205. Great Yarmouth to Hemsby

October 2009

It was a couple of months since my last coast walk, but I’d have a difficult time since then. A week before this walk I’d suddenly found myself unemployed having being made redundant from the job I’d had since leaving University 9 years previously.

The rot had set in about 3 years previously when the company I worked for took over another company. I worked for the UK office of an American-owned company and around this time the CEO of the company sent all employees an email informing then that effective immediately everyone’s salary would be cut by 5% and the company would no longer be making pension contributions. In addition staff were asked to volunteer for an additional 5% pay cut “salary sacrifice” in return for share options. Thankfully, this isn’t legal in the UK (though we were still pressured to agreeing to a “salary sacrifice”, an offer I declined), but it gives you an idea of the way the business was run and the value it placed on employees.

The company that was taken over had an office in Poland. My manager at the time was also Polish, and so he immediately began travelling regularly to Poland to recruit staff there. You can probably see where this was going, but pretty soon most new staff were only taken on in Poland, whilst the rest of the offices were hit by frequent rounds of redundancies and pay freezes. I was even sent to Poland in order to train what I had begun to realise where my replacements. When the recession hit in 2008, things got worse. By the time I was made redundant the office in London was down to about 1/3 the size it had been when I joined. In truth I’d stayed there too long. It was badly run, but I hadn’t known anything different and hating job interviews had stuck it out largely through inertia. It was only a few weeks before that I’d seen the writing on the wall and applied for a new job elsewhere (though I didn’t get it).

When the end came it was sudden. A few years previously an employee put on notice of redundancy had stolen customer data from the company. As a result of that, a change in policy was enacted meaning anyone who had been notified their job was at risk was immediately sent home, with their computer accounts all locked, to prevent a re-occurrence. I had seen that happen many times before, and now it was my turn to collect my things and leave. I returned only for a “consultation” meeting. At the consultation I was presented with a list of vacancies in the company, most of which were in Poland and nothing suitable in London, and asked if I wanted to apply for any of these jobs. Well the answer to that was no, and so that was the end of my employment there, but at least this policy meant I didn’t have to work my notice period, but still got paid for it.

Thankfully things worked out well for me. Due to the length of time I’d worked there, my redundancy payment was good (into 5 figures) and I got a new job in less than 1 month. My new job was not in London, was closer to home (so with a much shorter and cheaper commute), the working hours the same and the salary was higher. All of which meant that I ended up happier, better off and with more free time. So a good result in the end. In fact if I’d known I might have been tempted to stay out of work a little longer and do some more coastal walking!

However at the time of doing this walk I’d only been told of my redundancy a week previously, and so I hadn’t yet got another job and didn’t know how long I might be out of work for. As a result I was very reluctant to spend money on anything that wasn’t strictly necessary, including coastal walking. However I’d booked the train tickets (from London) for this walk before I knew I was to be made redundant. Since the tickets were not refundable anyway it made sense to go. I hoped a day at the coast would ease the stresses of the last couple of weeks.

I took the train to London, the tube to London Liverpool Street, the train from there to Norwich and lastly another train from Norwich to Great Yarmouth. Thankfully my journey went smoothly and I didn’t have any drunken passengers to deal with this time (unlike my previous walk).

I arrived at Great Yarmouth around 11:30am and it was a nice sunny day and quite warm for October.

Great Yarmouth

I’d debated what route to follow. Part of Great Yarmouth is on a narrow peninsula, with the river Yare on one side and the sea on the other. I could cut across the peninsula and continue north along the coast. However that would mean missing out a small section of the coast south of the town. I was tempted to do that, because most of this area was industrial (as I’d seen from the other bank of the river on my previous walk). But in the end I decided that to do so would be cheating, so I would walk around. This meant the first 3 miles or so of this walk would be along a busy A-road (the A1243) through an industrial area, not a welcome prospect.

So from the station I crossed the footbridge over the River Bure, another small river that flowed into the Yare here. This soon took me to the road (a B-road, initially). It did have a pavement and I continued a short distance to the bridge over the river Yare (Haven Bridge), which I’d crossed last time.

Great Yarmouth

From now on the road ahead was now the A1243, so there was more traffic. I soon passed a grand building, which turned out to be the Council offices.

Great Yarmouth

The area was a mix of residential, business and light industry, and soon the buildings on my right ended, so I had a view of the river.

There wern’t any buildings on the right of the road now, meaning I had a view of the river to my right and the streets were cobbled. It was turning out better than I’d expected from the map.

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth

I passed an old boat now moored up that a sign told me was the largest “Steam Drifter” and was on the National Historic Ships Register. The sign also told me it was open to the public May – October and admission was free (donations welcome). However a hand-written “closed” sign was pinned to the board, so I wasn’t able to look inside.

Continuing south there were soon bigger and more industrial ships moored up beside the quay, though there were still grand buildings on the land side.

Great Yarmouth docks

One was the “Great Yarmouth Port Authority”, and the building next to it the “Port and Haven Commissioners Office”. Clearly this was quite a busy port.

Great Yarmouth

Most of the ships were empty, one large one said it was from Mumbai.

Great Yarmouth docks

As I continued south the buildings on the left now were houses. However soon after this, there was industry on my right, blocking views of the river and soon industry on my left too. This part was pretty rim. There was nothing attractive to see and the road was dusty and dirty. At least it did still have a pavement.

I walked quickly, keen to get out of this area and back to the sea. As I neared the south end of this peninsula, the pavement ended. Thankfully traffic had not been busy (I had feared it would be), because it was the weekend and most of the businesses down here were closed.

At last I reached the end of the peninsula and turned left with the road briefly heading east, and then turning left again heading north now on the eastern side of the peninsula, with the sea to my right. The name of the road changed too, now it was “South Beach Parade”. A look at the map suggested I should be able to get onto the beach here. But it was all hidden off, behind high temporary fencing, secured in place with concrete weights. I was annoyed at this, because I could see a nice beach behind, but I couldn’t get to it.

I read a planning notice which told me the beach was now being turned over to industry, with a new port and harbour being built on the beach. So this beautiful beach was about to be concreted over (which has since happened) to allow for an expansion of the port. It seemed very short-sighted to destroy part of the thing that the town (being a major resort) largely owed it’s existence too – the beach.

