the Cold War. Radar was developed here, hence the first radar site at nearby Bawdsey Manor. The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment also had a base here. It is not certain if any nuclear material was ever tested here, but the detonators certainly were and huge concrete buildings were built on the spit to contain any explosions from these.

In the 1970s it was also used by the RAF Explosive Ordnance Disposal to destroy munitions, a noisy and dangerous process. It has also been the site of a high-powered radio mast, initially used by the Foreign Office and later by the BBC World Service but has been disused since 2012. All in all, Orford Ness is a mysterious and strange place. The peninsula was purchased by the National Trust in 1993 and there is now limited public access.

The River Ore at Shingle Street

So this marks the point where I leave the open sea again, as I must now get around the shingle spit of Orford Ness. The first barrier is a small tidal creek which stretches about 500 metres inland.

Creek near Hollesley

Thankfully the path follows the grassy banks to the road (the only road, a dead-end, that leads to Shingle Street) where I can cross and then return to the banks of the river Ore along the north side of the creek.

Creek near Hollesley

The Suffolk Coast path now resume it’s route along the western bank of the river on a raised grassy bank.

The River Ore near Shingle Street

Between me and the river is an area of salt marsh, known as Simpson’s Saltings, which is owned by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. A few boats are dotted along the shingle, along with a make-shift jetty of wooden planks presumably used to get the boats in and out of the river.

Simpsons Saltings

In the river itself a boat soon passes, the sign saying the boat is used for river cruises, presumably to see the wildlife and the sights of Orford Ness.

The River Ore near Shingle Street

This area of marsh was bought by the Suffolk Wildlife trust because of the rate plants that grow here and the birds that breed here and the trust was able to buy the reserve due to a donation by Francis Simpson, a local botanist, which explains the name of the marshes (Simpsons Saltings). I do indeed spot some wildlife, including a Little Egret.

Simpsons Saltings, Near Shingle Street

After a while the marshes end and I’m back alongside the wide mouth of the river Ore again. Zooming in I can see the strange concrete “pagodas” of Orford Ness.

The River Ore

The roofs of these were designed to collapse in the event of an explosion, containing the explosion, hence the odd design, and beyond that I can see the red and white stripes of the lighthouse (which was in use at the time, but decommissioned in 2013 and as of 2018 likely to crash into the sea imminently).

More odd concrete structures left from World War II are in the fields to my left.

The Butley River

Having now followed the bank beside the river Ore for around 2 miles now, I have reached another river that flows into it, the Butley River.

The Butley River

Thankfully, the path continues along the western bank of this river. More odd structures dot the banks of the river, presumably connected with World War II again, or perhaps the various activities at Orford Ness.

Old World War II remains beside the Butley River

The Suffolk Coast and Heaths path continues beside the river for around a mile where my map marks a passenger ferry. However the Suffolk Coast and Heath path does not use this ferry and continues inland to the nearest road bridge, around 2.5 miles inland from here. More recent maps still mark this ferry but now with “limited service” underneath. I hadn’t been able to find much about it online so I had planned to follow the Suffolk Coast and Heaths path to this bridge, at Chillesford and end the walk there.

It seemed unlikely to me a ferry would be running given it linked two sides of the river with no village or even buildings nearby and the eastern bank wasn’t even any sort of long distance path so it seemed very few people would use it. Perhaps it might be busier in the high summer, but this was mid-May. So it was a surprise when I got there to find a man sweeping the sea weed off the slipway and a boat alongside. He looked up and seemed pleased to see someone approaching.

As I got closer he asked if I wanted the ferry. I stopped to check the map. Decision time. To walk around this river I’d have to continue about 2.5 miles inland to the road, along the Suffolk Coasts and Heath Path. However once across the river, there was no path along the eastern banks of the river, so I’d have to follow another path quite a distance inland through the grounds of Sudbourne Hall to Orford.

West of Orford a short stretch of path did follow the banks of the river, so I’d likely want to walk that before leaving Orford.

However if I crossed on the ferry the footpath on the other side would join me to a road and a short distance along this I could turn right on the footpath to rejoin the banks of the river Ore which I could then follow into Orford, avoiding any doubling back I’d otherwise have to do. The bus I planned to catch from Chillesford began it’s journey in Orford and I realised I’d have enough time to walk to Orford and catch it from there instead. So I decided to change my plans and take the ferry. The ferryman seemed delighted!

It was a rowing boat and he soon rowed me across the ferry. I felt a bit sorry for him, he was I would say in his mid 70s and it looked like hard work and I felt like I should be doing something to help. But then I realised – this is likely run by volunteers (which I later confirmed) and he’s probably doing it for the love of doing it! So once he rowed me across I thanked him very much and paid him a bit extra than the fare in thanks. I think he was pleased to have actually had a passenger use the ferry on what was not a particularly good day in terms of weather and I was glad to find that it did indeed run.

The Butley Ferry

Here is the view back to the ferry after I had crossed and he rowed back. The ferry still runs now and it runs from Easter to the end of September on weekends and pubic holidays only, from 11am to 4pm. It costs £2 per passenger (bikes can also be taken at a cost of £1.50).

The River Butley was rather pretty so I stopped for a few photos before picking up the (only) route ahead, the north along the banks of the river.

The Butley River near Orford

This is the opposite way from the coast, but there is no access south of here, so I’m following the route closest to the coast. After about 500 metres, at Ferry Cottage (I can see why they called it that), the path turns inland over fields to the road. I followed this path over fields to Gedgrave Hall, which seemed more like a farm and onwards along the road past this patriotic cottage.

Orford

Looking inland I could see Orford ahead, where the road was heading.

Orford

It looked very pretty with the church and castle towering over the rest of the buildings.I hadn’t realised Orford had a castle and it looked rather lovely, I was looking forward to getting there.

Although the road took me directly there soon a footpath left the road off to the right. This went over fields to reach the banks of the river Ore, which twisted and turned to reach Orford. This was a longer but more coastal route, so I turned right to follow it.

It initially followed fields where oddly one of them seemed to have a short fissure that had opened up across the width of the field. I stepped over it, but it seemed rather odd and I wondered how it had formed (flood water washing the soil away, perhaps?).

