198. Felixstowe Ferry to Orford

May 2008

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

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

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

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

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

The River Deben at Bawdsey

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

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

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

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

The beach at Bawdsey

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

The beach at Bawdsey

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

Felixstowe Ferry from Bawdsey

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

The coast at Bawdsey

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

The coast at Bawdsey

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

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

Old World War II defences at Bawdsey

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

The coast at Bawdsey

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

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

The coast at Bawdsey

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

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

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

The coast at Bawdsey

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

The coast at Bawdsey

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

The coast at Bawdsey

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

Bawdsey

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

Bawdsey Hall

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

Jousting scarecrows

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

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

Old Gun Site near Bawdsey

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

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

The coast near Bawdsey

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

The coast near Bawdsey

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

The coast near Bawdsey

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

The coast near Bawdsey

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

The coast near Shingle Street

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

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

Near Shingle Street

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

Martello Tower near Shingle Street

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

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

Marshes near Shingle Street

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

Shingle Street

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

Martello Tower in Shingle Street

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

Shingle Street

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

Shingle Street

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

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

Shingle Street

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

Shingle Street

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

Shingle Street

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

Shingle Street

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

The River Ore at Shingle Street

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

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

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

The River Ore at Shingle Street

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

Creek near Hollesley

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

Creek near Hollesley

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

The River Ore near Shingle Street

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

Simpsons Saltings

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

The River Ore near Shingle Street

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

Simpsons Saltings, Near Shingle Street

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

The River Ore

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

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

The Butley River

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

The Butley River

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

Old World War II remains beside the Butley River

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Butley Ferry

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

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

The Butley River near Orford

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

Orford

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

Orford

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

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

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

Bizarre crack

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

Orford Ness from Orford Castle

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

The River Ore, Orford

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

Orford Quay

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

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

Orford

Orford

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

Orford church

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

Orford church

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

Orford Castle

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

Orford from Orford Castle

Orford Ness from Orford Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2 Responses to 198. Felixstowe Ferry to Orford

  1. Anabel Marsh says:

    The villages are pretty but the rest is quite bleak – still visually interesting though, particularly the picture of the shingle beach with so much vegetation. I’ve never seen anything quite like that before.

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks Anabel. Suffolk has very beautiful villages. The shingle is quite bleak, but I found that it has it’s charms. It feels remote, desolate even, and it’s quite a different landscape which you actually don’t see that much along the coast. Chesil Beach and Dungeness are the only other places I’ve seen with so much shingle. I wouldn’t like the whole coast to be like that, but I actually quite enjoyed those single sections.

      Mind you wait until I get to Orford Ness. Now that is a lot of shingle…

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