None of this was shown on the map I had (though it is now) so I had no idea how far the beach was closed off for. In the end it was about 3/4 of a mile and the pavement was also blocked off behind the barrier, so I was forced to walk in the road. Again there wasn’t much traffic but most of it was lorries and vans. It was not pleasant and I was very glad when at last the barriers ended and I could head down onto the beach.

Great Yarmouth

Ahh that’s better. Now there was a lovely (and largely deserted) sandy beach, backed by dunes, though I could see the rides of a fun-fair not far ahead.

Great Yarmouth

I walked along the beach now enjoying finally being past all that industry. The amount of industry in Great Yarmouth had surprised me. I knew it as a resort and had not expected to find it so industrial, but at least that part was behind me.

I continued along the beach soon passing the rides of the pleasure beach (though I did not leave the beach to investigate them) and beyond that Wellington Pier.

The pier was a bit pathetic to be honest. The main building didn’t even reach 1/3 of the way over the dry sand at the back of the beach. Beyond that were the wooden supports which presumably once supported the rest of the pier, but no longer did. I was surprised they had not been removed, it was a bit of an eye-sore.

Great Yarmouth

Just past the end of the pier was a nicer looking glass pavilion type building, though I couldn’t see what it was used for from the beach.

Great Yarmouth

Just beyond this pier was another dis-used and derelict pier.

Great Yarmouth

I’m not sure what this was but signs warned “Dangerous Structure, Keep Out” whilst most of the under side was fenced off, to prevent you walking underneath it. Thankfully the tide was far enough out I could just about squeeze round the end of it without getting wet feet from the waves (this pier has since been demolished). So far I wasn’t seeing much apart from the beach that was great about Great Yarmouth.

A quarter of a mile further on and I reached another pier. This one is Britannia Pier.

Great Yarmouth

This pier was slightly longer – the waves were just lapping at the very end supports of the pier. It was full of rides and so because of this it was quite wide and so I didn’t fancy walking under it and so headed briefly to the promenade to get around it.

The entrance to the pier was very gaudy.

Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth

There was also a theatre on the pier. I found when I was at Blackpool that it was once considered the best possible booking for a celebrity to get a booking for the end of pier theatre for the summer season in a major resort (like Blackpool or Great Yarmouth). Now the names were mostly has-beens it seemed. Prime billing seemed to be The Chuckle Brothers (to me, to you), with other names including Jim Davidson, Roy Chubby Brown, Cannon and Ball, Joe Pasquale, Jimmy Carr and an Elvis tribute act. Times have certainly changed!

I did however walk to the end of the pier where I could enjoy views of the coast to come and where I had walked already.

Great Yarmouth

The pier largely seemed deserted. The rides not running with the attendants looking bored waiting for the next customer that didn’t seem to be coming.

After passing the pier, I returned to the beach, which was now a mixture of sand (mostly) with a little bit of shingle in places.

Great Yarmouth

There were a few people about, but it was far from crowded and I didn’t have to go far from the pier until I was the only person on the beach and my footsteps the only ones in the sand.

The beach at Great Yarmouth

It was clear I was leaving Great Yarmouth now. The beach was nice, but there wasn’t a lot else great about the place. The beach was soon backed by dunes and I could no longer see any buildings, and the beach was largely deserted. This was more like it, and I was enjoying the walk now.

The beach near Caister-on-Sea

It was however quite windy and the sunshine from earlier was gone, replaced by fast moving clouds, which were beginning to look rather threatening. A heavy shower passed just out to sea, narrowly avoiding me, after which the sky began to brighten up again.

The beach near Caister-on-Sea

I soon reached a lifeboat station at the back of the beach and checking the map I could see this was the first building of the next town, Caister-on-Sea. I’d never heard of it so I didn’t think there would be much to see there, so I continued on the beach.

The beach near Caister-on-Sea

With the town came wooden groynes along the beach. Thankfully these were low enough I could just step over them and of an unusual zig-zag design I’ve not see anywhere else.

The beach near Caister-on-Sea

The beach near Caister-on-Sea

Sadly as I got further south the coastal defences became more obstructive, where large boulders had been put on the beach, forming much larger groynes. I could just about squeeze past these on the beach, but I had to time it right between the waves to keep dry feet.

The beach near Caister-on-Sea

Soon I’d reached the end of Caister-on-Sea and I had the beach to myself again. The dunes had become higher and were now forming low cliffs.

The beach near Caister-on-Sea

Now I had two options. There was a footpath marked on the map on the top of the cliffs (but experience had taught me that it might not exist), or I could continue on the beach.  I opted for the latter. The path on the cliff top is now part of the Norfolk Coast Path, but at the time I did this walk it started from Cromer (it has since been extended south to Great Yarmouth). So the path on the cliff top certainly does exist now.

The beach at California

I continued along the beach until I reached the next village, a little under a mile further north. I found I’d now reached somewhere called California. Now I’d always thought California was a US state on the west coast of America. But it turns out it’s also a small village on the Norfolk coast too – who knew?

Well a quick look around told me it certainly wasn’t as glamorous as it’s American namesake. I found a run down looking (and closed) amusement arcade and a closed chippy.

California

California

So I quickly made a retreat and returned to the beach.

Boulders had been placed at the back of the beach, in front of the cliffs, in an attempt to control the erosion. Thankfully the tide was out enough I could walk in front of this, on the firm sand. It was clear from looking at the cliffs, they were still eroding pretty quickly. I could see houses very close to the edge, fences disappearing over the edge and garden sheds looking like they were imminently going to follow suit.

The coast at Scratby

Definitely not somewhere to buy a house!

Part way along here I had left California (that didn’t take long) and reached the rather less glamorous sounding Scratby.

The coast at Scratby

I was surprised to see a footpath had been built up to the cliff top from the beach, given how unstable the cliffs looked. Curiosity got the better of me, so I followed it to the cliff top.

The coast at Scratby

I enjoyed the view from here, of the sandy beaches either side, and I could see ahead the rocks dumped at the bottom of the beach soon ended. I tried to walk along the cliff top, passing a car park but the road soon turned left inland, and there was no path ahead.

