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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
It being a fine weekend there were a few pleasure craft on the river too.
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.
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.
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!
The path continued east and soon entered an area of woodland again, which was again quite pleasant.
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 path went in and out of the trees and on this warm summers day the shade of the trees was quite welcome.
In amongst the trees I came across some sort of terracotta pots which turned out to be another artwork.
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.
I was now further from the river which had now been reduced to a tiny silvery slither just below the horizon.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
I continued along the spit to a Martello tower I could see ahead.
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”).
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!
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 – Snape – Leiston. 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.