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Saturday, 25 June 2011

Walk 36 Kessingland to Lowestoft

Walk 36  Kessingland to Lowestoft (Suffolk)

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

Map: L/R156 and 134
Distance: about 11km or 7 miles
Difficulty: mostly flat, some easy low cliff walking
Terrain: paths, beach
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Trains at Lowestoft. Bus 602 – 4 a day Mon to Sat every 2 hours going from Lowestoft and stopping at Kessingland. 

There are a number of interesting and attractive churches in this part of the country. Most are best got to by car. One that I found quite stunning is St Peters at Theberton (north of Leiston) – it has a thatched medieval roof and an unusual round tower. The inside has colourful pillars and walls - these are modern but probably reflect the original decoration.

The walk starts at the Sailors Home pub in Kessingland – the sign states that it sells the best fish and chips in Kessingland!  A large scrubby beach has to be crossed to get to the sea. There has been a settlement at Kessingland since ancient times. The sea provided the village with its main livelihood. At one time the residents paid a rent of 22000 herrings to their lords which made it probably more important than nearby Lowestoft.

Up until the 1960s the village had two communities the ‘beach’ and the ‘street’. It was then combined into one community when a large housing estate was built. During the summer the population of 4000 nearly doubles with the arrival of holiday makers. One of the most famous residents was Sir Rider Haggard (author of She and King Solomon’s Mines) who owned a house near the cliffs.

Walking northwards, Lowestoft can be seen in the distance – part of this walk I completed on the beach and the rest on the path that runs alongside it. Behind some beach huts at Pakefield a thatched church of over a thousand years old is next to the path. It was destroyed by Cromwell and then in World War 2 but has since been restored.

On the south side of Lowestoft is a pleasant park adjacent to the seafront. An impressive statue of Richard Henry Reeve, former lord of the manor, has been erected here. The pristine sands of the south beach helped the town become a holiday resort in the nineteenth century. From the middle-ages fishing, particularly herrings, had been the lifeblood of the town. In the civil war, rivalry with the herring fisheries of Great Yarmouth resulted in the towns taking opposite sides – Lowestoft supported the Royalists.

The first lighthouse built by Trinity House was built in Lowestoft in 1609 and when the town’s lifeboat station opened in 1801 it predated the RNLI by 23 years. Walking along the promenade there are indicators for the Peto Trail. Samuel Peto had a significant impact on Lowestoft and it owes much of its success to him. He helped to establish a proper harbour and a railway line so fish could be delivered to Manchester. He bought nearby Somerleyton Hall (open to public) and made it into a large mansion for himself. Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft and a local school is named after him.

Walking further along to the main Lowestoft seafront, near the attractive glass built east pavilion, take care as there are a number of concealed fountains which spurt unannounced through the pavement in the square! Looking across the harbour is an industrial area built up when the fishing industry declined. Originally this area would have had kipper houses for smoking and floating shops called ‘grog shops’ which would have served the many fishing ships.

Walking to the north of Lowestoft involves walking across the harbour bridge. When I was there it had lifted to allow a boat through causing traffic chaos and stranding a paramedic on an emergency call. Near to the bridge is a large sculpture of a lifeboatman, in honour of the RNLI, looking out to Dogger Bank the sea area used for fishing. Don’t miss the walk out to the Euroscope (showing distances/directions to places across the sea) which is at Lowestoft Ness or Ness Point – this is the most easterly point of the UK.

Snaps show: St Peter's thatched church at Theberton; Kessingland; two views of walk to Lowestoft.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Walk 35 Aldeburgh to Southwold

Walk 35  Aldeburgh to Southwold (Suffolk)

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

Map: L/R156
Distance: about 12 miles
Difficulty: mostly flat  
Terrain: paths, beach
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Not easy. OK to get to Aldeburgh from Ipswich and surrounding towns by bus e.g. the 64. Unfortunately, there appears to be no direct link back to Aldeburgh or Ipswich by bus from Southwold. It really depends on where you are staying.

This walk begins and ends with visits to attractive and interesting towns. To the south of Aldeburgh, past Fort Green (Aldeburgh means ‘old fort’) are the marshes and access to part of Orford Ness. I did not go further south than this point as I wanted to ensure I could complete the walk on a winter’s day. The walk along the front at Aldeburgh is very pleasant with some attractive buildings to look at. One of these, a white detached cottage called Paradise, appears to be in the middle of a car park!

Aldeburgh was once well known for building ships including Francis Drake’s Pelican and Greyhound. Fishing smacks for the rough seas around the Faroes and Iceland were also built nearby. Fishing is still evident here and boats with nearby fisherman’s stalls selling a variety of seafood – good smells and colour. In 1870 a local man came up with the idea of drilling holes in the side of his ship so that the hold would fill with water and newly caught cod could stay alive until the return to port. As far as I can tell this was not terribly successful.

Further along, just past the war memorial, is the Moot Hall. This old building was once the main meeting place in the centre of the town showing how much the beach has eroded at Aldeburgh. Nearby is a church where, before the advent of modern lighthouses, local people burned barrels of tar on the church to guide returning fishermen.

