I arrived in Wells-next-the-sea on Friday afternoon, parking near the Youth Hostel and walking through the very quaint, narrow streets, passing rows of cottages made out the local flint. The street slopes gently upwards and it wasn’t long before I reached the main narrow street with small shops and cafes, and bunting across it. It slopes gently down towards the harbour and you can see the harbour wall and the mud flats beyond it. I stopped to look at the Albatross tall ship in the harbour which is a café serving Dutch pancakes and has a bar below. It is difficult to resist them!
I walked past the Harbour Master’s office, and place nearby where the depth of water was being constantly measured in January during the high tide and possible storm surge, when the shops had had flood defences across the doorways.
The path to the beach is a mile long, and straight, on a sea defence. Just across the road a small train takes families to the beach at a very slow speed. From the top of the sea defence I could see a very dramatic cloud formation above the pine forest in the distance.
It was very hot and sunny on the beach but there was an anvil shaped cloud formation out at sea, and when I heard thunder I decided to shorten my walk and return to the town.
The storm clouds seemed to be following me and it gradually got much darker, but didn’t stop a woman from paddling a SUP. I got back to my car 5 minutes after a hail storm started.
My plan to walk around the UK hasn’t gone quite to plan and distracted by the promise of good walks and the best cheesecake in the world, I went camping with my friends in Norfolk. We pitched our tents at Burnham Deepdale at the camp site we went to last year. It seemed posher and much more popular this year, and instead of a well-ventilated shower block, where the wind blows through the door, there is a brand new shower block with wet rooms, hairdryers and insulation from the outside air. I preferred it before, although the new showers are wonderful. With a lot of help I assembled my tent and went to the Jolly Sailors pub, and watched my friends eat fish and chips, while I tried to stick to my diet. We walked back to our tents before the heavy rain and wind started. I had a short walk in the dark in the middle of the night to the shower block wearing jeggings, a dress over a nightie, a fleece, a waterproof jacket, shoes and a Cath Kidston umbrella. My tent survived the wind and rain and the rain had stopped by morning so I could cook beans on my camping stove.
We caught a bus just before 9.30 am to Old Hunstanton, where I first started my walks in January. We got off the bus at the post office and walked towards Le Strange Arms hotel, the lifeboat station and the café on the beach, passing the beach huts and walking onto the beach. The weather was mild and I soon had my coat tied around my waist. We walked along the sandy beach flanked by dunes and a golf course on the right hand side and a sandy beach leading to the sea on the other side. I remembered the metal gabions on the beach full of flints and the time I visited the beach in January after the storm surge when I’d found a red wellington boot washed up on the beach. It was much easier to walk in this milder weather. I also remembered walking from Old Hunstanton with two other walkers and a dog in January.
Further along the beach the sand was replaced by mud and someone found samphire and sea lavender. We missed the turning towards the golf course leading to Holme Dunes Nature Reserve. I was looking for a tumbled down shed and a sign on the beach pointing inland. Instead I saw the timber frame of a new shed and a slightly worn path, but there was no sign on the beach. We walked on, the walk was very pleasant, but realised we couldn’t cross a creek and I noticed buildings inside and people near a footpath by them. We spoke to a walker going the other way who suggested we could paddle across a shallow part of the creek with a sandy base, but we weren’t keen to do that and retraced our steps, back to the path leading to the nature reserve at the bottom of the golf course.
The walk across Holme Dunes Nature Reserve is wonderful in the summer and winter, but the winter view is less obscured by trees and brambles. It is wonderful to be on slightly higher ground than usual, with a view of breaking surf beyond the marram grass. There was a group of wild Konik ponies grazing together in the sunshine. My friends found a circle of tree stumps under pine trees so we stopped for our picnic lunch. It was lovely to sit in the shade. My friend who’d organised the walk explained that we had only done 1/3 of the walk so we didn’t stop for long, but she had made a delicious tea bread which was lovely to eat. We walked on to Thornham , walking up a hill near the end of the village, looking for the footpath sign. It was very hot walking up the road and there wasn’t much shade. I was pleased I had brought 2 litres of water with me, but by this stage was trailing behind the others, and kept stopping to drink water.
When I’d done this walk in January with a handsome man and a woman with a lovely dog, we’d had problems finding the footpath, wondering if it was before or after the brow of a hill, then just when we were about to give up, the wooden Norfolk Coastal path sign appeared. It was the same today, but in very different weather. The cold in the winter had made the walk seem like a challenge but the heat of today was also challenging. When we turned off the footpath we were under the shade of the trees, and the cold was delicious. We sat down to rest and drink water. Soon we were in the open again, walking next to fields, to a large agricultural building and then turning left towards the coast again, passing the vans that looked as if they were being lived in and a row of washing hung between trees.
