Walking the Sailors' Path to Snape Warren
PUBLISHED: 16:02 26 August 2014
David Falk, manager of Suffolk County Council's Discover Suffolk Project, seeks out views across the heather and postpones some of life's guilty pleasures on a short stroll from Snape Maltings
I’m avoiding temptation. Amongst tubs of topiary and ornate benches, an array of A-boards, blackboards and hanging signs pull me like magnets towards Café 1885, The Granary Teashop, The Plough and Sail and The Pump Street Bakery. I’m being strong. I’m here for walking not for breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea or supper, although I could have every meal if I spent the whole day at Snape Maltings, a mecca for shopaholics and lovers of good food.
Boots laced, sunglasses on and baseball cap straight, I quickly check the Sailors’ Path Explorer in my hand. The walk ‘Views Across the Heather’ is promoted as a short 3.5 miles, just two hours, but as always I’ll stop, linger, take photos and soak up the landscape as I go. There’s no hurry today, I can easily get back in time for lunch, or afternoon tea, or supper…
The Maltings is full of interest and activity and as I leave, a group of artists are setting themselves up by the quay. They peer over their easels on to rowboats, sailboats and ‘The Cygnet’, an iconic Thames Sailing Barge, that moors here and can often be seen floating through the reeds along the River Alde.
My route starts on the Sailors’ Path, one of the most popular walking routes in Suffolk. The path leads through woodland and over wetland all the way to Aldeburgh, ending six miles away at the Moot Hall on the seafront. Today I’ll follow it a short way to Snape Warren where I’ll explore an often overlooked expanse of heathland with stolen glimpses of the Alde.
At Snape Bridge I turn to look at the view. The tide is out and the boats sit on a mousse of smooth mud. The river ripples from a flow of mallards, upsetting the near perfect reflection of the Maltings’ ivy-clad buildings.
I check my map and turn on to the Sailors’ Path. The route is stony and hemmed in by spikes of thistles, teasels and brambles, pinpricks of yellow buttercups and sow-thistles and splashes of white flowered bindweed. The gravel crunches underfoot but my eyes are drawn to the striped texture of the reeds and the pale green pastures of Snape Marshes.
From the path there are clear views of the river. At the water’s edge a curlew stands alone, shaking its head and preening itself. A crowd of Red Poll cattle sit half-submerged within Snape Marsh. Above them a grey heron floats lazily before settling in a freshwater dyke.
At the end of the marsh the path delves into the shady woodland of Snape Warren. A beautiful carved oak trunk provides a seat. The Sailors’ Path logo, a Thames barge in full sail, has been carved into the wood. It’s a tactile work of art and offers a view, framed by trees, back towards the Maltings.
The path through the woods is a padded sponge of leaf litter past heaps of curly bracken. Sunlight speckles the deep shade and at the edge of the wood, I find myself on a narrow tarmac lane, which soon merges into a dusty red brick track. The dark clouds have now drifted away and the sun beats down, heating up the path, shimmering the view ahead.
At another bench I stop again. A simply shaped half-section of barked tree, planed smooth and with that distinctive Sailors’ Path logo, the bench sits under an umbrella shade of silver birch. I have views on to fields of yellow ragwort within rabbit-cropped grassland. It’s because of the rabbits that the warren exists and their constant feeding helps to manage this landscape.
Beyond the bench the path narrows to a shiny metal kissing gate. Here I enter the warren and follow a series of wooden red-topped posts with white arrows marking the Snape Warren Trail. Views open up and I’m rewarded with a vista across the silvery River Alde snaking it way towards Orford.
The warren is truly beautiful. The land is full of rounded mounds of purple heather and stands of prickly gorse. In places rest the bleached scattered remains of cut trees and I find a trunk to perch on. Heat radiates upwards. The ground is alive with the chirps of grasshoppers and the hum of bees. And the warren is completely devoid of people; I have the place all to myself.
At a thicket of brambles I turn on to a well-trodden footpath through an avenue of birch. It leads me over the heathland past scratches of gorse to a rise with a view of Iken Church. I see sailboats floating mysteriously within the reeds. Another kissing gate brings me to another bench.
A grassy path loops over puddles to rejoin the Sailors’ Path and I am soon back on the riverbank where I started, overlooking Snape Marsh. The tide has come in and water laps the reed beds. The hum of traffic signals the main road and the sounds of people mark my return to Snape Maltings.
At my car, I check the signs: Café 1885, The Granary Teashop, The Plough and Sail, The Pump Street Bakery – there’s no avoiding temptation now…