Bizarre crack

Looking to the coast I could again see the lighthouse at Orford Ness again.

Orford Ness from Orford Castle

I soon reached the river and turned left to follow the river to Orford Quay. As I was barely above sea level I couldn’t see much of the buildings on Orford Ness, which was a shame.

The River Ore, Orford

The river was wide, with numerous boats moored up in the river and I followed it for a little over a mile to reach Orford Quay.

Orford Quay

Here the National Trust operate boats over to Orford Ness. It is possible to visit this remote spit, though the National Trust limit numbers. As a result of this limitation the ferry runs a limited service. At the time I did this walk the ferry did not begin until mid-May, but it runs longer now. Anyway, I was too late for that today so I had a bit of time to explore Orford before the bus.

It was such a pretty village. I passed this row of cottages and this nice looking pub.

Orford

Orford

In the centre of the village was a very large and attractive church which seemed to have the ruins of something much older behind it.

Orford church

Orford gave the impression of being  a well off place, with antique shops and restaurants.

Orford church

I also headed up to take a look at the castle. It looked in excellent condition with the keep fully intact.

Orford Castle

It is owned by English Heritage and open to the public and I’d have liked to have visited it, but I didn’t have enough time to make it worthwhile before I needed to catch the bus, so I planned to return on a later date. Instead I made do with the view from the mound on which the castle sits, of the village and Orford Ness beyond.

Orford from Orford Castle

Orford Ness from Orford Castle

I wasn’t quite sure where the bus stopped because I couldn’t find a marked stop, so I waited near the church, but the bus turned around nearby when it came, so it wasn’t a problem. The bus took me back to Melton station where I had about 25 minutes to wait for the train. From here I took the train back to London and onwards home.

This turned out to be a really enjoyable walk.I found the coast here vary varied and interesting and different from the coast and estuaries further south, as I was now following huge shingle beaches (which did make for hard walking). Orford Ness looked interesting, as I looked over the river to it and I hoped to visit it. I was very pleasantly surprised to find the Butley ferry was operating meaning I could avoid a long diversion inland and spend some time enjoying the lovely village of Orford.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Note that it is now complicated and requires an early start, due to the limited bus service to Orford, it is not possible to do the walk in the same direction I did any longer and take a bus back. If you are planning to do this walk as a linear walk the only practical way without the use of a taxi is on Saturdays between April and September. This is because the Butley Ferry runs only at weekends and the only bus to Orford does not run on Sundays. (Hence I’d suggest a taxi for this walk, you can probably call one from Woodbridge).

However I have worked out two possible itineraries below (both on Saturday only), but inevitably bus times change regularly so whilst this is correct as I write (April 2018) do check before setting off in case the times have changed.

To get the bus journey done to start (by driving to Orford) you need to arrive very early in time to catch the bus at 7:05am, (route 71). It is the only bus of the day from Orford. Take the bus to Melton Railway station, where you should arrive at 07:36. From here take the train at 08:13 to Ipswich, arriving at 08:36. Then from Ipswich take another train to Felixstowe, arriving at 09:24. From here it is around a 2.5 mile walk to Felixstowe Ferry, where you can take the ferry over and begin the walk, walking back to your car.

As an alternative, start the walk in Orford and walk in reverse to Bawdsey Quay. Then take the ferry over to Felixstowe Ferry where it is around 2.5 miles additional walk to the town centre and railway station. You need to arrive at the station in time to catch the train at 16:28 to Ipswich, where you arrive at 16:54. Then take another train from Ipswich to Melton, departing from Ipswich at 17:17 and arriving at Melton at 17:36. From Melton station, take the bus (route 71) at 17:53, which arrives back in Orford at 18:24. Note that this is the only bus that serves Orford. See below for the links to the timetables.

Bus route 71 : Sudbourne – Orford – Chillesford – Butley – Hollesley – Sutton Heath Estate – Sutton Hoo – Melton Station – Woodbridge. One bus per day each way, Monday – Saturday only. The bus from Orford continues to Ipswich but in the other direction it starts from Woodbridge.

Greater Anglia Trains Felixstowe Line : Ipswich – Westerfield – Derby Road – Trimley – Felixstowe. Trains run hourly seven days a week.

Greater Anglia Trains East Suffolk Line : IpswichWoodbridgeMelton – Wickham Market – Saxmundham – Darsham – Halesworth – Brampton – Beccles – Oulton Broad South – Lowestoft. Trains run hourly Monday – Saturday and once every two hours on Sundays.

The Butley Ferry runs on weekends only (including bank holidays) between Easter Sunday and the end of September, from 11am to 4pm and costs £2 per person. To check if the ferry is running (in case of bad weather), call 07913 672499.

The Deben Ferry (Felixstowe Ferry to Bawdsey) operates at weekends only during April and daily between May and October, on demand. Telephone 01394 282 173.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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197. Woodbridge to Alderton

April 2008

Or perhaps that title should be Melton to Alderton and then later Melton to Woodbridge. This was a complicated day!

The problem I’d hit is that I’d now walked a long way from home. That meant either driving there and back in the day (now about 5 hours of driving, on top of the walk), staying overnight (expensive) or going by train (can also expensive). The latter option might seem expensive but in fact as I had discovered if booked in advance, it was in fact very economical.

So I’d switched to planning ahead for my walks and booking train tickets in advance, in this case about 6 weeks in advance. Booking early like this got me a good price – £6 each way on the train from London, which made it a good way to do the walk as a day trip from home, without breaking the bank, though it mean my ticket was valid only on the train at a specified time and if I missed it, I’d have to buy a new ticket, which would be much more expensive.

I’d booked to travel on the 9:38 train from London Liverpool Street to Woodbridge, where I was scheduled to arrive at 11:19. I planned to walk from there to Alderton where I’d found there was a bus back at 17:36 which stopped at Melton station (on stop north of Woodbridge) at 17:48. From there I’d travel home on the train that departed Melton station at 18:02 back to London Liverpool Street.

That would give me just over 6 hours to do the walk which I thought would be enough time and I was pleased with my plan, so I collected the tickets and printed out the bus and train times for reference ready for the day.