Scratby

Rather than head back I continued around the corner with the road hoping I could get back to the coast, or find a path. However the first road on the right (more a dusty dirt track called The Promenade) had a sign warning “No Access to Beach” and a sign for vehicles “Access only”. It looked like it was a waste of time trying to go that way, so I decided the best option was to turn back and return down the steps to the beach.

The beach at Hemsby

Out to see there were some wind turbines and I could see a rain shower around them.

The beach at Hemsby

I was lucky again, that the worst of missed me, with only some light rain falling on the beach.

I continued north on the lovely sandy beach. Soon I’d left Scratby and entered Newport (no, not the one in Wales, or the Isle of Wight, there is one in Norfolk too, I found).

I continued on the beach as Newport seemed to merge, with no obvious boundary, into Hemsby.

The beach at Hemsby

Hemsby has made the news in recent years. The cliffs are soft and sandy (large sand dunes, really). Earlier this year (2018) homes to the north of the town were left teetering on the cliffs edge after a storm. Some later started to collapse and were subsequently demolished. A similar problem occurred in 2013 when several homes were destroyed or undermined during storms. Certainly not a place I would want to live, but it’s a reminder of how quickly the sea can erode the coast (and that it’s really not a good idea to buy a cliff top home on soft and rapidly eroding cliffs).

However I left passing the area that was worst effected by these storms for my next walk, as I ended this walk in Hemsby, as I planned to catch the bus back from here. At the lifeboat station slipway I headed up the beach to the main street in Hemsby. It was very clear this too is very much a holiday resort. The street was lined with gaudy amusement arcades and takeaways.

Hemsby

Hemsby

Between these were holiday parks of caravans and chalets. On the right I passed a very large and now deserted holiday camp. This was the large Pontins Hemsby holiday camp, which had closed earlier that year (2009). At the time of writing (2018) little has changed, though there now seem plans to re-develop the site into a mixture of houses and holiday accommodation.

I was not quite sure where the bus stopped. It turns out Hemsby is marked as once place on the map but it seems to actually be two places, Hemsby Beach at the coast and the older village centre (Hemsby) which is over half a mile inland. It turns out it is the latter place the buses stop at, and I eventually found a bus stop near the large church. From here I took the bus back to Great Yarmouth where I changed onto the train back home.

This was a walk of two halves really. The first half around all the industry at Great Yarmouth was not pleasant and I was glad when I could eventually reach the beach (later than planned). Great Yarmouth didn’t seem very great to me, and I was glad to leave it behind. From here it was a nice walk, mostly on the beaches further north past numerous villages which mostly seemed to be holiday villages of chalets and caravans. Having commented on how pretty all the villages (and towns) I’d encountered in Suffolk were I was a bit disappointing by the ugly villages on this part of the Norfolk coast. The beaches were lovely however, despite the odd intrusion from coastal defences. However I’d certainly seen why they were necessary given the rapid erosion of the cliffs here (though I suspect they just slow the pace of erosion a bit, rather than stop it). After all the stresses I’d had in the last few weeks, this was just what I needed, a nice long beach walk and I felt much better by the end.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

First Eastern Counties bus 1/1A (Coastal Clipper) : Martham – HemsbyScratby (1A/1B only) – Caister-on-Sea – Great Yarmouth – Gorleston – Hopton – Corton – Lowestoft. Twice per hour, Monday – Saturday (increasing to 4 per hour in the peak summer season). Hourly on Sundays (and twice an hour on summer Sundays). It takes around 30 minutes to travel between Hemsby and Great Yarmouth.

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

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204. Great Yarmouth to Lowestoft

August 2009

Once again for this walk, I’m going from North to South, though on this occasion. That means I’m actually starting from a different county from my previous walk, Norfolk (rather than Suffolk), and I’ll be passing the most easterly point of Britain on the way. So this walk means I both complete a new county (Suffolk) and pass a new compass point on the coast. A walk of 2 milestones!

I was travelling by train for this walk. Once again I’d booked cheap “Advance” tickets outward to Great Yarmouth and returning from Lowestoft. Given it’s August, Saturday, the school holidays and a sunny day as well you might expect these tickets to be expensive but nope, £7.10 each way from London. I took the train from my local station to London Waterloo, the tube to London Liverpool Street, then a train from London Liverpool Street to Norwich. At Norwich I changed onto a train to Great Yarmouth.

The rail lines eastwards from Norwich are called the Wherry Lines. One of these lines goes to Great Yarmouth and the other to Lowestoft, so I’ll be using them both today. However unusually there is also a section of track further east, that connects the line to Lowestoft with the one to Great Yarmouth. This allows trains to set off on the line to Lowestoft but turn north and instead reach Great Yarmouth. Most trains don’t go that way, but the one I happen to have caught does. There is a single station along that section of track, called Berney Arms.

It’s unusual for two reasons, it’s one of a very small number of railway stations that has no road access and it’s also one of very few railway stations named after pubs. Not surprisingly, few people use the station and every day apart from Sunday only two trains each way are scheduled to call (and it is a request stop). Curiously on Sunday the service is more frequent than the rest of the week. No trains call after dark, because there are no lights.

There is very little at Berney Arms. At the time I did this walk there was the pub (it has since closed), which could only be reached on foot, by train or by boat along a river (part of the Broads I think) and was apparently popular with boaters and walkers (though clearly not popular enough, given it’s now closed). The other attractions is the Berney Arms windmill. This is owned by English Heritage but sadly is only open to pre-booked groups only. Thought the station is close to the Wherryman’s Way, a long distance walk. There is a farm, and that’s it. No other buildings are close by.

So I was surprised to find that the station had been requested and the train I was on did indeed stop there.

Berney Arms station

There were quite a few people waiting to get on and I did manage to get a picture through the very dirty windows (I’m not sure what that man is doing, though!), they looked like they had been walking.

I did in fact go back a few years later and get off there and go for a walk, finishing in Reedham (which is less remote). You can see how remote the station is from photos I took on the day.

