Almost 5 months had passed since my last coastal walk in October so I was itching to get back to the coast and a fine day in early February was enough to make me make the effort. The problem is that once the clocks changed in October, it gets dark so early. Now it takes me over 2 hours from home to get to the nearest bit of coast I’ve not walked before, the limited daylight hours in winter means leaving very early in the morning in order to get to the coast and walk a good length before it gets dark. Staying overnight is another option but this adds considerably to the expense and still means I probably need to make an early start to make it worthwhile.
I don’t spend winter weekends lazing about though, I do plenty of walks during the winter but they are closer to home and mostly not on the coast. So I was looking forward to getting back to the coast after to so many months away.
Another problem I’ve come to realise is I’m nearing the practical limit of what is possible in a day. It’s about a 2 hour drive each way by car now, which is also getting expensive and it’s a similar time and cost by train. I opted to travel by train today because at the time I had a season ticket as far as London so the journey to London cost me nothing extra. I took the train from my local station to London Waterloo then the tube over to London Liverpool Street.
My season ticket also entitled me to a 1/3 discount off weekend train tickets in the South East of England. I can’t remember the exact prices then, but at today’s prices (2018), if you hold an annual season ticket, a weekend day return from London to Manningtree (where I started the previous walk) costs £19.30. Manningtree is roughly 60 miles from London. Ipswich is less than 10 miles further up the line but a ticket from London to Ipswich costs £42.20 – more than double the price for an extra 10 miles! The reason is partly that the railway considers Suffolk outside of the South East and hence I can no longer get a 1/3 discount. Even without that discount though, it’s still a £10 jump in price which hardly seems justified given the small extra distance.
I resolved that particular issue for now by buying a day return from London to Manningtree with my discount and then another day return from Manningtree to Ipswich which works out considerably cheaper than buying one ticket (I’ve long since given up trying to apply logic to railway ticketing). The downside is I can’t buy these two tickets from the machine (it only issues tickets from London, not from Manningtree) so I have to join the long snaking queue for the manned ticket windows, behind large numbers of tourists wanting to get to Stansted Airport. I’m getting a bit stressed about missing my train by the time I get served and the clerk does little to hide their irritation when I ask for two tickets, issuing a tut and numerous sighs whilst doing so and they don’t utter a word other than telling me the final price. Perhaps they are happier churning out singles to Stansted Airport! Because of the time taken to queue I have to run for my train and just make it before the doors are locked.
It took a little over an hour from London to Ipswich and once there I took the bus onwards to Shotley Gate. As it took a while to travel here it is still nearly midday when I get there, despite making an early start.
It was a lovely clear sunny day however and the stresses of the journey were soon meting away. I got off the bus by the Bristol pub that I walked past last time. The tide was out, revealing some sand and shingle at high tide, turning to mud nearer the waters edge.
I re-traced my steps from the end of my last walk past a long wooden pier, Admiralty Pier, which was derelict and blocked off, and I could see the wooden railings were collapsing into the sea.
Over to my left where the numerous cranes of the port of Felixstowe which were once again busy loading and unloading containers.
I soon reached Shotley Marina and was amused to notice the pub and club house here was called the Shipwreck, which perhaps doesn’t bode well for those sailing from here!
I continued around the coastal side of the marina, crossing the lock gate.
The beach to my right is now fenced offed, apparently due to the danger of deep mud, though the fence was only a temporary looking wooden fence that was falling down.
Beyond the marina the path continued on the sea wall, with a small area of salt marsh between me and the river Orwell, as I’d now turned the corner away from the sea and started up the western side of the river.
Soon the marsh ended and I was back directly alongside the river, with the river being tidal here, there were mud flats visible beside the water, though as I proceeded north there was a thin strip of sand too.
At the edge of the river I was soon passing some old wooden posts formed into lines. I was not sure if these were to try to control erosion or for some fishing related purpose, though given they formed boxes in places, I suspect the latter.
Once past these there was an area where I suspected the sea wall had been breached as there was now an area of salt marsh ahead and the path headed slightly inland to get around it, though it was only short and I was soon back on the coast.
I could look back south along the river to the huge cranes of Felixstowe, which I’m now looking at side on.
Inland there are gentle hills leading up to the small village of Church End.
For the next mile or so the path feels more like a causeway, with the river to my right and a drainage channel full of water to my left, with marshes beyond it, it is pretty and peaceful.
As I round the corner to begin heading west I can see the masts of numerous boats across the river. This is a large marina which is not named on my map and oddly I can’t even see a road serving it marked on the map.
The edge of the river is now mud flats and what looks like banks of shells, though soon the shells end to be replaced with mud flats.
There are a few pleasure boats passing along the river and on the other bank I can see a large house which I take to be Stratton Hall.
The path continues along the sea bank and ahead I soon get my first glimpse of the Orwell Bridge, which I’ll be using to cross the river Orwell.
It’s large and impressive but definitely in the functional rather than beautiful category.
Across the river I can see the church of Levington, flying a St George’s cross, it looks a nice village.
I’ve got another area of marsh ahead and a small creek, Colton Creek but the path crosses the creek so I don’t have to head far inland.
Here the path heads through what appears to be the back gardens of Orwell Cottages where there is also a grand boat house in one of the gardens, but I’m amused to see the boat isn’t in fact in the fancy boat house, but in front of it!
Looking out into the river there is a large freight looking boat heading up the river, presumably to Ipswich, so it seems it’s still used for commercial traffic, too.
At the end of the marshes I reach an area of woodland, in the care of the National Trust, where the path heads up onto low cliffs. Through the trees and on the other side of the bank I can see a very grand looking building, with what looks like an observatory on top. This I later found out is the Orwell Park School a private and no doubt very expensive school.
