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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.

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