Berney Arms station

Berney Arms station

It was a lovely walk, but it did make me wonder what happened if the train was cancelled. That actually happened to a family a couple of years ago (in May 2016) when the train they wanted to catch home was unable to call at Berney Arms due to a points failure. Now normally that might lead to a rail replacement bus being laid on, or perhaps a taxi. But when a station has no road that is not an option. In this case, the family ended up calling the police after several subsequent trains failed to arrive and ended up being rescued by the lifeboat! Not what you might expect when waiting for a train.

The passengers joining at Berney Arms got onto an already extremely crowded train. I guess that is the problem of coming to a popular coastal resort on a sunny August weekend, lots of other people want to go there too. That means the train was very full with all the seats taken and people standing by the time it left Norwich. I did get a seat, but had the misfortune to get an already extremely drunken man sit next to me. He spent most of the journey telling me about his plans for the day, which involved visiting various pubs in Great Yarmouth. They are very cheap he told me enthusiastically and that he did this most weekends (I could well believe it). Having asked about my plans, he suggested that I could “meet him at the pub later for a few drinks”. I guess he didn’t really understand that I was walking to Lowestoft and that Lowestoft is not in fact Great Yarmouth. Therefore I won’t be back in Great Yarmouth at the end of the day. He couldn’t seem to grasp this (probably due to his very drunken state). Despite this, he insisted on writing down his telephone number on the back of my train ticket so I could call him later if I fancied a drink with him (I agreed that might be nice, whilst thinking that it would be anything but!).

I was relieved when the train pulled into Great Yarmouth and I could escape the crowds and the very drunken man! Great Yarmouth is on the river Yare, which flows out to sea at the south of the town. The station is by the river, which is half a mile from the sea. So to walk south along the coast from Great Yarmouth means walking south along the beach for a little over 2 miles to reach the river mouth then turning back alongside the river for another 2 miles to reach the bridge by the station. Rather than do that today I decided to do that next time, as I didn’t have time to do that as well and get to Lowestoft in time for my train home. So instead I’d leave the town by heading south along the landward side of the river instead.

The river Yare around the station seemed to be surrounded by a lot of industry, a lot of it seemingly derelict and disused.

The River Yare, Great Yarmouth

Before heading south along the river though I wanted to at least see the sea in the town. So I followed the roads east from the river passing a couple of nice old buildings, to reach the sea.

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth had a large sandy beach, two piers and a cinema that was now rather garish and looked as if it might once have been a theatre or concert hall.

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth beach

Great Yarmouth beach

Great Yarmouth

Having had a view of the coast I headed back to the river, to the south most bridge over it, noticing this time that there was also a large thatched barn beside the river, in amongst more modern industrial buildings, it looked rather out of place!

Thatched barn, Great Yarmouth

Crossing the bridge, there is no footpath alongside the river, so I have to had a bit further inland along the road, a few hundred metres inland from the river and through an industrial area.

The River Yare, Great Yarmouth

The River Yare, Great Yarmouth

From what I’d seen so far, Great Yarmouth did not seem all the great.

The road soon had houses on one side, with industry on the river side. After a mile or so I could finally reach the banks of the river.

The River Yare, Great Yarmouth

There wasn’t much of a view really, industry on both sides. I hadn’t expected so much industry here, I’d always thought this was a resort rather than industrial area.

Looking ahead too there where wharfes, tanks cranes and boats – more industry.

The River Yare, Great Yarmouth

I continued intermittently beside the river, as it was often blocked from sight by more industry. I passed a message sprayed onto a metal fence beside the river, presumably alluding to French fisherman.

The River Yare, Great Yarmouth

The industry continued for another mile or so to the river mouth.

The River Yare, Great Yarmouth

The River Yare, Great Yarmouth

After 2 miles of pavement pounding through industry it was a relief to be clear of the industry, and the surrounds almost instantly changed from industry to resort.

Gorleston-on-Sea

Now I’d reached Gorleston-on-Sea and was at last almost back by the sea.

It seemed quite a pleasant place with this unusual brick lighthouse and I could watch a large tanker leaving Great Yarmouth and heading for the open sea.

Lighthouse beside the river Yare, Gorleston-on-Sea

Time for one last look alongside this industrial river.

The River Yare meets the sea

Ahead I could see the “Sea” part alluded to in the name of the town, as the breakwater beside the river ended ahead.

Gorleston-on-Sea

Soon I had reached the beach. It was a lovely sandy beach and it was very crowded – well it is August I suppose.

The beach at Gorleston-on-Sea

I passed a pleasant little fountain and lake behind the beach. I liked Gorleston-on-Sea it felt a bit more upmarket than Great Yarmouth and more peaceful.

The beach at Gorleston-on-Sea

I soon headed down onto the beach and began walking south along the beach. As usually happens the crowd on the beach soon thinned out.

The beach at Gorleston-on-Sea

I continued along the firm sand near the waves as the beach became increasingly large and less crowded and I stopped for lunch on a peaceful stretch of the beach.

The beach at Gorleston-on-Sea

I then continued south as I soon left the town behind and the beach began to be backed by grassy cliffs.

The beach south of Gorleston-on-Sea

Soon there was only one other person visible ahead and sandy beach as far as the eye can see.

The beach south of Gorleston-on-Sea

When people hear about walk around the coast of Britain they often seem to think that most of the coast is like this (perhaps because beaches are the only places they visit on the coast). In fact, as I’ve found, it isn’t, but that makes me appreciate these lovely stretches of beach all the more.

It is always a nice to find a quiet sandy beach on a fine August weekend, it just shows you don’t have to go far from roads and car parks to find a deserted stretch of coast, even at the busiest of times.

The beach north of Hopton-on-Sea

I took my shoes off and continues barefoot along the beach. There were a few wooden groynes about that I had to climb over but they wern’t high enough to cause me a problem.

The beach north of Hopton-on-Sea

After about a mile, I began to see people again, as I had now reached Hopton-on-Sea. This seemed to be a place mostly devoted to tourism, with a vast caravan park behind the beach.

The beach north of Hopton-on-Sea

I continued along the beach through Hopton-on-Sea.

The beach north of Hopton-on-Sea

As I headed further south the beach narrowed (I think the tide was coming in), until ahead the sea was splashing up the sea wall. So that was the end of my walk along the beach here.

