Suffolk’s best walks: A riverside stroll between Melton and Woodbridge
PUBLISHED: 13:29 08 January 2019 | UPDATED: 15:44 16 September 2020
Lindsay Want shares a new year’s stroll along the River Deben path between Melton and Woodbridge
Don’t you just love New Year’s resolutions? Making them always seems simple – you promise yourself more exercise, more time spent with friends and family, perhaps a new hobby. You know you’ll feel better for it, but it’s so hard to know where to begin. You could get a train, bus or lift to Melton…
It’s only an hour’s stroll from Melton’s Wilford Bridge to Woodbridge Tide Mill, along the banks of the Deben. Forty-five minutes, if you’re quick. Less if you jog. Or as long as you like, of course, if you take the ‘bins’ to keep a beady eye on the widgeon and warblers.
But whether you’ve alighted at Melton station on a crisp winter’s morning with brand-new birdwatching intentions, or simply parked up for free at Melton Riverside for a summertime family picnic amid the oxeye daisies, the view at the top of the river wall steps is always a breathtaking surprise.
Nothing quite prepares you for the width of the valley as it weaves its way towards Martlesham Creek in the low-lying distance.
For the sheer scale of the Suffolk sky, the tide being in, or out for that matter, for the stillness, cut by the occasional curlew cry or pierced by the sharp triangles of a sailboat. Up here, with or without a bracing breeze, cobwebs are blown away as your world takes on a new perspective.
Round the first bend, the steely river wall softens by the mudflats into a little pocket of green. Behind in the boatyard, the wind tickles the spinnakers into the tinkle of a song, but the overwintering avocets take it all in their stride.
Even on the brightest of blue-sky days, the Deben is full of dark secrets and the waders have discovered some of them, just a beak’s dip below the silty surface.
With the tide out, tiny streams snake across the shimmering river-bed. It’s haunting, timeless and eerily captivating, just like the black timbers of the boatwrecks, slowly sinking into the broad silt banks.
This Deben stretch raises many questions and hides many answers. On other side of the river Brown’s Planting and Home Wood give way to a glimpse of Sutton Hoo’s Tranmer House, high above the salt marsh flats of Little Haugh.
The flood gates open and release the gush of compelling tales about Mrs Pretty’s ghostly horsemen, Basil Brown’s daring diggings and the warrior king buried with all his finery in a mighty Saxon ship at the very top of the valley.
There are plans to build a full-size replica of the great ship at Whisstocks former boatyard, the HQ of the Woodbridge Riverside Trust.
A golden age
Looking out across the shallow streamlets at low tide, imagine a deep, deep Deben, bearing great ships down river to the North Sea.
And as you edge into Woodbridge, along the riverside and rail-side path, down urban green lanes to Lime Kiln Quay and other boatyard sites past and present, imagine the 17th century shipyards here, which built vast Men o’ War from Framlingham forests for Edward III and Sir Francis Drake, and the Sovereign of the Seas, commissioned by Charles I, hailed as the largest ship of its time.
These days you can watch swashbuckling stories and adventure movies in the Riverside Cinema, built as an original 1915 electric palace on an old slipway off Quay Street, although there is nothing to remember the bold local fellows who built the town’s largest ever ship there in 1675, the 663 ton Kingfisher.
The tides of time
By the Lime Kiln Quay crescent of new builds come a little clutch of unexplained Deben-side surprises. First, an adorable Tom Moye squid sculpture makes a gentle industrial heritage link, then there’s an odd, Edwardian-style timbered bungalow, which now seems as out of place here as the flourish of carved archway on its porch.
Was there once a popular river-water swimming pool behind it, commissioned by the Robertsons of boatyard fame, where exhibition diving and races drew paying crowds? If they could talk, the workers’ cottages of the little adjacent Victorian brick terrace would surely know.
There is a real sense that people round here care about the place. By the re-purposed mill pond, now the Tide Mill Yacht Harbour, bobbing with pleasure craft and more tinkling spinnakers, another urban green lane leads to a boat-house-cum-cruise-ship of an office building, with porthole windows, and deep balconies hanging off the sides like lifeboats.
The bright white weatherboarding of the iconic tide mill on the edge of Bass’s Quay is only steps away and the town’s historic streets just a tiny inland meander.
In days gone by, a high-water crossing service linked Woodbridge to Ferry Cliff and Ferry Hill opposite, with Sutton Hoo’s mystical mounds just a short footpath climb further.
Perhaps one day it will be re-instated, then rather than retracing steps or letting the train take the strain of getting back, this inspirational Deben walk might go full circle to Melton and ‘Will Ford’s’ Bridge.
Ordnance Survey maps are available from all good booksellers and outdoor stores or visit our online shop www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/al
1) Alight at Melton Railway Station. Turn right. Go over the level crossing, along the pavement by the side of the road to a footpath with a kissing gate (right, with the East Suffolk Line railway walk waymarker). This leads parallel to the railway line and station (right) to steps up to the river wall.
Alternatively, take the footpath near the information board and exit in Melton Riverside car park. Go over a wooden footbridge and turn left to join the footpath from the road to the river wall.
2) Turn right towards Woodbridge, following the path along the river wall.
3) The path narrows as it snakes through the Granary Boatyard, past level crossing number 2, then briefly becomes a high and a low path on the approach to houseboats.
4) A countryside stretch where the river seems at its widest without a building, farmstead, let alone a town, in sight!
5) Continue by Melton Quay, through the site of Melton Boat Club and past level crossing number 3 with views towards Mill Hills and the old maltings (right).
6) The footpath bears inland and at tarmacked area by level crossing number 4 leads left, between buildings and a high hedge parallel to the railway line.
This opens out to a cul de sac of new buildings (Lime Kiln Quay). Follow the waymarkers towards the left to head down a track between an historic bungalow with a carved timber porch and a terrace of brick cottages. The track becomes a green lane before views (left) to the marina cutting alongside balconied offices.
7) At the Tide Mill, continue round the quayside. The footbridge over the railway leads to the town and the station (8), or continue along the riverside to the Deben Rowing Club and the popular decking terraces of the Tea Hut café overlooking the model boating lake (9)…
Distance: 1.5 miles/2.5 kms
Time: 1 hour
Start: Melton Railway Station or Melton Riverside car park IP12 2PA
Parking: Melton Riverside IP12 2PA
Access: Riverside path, tarmac, cobbles, pavements, steps, gates. Waymarked – East Suffolk Line/Sandlings Walk.
Big Map to hand: OS Explorer 212
Ts & Ps: Wilford Bridge pub, Melton (pub, shop, takeaway), Woodbridge (pubs, cafés, shops, public conveniences).