Unfortunately the downside of planning ahead is that there is more time for your plans to be messed up! That is what happened here.

The night before I was due to travel I double checked the times, as I usually do. Here I came across a problem. The bus timetable had been changed in the few weeks since I’d booked the train tickets.

Now I found that the bus I needed to catch from Alderton was now departing later at 17:47 and due to arrive at Melton Station at 18:03. Precisely 1 minute after the train I was booked to travel on was due to depart. The next train was 2 hours later. So I’d either have to hope I was really lucky and the bus was early and/or the train late, or I’d have to wait around at Melton and take the train home 2 hours later (for which I’d also need to buy a new much more expensive ticket).

I instead investigated doing the walk in reverse. The bus timetable I’d previously printed showed I could take the bus from Melton to Alderton in the morning and the bus would depart 15 minutes after the train I was booked on was due to arrive. Except that too was no longer possible. Now the bus times had changed and the bus was now timed to stop at Melton station 9 minutes before the train was due to arrive. The next bus was 2 hours later.

I was annoyed with whoever had decided to re-time the buses so that they now missed the connection with the train at Melton or Woodbridge stations in both directions. This is the problem with public transport in the UK. It seems it is very rare (unlike abroad) to co-ordinate the arrival of trains and buses in such a way as to allow people to make connections between them without long waits, or walks from one side of an unfamiliar town centre to another. It seems to me that if a good connection does happen between a bus and train it is merely a coincidence, rather than anything that has actually been planned that way. Train times generally only change (at most) twice a year. It seems the times of buses change much more frequently.

I found that the bus was subsidised by Suffolk County Council so I sent them an email expressing my frustration that they’d changed the time of the buses so they now all missed connecting with the (limited) train service at Melton. The gist of the reply was that in order to save money they had decided to use the same bus to operate this service as was used to operate a school bus, saving money on hiring a bus just for the school journeys and described the missed connection as “unfortunate”. Well yes it was! And given I was travelling on a Saturday when schools are closed it seemed particularly poor planning (presumably they wanted the bus to run the same time on Saturday as the rest of the week).

So with my carefully made plan in tatters I tried to work out a new “Plan B” as to how I could work around this, without it costing me a load extra money in taxis, new train tickets or petrol (I had bought a house a few months previously, so my finances were somewhat stretched at the time).

In the end I hatched a plan to stay on the train one extra stop on the way there and get off at Melton rather than Woodbridge as I had booked. I would pass Melton Station on the walk anyway and this would then cut the distance I’d need to walk by about 1.5 miles in order to reach Alderton. I hoped by walking a shorter distance I’d reach Alderton earlier, which would allow me enough time to catch the previous bus from Alderton (at 15:17) back to Melton Station. Then I’d have a bit over 2 hours to walk the mile and a half from Melton back to Woodbridge (in order to close the gap in my walk I’d otherwise leave) and I’d then travel home from Woodbridge rather than Melton station. That still meant I had effectively an hour less to complete most of the walk so I’d have to walk fast.

Sorry, that turned out to be a very long way of explaining how it is I came to be starting at Melton, rather than Woodbridge (this blog is meant to be about walking the coast, not bus timetables, after all!).

With my “plan B” worked out I set off the next day for Melton. Thankfully the train arrived on time because any delay would certainly have scuppered my new plans.

Melton station is pretty much at the northern end of Woodbridge and is very basic. There is no station building and you emerge directly from the end of the single platform to the A1152. I was pleased to see that there was a pavement, even though I’d reached the end of Woodbridge.

So I turned right and followed this road to Wilford Bridge, the lowest bridge across the river Deben.

The River Deben from Wilford Bridge

Clearly the river is tidal still here and the tide was low, revealing mud flats and a thin strip of muddy water in the centre of the channel. On the other side was a pretty thatched cottage.

Looking back to Woodbridge, there was a large muddy island in the middle of the river and a couple of barges moored up, suggesting there is still some industrial use of the river.

The River Deben from Wilford Bridge

Just after the bridge I came to a roundabout, where the A1152 turned left whilst I turned right onto the B1083, which is closer to the coast. The change in road classification had taken away some of the traffic, but happily not the pavement, which continued albeit now narrower.

I soon passed  a sign with a brown National Trust logo telling me somewhere called “Sutton Hoo” was just ahead. I had never heard of it. I followed this road for about half a mile where I could then turn off on a footpath going right, taking me back towards the river. This footpath followed a track between fields but then took me right to the visitor centre for Sutton Hoo.

Sutton Hoo

I confess before doing this walk, I’d never heard of Sutton Hoo, and I had no idea what it is. But I quickly found from the visitor centre that it is in fact the site of 2 early 6th and 7th century graves. One of these graves contained an undisturbed ship burial with a wealth of artefacts, most of which are now in the British Museum. It was if you like a bit like a British version of the discovery of the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in Egpyt, albeit on a smaller scale. I had no idea. It was excavated in 1939. It looked very interesting and I’d have liked to have looked further, but I was on a tight schedule, so I couldn’t spare the time.

So I passed this and continued on the path heading down into a pleasant part wooded valley towards the river I could see ahead.

Sutton Hoo

This took me close to a fairly grand house, I presume also part of the same estate.

Sutton Hoo

The woodlands continued ahead and were full of blue bells and so very pretty.

Bluebells near Woodbridge

At Little Sutton Hoo I could turn right and head back towards the river, which I reached a few minutes later.

The River Deben near Melton

It was nice to be back beside the water, and I was now looking across to Woodbridge.

The River Deben near Melton

Looking south I was surprised to see some low cliffs beside the river (though I shouldn’t have been – they are marked on the map as Ferry cliff).

The River Deben near Melton

It turns out the path goes below these cliffs on a pleasant wooded path which also seems to be owned by the National Trust.

Ferry Cliff, Sutton Hoo

Here I had fine views over the river to Woodbridge Quay where I had been on my last walk and if all went to plan, I would be later.

The River Deben near Woodbridge

The River Deben near Woodbridge

At the end of these cliffs the footpath becomes a bridlepath which then almost double backs to then follow the top of the cliffs!

