Blaze a trail along Suffolk's long distance coastal path
PUBLISHED: 17:08 28 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:38 20 February 2013
Cathy Brown enjoys the fabulous colours of our county on a trek along the coast
Enjoy the fabulous colours of our county when you take to the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Long Distance footpath, says Cathy Brown
The best way to see the Suffolk Coast is to follow the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Path a long-distance footpath that stretches all the way along the countys shore from the Essex border at Brantham in the south to Lowestoft in the north, some 90 miles in all.
In fact, the coastline of Suffolk is much longer than that, if you take into account all its five major estuaries, the Deben, Ore and Alde and Blyth as well as the Stour and Orwell which are now incorporated in the coast path. Added all together, the total tidal shoreline is more than 220 miles.
That would be an awfully long way to walk, even if it was all accessible, which it isnt yet. And in fact the existing long-distance route relies on some stretches of permissive paths, as well as long established public rights of way.
If walking 90 miles sounds daunting, dont worry. You dont have to regard it as a challenge, to be completed in a single weeks holiday, say although given the right weather, its hard to imagine a more enjoyable break.
Those of us lucky enough to live in Suffolk can take our time, breaking it up into small stretches, and tackling it a few miles at a time, whenever there is time to spare and suitable weather.
The very nature of the Suffolk coast means the route is not too demanding: there are no major hills to climb, although walkers will soon find that the fabled flatness of the county is something of a myth! And the free-draining sandy heathland soil means the going is rarely very muddy, even in the depths of winter.
Walking 90 miles along the coast might sound potentially rather boring, with much the same views all the way, but one of the surprises of the route is the enormous variety of countryside and landscape types it takes you through.
Set off from Brantham, following the north bank of the Stour. If the tide is out, there will be huge expanses of mud, occupied by abundant flocks of feeding seabirds and waders. Birdwatching is one of the great pleasures of the walk. You may be lucky enough to spot a seal or two in the water as well.
The Royal Hospital School at Holbrook is the first of many imposing architectural landmarks along the way. Look out too for a number of impressive country houses and village church towers.
The huge ships and cranes of the Port of Felixstowe dominate the view ahead and then when you reach the corner at Shotley, there are much smaller yachts and motorboats in view as you cross the lock gates at the marina. On the River Orwell, you may see ships heading upriver to Ipswich, but the character of the walk is now rural tranquillity, taking in the National Trusts Cliff Plantation before picturesque Pin Mill, and then the parkland of Woolverstone Hall.
If you want to avoid Ipswich, you can take a short-cut across the Orwell Bridge. Be warned, the traffic noise is deafening, and the height can be scary if its windy. But the footway is protected by a solid parapet and a reassuring crash barrier. Its worth putting up with the nuisance for the stunning views. And when you drop down off the bridge into the tranquillity of the wooded Orwell Country Park, peace and quiet soon returns.
There are lots of bird sanctuaries to enjoy along the north bank of the Orwell, before the path turns inland before reaching Felixstowe Docks. There is a choice of route here. One follows Walton Avenue, skirting the container parks, and then makes a right angle turn on to the promenade in a world of candyfloss and amusement arcades. It follows the seafront all the way along to the golf course, and Felixstowe Ferry. The alternative, more rural route goes across country via Trimley and Falkenham approaching the Ferry from the Deben shore.
Now both routes are reunited in a trip across the fast-running estuary tide in the foot ferry. The next stretch of the path, along the seashore past Bawdsey and East Lane to Shingle Street, is the quietest and most remote part of the journey an extraordinary contrast with the urban and industrial development of Felixstowe.
Theres a timeless quality to the landscape as the path turns inland again at Boyton marshes, detouring to Snape because theres no way to cross the Alde any lower. At this point the walk is more heath than coast, but its never far from the water, even where it cuts through Tunstall Forest.
After crossing Snape bridge, by the historic Maltings, the route follows the traditional Sailors Path towards Aldeburgh. But it turns left before reaching the town, skirting the golf course and rejoining the coast just south of the pioneering and idiosyncratic holiday village of Thorpeness.
Again, there are extraordinary contrasts along this stretch of the route: youll be amazed by the sheer size and scale of the nuclear power stations at Sizewell, and then, scarcely a mile further on, theres the tranquillity of the reedy RSPB bird reserve at Minsmere.
The path turns inland again now, at the National Trusts Dunwich Heath nature reserve, rejoining the coast briefly in Dunwich itself before skirting the Dingle marshes and heading on to Walberswick and Southwold.
From here onwards, coastal erosion becomes a real threat, and the official route of the path detours inland before Easton Bavents and Covehithe, cutting round the back of Benacre Broad. It may be possible to take the more direct unofficial route along the beach, but you need to avoid high tide and be aware that sometimes there may be breaches in the shingle bank which it is not possible to cross, even at low water.
The path is reunited with the beach route just before Kessingland, where there is another new landscape, marshland giving way to sand dunes, Suffolks best sandy beaches and attendant caravan parks.
The next stretch of coastline is dominated by holiday villages and the footpath route follows the A12, which is not very relaxing. But then it returns to the beach for the final stretch through Lowestoft.
You can cherry pick the best bits of this enthralling long-distance walk, or do as we did and follow the whole thing, in easy stages, over the course of a single winter. We found we loved all of it.
On the right path
- Before you set out, check www.suffolkcoastandheaths.org for latest information on footpath diversions, sea wall breaches etc. Erosion and flooding may happen with little or no warning, particularly during the winter.
- There are lots of excellent pubs along the way for lunchtime refreshment stops.
- Walking is recommended as the most sustainable way to enjoy the fragile environment of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), particularly if walkers use public transport links.
Photo by MARK STAPLES