A five-mile coastal circular walk for if you live near Leiston or Sizewell
PUBLISHED: 12:51 28 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:51 28 April 2020
Lindsay Want unfolds the mysteries of Sizewell Gap on a walk from Kenton Hills near Leiston-cum-Sizewell
Remember those concertina picture books we used to have as kids? The ones where each roll-fold page was both a revelation and seamless addition to a picture which simply kept growing and growing? Some Suffolk walks are just like that.
Take a linear stroll north along Covehithe’s haunting beach from Smugglers’ Lane and the pull of discovering the next driftwood tree stump, the next bit of wave-washed brick wall or the next stretch of colourful crumbling cliffs is almost as addictive as keeping an eye on the tide.
Ramble east beside the Alde, down the straight, tunnel-like Sailors’ Path from Snape, and all sorts of familiar countryside patterns unfurl in front of you like one big roll of Suffolk wallpaper.
But head just coast-side of Leiston and there’s one circular walk that’s strangely fascinating and full of anticipation, a path which opens up a different world at every turn and, at every push of a kissing gate, reveals something else to fall in love with. Park your car and your preconceptions at Kenton Hills. Because Sizewell on the Sandlings Way will surprise you.
Nature, nurture, protection, progress – they all add their own brush strokes to this coastal Suffolk picture. Next to coppiced stumps, the emerald tips of spring push through the brown leafy carpet left behind by autumn.
The sun streaks between stark, straight branches, casting zebra-stripe shadows which seem to flicker and turn tail with every footstep planted for just a moment in the path’s dark soil. Change track, and over the damp woodland’s edge, you’re on drier, firmer ground amidst a forest-scape of towering pines and curls of crunchy, rust-coloured bracken.
Here, silent nightjars line up as Sandlings Walk waymarkers, whilst overhead flocks of tiny siskins give themselves away with their barrage of noisy twittering.
It’s time for a springtime pine-seed feast now, but they’ll soon be off to fresh feeding grounds when the honeysuckle starts to about stretch out its tendrils to woo White Admiral butterflies.
Or as Sandlings sites of scientific interest dotted along the coast wake up to welcome the Silver-studded Blues, Green Hairstreaks and Graylings which are sure to set any walker’s heart a-flutter.
At the end of Nursery Covert, a bench marks another turning point, a look-out over tufty wet meadows and a first real glimpse of a strange half-moon, glimmering white on the horizon alongside dark shapes reminiscent of something from the old Soviet Block.
It’s tempting to turn away, back into the woods to have a gander at Goose Hill via its wide rides and gently rising pathways, but there’s something haunting about the flat lands and what lies beyond them.
Time to turn again and all of a sudden, from a boardwalk bridge the world looks reflectively wet. Wading out waist-high, Silver birch trees attempt to make a getaway back to the relative safety of the damp meadow.
Amidst the shush of swaying branches, mallard – or could it be the rare treat of a Gadwall or two? – give their game away with sounds of ducky dabbling. This is a somehow a secretive and swampy sort of place where perhaps anyone would fear to tread, if it wasn’t for the boardwalk.
But soon you’re out in the open again, and the picture before you is a blaze of heady coconut scented gorse flowers interspersed by towering bushes of green broom.
In the mid-distance, the sun’s low rays touch the tree-tips of the emerging heathland, warming them to pink or gold. There’s sand on your boots and at your feet, a whole intriguing emerald, silver and golden-brown treasure-trove-world in microcosm.
Lush, verdant starbursts and pale coral-like clumps, tiny toadstools and the most fragile-looking, minute fanfare trumpets. The more you look, the more you see.
What those tiny trumpets herald is the vast shingle-stretch of Sizewell shoreline. Even on its brightest and busiest days, there’s something almost eerie and other-worldly about this part of Suffolk’s coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Before you go over the edge to the platform of pebbles, huge concrete anti-tank blocks bar the way north to anything but pedestrians.
To the south, between dunes and a defensive-looking, scrub-covered bank, a wide flat plain dotted with flora from bright gorse in winter to pale blue, serendipitous harebells in summer, stretches out towards a powerful plant that’s unique in Britain – Sizewell B Power Station, the UK’s only Pressured Water Reactor.