The River Deben near Woodbridge

The extra height gained gave me a good view downstream where I could see a jetty of sorts, oddly not marked on the map.

The River Deben near Woodbridge

However I had to turn away from the river for a while now, as there isn’t a path beside it beyond here.

The inland path rounded the edge of some very neatly and freshly ploughed fields, beside the woodland of Deben Wood.

Ploughed field near Woodbridge

To my right just at the other end of the field was a large reservoir, where some men seemed to be setting up for a day fishing.

The River Deben near Woodbridge

When the woodland ended I continued ahead across another field to cross the drive leading to Haldon Hall, though the house was hidden by trees at this point. The path continued alongside more woodland ahead, but I could see the house to the right now, where the owner (I presume) appeared to be just about to get into his helicopter parked on the lawn. As you do. How the other half live!

Haddon Hall

I was still fairly high, so could at least see views of the river still from the path, which was noticeably widening now, as I headed back to the coast.

The River Deben near Woodbridge

The path soon left the trees and headed between fields on an arrow-straight and rather boring track for about 3/4 of a mile. This led me to Methersgate, a tiny village (more a hamlet) where I could soon follow paths down to Methersgate Quay beside the river again.

The River Deben at Methersgate Quay

A line of debris on the slipway showed me where the hide tide mark was. There wasn’t much activity here just a boat, which looked abandoned and a few buoys.

The River Deben at Methersgate Quay

A footpath continued south from here. Or at least, it was supposed to, but this is what laid ahead.

The River Deben near Methersgate

I saw the sign but there was no obvious path, just an area of salt marsh mixed in with areas of muddy sand. I made my way over it as best I could, having to avoid the worst of the muddy bits, though I did still get one wet foot.

Out in the river there seemed to be a lot of yachts now, some sort of race I guessed.

The path continued to be very difficult now with overgrown bushes to contend with, too. I doubted I was on the right path until I came across a wooden flight of steps leading me up off the marsh and onto the raised sea bank instead. Thankfully the path was much better after that.

The River Deben near Methersgate

Now it was a nice path, short grass on top of a dry bank with fine views over the increasingly wide river. The path briefly went through an area of woodland, Tyburnhill Plantation and then emerged back to the sea wall passing a creek.

The River Deben near Methersgate

The path now turned half right with the bank of the river to head due south for almost a mile, sometimes in the edge of woodland and sometimes in the open.

The River Deben near Methersgate

Out in the river there was a low marshy island, oddly not marked on the map. I could look across the river beyond this to see the village of Waldringfield where I walked last time.

Marshes beside the river Deben near Shottisham

I now reached Stonner Point and the path turned half left again here now heading south east with the river bank. The bank here was dead-straight and the path followed a raised bank beside a dead-straight drainage channel on the other side.

Marshes beside the river Deben near Shottisham

It was clear the land had been reclaimed here at some point and the bank was man-made.

This bank continued for around 3/4 of a mile and then the path and river bank turned half left to head back south on what appeared a more natural bank again.

The River Deben at Shottisham

Ahead I soon came to Shottisham Creek where thankfully I can cross via a sluice gate, no need to go inland for this one.

Shottisham Creek

Beyond this the path climbed slightly into the edge of woodland again, Lodge Plantation this time. Here there were fine views over the river and marshes beside it to Hemley in the distance again where I walked last time.

The River Deben near Ramsholt

Soon I was back at a lower level and out of the woods and the path was almost a causeway with the marshy river to my right and more marshland inland to my left, criss-crossed with streams.

Marshes near Ramsholt

I was glad that the path was raised up above this and so still dry.

At the end of this marshy area, I continued into Cragpit Plantation and then emerged back onto the river bank where I could now see inland to Ramsholt church.

Ramsholt church

It could be my imagination, but it looked to me like the tower leaned a bit to the left. I didn’t have time to go up and take a closer look, though.

Nearing Ramsholt village there were some odd triangular wooden structures at the edge of the river, built out from the bank. I’m not sure if they were for fishing or an attempt at reducing erosion.

The River Deben at Ramsholt

I was clearly nearing the sea now as sand rather than mud was beginning to make an appearance at the edge of the water. Soon I had reached Ramsholt Dock and Quay where I came to the pink coloured pub I had seen last time from the other side of the river, the Ramsholt Arms (though from their website it looks like it’s no longer painted pink).

The Ramsholt Arms

Today was a warm day and this time the beer garden was proving popular, but I didn’t have time to stop. It looked like there was an event on too, with a marquee in the garden.

Sadly here I had to turn inland again as there is no path along the river any further, though there was a rather mixed collection of boats scattered about in the reeds ahead and on the sandy slipway.

Ramsholt Quay

Ramsholt was very pretty and it was a shame I could linger, I took one last view back before I lost sight of the water.

Ramsholt Dock

So I followed the road up from the pub for about half a mile to a junction. It was quite a dull road (it is plastic sheeting in the field to the right, not water).

The road to Alderton

At the junction I could turn right along the road, which would soon turn left. Or I could continue straight ahead on a bridlepath which would join the same road a bit further up. I opted for the latter since it was a nicer route and the road had no pavement. On reaching the road, I turned left and now had about a mile along the road to reach Alderton.

The road did not have any pavement but it didn’t really serve anywhere apart from tiny Ramsholt Quay so there was not that much traffic. I was getting tight for catching the bus, so this turned into a bit of a root-march along the road, but there was nothing much to see anyway.

My quick walking here meant I reached the edge of the village of Alderton, 10 minutes before the bus was due. Phew! This gave me just enough time to take a few photos, since it was quite a pretty little village with brightly painted houses and a nice looking pub.

Alderton

Alderton

Alderton church

I was relieved to have made it in time for the limited bus. Whilst walking this last bit of road I’d also been checking the map and had decided on another change of plan. I was in time for the bus and so I would have about 2 hours and 20 minutes to walk from Melton to Woodbridge. I estimated it would only take about 40 minutes. So I had plenty of time to spare now.