The beach north of Hopton-on-Sea

I put my shoes back on and headed up onto the promenade behind instead, intending to follow that instead. I didn’t get very far until I came across this.

Closed promenade at Hopton-on-Sea

Ah. This is more of a problem. Especially the rather vague “Please use alternative route” (wouldn’t it be nice if they could find room amongst all those warning notices to put up a map of the alternative).

Normally when faced with such a sign, I ignore it. But here sturdy fencing had been built, making it very difficult to get past (as it is the sort of wire that is hard to climb). So I had to turn back the other way but thankfully after a short distance there were steps up from the promenade up the grassy cliffs to the cliff top, where I found there was a footpath. That was a relief – but why not put up a sign at the bottom indicating that?

The beach at Hopton-on-Sea

Now I was following a footpath alongside the edge of a golf course. The sea wall that was closed abruptly ended and below me were natural cliffs. However, about 20 metres from the base of the cliffs had been erected a long wooden wall parallel with the cliffs.

The beach at Hopton-on-Sea

I assume it was to act as coastal defence for these clearly very soft cliffs. However it was very ugly and it meant there was no access to the sea from the beach behind this wall (assuming you could get down to it, anyway) and the beach looked dirty, with debris and mud from the cliffs which presumably didn’t get washed away by the sea because of the wall.

The beach at Hopton-on-Sea

Inland, and looking back, I could see a ruined church with the tower still standing, but daylight visible through the windows. This is St Margarets Church according to the map, but I’m not sure how it came to be ruined.

Ruines of St Margarets Church, Hopton-on-Sea

I continued south on the cliff top path. Now below me the wooden sea wall had ended, to be replaced by boulders dumped on the beach, leaving no sand visible at all.

The coast near Hopton-on-Sea

I suppose this helps prevent the erosion, which I suspect would otherwise be very rapid, but it’s certainly not pretty. Somewhere along here I had also crossed from Norfolk to Suffolk (perhaps where the boulders began).

I continued south along the cliff top path to reach the small village of Corton, where the path ended and I had to head along the road a little back from the coast.

Corton

Initially I had to follow this road, but soon there was a path left, down some steps at the sea wall and onto the beach.

The beach was again covered with boulders (perhaps there is some sand at low tide), and the remains of wooden groynes. Weirdly, in amongst this were some much larger boulders. I’m not sure if these are part of the defences, or part of the cliff that has broken off.

The coast at Corton

I turned right along the sea wall, but I didn’t get far, before debris from the cliff had fallen down onto the promenade, blocking it.

The coast at Corton

Here the path wasn’t closed and there were no warning signs (I suspect the Council were not aware of it, or I’m sure we’d have another sturdy barrier blocking it off). So I walked over it, to resume on the sea wall as I rounded the corner. Here the sea wall and coastal defences ended and I was now back on the beach, which was no longer covered with boulders.

The beach at Corton

There were more of those odd rocks out to sea, but it was now clear they were the remains of some sort of defence, probably the old sea wall, before this promenade was built.

I continued south along the beach this time keeping my shoes on because not only was it now mostly shingle, signs warned of “sharp spikes near groynes” which didn’t sound pleasant to stand on without shoes (and perhaps not with, either).

The beach at Corton

There was enough of a line of firm sand to make the walking easy, though.

The beach at Corton

Ahead I soon began to pass more remains of the old sea wall, broken up bits of concrete on the beach. It is clear erosion is a big problem on this part of the east coast and actions to control it only really buy a little more time, you can never really stop it.

The beach at Gunton

I could follow the beach for about a mile where I reached the edge of the town of Gunton, This is a suburb of Lowestoft really, now. Here there was now a concrete sea wall again. I stuck to the beach below it for a short while, past more remnants of former sea walls. Sadly I soon had to abandoned the beach walking again as the beach was once again covered by boulders.

The beach at Gunton

So I headed onto the sea wall, which had a path all the way south to Lowestoft. Looking inland there was an unusual lighthouse, built just below the top of the cliffs, it was quite a grand looking lighthouse.

Gunton

A couple of hundred metres beyond this, the view inland had turned to industry. Another couple of hundred metres beyond this and I had reached the most easterly point of mainland Britain, Ness Point.

Ness Point, Lowestoft

It was sadly somewhat underwhelming. You might imagine a wind-blown beach backed by dunes, perhaps with a lighthouse and some crashing waves. What in fact you get is a rather bleak concrete promenade mostly surrounded by industry, with a metal circle on the ground showing points to various other places.

From this I learnt that it is 106 miles from London (where I was, earlier in the day), 968 miles from Sarajevo, 490 from Berlin, 1070 from Minsk and 491 from Copenhagen. Some other points around the British coast, such as Dunnet Head (the most northerly point) were also marked (the latter being 472 miles, almost as far as Copenhagen, I learnt).

Ness Point, Lowestoft

However it wasn’t really a place I felt like I wanted to linger, I was a bit disappointed. Looking ahead, I had this view. I think you can see what I mean when I say it’s a bit bleak?

Ness Point, Lowestoft

Boulders covering any beach that might exist, ugly industrial buildings behind and to cap it all just ahead I could see the sea wall was blocked off by concrete wall and fences.

So I now had to turn away from the coast and follow roads through the industry. This took me down to the A12 and passed the docks. I had now reached Lowestoft and the station, my end point.

As I had a bit of time to spare before my train I continued the short distance south to the South Pier, where I went last time.

Lowestoft Harbour

This time the “pop up” fountains where working and, rather bizarrely and for reasons I didn’t find out, surrounded by daleks. Well of course they were.

South Pier, Lowestoft

They were proving very popular with the children though, most of whom were in swimming clothes, but some in now sodden t-shirts and trousers.

I continued down to the beach beyond. It was quite busy, but nothing like as busy as Great Yarmouth. It was nice to end at a sandy beach here though, not industry.

Lowestoft Marina

I headed down onto the beach and had a refreshing paddle at the end of my walk and sat on the beach for a while, until it was time to head for the station and the train home.

Lowestoft beach

Lowestoft beach

I’d now joined the point I ended my last walk and (since I started in Norfolk), I’d now completed the coast of another county, Suffolk.

