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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.

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