I decided instead therefore to get off the bus at Sutton Hoo. It was not worth paying the admission fee for it, because I’d have less than an hour before it closed for the day, but there were some estate walks that are always open I could follow to see more, then walk back to the road and back to Melton and on to Woodbridge.

I found the bus stop and was waiting for the bus beside the road. However a few minutes after it was due, there was no sign of it. A Transit mini bus came slowly past, I didn’t think anything of it, but it then stopped. The driver opened the door and asked “Waiting for the bus?”. I said I was and he explained “well hop in, this is it”. I had been expecting something bigger, but he went on to explain that the usual bus had broken down, so they were using this borrowed mini-bus to run the service instead, which explained why there was no route number on the front. I asked for a ticket but he said “don’t worry about that, I don’t have a ticket machine on here anyway, so it’s free today”. So after all the hassle the bus service had caused me, at least I got to have a free ride back to Sutton Hoo, which was nice. The driver kindly dropped me at the entrance so I could explore a bit more.

I found some lovely bluebell woods.

Bluebells at Sutton Hoo

Bluebells at Sutton Hoo

However the more interesting part were these burial mounds (there were several), also part of this large area of graves.

Sutton Hoo

Other undulations in the ground hinted showed there had been quite a lot here at one time.

Sutton Hoo

It was a nice little walk and I enjoyed all the bluebells and this old bit of wood that had been decorated to look like a dragon!

Sutton Hoo

I couldn’t linger for that long, but I was glad I had at least seen some of the place. Once finished I returned on the same route I’d followed earlier to the road and returned to Wilford Bridge for part 2 of the walk! The tide was now right in and the sun out, it was quite different from the view earlier in the day.

The River Deben near Woodbridge

I suspect it must now be high tide as there was not much of the arch under the bridge visible now. Now I had a good long-distance path (part of the Sandlings Way) I could follow right along the river to Woodbridge. It was a lovely walk, with an easy path (often gravel) beside some areas of scrub and marshes.

The River Deben near Woodbridge

Although not marked on the map there were several little boat yards and jetties along here were boats were moored up, some still in use, some abandoned and the odd rotting wreck, like the one above.

The River Deben near Woodbridge

The River Deben near Woodbridge

The River Deben near Woodbridge

Nearer the town there was a larger marina and then I reached the beautiful tide mill I had so loved last time.

The River Deben at Woodbridge

The River Deben at Woodbridge

Woodbridge Tide Mill

The signs on this confirmed high tide was about an hour ago yet already the little harbour by the station was more or less empty of water.

The river Deben at Woodbridge

The boats there must have a very narrow window they can leave the harbour before the tide recedes and they are stranded on the mud again.

I sat by the mill for a short while enjoying the views and the warm spring sunshine before it was time to head to the nearby station for my train home (where thankfully there seemed to be no issue I’d got on the train one station later than the one I was meant to, though since that meant I’d be travelling a shorter distance I guess it didn’t matter).

Woodbridge station

So despite the best efforts of the bus company and Suffolk County Council to scupper my plans I’d managed to complete this walk, albeit not quite in the order I had intended! It had turned out to be a lovely walk too, with far more of interest than I had realised, particularly Sutton Hoo, and it’s lovely blue bell woods. The walk beside the river had been beautiful too especially at Ramsholt and between Melton and Woodbridge and even the road sections had turned out better than expected as there was a pavement on the busiest roads.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.

Sadly the bus service that caused me so much hassle doesn’t run at all any longer, and there is no bus to Alderton any longer. The nearest you can get on an ordinary scheduled bus is the village of Hollesley, which is a little over 2 miles from Alderton. If you want to do this you’ll have to do it in reverse, since at the time of writing the only bus per day from Hollesley to Melton and Woodbridge leaves at 07:23. In the reverse direction, the bus leaves Woodbridge at 17:47, Melton at 17:53, passes Sutton Hoo at 17:55 and arrives at Hollesely at 18:06. This runs Monday – Saturday only. So you could park in Hollesley, walk to Melton or Woodbridge and plan your arrival for this one bus back.

PF Travel route 71, which runs the following route:-

Sudbourne – Orford – Chillesford – Butley – Hollesely – Sutton Heath – Sutton HooMelton Station – Woodbridge. One bus per day each way Monday – Saturday. No service on Sunday.

To replace the bus to Alderton there is a demand-responsive bus serving the Suffolk Coastal area which you have to telephone in order to book and operates Monday – Saturday. This includes Alderton. Sadly, however there is a catch – it seems this is a Local Bus for Local People and can only be booked if you live in Suffolk.

Here is the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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Exploring the coast of Iceland

This was originally intended to be a “Christmas Special” but I didn’t get around to finishing it in time. Then given it was so cold over Easter I planned to make it an “Easter Special” instead. Easter has come and gone, so I’m a bit late for that too, but there we are, here it is, better late than never.

Much as I enjoy coastal walking I don’t like to use all of my annual leave on coastal walking. When I do make a trip abroad though, if I can, I do like to see some of that countries coastline (assuming I’m going to a country with a coastline, of course). I’ve seen so many different and spectacular coastal landscapes in Britain it can sometimes be a surprise to come across something new and different that we cannot see at home.

In September 2017 I took a trip to Iceland, my second visit to this remarkable country (the first a year earlier). Iceland is sometimes known as the land of Fire and Ice. Fire because of the numerous volcanoes and ice because around 10% of Iceland is covered with glaciers.

Iceland is on the gap between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. It is a volcanic island with numerous active volcanoes, it commonly has earthquakes (mostly minor) and is full of geothermal areas, where you can see steam gushing out from the earth and boiling water on the surface. It was also famous for that volcano no one could pronounce that grounded flights across Europe a few years ago. If you want a week in the sun on a beach, this is not the place to come, but if you want the most amazing natural scenery, a sense of adventure and that you are in a true wilderness, it certainly is.

Iceland has a population of around 330,000 in a country around 80% the size of England What’s more more than 2/3 of the people live in and around the capital, Reykjavik meaning outside of this area the country is very sparsely populated (around 1 person per square km) and as such you see very little man-made activity, it is a true wilderness. In places it can feel like no one has ever been there before and really is nature at it’s rawest.