We reached Blakney! I remembered the sign pointing to a beach half a mile away when I had discovered a lovely sandy beach in January which I had never been to before. I remembered my handsome friend eating chocolate buttons on a bench at the end of a walk before catching the Coasthopper bus back to Old Hunstanton. However, today was different. My friend who had organised the weekend was continuing the walk back to our campsite at Burnham Deepdale. This is part of another walk I thought, last time I couldn’t have walked any further than this. We didn’t go to the sandy beach but instead followed the footpath, partly on a boardwalk, passing reeds and the site where a Roman Fort had once stood, towards. Near a yacht club something strange happened. In heat I saw an ice cream van, selling Italian ice cream. My friends were all ahead of me on the opposite side of the path to the ice cream van. I walked towards the ice cream. “Come away from the van” they all shouted, ignoring what I was saying, “go on ahead of me, I’ll catch you up, I know where I am!” They knew I was on a diet and were trying to help me! What I didn’t know was that one of them had decided to stop for an ice cream if I had one too!
We walked on, back to the camp site, and after hot showers, had a wonderful barbecue with salads and garlic bread and wine. It didn’t rain, although it was windy. My little tent withstood the wind and felt cosy and comfortable.
The following day we went to Morston and walked a short way across the marshes to a jetty where two wooden boats were moored, each like a giant rowing boat.
Each boat held almost 50 passengers. We climbed from one boat to another and sat down. I enjoyed travelling up the creek, looking at the boats and the marshes.
It was lovely to be at sea again.
We had the mainland on one side and Blakney Point on the other.
The skipper explained that this is a site of Special Scientific Interest and that small birds called turns nest on the beach.
It is also home to grey seals and common seals.
The boat turned around so we could take more photographs of the seals.
Other boats also went past so other people could take photographs. The skipper said that it is only possible to visit the seals for 5 hours a day because of the tides. I wondered if the seals prefer it when they don’t have visitors.
Sometimes good plans don’t work out, sometimes they do. I’ve missed out parts of the coastline; the Sailor’s path from Aldeburgh to Snape Maltings, Butley Ferry to Shingle Street, parts of Felixstowe and I have used the argument that if you can cross a stretch of water by ferry you don’t have to walk it. This philosophy saved me a short distance of walking in Suffolk by catching the ferry to Walberswick. It has saved me a great deal of walking around rivers like the Stour and the Orwell, although I feel as if I’m cheating, very badly. I have walked lots of times as a child and young adult along the River Orwell from Pin Mill while my father was painting the underneath of his small boat with horrible smelling anti-fouling paint.
My purse had been lost or stolen in Felixstowe a week earlier, I had a small amount of money with me and had paid for two very cheap hotels in Clacton which included the cost of breakfast. I had a small amount of food with me, limited cash due to a misunderstanding with my bank, and an emergency £5 to buy petrol for my car if it ran low on fuel. I decided to eat as much breakfast as I could, and eat the fruit and other food I had brought with me. I found another £5 note in my rucksack, so only had £10 and a handful of change to last for 2 days, saving some for fuel.
I drove to Harwich and found somewhere to park where I didn’t have to pay anything at all. This was a bonus. I parked at the side of the road near two buildings on stilts, took out my phone to take photos of these beautiful and strange structures but the camera on my phone wasn’t working. This was very disappointing, like my walk from Dunwich. I deleted hundreds of photos but the camera still didn’t work. It was a cold, overcast day. I kept trying to photograph the two cylindrical structures on metal stilts, one in front of the other, one by the beach and other out to sea, but my camera still didn’t work. I seemed to be in the middle of the curve of a bay. To the south I could see a tall tower in a peninsular, and wondered if it was the Naze tower.
I walked past a mown grassy bank, on a wide pavement on the sea front, next to a very wide cyclepath. There were houses with several floors further back, a little like the houses in Felixstowe. It was still cold, windy and the sky was overcast. I could see half a dozen tall cranes, ships across a wide expanse of water and ferries. I walked to a museum, but it was cold. I found a small pub which looked a little run down from the outside but was very nice inside and bought a pot of tea for about £1.50. I warmed up and so did my phone. Very briefly I could see through the camera the grain on the table. Then it stopped working again. A group of men sat at the table next to me, laughing and joking, and not much older than me. They were talking about going somewhere and what they needed to wear, they couldn’t wear jeans and could only wear smart shorts if they were long and had a crease ironed down the front. They wanted to play golf, but the dress code at Frinton was strict and their friend only had a pair of jeans so wouldn’t be allowed on the golf course. The landlord brought them free biscuits. I wasn’t offered one.
