Walking the Suffolk Coast

The other day I set out with some friends to walk the stretch of coast from Aldeburgh to Walberswick in Suffolk. It’s about eighteen miles in all, and when I told people about our plan I was struck by the fact that they always wanted to know why we were doing it.  Seems like a stupid question doesn’t it? These days so many people do stuff for charity it was if no one could conceive of us walking such a distance for the sheer fun of it. Perhaps it’s no more than a comment on our prowess as walkers. Or maybe it says something about the Suffolk Coast, which is just not that well-known as a scenic area of Britain. After all, no one ever asks you why you might walk up a mountain in the Lake District, do they?

The fact is most people are surprised by the Suffolk Coast, which despite its proximity can feel as unspoilt and wild as anywhere in the country. You can follow the coastal path pretty much all the way, and it made for a gorgeous an relatively easy day’s walking; indeed it’s amazing how far you can walk when there are no gradients to climb.

From Aldeburgh the coastal path follows the beach, past Maggi Hamblin's Scallop Sheel sculpture in memory of local Benjamin Britten, before arriving in Thorpeness. From here you can follow a beautiful heathland route along the top of sandy cliffs before descending slightly down to Sizewell where the dome of the nuclear reactor dominates a rugged stretch of coast.  You can eat a hearty breakfast or lunch in the excellent café on the beach, and almost forget you were in the shadow of one of Britain’s main sources of nuclear power. No one else seems remotely bothered by it.  Beyond lies the RSPB reserve at Minsmere to Dunwich Heath, and what’s left of the village of Dunwich  beyond. Much of this area is wild and desolate, and Dunwich itself barely exists at all, despite being one of England’s richest ports during the Middle Ages. Coastal erosion has mostly consigned it to the sea and all that’s left are a handful of houses and the ruins of a priory, while the rest of this once great town is submerged underwater just offshore.  It makes a great place to stop and rest up on your way north, calling in at The Ship pub, or, as we did, sitting down to great mounds of freshly cooked fish and chips at the Flora Tearooms. From here the beach curves all the way round to Walberswick – a fancier place these days, due to a handful of celebrity part-time residents, but with a couple of pubs that make a fine end to a fantastic day: The Bell, whose roaring fire and Adnams ales (brewed just across the river), are right at the end of the path, or the Anchor, whose fantastic food and lovely contemporary chalet-based rooms regularly entice people from much further away. After a couple of pints we were ready to take the foot ferry across the river and finish our walk in Southwold, where the comfortable bedrooms and high-end restaurant of the Swan made a perfect, self-indulgent end to a perfect day.