The downside of the low population density is that public transport is extremely limited. There are frequent buses between the main airport (Keflavik) and the capital, Reykjavik. Reykjavik also  has local buses connecting most parts of the city (though even these do not start until around 11am on Sundays) but away from these areas there are few buses and most that do run are only once or twice a day making planning a journey hard.

That really means you are either tied to taking excursions (there are a number of operators, Reykjavik Excursions and Greyline being the main companies), which fixes you to a specific time (and sometimes day) or hiring a car.

I hired a car on both visits, though also went on a couple of tours. It’s worth noting that driving in Iceland comes with it’s own challenges. Quite a lot of roads, even some main ones are gravel rather than tarmac (and can be quite rutted). Those prefixed with F (known as “F-roads”) are only legal to drive on with a 4×4 vehicle.  Roads in the centre of the island (generally referred to as the Highlands) are typically closed during the winter. You’ll also be offered (as I was) extra insurance to cover against the possibility of damage to the car as a result of volcanic ash, sand storms and gravel (I declined). Speed limits are very low too, a maximum of 90kmh anywhere, even dual carriageways (and on many of the sweeping and deserted roads you’ll struggle to keep to it!) and I was told fines for speeding are very high (thankfully, I didn’t get to find that out the hard way). However away from Reykjavik traffic is generally very light and in my experience a large percentage of the hotels in Reykjavik offer free parking so a car is a practical option here.

So lets get underway with a few photos I took on the coast around Iceland (and a fair few  inland). I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of the coast, but what I have seen has whetted my appetite to return and see much more. All the photos are my own, it is a country it seems impossible to take bad photos in!

I’m going to start with perhaps the most impressive of the coastal locations I’ve been to – Jökulsárlón beach. This is located on the south east coast of Iceland, about a 5 hours drive from Reykjavik (hence having booked to spend all my nights in Reykjavik  I went here on a tour as I didn’t fancy 10 hours of driving).

What is unique about this beach is that icebergs break off from a nearby glacier and float across a lake (the deepest in Iceland) into a fast-flowing but very short river that carries the icebergs under the road bridge and out to sea. The waves then wash them a bit along the coast and back onto the black-sand beaches either side. You end up with small icebergs, looking a bit like crystal glass, washed onto the beach and battered by the waves. Large icebergs had a very distinct blue colour I believe because all the air has been crushed out of the water making the ice more dense.

Diamond Beach (Jökulsárlón beach)

Diamond Beach (Jökulsárlón beach)

As a result, it is often referred to as “Diamond Beach”. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I really hope to go back.

You can’t really visit here and not see the glacial lagoon (where the Icebergs come from) either. It is only a 10 minute or so walk away inland. Here you can see the icebergs drifting across the lake but also take a boat trip out onto the lake on an amphibious craft (as I did) to get closer to the icebergs.

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

If you are lucky you’ll also be passed a small piece of an iceberg to hold by the guide, as I was!

Now I just need a drink big enough to fit this in

On a clear day you can also see the glacier but I got here just after a period of very heavy rain, so it was quite misty (there is a local saying that if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait 10 minutes – it seemed to hold true!).

The icebergs have been carved by nature into the most beautiful shapes and have a very bright blue colour.

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

The coach tour I was on also stopped at Vik and a couple of waterfalls, which I had also visited independently the previous year, so these photos are a mixture of dates.

This is a village on the south coast. Here large waves come crashing into the black-sand beach and there are spectacular rocks around the bay and just off-shore.

Vik, Iceland

You can get up close and examine the cliffs formed of lava.

Vik, Iceland

It is quite a pretty village, too.

Vik, Iceland

Finally here is a shot of the famous rocks I took at sunset.

Vik at sunset

A couple of miles further east is another impressive beach, Reynisfjara. The main attraction here is the amazing geology.

Here there is a huge cave surrounded by Basalt columns like those found at the Giants Causeway.

Reynisfjara beach

It is worth taking a closer look at the cliffs, too, the columns are amazing.

Basalt columbs on Reynisfjara beach

The view inland is rather nice too, if a little bleak perhaps, as the beach turns to grassland and hills beyond.

Reynisfjara beach

The beach stretches east for many miles. I could spot an arch in the cliffs in the distance, but did not have time to walk further to investigate.

Reynisfjara beach

Near the shore the beach is made of these beautiful black pebbles.

Reynisfjara beach

Heading back on the main road (Road 1) towards Reykjavik you’ll past two spectacular waterfalls both of which I highly recommend stopping at, as the entrance to the car parks for both is right off the main road. The first is Skógafoss.

This an extremely impressive waterfall as a great wall of water plunges straight of the cliffs into a short river to the sea.

Skógafoss

In the UK of course this would be behind a rope or fence with approximately 7,000,000 health and safety notices everywhere. But this is Iceland, not the UK so you can go as close as you dare.

Skógafoss

It is incredibly impressive and the sound of course just has to be heard. Steps are provided here too so you can walk to the top, which I did, so here is the view from the top.

Skógafoss

Whilst you can also look upstream, which is a beautiful unspoilt river, though it was narrower than I expected.

Skógafoss

From the top, you also have views of the flat coastal planes. I’m not sure if that is an island or just tall cliffs that start suddenly in the distance.

Skógafoss

Continuing east, a short distance further along the road you’ll pass, that volcano whose name no one could pronounce (Eyjafjallajökull) that erupted a few years ago.  The farm in front is private so it’s best viewed from the road.

Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland

All is quiet now .. but for how long?

Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland

Continuing west the coast on my left was miles and miles of grey sand, sometimes with moss covered lava between the road and the beach. This sand is the reason car hire companies like to offer extra insurance as I believe when it’s very windy all this sand can blow up to the road and quite literally sandblasts the paint off cars. Thankfully that didn’t happen on my visit.

A few miles further west there is another impressive waterfall right next to the main road. This is Seljalandsfoss and it might look rather less impressive from the road.

Seljalandsfoss

However when you get closer, it is more impressive.

Seljalandsfoss

It has another trick though. The shape of the cliffs here mean you can walk behind the waterfall, something I’ve never done before.