Disappointed and hungry I left the pub. I’d seen a beautiful tower earlier, perhaps a lighthouse, similar to one I’d seen at Lowestoft. I walked towards it, passing some lovely buildings, and an old cinema, painted white with a curved and stepped roof. I tried to take a photo but my camera was still not working. Not far away was the high lighthouse tower, a lovely brick built tower, with a triangular roof like a hat, about 200 years old. It also marked the end of the Essex Way, and became known as the misleading lights when part of the harbour had silted up, and was no longer used after then.
Further along the road I saw two flag posts near a house flying two flags. I realised that they were next to a road which led to a fort. I walked up a slope to the Redoubt Fort, hidden behind houses. A large, circular area of earth had been dug out, the fort had been built inside, hollow in the middle, with a dry moat around it. There were cannons on the roof. The entry fee was only £3.00 and I was also able to buy several postcards for 10 each, so my money went a long way. There were no other visitors, and the woman on the kiosk showed me the view from the roof, where the rivers Stour and the Orwell were. I should have walked up these rivers, and felt emotional when I saw the river Orwell. I sailed there in my late teens, on my father’s boat, from Pin Mill to Harwich and sometimes out to sea. He had sailed, without me, from Pin Mill to Harwich then on to Holland a number of times when I was a teenager. The journey would take him two or three days. I wasn’t ready to walk by the Orwell, at least not on my own and I had no walking companions today.
It was cold on the fort and windy. There were small cannons from ships on the roof, larger cannons and the lady from the kiosk explained that the fort had been built during the Napoleonic Wars but had never been used then. Instead it had been used on other occasions. During WW1 conscientious objectors had been put in straight jackets and imprisoned in the cells on the ground floor of the fort. I climbed down the well worn staircase and visited the cells and other rooms. There was an interesting slide show about how local volunteers in the 1960s had restored the fort, removing trees from the moat, abandoned cars from the roof of the fort and lots of rubble. In another room was moving project local school children had carried out, interviewing elderly people who had been child refugees on the kinder transport during WW2. I explored other rooms in the fort and briefly my camera worked and took a very poor quality photo of the inside of a room.
I walked next to the water’s edge back to my car. My camera briefly worked again, near the docks and I took some more, very poor quality photos.
Then the camera didn’t work again, not near the sea front with its mown lawn, the statue of Queen Victoria, the lovely light houses on stilts, or near the lovely row of beach huts or the swans on a pond nearby. I couldn’t photograph the curved, sandy bay or the dogs swimming in the water. I was cold, my feet were walking, I was tired from staying in a cheap hotel with thin curtains that let in the light at 5am. I hadn’t been back to Felixstowe to walk to the Martello tower I hadn’t seen and I hadn’t walked from Clacton to Jaywick. I had just enough petrol to get home the following day, with an emergency £5, a bag of fruit and a sachet of dried pasta and cheese sauce which I poured boiling water over and ate out of a mug in my room. It was horrible!
Inspired by my visit last week to the site of the church in Iken, built on the site of land given to St Botulph, where he’d established a monastery in the 7th century AD, and learning that Dunwich had once been home to Saxons, I’d driven past the Sutton Hoo museum on my way to Felixstowe a week ago. It is about 9 miles from Iken and 15 miles from Felixstowe. I decided to go back to look around Sutton Hoo, never having been there before. By the carpark was a small bluebell wood, in full flower.
The museum is run by the National Trust. Having lost my membership card in my purse last week, and only having a small amount of money with me, I was pleased that the staff at the entrance were able to look up my membership details on their computer and let me in free.
I watched a short film in the museum about the Saxon mask being excavated, and the burial mounds nearby, before walking around the site and seeing the burial mounds, which had sheep grazing on them and nearby was a large field of pigs.
I wondered how much Saxon history has already been lost to the sea, and how much of our current way of life will also be lost to coastal erosion.
I had wanted to continue my walk from the previous day from Boyton, near the Butley Ferry (a small rowing boat) to Shingle Street. However, the kind friend who had helped me find my way along the inland stretch of the Suffolk Coastal Path the previous day was unable to walk with me and there was no public transport where I wanted to go. Also, this was a remote area to walk in and I was reluctant to do this on my own. It was also cold and windy. Instead I chose to go to Felixstowe, thinking I could always catch a ferry from there and walk to Shingle Street. I understand it is a very bleak place, but has a mysterious past and myths and legend surround bodies being washed up on the beach during WW2.
