After my decision to walk around the Stour I’d now be heading back towards the coast as close as possible to the north banks of the river. This was also a day of excitement since I’d be crossing into a new country, Suffolk, completing the coast of Essex.
This walk was an easy one to get started since I took the train into London Waterloo, the tube across to London Liverpool Street and another train from London to Manningtree, which is served by the main London to Norwich trains. It took a little over 2 hours in total but the trains ran on time.
Manningtree is also famous as it is just inside the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley area of outstanding natural beauty. Perhaps the most famous well-known sights are Flatford Mill and Willy Lott’s cottage both of which were made famous in the paintings of John Constable. I didn’t visit them on this occasion but I did at a later date, so here is a view of Flatford Mill.
And here is Willy Lott’s Cottage, made famous by the painting “The Hay Wain”.
So on from the beauty of Dedham Vale it’s time to get started on my walk. From the station I follow the station access road down to the main A137. There is a rather odd arrangement here where the road splits into two, with one route of the road going under the railway line in an underpass and the other route crosses the railway on the level at a level crossing. I presume this is done so that most vehicles do not have to wait for the trains if the level crossing is down and can use the underpass, only high vehicles having to wait to use the level crossing. I crossed via the underpass as this has a pavement. Once through the underpass I can continue beside this busy road which at least has a pavement though it now moves from one side of the road to the other (why?) so I’m forced to cross this busy road.
Just beyond this I reached the river Stour or to be more accurate part of it, as it splits into two separate channels just west of Manningtree which both flow out into the estuary here. However the first of these channels marks the border between Essex and Suffolk.
This is the view inland, there is some sort of sluice which presumably controls the flow of water on the coastal side.
I cross the first part of the river and with that I’ve finished walking the coast of Essex, my tenth county completed. I had been warned that Essex has the longest coast of any county, which I initially doubted, but now I can see that it’s true, because there are so many rivers, estuaries and creeks to cross, and numerous marshy islands. In fact it took me 27 walks to complete the coast of Essex, spread over broadly one year, since I was only able to get to the coast on some weekends. Of course if I had used the ferries and not visited so many islands it would be fewer walks.
Despite the long distance I had enjoyed Essex far more than I had expected. It had certainly been a country of contrasts, with areas of heavy industry, particularly on the Thames estuary but I was also surprised to find how much of the coastline is rural and undeveloped. Essex is a more rural county than I had expected and this had added to my enjoyment. I had also been pleased to find just how much of the coast was accessible – most of the rivers and creeks had paths along their banks, which made route planning easier.
I was however looking forward to exploring the coast of Suffolk though I could see initially it would not be much different from Essex since the southern part of this counties coast continues like Essex, as one of rivers, estuaries and marshes. I had though noticed that there was a coast path of sorts, at the time I walked here it was known as the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Path, it has since been renamed as the Suffolk Coast Path. Though it would be a while before I reached it (it starts in Felixstowe), having opted to round all the creeks in the south of the county.
Now into Suffolk, the two channels of the river are separated by an area of marsh which is marked on the map as Stour Estuary Nature Reserve, owned by the RSPB. It’s only about 150 metres tall and soon I’ve reached the end of the marsh and the second, narrower channel of the Stour. Here the road has obviously been re-routed onto a new bridge, but I can leave the main road and cross the much older bridge just to the right, which is free of traffic, it’s nice to leave the A137 behind. Once across I turn right into Factory Road.
As the name might suggest, this passes a number of factories as it heads through an area of light industry. It is not the welcome I had hoped for from Suffolk. The industry soon got heavier and I was walking past a large ICI plant, much of which looked derelict. ICI was once a huge company, the largest manufacturer in Britain for much of it’s history, but it was acquired in 2008 and so no longer exists and many of the sites closed. This particular site, ICI Brantham, was primarily used for the manufacture of chemicals associated with film processing, printing and development. So if it hadn’t already closed, when I walked past it soon wood because I was carrying a digital camera with me, as were increasing numbers of people, sending the film and processing industry into a near-terminal decline. The site has since closed and most of it has been demolished, I believe the latest plans are for a new rail depot to built there.