Now it was time to head to the station. My fear was the train was going to be very crowded and I might not be able to get on it. Thankfully, whilst it was quite busy, it was not overcrowded, unlike the train this morning (and I didn’t get anyone very drunk sat next to me on the way back).

Lowestoft Station

It was a pleasant journey back to Norwich and onwards to London and my trains ran on time.

This had been a mixed walk. I was disappointed with Great Yarmouth. I had expected an attractive Victorian resort with a nice sandy beach. What I found instead was miles of run-down industry beside the river. However once past that it was a glorious walk along good sandy beaches, only spoiled by the coastal defences that had blocked the beach for a few miles, or covered it with boulders. Lowestoft too had been a disappointment, as had the most easterly point. It was bleak and industrial, but at least I’d been able to continue past this to the beach beyond, which was a far more pleasant place to end. It was also another milestone walk because this also meant I had completed the coast of Suffolk.

I’d quite enjoyed Suffolk. Looking back on Suffolk I’ll remember the exceptionally pretty villages, the remote and wild stretches of coast (especially Orford Ness). The numerous muddy estuaries to the south of the county, the fine areas of heathland and the pretty resort of Southwold. Whilst Suffolk has an official coast path, it was though a disappointment, too often meandering off inland, far from the coast (though I had mostly managed to find a more coastal route when it had done so). Still I was looking forward to seeing what Norfolk had to offer and I also knew that further north there was the Norfolk Coast Path (a National Trail, like the South West Coast Path) so I hoped this would make navigation and planning my walks easier.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

First Eastern Counties bus route X11 : Norwich – Bracondale – Acle – Great Yarmouth – Gorleston – Hopton – Gunton – Lowestoft. Buses run every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday and take around 45 minutes between the towns. On Sundays the service runs hourly.

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

Posted in Norfolk, Suffolk | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

203. Lowestoft to Southwold

June 2009

I’m nearing the end of Suffolk now, as my start point for this walk, Lowestoft is only a few miles south from the border with Norfolk. It is also almost 9 months since my previous walk on the coast of Suffolk. I’d not stopped walking the coast but rather I’d started going to different parts of the coast generally depending on where I could get a cheap train ticket to visit (or where there weren’t engineering works), rather than strictly walking the coast in order (even though I’m writing them up in order).

This time I’m walking south rather than north. That is largely because there are fewer trains to Halesworth, the nearest station to Southwold and the choice was either 7:38am (earlier than I’d like) or 9:38am (later than I’d like). So I decided instead to begin from Lowestoft and walk south to Southwold. I also planned it this way so that if I arrive earlier than I need to be in Southwold (to get home) I have time to explore this pretty town. If I did so at the start I would have to be careful to plan enough time to complete the walk.

I take the train from home to London Waterloo and the tube across to London Liverpool Street station where I take the 9am train to Norwich. There are two rail routes to Lowestoft. The direct route (which at the time ran once every 2 hours) or an indirect route via Norwich, which runs hourly. Oddly, the latter route is quicker despite the extra change, so that is the way I’m going today. So I took the train to Norwich, which is a nice long train with a buffet car, which makes a nice change, as it means I can have a cup of tea on the way.

From there I changed onto the local train to Lowestoft along one route of what are known as “The Wherry Lines“. My train arrives on time at the slightly faded and probably once grand railway station, which still bares a ceramic sign on the side of the station announcing it as “British Railways Lowestoft Central”, though these days the station no longer has the “Central” suffix, since the other station in Lowestoft closed. Lowestoft is also the most easterly railway station in the UK, a reminder that I’m nearing the most easterly point of the UK, which I’ll reach on my next walk.

I’d never been to Lowestoft before and it seems a much larger place than I was expecting. The road outside the station also seems very unusual (it was the A12, it has since been renumbered the A47, for some reason) in that it has 3 lanes in total, 2 for traffic in one direction and 1 in the opposite direction, but the direction of traffic on the centre lane can be reversed, with signs above the lanes indicating which way to go. It’s not a system I recall seeing anywhere else in the UK before.

From the station I turn right where the road crosses the inner harbour on a bridge. The inner harbour is connected further inland to Oulton Broad which flows out to the sea here (I must be nearing Nortfolk,  as the Broads are very much associated with Norfolk, not Suffolk). It is quite a big port with a lot of industry on either side but once across the river the town seems to switch to be more leisure orientated.

I pass a marina and then reach the East Point Pavilion which seem to house the Tourist Information Centre and looks to have one of those fountains where sprays of water pop up out of the ground in front of it, but it is turned off (or broken) today.

Lowestoft station

Just behind this is the South Pier Family Entertainment Centre, which seems now to occupy one of the arms of the harbour wall rather than be a pier as such.

South Pier, Lowestoft

Just south of this is the start of the sandy South Beach. Although it’s overcast it is at least reasonably warm and there are a few families out enjoying the beach.

The beach at Lowestoft

It seems to be more or less high tide since there is not much sand between the waves and the sea wall, but what there is all soft sand.

There is a promenade here and I follow that south soon reaching another pier. This one is more what I expect a pier to look like and is known as Claremont Pier and it’s south of the South Pier (how confusing!).

The beach at Lowestoft

The pier building at the landward end is very ugly, but I’m hoping to walk to the end of the pier, as I like to do. Sadly as I get closer I can see this isn’t possible. Most of the seaward and of the pier is fenced off, with only a couple of metres accessible beyond the building. The rest is derelict and has no railings on either side. In fact the pier had been put up for sale by the current owners a couple of years previously, but was never sold.

Beyond the pier, the promenade is lined with rather uniform beach huts, painted red, blue, yellow, green in a repeating sequence. I prefer the rather more individually decorated beach huts at Southwold, which have more character.

Beach huts at Lowestoft

As I head further south the beach gets wider and so I leave the promenade and head down onto the beach instead.

The beach at Lowestoft

Up on the cliffs to the right is a large building. Part of it looks like it was (or is) a grand hotel the other is a horrible 1960s concrete building, but I later found it is not a hotel now, but an office and laboratory.

The beach at Lowestoft

The beach was still mostly soft sand and hard going so I soon returned to the promenade. However this soon ended but there was now a footpath which continued along the coast. This passed in front of a large church, which is right on the coast.

