Suffolk Walking Festival: Previewing the 2019 Challenge Walk
PUBLISHED: 14:54 10 May 2019
David Falk, Suffolk County Council's Green Access manager, scopes out this year's Suffolk Walking Festival Challenge Walk
My alarm has been sounding before sunrise recently. I awake to the melodic sound of The Rock singing Good Morning Sunshine (download the app if you're curious!), and within an hour I'm at Ipswich train station.
This morning it's freezing. There was a light frost when I left the house, the car thermometer read zero, but as I drove into town the sun gently emerged above the horizon, spreading a golden first-light over everything.
At the station dark suits and long coats wait patiently for a London bound train. Breath steams around heads like cigar smoke. With coffee and croissant in hand I tread behind the crowds to platform 1B and board a two-carriage diesel train that gently rumbles and stirs.
The London train arrives, the platform empties, and my train slowly fills with padded jackets, woolly hats and bright cagoules.
I'm on the East Suffolk Line heading north towards Lowestoft to walk one of Suffolk's long distance trails. The East Suffolk Line Walks was created 15 years ago and we're marking its anniversary by making it the Challenge Walk in this year's Suffolk Walking Festival.
My first Challenge Walk was back in 2012. That year we followed the St Edmund Way between Flatford and Mildenhall and over the years we've covered most of Suffolk's long distance routes - the Stour Valley Path, the Suffolk Coast Path, the Sandlings Walk, the Angles Way, but never the East Suffolk Line Walks. Until now.
The walk will start in Lowestoft and, over five consecutive days, go station to station, finishing in Christchurch Park in Ipswich. Today I'm scoping Saxmundham to Melton, the longest day at 16 miles.
I empty at Saxmundham station and roll downhill past The Bell Inn before striding out of town. The morning frost was just to fool me. The day will transform into the warmest February day since records began. Early signs of spring are everywhere.
Daffodils vie with snowdrops for space in woodlands, a butterfly leads me along a track, tiny insects hang in the shade of a tree and strands of spider web waft out of hedgerows, creating a silk curtain to walk through.
The 16 miles to Melton are simply lovely, verdant Suffolk countryside of gently rolling fields, magnificent trees and the occasional oddity. I pass a hall with impressive grounds and there, among the trees, a dozen pure white emus. It's a slightly surreal scene, more Alice in Wonderland than Suffolk.
At Blaxhall, I stop by a magical cut-out of a shepherd with colourful balloons welcoming me to picturesque St Peter's Church. The church stands alone, by the edge of a quiet lane, surrounded by fields. It'll make an excellent lunch stop on the day of the walk.
I pass pig farms where animals scatter as I approach, buzzards keep company with cat-like mewing and at Ufford Church I watch a barn owl quartering, before it sees me and detours into a field oak.
I cross a paddock with an inquisitive horse, and a field of cows and calves with lots of eyeballing. I stand invisible to two hares that skip and run, dance, then frolic away. And I wander past poetic place names - Snape Watering, Botany Wood, Rackham's Grove, Campsea Ashe, Decoy Pond, Whin Covert.
After seven hours I approach Wilford Bridge and cross the penultimate rail crossing before looping past the River Deben to Melton station.
Out of sight I hear the level crossing descend as the Ipswich train arrives and then departs. It'll be an hour until the next train, but I don't care. The sun is beating down and sitting at an outside table at Honey and Harvey café, opposite the station, is simply bliss.
I take stock of the route, make copious notes, work out stops along the way and look forward to walking the route again, with about 45 others, in mid-May.
The Suffolk Walking Festival
May 11 - June 2
The festival offers over 120 walks and events. All walks must be booked in advance. Visit suffolkwalkingfestival.co.uk for more information and tickets.
The Challenge Walk is Saturday May 18 - Wednesday May 22. It follows the East Suffolk Line Walks between Lowestoft and Ipswich. Each day is a lineal walk of between 10 and 16 miles, with either train or coach return.
This year's festival has 14 walks of over 10 miles, including the five-day Challenge Walk. They are the Flower of East Suffolk Coastal Walk (Minsmere, Dunwich, Walberswick), Shore to Shore (starting and finishing at Pin Mill), Bluebell Walk (ancient woodlands and Alton Water), Bury to Lavenham, Nowton Park Circular Walk to Great Whelnetham, Needham Lakes, Angels And Devils in the Blyth Valley (sold out).