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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Walk 33 Felixstowe to Butley (Suffolk)

Walk 33  Felixstowe to Butley (Suffolk)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R169 and L/R156
Distance: about 14 miles
Difficulty: quite easy, mostly flat  
Terrain: paths (which can be muddy) and pavements
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Lots of links to Felixstowe by bus or rail. Difficult from Butley, just one bus in the late afternoon. Taxi the only realistic option. 
This walk also involves using the Felixstowe ferry to Bawdsey Quay which only operates between April and October – not sure of precise dates in these months so check before going.

The walk starts at Felixstowe Pier. Felixstowe was bombed in World War 2 but, unusually, by the Italian air force. A number of famous people are connected with the town including Sir John Mills the actor, Mrs Wallis of Edward V111 fame (who lived here while waiting for the abdication) and Benny Hill the comedian who owned a weekend home in the area and spent time with his disabled daughter.

Walking north out of Felixstowe are some unusual, if rather bland looking rows of beach huts – at least I think that’s what they are. On the hill above is a rather impressive looking building which I believe is a college. Further along are the pleasantly situated Spa Pavilion Theatre and Restaurant.

The path widens as it approaches the estuary of the River Deben and Felixstowe Ferry. Two Martello Towers are along this stretch, one nearer to the ferry. The walls of the towers contain over 700,000 bricks brought in by sea from London. The towers, known by the letters ‘T’ and ‘U’, are two of eighteen which were built along the Suffolk coast.

Felixstowe Ferry is a hamlet near the passenger ferry which connects it to Bawdsey Quay. The Ferry Boat Inn (known as FBI), built in the 15th century, is a distinctive landmark. Further along near to the ferry embarkation point is the Victoria Pub and an art gallery.

The pleasant ferry crossing gives a good view of Woodbridge Haven and the North Sea. Nearby is RAF Bawdsey which is where the early warning system in World War 2 was developed. The path continues on to Bawdsey Beach and becomes indistinguishable from the pebbles. This area is a happy hunting ground for beachcombers with finds ranging from barrels of Guinness to quite valuable pieces of amber. Bawdsey Manor peeps above the trees on the left; this is now owned by the MOD and was where modern radar was invented.

After a couple of miles the path goes inland and access back to the coast is down East Lane in the village of Bawdsey. A few more Martello Towers can be seen along this stretch where they were known as ‘Mr Pitt’s pork pies’. Near the start of this stretch is the ruin of a gun battery and observation tower used in World War 2. On the shore line the army also built ‘dragons’ teeth’ – lines of angled iron stakes and barbed wire with tank blocks to prevent enemy landings.

About three miles further on is Shingle Street - strongly linked to a story from the last war which has not been officially acknowledged. There are lively discussions on the Web with some allegedly eye witness accounts. In 1940 our forces apparently got wind of a German invasion but some misinformation led them to believe that this would be at Folkestone and Dover in Kent. A conspiracy theory links the possible involvement of the then Dukes of Hamilton and York. It is believed that British Intelligence got wind that the invasion would be at Shingle Street and laid pipes into the sea which were set alight and many Germans were burnt to death. There are tales of badly charred bodies being washed up on the coast. It is suggested that the story remained secret as it was bad for morale coming so soon after the evacuation of Dunkirk.
A mile or so further on from Shingle Street is the unusual estuary of the River Ore with the very long and narrow Orford Beach across the water. The path continues past Hollesly Marshes - an important nature reserve. Inland the stark buildings of the Hollesly Youth Detention and Custody Centre are clearly visible.

Near to Boyton Marshes is an attractive area of marsh interspersed with water called Simpson’s Saltings. This is an important botanical site containing rare species of plants. The path swings inland with views across the River Butley to Gedgrave Marshes on the other side. Just before the path leaves the river bank a hand written notice announces that this is where the Butley foot ferry can be caught. A heavy mist had descended by the time I had reached this point giving it all a rather eerie feel.