At the end of the road, a bridleway continued ahead. I was now following the Stour and Orwell Walk, another long distance footpath which is considered a westerly extension of the Suffolk Coast Path around the estuaries of these two rivers. Immediately the industry ended and I had reached something rather prettier, Decoy Pond.
I’m not sure what it was originally used for, but now it is a fishing lake, owned by an angling club, though I think it might still have been owned by ICI at the time I walked here.
The path rounded the south end of this pond and continued north east, parallel with the railway line. However on reaching the railway line there was another path off to the right which ran closer to the coast, so I opted for that route. After turning right on reaching the railway line and then I reached a crossing, first a bridge over a little stream and then I was directed straight onto the main London to Norwich Railway line to cross it. This is not a particularly pleasant crossing, as with steps up onto the track it is hard to see if a train is approaching until you are almost on the track!
Once safely across the railway I was right beside the Stour. It was very pretty, the marshes gradually giving way to the shallow waters of the river.
This was a pleasant path alongside this pretty river and soon the route of the Stour and Orwell Walk rejoined my route. I could see Mistley on the other side of the river too and even smell the maltings! The path was a raised sea bank making for a flat and easy walk and so I made quick progress, soon approaching Stutton Mill.
This is an attractive building, painted in the distinctive pink colour for which Suffolk is known. In fact Dulux even make a special “Suffolk Pink” paint! Many buildings throughout the county are painted this colour, and you can read a bit about the history of it here.
Once I reached the mill the path seemed to go more or less through the garden of the now converted mill, along the sea bank. They have a nice view, at least at high tide with the waters of the Stour glistening in the sun.
Beyond the mill there was roughly a mile more of path right along the river side. This was a lovely stretch of the walk as there were now areas of sand beside the river and inland much of the land was given over to woodland, it was beautiful.
Soon there were cliffs too, clearly eroding quickly, as some trees had fallen onto the beach below and others had died from the salt water. The cliffs got surprisingly high, giving me good views ahead to Stutton Ness.
I could also look back along the tree-lined banks of the Stour.
At Stutton Ness there is an old rotting jetty and the path turned north with the river bank but sadly this was short-lived.
Around a mile of the shore ahead is private, part of the grounds of Crowe Hall and so I have to head inland to get around it.
So I turn inland with the Stour and Orwell walk, an enclosed path that climbs a bit and gives me a glimpse of the grand house I’m having to walk past.
I headed north past Little Hall and turned right at the junction of paths to continue on the Stour and Orwell walk where the track soon widens, passes some bungalows and reaches the road. I follow this road east through the edge of the village of Stutton and passed the private entrance to Crowe Hall. This was a pretty little village, with some thatched cottages, in Suffolk Pink, naturally.
Ahead the road turned left, further inland but I could continue ahead on another short dead-end road. This passes Stutton House and the church just beyond it and then narrows to a track (a right of way). Here I can soon turn right and return to the banks of the Stour again, having rounded Crowe Hall. It is nice to be back by the river, but I’m also distracted by another large and very grand building to my left.
This is the Royal Hospital School a private (and I suspect very expensive) school. The school was established in 1712 and has connections with the navy. It is certainly a grand building and a beautiful place to go to school.
To my right the tide had really receded, leaving acres of mud flats and the waters of the river just visible in the distance.
Soon I reached Alton Wharf which was presumably once a busy place but although there were quite a few boats moored up, is a quite place now. Beyond this the Stour and Orwell walk is slightly inland from the coast. I couldn’t work out why this might be as there is another footpath marked on the map right along the coast, so I followed that instead. This was a nice path right by the river giving me some nice views. However as I approached an area of trees, marked as “The Grove” on the map the route ahead seemed to be blocked by a bungalow! Rather than trying to find a way around this I decided to drop down onto the beach to my right. This was a bit difficult under foot, with numerous wet boggy and muddy areas and some rocks to negotiate too. To my surprise there were also soon low muddy cliffs. I suspect this route would be impassible at high tide because the rocks right at the back of the beach were covered in sea weed, but the tide was well out now so that wasn’t a worry.