Seljalandsfoss

That was a brilliant experience with all this water just falling off the cliffs in front of you.

Seljalandsfoss

Though you will get quite wet from the spray!

From here I didn’t make any further stop to Reykjavik, the capital city. Reykjavik is not as pretty as many capital cities, much of it is sprawling and not very pretty, but it does have it’s charms.

One of the famous sites is Hallgrímskirkja, a large church on the top of a hill, which I’m afraid I just called the Space Shuttle church, I hope you can see why.

Space Shuttle Church, Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik

Inside it is large, but quite plain.

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik

However I was more interested in the fact you could take a lift to the top of the tower, where there were stunning views.

Here you can look over the colourful roofs of Reykjavik and to the sea beyond.

Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja

Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja

From here I made my way down to the tempting shore ahead (I’m always drawn to the coast!), where there is a beautiful view over the bay to the mountains beyond, and this Sun Voyager art work in front.

The Sun Voyager sculpture, Reykjavík

Here I followed the waterfront to the harbour.

Reykjavík

Behind this is another unusual site, the Harpa concert hall. I can’t say I was taken with the outside at all.

Harpa

But they don’t seem to mind you wandering around inside and inside, it is quite something.

Harpa

Especially if you look up to the mirrors on the ceiling, too.

Harpa

The inside was stunning. Once I’d done that it was time to head back into the centre of Reykjavik for some dinner.

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

I then headed up to Perlan. This is an unusual building, built around 4 water towers which store geo-thermally heated hot water to be pumped around the city, it has I think a large concert space, but also an outside upper deck you can (freely) walk around. It is a great place to get the sunset over the city.

Sunset over Reykjavik

Sunset over Reykjavik

Now it’s time to leave Reykjavik  and head south west to the Reykjanes Peninsula. This is a large thin peninsula that stretches for many miles (and also has the main airport, Keflavik near the end). I spent a day exploring this area and it’s coast.

The area is known for it’s geothermal areas and one of the main features that arises from this is the Blue Lagoon. Along with the Golden Circle (more on that one later) this is the most visited part of Iceland. Here a large outdoor swimming pool and “wellness centre” has been created out of the geo-thermal springs.

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I didn’t stop for a swim, but you can wander freely around some of the other lakes nearby.

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In the distance here you can see the steam rising from one of the Geothermal power stations that can be found across Iceland.

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Back to the coast now, which is what I was meant to be talking about! This is Brimketill where a sort of natural pool has been formed out of the lava cliffs.

Brimketill

I didn’t bother to go down to try to reach it, since the cliffs are slippery and the sea rough. However I’d never before seen cliffs formed of lava like this, they are like nothing we have in the UK!

Brimketill

At the very north western tip of this peninsula you can find Gardur, where there is a sand beach (this time not black) and an unusual lighthouse at the far end.

The beach at Garoskagi

Garoskagi

There is a more traditional lighthouse a little back from the coast now, perhaps the original.

Garoskagi

Another coastal area on this peninsula I enjoyed was Valahnúkur. Here again were impressive lava cliffs, which the sea pounds against.

Valahnúkur

Valahnúkur beach

Whilst there is an impressive beach of boulders really rather than pebbles alongside.

Valahnúkur beach

Inland there is much of interest, too. As I mentioned, Iceland is situated between two tectonic plates and where these are pulling apart, it creates a wide (and widening) chasm across the island. This crosses part of the Reykjanes peninsula where you can find the Bridge Between Continents.  Here there is a footbridge over the chasm, which you can cross and enjoy the view.

Bridge between continents

You can also head down into it and walk on the sand between the continents.

Bridge between continents

Finally you can climb the rocky cliffs around and look back to the bridge across the chasm, which you can now only just see.

Bridge between continents

The peninsula also has numerous geo-thermal areas. I stopped at Gunnuhver one such place which is also by the coast and has another lighthouse. However of more interest was the clouds of steam and sulphur coming out of the ground and the noise it makes (which was more what surprised me).

Gunnuhver

There is path where you can walk right through some of the clouds of steam and sulphur, too. Best not to step off the path though, it can melt your shoes!

Gunnuhver

Gunnuhver

Much of the peninsula too is lava fields, often covered in moss.

Lava field on the Reykjanes peninsula, Iceland

Much of the peninsula is bare barren land, rock and lava. As I mentioned this peninsula is where the airport can be found and if you are lucky to get the window seat and have a clear day when you arrive or depart Iceland you can see this peninsula from above.

Here you can see areas of new and old lava.

The Reykjanes peninsula, Iceland

Here is the coast once again and I noticed here how lava appeared to have poured down the ridge of hills slightly inland, near the bottom left.

The Reykjanes peninsula, Iceland

Another area of coast I explored is the Snæfellsnes which is north west of Reykjavik. On the way here you have to get past a large fjord, Borgarfjörður where I stopped for a brief photo stop. The main road goes under this in a tunnel (for which you have to pay a toll) or drive around (which takes about an hour, I opted for the tunnel).

Borgarfjörður at Borgarnes

Reaching the peninsula, right on the coast road around this peninsula you’ll pass Kirkjufell, a place you probably haven’t heard of but might recognise, it is much photographed!

Kirkjufell

The view in the other direction is not bad, either.

Kirkjufell

The road (road 54) around the peninsula is spectacular, I ended up stopping regularly, just to enjoy the views.

Road 54

I’m not sure what this place is called, but it is stunning.

Reflections on road 54

There are beautiful beaches, too (this one is near Ólafsvík).

The coast near Ólafsvík

Heading off the main road, along a gravel bumpy track I reached Skarðsvík where there is a sandy beach backed by lava cliffs.

Skarðsvík Beach

Skarðsvík Beach

Further around, I stopped at Djúpalónssandur. The view inland from the car park to the mountain of Snæfellsjökull is spectacular.

Snæfellsjökull from Djúpalónssandur

However it is the coast that drew me here. The short walk to the beach takes through the lava cliffs, which tower over either side.

The path to the beach at Djúpalónssandur

At the end of which you’ll emerge onto this spectacular beach.

The beach at Djúpalónssandur

You might spot some rusty metal remains on this part of the beach.