The paths should be followed across fields and roads (continuing on map 156) to Butley. When I went the pub in Butley which announced it was open all day was closed with the ‘Open all Day’ notice folded up at the front. A roaring fire could be seen through the window and staff laughing. It was a cold day and I was not amused. To make matters worse Su, my wife, who was picking me up got completely lost so I was standing on the green outside the pub shivering for over an hour. We invested in SatNav after this. Things then got even worse as a deer emerged out of the mist as we were driving back to Woodbridge and caused considerable damage to the car. To cap it all the alarm on the car went off in the early hours waking us up along with the rest of the hotel. When I reported and explained the accident to the insurance company they asked me who caused the accident and whether I exchanged details with the other party! The deer? Unbelievable.

Snaps show: Bawdsey with Martello Tower; Simpsons Saltings; Shingle Street; Butley Ferry.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Walk 32 Nacton to Felixstowe (Suffolk)

Walk 32  Nacton to Felixstowe (Suffolk)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R169
Distance: about 13 miles
Difficulty: quite easy, mostly flat  
Terrain: paths (which can be muddy) and pavements
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Tricky. Bus 163 goes from Ipswich on a couple of days a week leaving at 12:35 and getting to Nacton at 12:50. This is rather late for a 13 mile walk unless it is in the summer. Another option is to follow the Stour and Orwell walk out of Ipswich but this does extend the walk by a few miles. Getting back from Felixstowe to Ipswich is easy - by train or bus.

This is a river side and coastal walk.

Take the road out of Nacton to the Stour and Orwell Walk along the estuary. Nacton is well known for the story of Margaret Catchpole who fell in love with a smuggler and eloped with him, she was captured and sentenced to death. She escaped then was recaptured and finally transported to Australia. The story is told in ‘The History of Margaret Catchpole’ by Richard Cobbold. Before reaching the river path there is a large impressive building on the right, this is Orwell Park School. This independent school was once called Orwell Park House and was the home of the 18th century admiral Sir Edward Vernon. He was nicknamed ‘old grog’ because he wore a coat made of grogram (coarse fabric made of wool and silk). It was he who introduced the daily ration of grog (rum and water) to Royal Navy sailors. This stopped in 1970.

The path winds its way up a creek to near Levington. The area had a thriving fertiliser industry in the 17 and 1800s. What is thought to have been a Viking ship was found in this creek and was probably part of a fleet of Danish ships which invaded in 991. In 1817 smugglers were arrested in the creek carrying 48 tubs of spirits on a boat called Daisy. The path winds its way back down the creek and there are good views across the river and towards the estuary. A little further along is the modern yacht harbour which opened in 1970.

The path skirts around the edge of Trimley Marshes. This is a wetland nature reserve managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust since 1990 and is reportedly one of the best of its kind in the country. The number of birds and range of species is impressive; more details can be found on the Trust’s website.

From here the path works inland and eventually meets up with a roundabout then it goes alongside the road behind the Port of Felixstowe until meeting a junction – at this point the cycle path can be followed to Landguard Fort. Felixstowe is a town of two halves – the hustle and bustle of the busy port (the fourth largest container port in the UK) and the pleasant sea front and beaches of the main town.

Landguard Fort is now owned by English Heritage and is open between April and October, it also houses a museum about Felixstowe. There has been a fort here since the time of Henry V111 and has been added to and renewed over the years. In 1667 an attempted invasion by 1500 Dutch marines was repelled. In World War 2 thousands of balloons were launched from here with incendiary devices bound for Germany. Strangely,the area has many reports of paranormal activity. The cranes of the port can be seen to the west and Harwich is clearly visible across the estuary.

The area around Landguard is a nature reserve and on the walk back to Felixstowe I discovered a sign announcing that Stinking Goosefoot grows here and it is apparently very rare! The beach just north of Landguard Point is famed for its semi-precious stones including amber, agate, Whitby jet and jasper.

Walking towards Felixstowe there are many beach huts with a Martello Tower behind them - this appears to have a coastguard lookout on top. Felixstowe was no more than a village until 1877 when the opening of the railway made it an attraction to Victorian holiday-makers and day-trippers.