It was a nice stretch alongside these crumbling cliffs, but soon these ended and I had an area of salt marsh ahead. There was no obvious path and it was too wet and boggy to attempt to continue on the shore, so I headed up into the fields alongside to try to regain the route of the official footpath, which appeared to exist only on the map!
I soon found a clue that I was in the right place in the form of steps with a collapsed hand rail, but the collapsed hand rail did have a public footpath sign on it.
I made my way along the edge of the field as best I could. At the point where a footpath turned inland, to Sparrow Hall and Needle Corner, the path ahead continued and now followed a sea wall and actually seemed to exist again.
The path rounded the oddly named Johhny All Alone Creek. Inland were agricultural fields, some crops and some with cattle in them.
I continued on the sea wall path around the creek to reach Erwarton Ness where I had my first view of my destination ahead, Shotley Gate.
In places I’m right on the river bank, in other places the view is blocked by a line of trees to my right. Inland I can see the pretty church of Erwarton on a hill.
Suffolk is definitely more rolling than Essex, it’s hardly steep hills but it’s definitely not entirely flat, either.
As the marshes on my right end I can again return to the rivers edge, where there is a mixture of sand, shingle and mud.
Ahead at Rose Farm Cottages the path heads inland behind the houses but soon returns to the shore once past them. Beyond them the path is meant to continue but part of the rusty sea wall has been breached. I can get past, but it looks to be eroding quickly so I’m not sure for how much longer the path was passable. Beyond this though it improves and soon I reached the edge of Shotley Gate.
The path emerges onto the road by a large pub.
It’s painted (at least partly), in Suffolk Pink, of course! From the pub it’s only a short distance ahead to the pier where I can look out over the huge docks at Felixstowe.
This is a very large container port and I can see numerous ships docked, with the cranes used to lift the containers on and off the boats. As it was still fairly early rather than end immediately here I decided to continue on the path along the rivers edge, turning up into the mouth of the river Orwell and passing the marina, where I could then turn inland on a path back to the road.
The marina is packed with boats, but there is not much activity.
Unusually, the coast path goes around the coastal side of the marina and over the lock gates. I can look out across the Orwell to Felixstowe ahead.
It’s less than half a mile away as the crow flies, but to walk there I will have to head inland almost as far as Ipswich in order to cross the river Orwell, so it will take me a while to reach Felixstowe.
At the end of the marina I turned inland and follow Marsh Lane back to Shotley Gate.
The easiest way for me to get home now would be to cross on the ferry to Harwich and take the train. But there is a problem with this approach. The ferry stopped running at the end of September and it’s now early October (these days the ferry continues to run until the end of October, but it didn’t then). So instead I had to head back inland to the Bristol Arms Pub and take a bus into Ipswich instead but at least it drops me at the railway station. From here I take the train back to London, the tube to Waterloo and another train from there to home.
This was an interesting and varied walk. The Stour is a pretty estuary and it was nice to find beaches and cliffs on the north bank of the river, something I hadn’t expected to find. I was also pleased to make a start on a new county, though it was a shame that some of the paths were in poor condition and the industrial section near Manningtree was also not good. However I enjoyed Shotley Gate at the end, with the fine views over to Harwich and Felixstowe.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Ipswich buses routes 97 and 98 : Shotley Gate – Shotley – Chelmondiston – Woolverstone – Freston – Borune Bridge – Ipswich railway station – Ipswich (Old Cattle Market Bus Station). The bus runs 11 times per day Monday – Saturday and takes around 30 minutes. On Sundays, First Norfolk and Suffolk route 202 runs 4 times per day on the same route.
If you prefer you could take the Harwich Harbour ferry from Shotley Gate marina to Harwich. This runs from late March to the end of October on a broadly hourly basis which takes 7 minutes to cross. From Harwich you can then take the train (from Harwich Town station) back to Manningtree, which runs hourly.