The beach at Djúpalónssandur

These are the wreck of a British fishing boat (I think originally from Hull) which ran aground here.

The beach at Djúpalónssandur

Djúpalónssandur

At the south western tip of the peninsula is Malariff lighthouse, which I thought looked a bit like a rocket poised to take off!

Malariff lighthouse

Alongside is another beach with lava cliffs.

Lava cliffs at Malariff

I continued around the south coast of the peninsula to Arnarstapi which has some amazing geology.

The coast at Arnarstapi

The coast at Arnarstapi

There is a nice walk around the coast from here to nearby Hellnar, around 3 miles away. This is another spectacular location, where there is a small harbour, I’m not sure if it’s still used.

Hellnar

Hellnar

Hellnar

My last stop along the coast was at Búðir.

Búðir

Here as you can see is a pretty church with the impressive mountains and cliffs that are just behind the coast (you can just see the coast near the right).

This is surrounded by lava fields, too.

Búðir

Moving on from the Snæfellsnes peninsula there is something that more or less every visitor to Iceland does. The Golden Circle tour. This is the only part of the country away from the capital that can feel busy, as it is very popular, though that is for a very good reason, because it’s stunning. I decided to follow a slightly longer route and in reverse with the aim of seeing a few of the slightly less visited sights and by going the other away avoiding much of the crowds.

First I stopped at the Kerið crater, where for a small fee you can walk around both the top and bottom (you can see the lower path below, too).

Kerið crater, Iceland

Next I stopped at the impressive Faxi waterfall.

Faxi Waterfall

Faxi Waterfall

You’ll find grass-roofed buildings in Iceland too, as here at Skálholt

Skálholt

Next stop for me was somewhere I had really looked forward to – the geothermal area at Strokkur. Here the Strokkur geyser erupts every few minutes. There are other geysers here too, though mostly they are dormant. I’d never seen a geyser before and it’s an experience I’ll not forget in a hury, as with a sudden (and loud whoosh), clouds of boiling water and steam erupt into the sky.

Strokkur Geyser erupting

Strokkur Geyser erupting

This is an interesting area to explore, heading up the hill not only could you get a good view back to the geyser, but to the valley beyond which looked a bit like the Peak District I thought.

Haukadalur, Iceland

Next I stopped at Gullfoss, a massive two-tiered waterfall.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall

Beyond the waterfall I stopped at Þingvellir National Park. Here once again is the chasm between the continents, which you can walk between.

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

It is an extraordinarily pretty place.

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park

It is historic too, because it’s also the site of the first parliament of Iceland, and there is a visitor centre which tells you a bit more about it.

I did do some walking too, one I particularly enjoyed was to Glymur waterfall. This was thought to be the tallest waterfall in Iceland until a slightly taller one was found in 2011. Nevertheless it is very spectacular and unlike the other waterfalls I’ve seen cannot be reached by car, you have to walk to reach it.

Early on in the walk you’ll need to cross the river. The crossing of the river can be a little challenge, as there isn’t a bridge, you have to cross this log, with nothing but a wobbly rope to help, and step over wet rocks at the far end. (I gather the log is removed in winter).

Botnsá river crossing

However if you make it across that safely you are soon reward with spectacular views down to the steep valley the river has created.

The river Botnsá gorge

You can just see the first glimpse of the waterfall ahead.

Once you are closer it is even more impressive.

Glymur Waterfall

Glymur waterfall

All these photos were of course taken during the day. However there is plenty to experience at night too. Iceland is far enough north that unless you visit in high summer (when it does not get dark enough), you are likely to be able to see the Northern Lights. The trick is to head away from any artificial light to an area where the sky is clear and hope that you are lucky (there are also forecasts of the magnetic activity to give you an idea of the likelihood of the lights appearing). As I wasn’t confident of a good place to go I went on a tour for this, which was certainly worth it, as we were rewarded with a sighting. The guide was also instructing us on the best camera settings to use to capture the spectacle and I was quite pleased with my attempts.

The Northern Lights above Þingvellir National Park

The Northern Lights above Þingvellir National Park

The Northern Lights above Þingvellir National Park

As it was around 2:30am by the time the tour finished, I was glad that most of the tour companies will collect you and drop you back directly at your hotel, as I was. It’s certainly a sight I won’t forget, and I hope I’m lucky enough to see the Northern Lights again some day.

I was stunned by Iceland and it’s a country I plan to go back to and explore further, hopefully many more times and I hope this whistle-stop tour has shown a few of the highlights of the coast and beyond.

There are a few practicalities – it does get very cold in winter and day light hours are limited in winter (but it is not so far north that there isn’t any daylight in winter), but this makes it a good time to see the Northern Lights. There can be a lot of snow and ice in winter too. In summer it is light until after midnight and so does not get dark enough to see the northern lights, but allows more time for sight-seeing and the highland roads are open. I opted for autumn in the hope of combining both as a compromise which worked quite well.

Everyone I encountered spoke excellent English so you probably won’t have to try your hand at Icelandic (it’s hard!). The currency is the Icelandic Kroner (ISK) and at the time of writing you get around 140 ISK for £1. Credit cards are near enough universally accepted. You’ll probably have to order money from your currency exchange, as most don’t seem to have Icelandic Kroner by default. Iceland has a reputation for being expensive and it’s certainly true. Food and drinks I found to be around 2-3 times the price you’d pay in the UK, hotels are around twice the price.  However many of the attractions are natural so you’ll not be spending a lot on admission charges (though there are some mostly small parking charges to pay).

Iceland is in the same time zone as the UK in winter, and 1 hour behind in summer (unlike the UK, they don’t move the clocks forward and backwards in spring and autumn but stay on the same time all year). It takes around 3 hours to fly there from the UK. Several airlines fly there from several airports in the UK, including Icelandair, British Airway, Easyjet and WOW. I flew back with Icelandair both times and outward with British Airways the first time and Easyjet the second. Icelandair even have a special Northern Lights themed plane (complete with lighting effects) and another themed on the Vatnajökull glacier you might be lucky enough to fly on (sadly I wasn’t).

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