Like the pine forests of Kenton and Goose Hills planted in the late fifties, the great pleasure pond and Edwardian holiday village at Thorpeness, the lost harbours of Dunwich and Blythburgh or the soon-to-be-gone lighthouse on Orford Ness, it’s all part of an ever-changing Suffolk where both man and nature are constantly called upon to adapt, accept and survive.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, struggling farm labourers turned from fields to foreshores for income as ‘greenhand’ sailors. Many also kept watch by night to land illicit cargos from cutters dropping anchor off Benacre, or at the quiet cove where fishing boats still sit today - the place known as ‘Sizewell Gap’.
For them, in the decades before Garretts’ Leiston foundry offered a real alternative, becoming ‘free-traders’ – smugglers of tea, tobacco and spirits across the Sizewell marshes and through tunnels rumoured to lurk under Leiston Common – was just another way of keeping their loved and little ones from starvation.
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Beyond Sizewell’s shingle banks, home to hardy sea-anglers, sea-peas, sea-kale, sea-holly and the haunts of ground-nesting birds, an inland turn by the lonely look-out soon leaves tarmacked paths for a lane that’s sandy by name and nature.
With the mere push of a kissing gate, the world opens out again into a beautiful, wide breathing space of rough meadow and pulls you gently uphill towards the great coral-fans of distant trees. It’s a different sort of Sizewell Gap and smugglers’ seascape, one of warm greens, grey-pinks and browns with a grassy surface-shimmer of pale moonlight white.
A few steps further and the vast sandy plateau of Leiston Common completes the picture. Here, the gorsey scrub conceals linnets serenading their young, the first Green Hairstreak butterflies of early spring and the old studio haunt of a much-loved nature book artist and Leiston Communist councillor of note - Paxton Chadwick (1903-1961).
Paxton Chadwick taught at Leiston’s pioneering Summerhill School in the 1930s and was part of a Communist group which saw Leiston-cum-Sizewell briefly dubbed ‘Moscow-on-Sea’.
The plants, birds, insects and animals of the landscape around his home in Sandy Lane, Sizewell were inspiration for his work.
From the 1950s covers of King Penguin books, like British Butterflies, to Puffin picture books and Cassels botanical guides, such as Spring Flowers of the Woods/Seashore, featuring beautifully entwined, highly detailed fold-out pantoscopes, his work is still revered today as a ‘vintage’ favourite.
1) Start at Kenton Hills car park (IP16 4UP) off B1069 near Leiston. Enter woods by information boards (corner of car park). Go straight ahead to Kenton Hills. At junction of paths by pines,
2) At T- junction, go right onto Sandlings Way (Walk) to reach Goose Hill marshes where path leads right between Goose Hill and the marshes.
3) Take path with white-on-red sign ‘6’ (right - still Sandlings Way) over boardwalk bridge. Path bears left. At sandy heathland keep straight ahead. Concrete anti-tank blocks come into view. Shingle beach and sea are straight ahead.
4) Before the shingle beach, turn right by information board (signed Sandlings Walk / Suffolk Coast Path). Continue parallel to beach, past power station. At Sizewell tearoom (right), keep straight ahead.
5) Turn right to reach road. Go straight past pub (left) and past turning for Sizewell Hall/Wardens Trust.
6) Cross to take Sandy Lane (right), white-on-red sign ‘19’/bridleway. At driveway to house, path turns left. Go through kissing gate (white-on-red sign ‘17’), then second kissing gate, uphill to
a junction of paths.
7) Take right fork to find footpath (left) running along edge of Reckham Lodge towards Leiston Common. Path leads straight ahead through bracken to common. Keep on this cross-common path (Paxton Chadwick’s flat-roofed studio left) towards telegraph pole and gate, just left of house with white window frames.
8) Through gate, turn left down track to meet road (B1069/Lovers Lane).
9) Turn right, past recycling centreto where road bends left.
10) Turn right onto track (wooden sign – Kenton Hills) to reach car park.
Distance: 5 miles / 8 kms
Time: 2 hours
Start: Kenton Hills Car Park, off B1069 near Leiston (IP16 4UP)
Getting there / back: www.nationalrail.co.uk / www.suffolkonboard.com
Parking: Car park, High Street, Leiston (IP16 4BZ)
Access: Woodland footpaths; boardwalk; tarmac roads, pavement. Kissing gates.
Big Map to hand: OS Explorer 212
Ts & Ps: Leiston; Sizewell Tearoom (Open from late March) and pub.