The main frontage at Felixstowe has the usual array of seaside attractions although it does have a smart and well-cared for appearance. Particularly, attractive is the replica of a Felixstowe Flying Boat with its grassed over wings. These aircraft were developed in World War 1 from an American design. About 100 were built and used for North Sea patrols.

The walk finishes at Felixstowe Pier – at one time the longest in East Anglia. It was opened in 1905 and originally catered for steamers calling at other places such as Clacton and Great Yarmouth. A tramway originally ran to the end. It was sectioned off during the World War 2 as it was felt that it could aid a German invasion. The end was neglected and demolished making the pier much shorter. It has never really recovered and new plans which have been put forward from time to time have never really come to fruition. As far as I know it is still closed to visitors. 

Snaps show: a view of Felixstowe Port; walk out of Felixstowe; the replica of a Felixstowe flying boat; the River Debden.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Walk 31 Stutton to Chelmondiston (Suffolk)

Walk 31  Stutton to Chelmondiston (Suffolk)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R169
Distance: about 13 miles
Difficulty: quite easy, mostly flat
Terrain: paths which can be muddy
Access: Parking in the road at both ends
Public transport: Just about possible. The 92 from Ipswich goes to Stutton every 2 hours or so (Mon-Sat) and the 202 runs every 2/3 hours back to Ipswich from Chelmondiston. As always, check before departing.

This is a quiet walk around the Shotley Peninsula which can feel quite remote at times. It takes in the north of the River Stour, Harwich Harbour and the southern bank of the River Orwell.

Leave the peaceful village of Stutton and take the road then path which goes east and slightly south to Stutton Ho. On the left are the impressive buildings of the Royal Hospital School. The school moved from Greenwich in 1933 and was founded for the sons of seafarers in 1694. It is now a large independent school for students aged 11-18.

Continue around Holbrook Bay where there are a number of small boats moored. This part of the river was famous for Anglo-Saxon fish traps which are evidently visible at low tide. Baskets were placed in wooden 'V' like structures and the fish trapped. The walk from here to Shotley Gate is quiet with very few people around, however the bustling ports of Harwich and Felixstowe are only a few miles away and are clearly visible in the distance.

Shotley Gate is at the end of the peninsula. Look out for the signalling tower and green water tower which stand on the remains of a Martello Tower. There is a notice referring to HMS Ganges along the front and a museum which tells its story. It was a wooden ship berthed here from 1899 and used as a cadet training ship for the Royal Navy. When it was removed from here in 1905 the training was moved on land but still called HMS Ganges. This was closed in 1976. Some of the area is now a Eurosport educational and residential centre. Walk round past the marina to Shotley Point where the Rivers Orwell and Stour. King Alfred defeated the Danes at this point in 885, since then there have been many battles here against France, Germany, Holland, Spain and Germany. The point is also known as Bloody Point as it is commonly thought to have been the location of Viking landings.

The path follows the Orwell inland past Shotley Marshes and around to Pin Mill and the Butt and Oyster. This pub provides a roaring fire and good beer especially welcome on a cold day. It is named after the oysters which were caught in abundance from the River Orwell and the barrels they were stored in. The pub was built in the 17th century and was used by water bailiffs and burgesses from the port at Ipswich for their courts. The tide was out when I sat in the lounge and the green algae and small boats which dominated the scene made it easy to imagine how it was once a smugglers haven. Near to the pub is Cat House which was also connected with smuggling. The silhouette of a cat was placed in a window to tell smugglers it was safe to land. The smugglers were known as ‘owlers’ because they used to communicate with owl noises. The area was also one of the settings for Arthur Ransome’s book ‘We didn’t mean to go to sea’.

Walk out of Pin Mill and there is a footpath on the right into Chelmondiston.

Snaps show: The Royal Hospital School near Stutton from the River Stour; Holbbrook Bay on the River Stour; Bath and Oyster Pub; the river near the pub.