I see the sea…
PUBLISHED: 12:57 06 January 2015 | UPDATED: 12:57 06 January 2015
David Falk, manager of Suffolk County Council's Brandon Country Park, starts the New Year with a coastal walk between the heritage town of Southwold and the historic village of Walberswick
This must be one of the classic walks in Suffolk. A walk between Southwold with its iconic lighthouse, pier and beach huts, to the picture postcard perfection of Walberswick. It makes for a perfect walk at the start of a brand new year.
Yet this walk has a surprise, for this is a coastal walk that spends most of its time away from the sea. I’ll hear the sea; the waves crash landing on to the shingle shore sending deep rumbles across wet grazing marsh, but I’ll strain to see it. Instead, this is a walk between historic buildings through a landscape of tidal rivers, woodlands and heathland.
I’m following a Church Heritage Trail from a series named Angels and Pinnacles. This one starts and ends in Southwold at St Edmund’s Church, and is a gentle 4-miler down to the Blyth River, to Walberswick’s St Andrew’s Church and back again via Southwold Harbour.
I’ve visited Southwold many times but confess I’ve never been to St Edmund’s Church. Tucked behind the High Street it’s always off my radar; the diversion of the Adnam’s shop and cafe being too much of a distraction.
But this walk gives me the excuse to discover the church. St Edmund’s oversees compact Bartholomew Green, a small patch of grass and holly trees beside the town stocks and a granite memorial cross. The church greets you with a small statue of St Edmund, the child king martyred by the Danes in the 9th century. Bound in ropes, he stands in an alcove above a weathered sandstone south porch.
Inside is a collection of curios. A model of a lifeboat hangs near the north door and mice are carved into the furniture. The painted ceiling depicts gold stars against a deep blue sky. Angels hang from the rafters.
A wooden chest contains a carving of a knight hunting and the 15th century rood screen is said to be one of the finest in the country. Polished brass plaques sparkle golden and high above the font stands ‘Southwold Jack’. Jack, a soldier from the House of York, is clad in black armour. His red face is clean shaven, his staring eyes are bloodshot. Known as ‘Jack-O-The-Clock’ he poses, sword in hand, ready to strike a bell. I leave before he gets the chance.
Outside is winter and the sky is heavy with cloud. My leaflet guides me towards Southwold’s Common. Past sloping rugby pitches and water towers beside wet meadows full of lapwings, I approach the harbour.
Here the trail teases. It bypasses the harbour (it’ll come back to it later in the walk), and instead hugs the river bank, skirting the edge of the town marsh towards the Bailey Bridge. The bridge was once used by trains from Halesworth. Now it’s a meccano set of metal spanning the River Blyth. The Blyth itself is a flow of grey silt heading sedately towards the North Sea. Inland the land is dead flat, punctuated by a desolate wind pump.
The path continues in a straight line of sight towards St Andrew’s Church. As I look ahead, a bird of prey darts across the path, skimming over fields before coming to a rest on a post. I watch it through binoculars. It’s a sparrowhawk, dark back, flecks of white on its head, bolt upright as it scans the land for prey.
Rain drifts by lethargically as I approach St Andrew’s Church. Jackdaws cling like gargoyles to its tower. This church is a contrast to St Edmund’s. Smaller, plainer, simpler, it sits within the ruins of a larger church.
Inside I seek the dry and admire the interior. The windows are plain, walls whitewashed, ceiling of wooden beams. The Union flag and the flag of the British Legion hang silently. It is tranquil.
I head back out as the rain clears, toward Walberswick’s high street of red brick, pink cottages, blue plaques and Dutch gables. I pause at the Pink Lantern Tearoom. Out of season I have the place all to myself, a rare treat.
From Walberswick, the trail balances atop a flood bank beside the River Blyth. The adjoining field is a congregation of gulls, teal and widgeon. Herons, cormorants and Brent geese gatecrash the scene whilst a choir of starlings swirl overhead.
Across the Bailey Bridge I’m soon at Southwold Harbour. This might be my favourite place in all of Suffolk, a working harbour of black weatherboard huts, fish and chip shops, wet fish sales and rustic fish restaurants. The air is filled with the smells of food, smoking fires, and the sea.
Fishing boats and sailing boats clog the river bank. The starlings have descended on to the rigging of a boat, and they sit like bunting in the fading light. As the sky turns pastel pink I head inland along a narrow footpath to a narrow lane and past narrow cottages.
Southwold lighthouse is now on, its beam spot lighting the moist coastal air. The town feels sleepy. Nearing my car I look back on a view of my walk; the tower of St Edmund behind me, St Andrew’s below, the thin line of Walberswick high street, the black shapes of Southwold Harbour and for the first time I see the sea. I thought something was missing from my coastal walk.