I walked along the sea front, passing large houses which reflected the past and current prosperity of this important sea port. A fun run was taking place with hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, two runners were dressed as Spider Man, another as Pricess Leia. It was a cold, windy day but it was nice to watch the runners and spectators having fun.
Foam was whipped up by the waves and there were white crests on the tops of the waves out at sea.
The pier wasn’t open, construction work was taking place on it.
Rows of pastel coloured beach huts faced the sea and behind them were beautiful Victorian terraced gardens.
Next to the gardens daisies were growing on the sea defences.
I came to the end of the sea front as the tide was in so I was unable to continue along the beach to the Martello towers and the ferry so I walked back, but spray was splashing over the path from the sea.
I stopped at a café for a bowl of soup and walked to the sea front place I was staying at. When I tried to check in I realised that my purse was missing. I made several phone calls and with a heavy heart returned home. I had not planned to spend a bank holiday on the A14 but at least I was early enough to beat the rush hour traffic. Road signs warned of the speed limits for different types of vehicles, for traffic leaving the large ferries. I was unable to spend two days walking, catching small ferries to Shingle Street in the north or to Harwich in the south. Colleagues at work had bought me some vouchers for my favourite shop, which sells maps. The vouchers had been in my lost or stolen purse. They had joined me on my adventure, but I had been unable to buy maps with them. This was very sad, but I am very grateful to all the kind people who bought the vouchers for me.
Update: 10th June 2017. I had a visit to my dentist’s surgery this week. The following day his receptionist phoned me to say that she had just had a phone call from a woman at the Pavillion Theatre box office in Felixstowe saying that she had found my purse in the lost property box! Someone had found it and had handed it in! I phoned up and arranged to collect the purse today, pleased that after several weeks I was reunited with all the cards (even the cancelled ones) in it, and the voucher from my work colleagues. I bought a delicious raspberry sorbet from the theatre restaurant It was a hot, cloudless day and I had an enjoyable walk along the sea front. I’d probably not tell my dentist and his employees that I bought chocolates for the woman who had phoned me about my lost purse!
It is not possible to walk the full stretch of coastline from Aldeburgh. The river Alde meanders through Lantern Marshes, flowing into the River Ore which runs between land and the shingle spit called Orford beach at Hollesley Bay. The Suffolk coastal path skirts around the edge of Aldeburgh, going through Black Heath Wood to Snape and on to The Maltings. My last walk didn’t follow this route, departing from the Suffolk Coastal Path by continuing through Aldeburgh to Slaughden where I could see the huge, round squat Martello tower in the distance.
I started my walk from Snape Maltings, a collection of shops and cafes, a famous concert hall and sculptures. I was joined by a friend I’ve done several walks with over previous years, who very kindly navigated the whole route for me and helped with car sharing, leaving one car at the start point and one at the finishing point of the walk as there is no public transport between both.
The path led us past Long Reach, a very picturesque tidal river, and we took a short diversion away from the Coastal Path along Cliff Reach and a minor road to look at Iken church; partly thatched, small and very beautiful inside. We rejoined the coastal path and walked through Tunstall Forest to Chillesford. For parts of the route the path was sand and it was like walking on a beach. There was a lot of agricultural land, with fields of potatoes being grown under fleece, and we had to run along a small section of path so we weren’t soaked by an irrigation system. There were also fields of mud with corrugated iron pig stys and pigs standing in mud, or walking around. Some had small piglets following them.
At Chillesford we had to make the difficult decision, given my slow walking pace to decide which side of the River Butley to walk. If we walked on the west side, we would be the same side as my friend’s car at the end of the walk. However, if we walked on the east side we could catch the Butley ferry across the river, but only if we reached it on time and if it wasn’t too rough for the ferry to cross. We decided to chose the safer option.
There was large expanse of reeds at Butley Mills and we walked past bluebells in a wood at Butley High Corner. It was a cold and windy day, much warmer where it was sheltered than where it was exposed. Near the end of the walk we climbed Burrow Hill, a steep hill by Suffolk standards. The top has is slightly hollow and from there we could see boats on the River Butley.
The ferry boat was a small wooden boat, rowed by a man who lived in Shingle Street. I asked if we could go across the river and come back, but it was too late. He was only making one more crossing and it would leave us on the wrong side of the river. We walked back to my friend’s car and saw some very young calves in a field nearby. Then we headed back to Snape Maltings for a pot of tea, to try to warm up!