The Suffolk Walking Festival 2019: Everything you need to know

PUBLISHED: 11:24 19 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:24 19 March 2019

Suffolk Walking Festival challenge walkers

Suffolk Walking Festival challenge walkers

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Organiser David Falk takes us through the numerous events you can get involved with in the 2019 edition of The Suffolk Walking Festival

I remember it was the tail end of November last year. I was sitting, with a colleague, in a small windowless meeting room. Large sheets of A3 paper, filled with spreadsheets of coloured columns, lay around us.

Laptops were open, radiating blue light. One was connected to a large wall-mounted monitor, glowing information into our faces. Two plain white mugs of tepid tea sat on paper towel coasters and a half-eaten peeled banana infused the air. Our conversation went a bit like this.

“She’s called Kite.”

“That’s a funny name.”

“She’s a dog.”

“A dog’s leading a walk? That’ll be fun!”

Suffolk Walking Festival night safariSuffolk Walking Festival night safari

We were piecing together the 2019 Suffolk Walking Festival programme. Over 150 walks and events had been submitted and our job was to sift through forms and emails to decide the final content. We looked at dates to spread the programme evenly over three weeks. We considered weekends, bank holidays, and the magnetic Suffolk Show. We checked locations to ensure we covered the whole county.

Then we categorised each walk to make sure there was something for everyone – short strolls, gentle rambles, long hikes, family walks, history walks, nature walks, story-telling, art lessons, photography courses, walks with boat trips, walks with breakfasts, walks with train rides.

“What else have we got?”

“Well, there’s talking to tawny owls, riding in vintage military vehicles and a Thames Barge down the Orwell.” At this stage I began to wonder if we’d gone slightly off-piste . . .

I’ve been involved in the Suffolk Walking Festival since it started. Originally the Heart of Suffolk Walking Festival, delivering 30 walks around the middle of the county, it grew and morphed into the Suffolk Walking Festival in 2010.

It now stands proudly as one of Britain’s longest running and largest walking festivals, and the only walking festival in East Anglia. Last year it left an incredible 24 million footprints across the county and pumped nearly £200,000 into the local economy.

Suffolk Walking Festival Thames bargeSuffolk Walking Festival Thames barge

Sitting with my colleague back in November our excitement was growing. The 2019 Suffolk Walking Festival was shaping up to be our most innovative and varied to date. There’s Kite, of course, who’s day job is the Orford Ness sheepdog.

Kite will be joined by her shepherd owner to explain how sheep keep the reserve managed for wildlife. Then there’s the Night Safari where we’ll enter an ancient woodland just after sundown to experience the wood’s nocturnal life slowly waken. And we really will talk to owls.

Then there’s the six-mile walk to Eye Airfield to learn about its war time history with a ride back in vintage military vehicles, before they make a long journey to Normandy for D-Day commemorations. And there’s the walk learning about the long and fascinating history of Ipswich’s Waterfront followed by a Thames Barge voyage down the River Orwell.

The festival has over 120 other walks and events from dawn chorus to hidden orchids, from Arthur Ransome to John Constable, and from Anglo-Saxons to naval heritage. There’s even murder, myths and a little bit of magic. And this year sees the second Fringe Festival, a series of events where walking takes a slight back seat to allow you to immerse yourself in the very heart of Suffolk’s landscape, to capture or experience the countryside in new ways.

Suffolk Walking Festival military vehicles Eye airfieldSuffolk Walking Festival military vehicles Eye airfield

I could wax lyrically about the festival all day long. Indeed, some days I do! But seeing how it has developed over the last 11 years and how it has evolved and changed has been a joy.

It touches many, many people, not just those who sign up to walk, but all the volunteers that lead walks, sharing their enthusiasm for their county. I’ll leave the final words about the festival to some of our walkers from last year.

“The most relaxed and friendly walk I’ve been on to date.”

“It was brilliant. Great guides, lovely weather and loads of hares and a barn owl was spotted!”

“The entire event was lovely from start to finish.”

Suffolk Walking Festival logoSuffolk Walking Festival logo

How to get walking

- The 2019 Suffolk Walking Festival is May 11 to June 2

- Over 120 walks and events are listed in this year’s programme

- All walks are ticketed, and all tickets must be purchased in advance

- Brochures are available in various outlets including tourist information centres and Cotswold Outdoors

- To find more information visit suffolkwalkingfestival.co.uk

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