Pakefield Church, Lowestoft

The beach has now changed from sand to mostly shingle, with an area of dunes at the back of the beach and some more beach launched fishing boats beyond that. It is a grey and misty day and much of Lowestoft is now disappearing into the haze behind me.

The coast near Lowestoft

About 500 metres beyond this the Suffolk Coast Path diverts inland, though a footpath is marked on the map as continuing along the coast, so I follow that. Soon the footpath enters a caravan site where the footpath just seems to drop down onto the beach and end. I guess the route of the footpath marked on the map has been lost to erosion. About a mile and a half further south is the town of Kessingland.

The official route of the coast path takes a particularly un-appealing route, alongside the busy A12 trunk road for a mile then along the B1437 before finally returning to the shore at Kessingland. So I don’t really want to go that way. Although it appeared to be about high tide when I arrived at Lowestoft, the tide is now going out. It looks to me like I will be able to get along the beach and I know I’m not at risk of being cut off with the tide going out. So I decide a preferable route is to walk along the beach instead.

The coast near Kessingland

So that is what I do, but it turns out to be hard work because the sand has all gone now, replaced by shingle, which is hard to walk on. I battle along for a while but behind the beach are low sand-stone cliffs. These are incredibly soft and pretty low and they seem to be eroding very quickly. Where they are eroding, they have created a narrow line of sand at the back of the beach, with pebbles underneath. So I walk along this little bit of sand as much as possible, the profile of the cliffs are such that the sand would slide down them rather than fall off on me, so it felt quite safe.

The coast near Kessingland

In places dunes are starting to form where so much sand has buried the shingle. I can also see a dog walker ahead of me on the beach so I can at least follow the way he goes.

The coast near Kessingland

After a while the line of sand at the back of the beach gets wider and wider until the beach is about 50% sand and 50% shingle (the latter at the shoreline). It is quite odd and now I can see why people tell me that Southwold varies between sand and shingle.

The coast near Kessingland

There is evidence of cliffs falls all along the cliffs ahead,. They are now getting higher and seem to be changing to a greyer type of rock (or clay) ahead. By this point I’ve stopped walking right at the base of the cliffs, because there is now more sand, the cliffs are much higher and steeper so the danger of rock falls seems much greater now.

The cliffs are clearly very soft, there is little vegetation on them and at the top I can see what I presume is a building left from World War II perched right on the edge, almost over hanging.

The coast near Kessingland

The beach is rather beautiful now. Lowestoft is a long way behind me. There are pretty cliffs, a nice sandy beach and few people about just me and the sound of the waves to my left.

The coast near Kessingland

I am enjoying having the beach to my self, but it doesn’t last as I approach Kessingland. Here there are families on the beach, but it is still not exactly crowded.

The coast near Kessingland

Having passed the soft eroding cliffs earlier when I look back to Kessingland it looks as if the beach is growing here. There is a lot of sand and shingle between me and the low cliffs and from the amount of marram grass taking hold on the shingle and sand it does not look as if the sea ever reaches the back of the beach.

The coast near Kessingland

Behind the beach are gently sloping grassy cliffs with houses on the top, the first houses of Kessingland.

I continue south and the beach really is huge here. Much of the sand and shingle has largely grassed over, and it stretches for about 300 metres inland to the low grassy cliffs.

The coast near Kessingland

The coast near Kessingland

As I continue south though the beach starts to narrow again. The official route of the Suffolk Coast Path has rejoined the back of the beach now, but from the shore where I am it’s route is not obvious and so I continue to make my way over the sand and shingle heading south.

I soon reach a caravan site on the left, the last structures of Kessingland. Ahead there is a large structure, a pumping station at the mouth of the Hundred River. The official Suffolk Coast Path goes along in front of this (as do I), where the path briefly goes between fences, to emerge on the beach beyond.

Just after this, the official coast path takes another of its inland diversions, this time to go past a pond, New Cut Drain. However past this it heads even further inland, to follow roads and tracks all the way into Southwold. At times, it is over 2 miles from the coast. Not really a coast path, then.

I check on the map and it looks to me that it is possible to walk on the beach all the way to Southwold, at least at low tide (and I know the tide is going out). The issue is that immediately behind the beach are three large lakes (broads), that seems to stretch right down to the beach. None of them have a stream or channel of water flowing out onto the beach according to the map (but it does make me wonder where the water does go). So I hope it is possible to walk along the shore.

The first of the broads (Benacre Broad) is the largest and it’s about half a mile away. I decide that I will try to walk along the beach past this. If I can get past, I will be confident about getting past the others (and there are a couple of roads and paths that head down to the coast beyond, so I can use these to get back to the official route if I’m wrong).

So that is what I do, continue along the beach. Once again, it varies between sand and shingle but there is usually a line of sand at the base of the cliffs.

The coast near Kessingland

Ahead though I soon reach my first problem. The cliffs here are very soft, and as a result they erode quickly. This means some trees that were once on the cliff top have now fallen onto the beach ahead. I can however squeeze past them at the shore line, but this is a problem I hadn’t considered and I am hoping I don’t find any further fallen trees.

The coast near Kessingland

Soon I reach the back of the broad. As I hoped, the beach is clear of water and streams. Though it is again littered with the remains of old trees.

The coast near Kessingland

A fence separates the back of the beach from the broad (Benacre Broad), which is marked as a National nature reserve and so I assume the fence is to stop people getting any closer and distributing the wildlife on the broad, which stretches quite far inland.

The coast at Benacre Broad

So I hoped to keep dry feet, though just as I’m passing the broad a heavy shower passes, so I do still get a bit wet, but it only lasts a few minutes.

Near the end of the broad there is part of a dead tree trunk standing upright in the waves.

IMG_0909

Most odd. I can’t imagine this is a natural occurrence as trees don’t grow on sandy beaches generally and if it did and the tide has now reached it, I would have though it would have fallen over. I suspect someone put it like that, for some reason.

The coast at Benacre Broad

At the end of the broad I can see the beach is again backed by trees, some of which are at odd angles, but the beach does look clear.

