197. Woodbridge to Alderton

April 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The River Deben from Wilford Bridge

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

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

The River Deben from Wilford Bridge

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

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

Sutton Hoo

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

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

Sutton Hoo

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

Sutton Hoo

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

Bluebells near Woodbridge

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

The River Deben near Melton

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

The River Deben near Melton

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

The River Deben near Melton

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

Ferry Cliff, Sutton Hoo

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

The River Deben near Woodbridge

The River Deben near Woodbridge

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

The River Deben near Woodbridge

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

The River Deben near Woodbridge

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

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

Ploughed field near Woodbridge

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

The River Deben near Woodbridge

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

Haddon Hall

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

The River Deben near Woodbridge

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

The River Deben at Methersgate Quay

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

The River Deben at Methersgate Quay

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

The River Deben near Methersgate

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

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

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

The River Deben near Methersgate

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

The River Deben near Methersgate

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

The River Deben near Methersgate

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

Marshes beside the river Deben near Shottisham

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

Marshes beside the river Deben near Shottisham

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

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

The River Deben at Shottisham

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

Shottisham Creek

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

The River Deben near Ramsholt

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

Marshes near Ramsholt

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

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

Ramsholt church

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

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

The River Deben at Ramsholt

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

The Ramsholt Arms

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

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

Ramsholt Quay

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

Ramsholt Dock

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

The road to Alderton

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

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

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

Alderton

Alderton

Alderton church

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

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

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

I found some lovely bluebell woods.

Bluebells at Sutton Hoo

Bluebells at Sutton Hoo

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

Sutton Hoo

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

Sutton Hoo

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

Sutton Hoo

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

The River Deben near Woodbridge

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

The River Deben near Woodbridge

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

The River Deben near Woodbridge

The River Deben near Woodbridge

The River Deben near Woodbridge

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

The River Deben at Woodbridge

The River Deben at Woodbridge

Woodbridge Tide Mill

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

The river Deben at Woodbridge

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

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

Woodbridge station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7 Responses to 197. Woodbridge to Alderton

  1. Wow, that was quite a mission. Hate it when the bus-train connections just don’t work! Glad you went back to visit Sutton Hoo. Went there some years ago, but can’t remember anything much other than a few mounds in the earth.

  2. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, one of the great challenges, besides the obvious physical effort of actually having to complete the walk, is working out the logistics. How far can I walk? What public transport is available? Links, connections and frequency. Reversing the route? All these things have to be taken into account to ensure you don’t become stranded or have to pay the earth for a taxi. For those ‘hardened Coasters’ taking on the challenge in a single long walk, public trasnport links are something they rarely have to think about. lol.

    I think your triangular wooden structures near Ramsholt, could possiblly be Fish Ponds, a net is draped over the wood and the receding tide traps the fish.

    Have you made any plans to start the walk down the West Coast of Scotland yet? I’m off to Knoydart again, hopefully, next week.

    • jcombe says:

      I agree with you about the logistics. Even doing a continious walks has its challeneges because then you’ve either got to carry a tent and camping equipment with you all the time or try to end somewhere where there is a hotel (and in many places, there won’t be). It’s not easy!

      Regarding the west coast of Scotland I have plans to start in July (I’ve also got two possible plans for tackling Cape Wrath). This is mainly because the only bus service that links some of the towns and villages along the coast (Durness bus route 804) only runs during the school summer holidays and I’m hoping to use it to do linear walks.

      Having said that I have started the west coast of Scotland from the south too, but only from the border to Dumfries so far. I’m planning to start walking up the west coast from the South and heading north, mostly as weekends/long weekends until I’m a bit north of Glasgow (I think trains and/or flights will make that possible) whilst doing a couple of longer trips to the “far north” each year working south in the hope I will join up somewhere mid-way along the west coast! I’m working full time so can’t spare more time sadly.

  3. Anabel Marsh says:

    Pretty walk! I had to laugh at their idea of a bus service, but I suppose it was better than what there is now ie zilch. How frustrating to pass those pretty pubs with no time to sample them. I have heard of Sutton Hoo but I couldn’t have told you where it was till now.

  4. Pingback: 198. Felixstowe Ferry to Orford | Round the Island

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