As I near the end of the cliffs I pass an area filled with boats. Some seem to be in use as house boats, others are abandoned on the muddy banks of the river.
Emerging from the woods I come to a pub the Butt and Oyster which has a fine beer garden right beside the river. Despite the cold weather a couple of the outside tables are occupied.
I resisted the temptation to stop, conscious of the time as I still have quite a way to go. There is briefly a path along the shore here and it gives me a nice view back to the pub and boat houses, which are I think part of the village of Chelmondiston, slightly inland of here.
The path continues through a boat yard but then I briefly have to head inland here behind a few houses before the path then returns to the river.
I pass another isolated house boat here and the path then heads a little inland again along the edge of the fields, close to the coast but not alongside it and going through a few areas of woodland.
After a while the path soon returns to the waters edge at the strangely named place of Cat House. I didn’t see any cats sadly but there was a marina, almost completely devoid of boats which the building to my left tells me is the Royal Harwich Yacht Club.
I find the name rather confusing. Harwich is in Essex and I’m in Suffolk, it seems and odd name given it’s not even in the same county as Harwich.
This marks the end of the path along the coast for a while. The path I’m following, the Stour and Orwell Walk heads inland to the village of Woolverstone. To my left, but out of sight is the grounds and buildings of another large private school, Woolverstone Hall School, though I can see one of the out buildings and beyond it the pretty church.
Just past the church the path turns to the right to head west, parallel with the road but north of it, along a track behind the houses of Woolverstone. I followed this for around a mile, to reach the B1456 at the tiny village of Freston, emerging at a pub (The Boot) which has since closed though according to the website is about to re-open. Thankfully I don’t have to walk along the main road as the path crosses this road and continue ahead on a minor road leading to the church, which is partly obscured from view by trees.
At the church the path turns north back towards the coast through what looks to be a recent planted woodland, Freston Wood.
I emerge from the woodland and head down to the busy B-road again. Although the official route of the Stour and Orwell Walk heads back inland from the road for a short while (only to rejoin it half a mile later) I decided to stick to the road. Although there wasn’t a pavement, there seemed to be an un-official path through the marshes just to the right of the road so in fact I ended up mostly walking close to the road rather than on it.
The Orwell bridge now dominated the skyline. This carries the busy A14, here a dual carriageway across the Orwell and is the lowest crossing point of the river. It’s is quite an impressive structure, crossing the river high above the water, presumably so that large boats can get under it. Though it’s a functional rather than pretty structure.
As this is the lowest crossing point of the river, I decide to cross it here (the Stour and Orwell Walk continues upstream ahead into Ipswich). As the bridge is so tall this means I have to turn left away from the river a bit to head up a track to gain enough height to get on the bridge. This track serves the Suffolk Food Hall which generates a surprising amount of traffic so although marked as a footpath on the map it’s in fact basically a road. Just before the food hall I can turn right on what is a path heading steeply up to the bridge.
The views from here are wonderful as I can see right back almost to Shotley Gate along the river.
There is a pavement, though it’s separated from the 4 lanes of traffic by only a low crash barrier, so it feels a bit like walking along the hard-shoulder of a motorway, but at least I have the views to compensate from the noisy traffic to my left.
The bridge opened in 1982 before which I think the main road went through Ipswich. At the highest point of the bridge a sign for the Samaritans reminds me that sadly not everyone comes up here to enjoy the view.
Having crossed the bridge the logical route is to now turn right and head back towards the shore and towards Felixstowe. However it is a few miles to the first settlement, Levington and I decided I didn’t have time to get as far as that today and so the best solution was to continue inland to Ipswich where I could get the train home and return here next time.
Thankfully the Stour and Orwell Walk also goes into the centre of Ipswich so I could follow that all the way, though in hindsight it might have been a better option to take a bus!
The walk started well, taking me into a wooded area, Pipers Vale Country Park where I followed the main sign-posted route through the woodlands. There was a stretch of a circular path that headed a bit closer to the shore, giving me a good view back to the bridge but sadly it was a dead-end, as industry is now along the river banks ahead, so I had to return to the official path.
Emerging from the country park I crossed the road and continued behind a modern school. From here I had a brief stretch along residential roads to Landseer Park. The path heads around the eastern then norther sides of this park. At the end of the park the path continued alongside a little stream squeezed between houses on the right and an oil storage depot on the left. Crossing the road at the end of the park I continued into Holywells Park, past a couple of ponds. This emerged onto a residential road and then the busy A1156 ahead. Here I turned left and could soon follow a path down to the water front, Ipswich Dock.
This was mostly a modern development of blocks of “Luxury Apartments” and a marina though with a few old buildings having been kept and converted.
It was a slightly jarring mix of old and new I thought. I decided to divert from here and explore the town centre. There were some nice old buildings but overall I was not that impressed.
It’s a nice enough town with a some old buildings mixed in with the new, rather like at the docks. However there was nothing much that particularly grabbed my attention and I was soon heading back across the river to the station, which is on the edge of the town and the train home, which I had around a 15 minute wait for.
Overall this had been quite a nice walk. Mostly well signed and maintained paths and little road walking. The Orwell was proving to be quite a pretty river. I enjoyed the walk over the impressive Orwell Bridge though the rest of the route through the outskirts of Ipswich and around the industry was not so good, but it was great to be back on the coast again after my winter hiatus.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Ipswich Buses routes 97 and 98 : Shotley Gate – Shotley – Chelmondiston – Woolverstone – Freston – Bourne Bridge – Ipswich railway station – Ipswich (Old Cattle Market Bus Station). The bus runs 11 times per day Monday – Saturday and takes around 30 minutes.