The coast south of Kessingland

Here I’m seeing people sitting on the beach again. This seems odd as there is no footpath or road reaching the shore here (or car park marked nearby), but I assume there must be a path or car park somewhere nearby (perhaps for the nature reserve). This prompts me to investigate. Beyond the broad there are low cliffs starting again. I went up to these and spot a path along the top. It is not marked on the map as a right of way, but it is clearly well used and I assume this is what the people on the beach used to get here.

The coast near Covehithe

So I follow that and find and nice easy path along the tops of the low cliffs, which is clearly well used.

The coast near Covehithe

Inland a church is marked on the map, but as I come closer I can see it’s partly ruined. The tower is still standing, but the rest of the church now has no roof and I can see now from the map it is marked as “St Andrews Church (Remains Of)”.

Covehithe ruined church

It seems to have once served Covehithe which now just seems to consist of a single farm (Church Farm). I wondered if the church was inland from the rest of the village and the rest of the village has been lost to coastal erosion, hence the church no longer being used.

The road serving the church continues to reach the cliffs I’m on, and then simply fall over the edge of the cliffs! The road must have gone somewhere once so adding weight to my theory there was once a larger village here.

Covehithe Cliff Road

In fact peering over the end of the road there is now a lovely sandy beach below and it is clear from all the footprints people walk down the gently sloping sandy cliffs to the beach. The path I’ve followed seems to end here too. So I decide to follow others down the gently sloping sandy cliffs too and so I’m soon back on the beach. It’s nice to be back beside the waves now the beach is sandy and easy to walk on.

The coast near Covehithe

The cliffs are very soft and later on the right I can see where crops have been planted, but the cliffs have eroded so much I can see the roots of the plants, some of which have eroded right out of the field and ended up down the cliff face. This also makes it clear, there is still no path along the cliff tops.

The coast near Covehithe

The cliffs soon get lower and then disappear entirely, as I reach Covehithe Broad. This is reedy and again fenced off from the beach but once again there is no stream flowing out onto the beach, so I have no trouble getting past.

Covehithe Broad

Ahead the cliffs begin again and once more they are backed by woodland (Easton Wood).

The coast north of Southwold

A few of the trees have fallen onto the beach again from erosion but are piled up at the base of the cliffs, rather than sideways out onto the beach, so it is easy for me to get past.

The coast north of Southwold

The cliffs then soon drop down again as I past the last broad, Easton Broad, but there are quite tall dunes along here so I can’t actually see it unless I climb to the top of the dunes and so I don’t bother.

The coast north of Southwold

Beyond it there are again low sandy cliffs, but I’m also pleased to see Southwold Pier ahead.

The coast north of Southwold

I can see the beach is clear and there are people ahead so I know I’ll have no troubles with the rest of my beach walk. I’m rather glad I opted for this route and it worked so well, as I’ve really enjoyed walking along these near-desreted sandy beaches beside the waves (I’m not sure I could say the same for a walk beside the A12).

As I near Southwold I start to see houses on the cliff tops. Some look very close and I can’t imagine they will survive much longer.

Clifftop home

A couple of hundred metres beyond this there is some concrete blocks which I think are to try to reduce the erosion and then a concrete promenade a short distance beyond that. Here a sign warns me about the beach I’ve just left “Due to variable beach levels, access to the beach may be restricted, proceed with caution”. Well that would have been a blow to have got here and found the beach blocked off, so I’m glad it wasn’t restricted today.

Southwold

I join the promenade now and I guess this concrete wall must be doing it’s job, as the beach level is much lower beyond this now and so the waves reach right to the sea wall, so it is not possible to safely walk along the beach.

Southwold

In fact even on this fairly calm day the sea seems to be lapping very close to these beach huts.

Southwold

It puzzles me because the tide was going out as I left Lowestoft, but it seems much higher in Southwold.

I do like these beach huts though, all painted in different colours and patterns, perhaps reflecting the character of the owners.

Southwold

Soon I’ve reached the pier, where I had got to on my last walk.

I’d allowed enough time to follow the more inland official route of the coast path. As I found a better and more direct route it means I’ve arrived with plenty of time to explore Southwold, as I hoped (last time I had to rush).

Southwold

It is a lovely resort, with a putting green just behind the pier.

Southwold

The pier itself is great fun, with it’s unusual water power clocked and amusements.

Southwold Pier

Southwold pier

The various machines are custom built by Tim Hunkin. As you can see they are rather different than your usual arcade games!

Southwold Pier

From the end of the pier I can look back at the coast I’ve been following and in the other direction where I walked last time.

Southwold from the pier

Southwold

I walked a bit further south to explore the town and the unusual lighthouse in the middle of it.

Southwold

Southwold is famous for another thing. It’s the home of the Adnams brewery. This has a long history, having been founded here in 1872. It is a large employer in the town and having won many awards for it’s beers in recent years, it has been expanding too. Much of the town smells of the beer too, it is lovely. Sadly, I’m too late for a brewery tour, but I do buy a couple of bottles (as I don’t have to carry them far now) and have time to stop for a quick pint, which is very welcome.

The Adnams brewery, Southwold

After this I have a bit more of a look round the town and then head to the bus stop for my bus to Halesworth.

Southwold

Southwold

Thankfully this time it arrives on time, so I don’t have the stress of worrying about missing my train that I had last time. The bus drops me right in front of the rather sleepy Halesworth Station.

Halesworth station

From here I catch the train back to London, which runs to time, the tube over to Waterloo and the train onwards home from there.

This was a really enjoyable walk because most of it I was either on cliff top paths or walking right along the lovely (and mostly deserted) beaches. It was an interesting and varied bit of coast, passing the soft eroding cliffs (often topped with trees) mixed in with a few of the broads. Southwold too was a lovely town in which to end, and I was glad I’d chosen to do the walk this way around so the time I had at the end of the walk was used to explore Southwold rather than Lowestoft (the latter did not look so appealing).

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

First Suffolk bus route 99 (Coastal Clipper) : LowestoftPakefield – Kessingland – Wrentham – Reydon – Southwold. Hourly service Monday – Saturday. On Sundays there is an hourly service during the summer months and once every 2 hours in the winter. It takes 45 minutes between Lowestoft and Southwold.

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

Posted in Suffolk | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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