Just north of the town is the expanse of Aldeburgh beach with its striking shell like sculpture. This is a memorial to Benjamin Britten who died in 1976. He was the founder, along with his partner Peter Pears (a baritone singer), of the Aldeburgh music festival. The sculpture, unveiled in 2003, is called the ‘scallop’ and is made of stainless steel. It is controversial as some locals feel that it spoils the view out to sea. It is engraved with: 'I hear those voices that will not be drowned'. This comes from Britten’s adaption of the opera Peter Grimes which was originally written by local poet George Crabbe in the 18th century.

About three miles walk up the coast is Thorpeness. This was originally built as an Edwardian holiday village with the houses designed in a variety of styles including Tudor and Jacobean. It is worth a walk further inland to get a closer look at a most remarkable building which can be seen from near the coast. A tall looking building called ‘The house in the clouds’ is in fact a water tower disguised as a house!
When I walked further to the north from here there were digging machines constructing flood defences and some diversions to the path. Some of the sand dunes along this part of the coast are collapsing. The next landmark is striking but probably less agreeable - depending on your point of view. Sizewell Nuclear Power Station with its large ball can be seen from some distance away. There are two nuclear power stations here, I believe Sizewell A has now been decommissioned leaving Sizewell B built in the early 1990s as the only large pressurised water reactor in the UK.

Some of the walk from here is on the foreshore before the path cuts inland to Dunwich (pronounced Dunich) through an attractive nature reserve. Dunwich is an ancient and historic place – it was originally the capital of East Anglia. In Saxon times St Felix spread the Christian word from his base at Dunwich. In the middle ages it was one of the largest ports in Western Europe with a population of 3000, and 8 churches. In 1286 a storm swept most of the town into the sea and the harbour went next in 1328. 400 houses were destroyed in a tempest in 1347. Erosion has continued and all 8 churches have vanished. Legend has it that in storms you can still hear the church bells ringing.

Many writers and poets have been attracted to Dunwich including the American author Henry James who wrote stories and verses about it. On the walk inland are the remains of Dunwich Greyfriars which, at the time I visited, was being restored by English Heritage. Greyfriars were the ‘social workers’ of medieval society.

From this point the path moves away a bit from the coastal edge to pass alongside marshland. The next landmarks are Walberswick and the River Blyth. The village is known among painters for the clarity of its light. I understand that it is possible to cross the Blyth by ferry but, at the time I went, this was not running so I walked up the southern bank of the Blyth and crossed the bridge and down the north bank to Southwold. The banks are attractive with much boating activity. The marshes surrounding the green knoll on which Southwold stands have saved the rather genteel and attractive town from over development as they cannot be built upon.

Cannons pointing seawards over the cliff tops are situated on the southern side of Southwold. These were sent here by Charles 1 for protection against privateers. Attractive greens intersperse the housing – there were houses here in the 17th century but they were destroyed by fire. Southwold was once a major fishing post but lost its status because of the gradual appearance of a shingle bar across the harbour entrance.

The decommissioned lighthouse cannot be missed as you approach the town. If you enjoy beer (like me) you will be interested to know that Adnams is brewed nearby (Broadside is my favourite). Just off the coast here at Sole Bay in 1672 a combined English and French fleet fought an inconclusive battle against the Dutch. Many months after the corpses from the battle were washed up on shore and local people could earn a shilling by recovering a burying a body.

Walking further north there are many colourful beach huts. I am hoping that the pier is still like it was when I visited a couple of years ago – I believe it has been up for sale. It is well worth a visit, interesting features include: a fascinating water clock, a brilliant amusement arcade with quirky games e.g. cross the road with a zimmer frame, a pier tide recording device and good quality cafes and shops. The original pier, 810 feet long, was built in 1900 as a landing stage for steamships that travelled from London Bridge. This declined in the 1930s as more people travelled by road. In WW2 the pier was sectioned in fear of a German invasion, a sea mine struck it in 1941 destroying a section and in 1955 it was reduced to 60 foot by a storm. In 1987 it was privately bought and rebuilt and, by 2001, it was at its current length of 623 feet. I hope any new owners have kept it the same as it is a unique experience.

Snaps show: lighthouse at Southwold; zimmer frame game on Southwold Pier; water clock on Southwold Pier; River Blyth; walk into Southwold; front at Aldeburgh; Benjaman Britten sculpture Aldeburgh beach; Aldeburgh front; fisherman's stall Aldeburgh.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Walk 34 Orford to the River Alde opposite Aldeburgh and return (Suffolk)

Walk 34  Orford to the River Alde opposite Aldeburgh and return (Suffolk)
                (Plus suggested drive to The Maltings)

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

Map: L/R169 and L/R156
Distance: about 12 miles return
Difficulty: easy, flat  
Terrain: paths
Access: Parking at Orford
Public transport: Not really viable unless bus services have improved.

Follow Quay Road from Orford car park towards the sea. The pleasant village with mellow houses was a busy port at the time of Henry 11. It ceased being a fishing port in the 1800s when a shingle spit, Orford Ness, developed making access to the harbour more and more difficult. The spit is nearly ten miles long now. When the quayside is reached Orford Ness can be clearly seen across the River Ore.
A short walk to the south allows a good view of the village inland which is dominated by Orford Castle. This was built by Henry 11 to keep the then Earl of Norfolk, Hugh Bigod, under control and also to protect the coast. It is unique amongst British castles as it has a circular central part flanked by three turrets. It was built in 1865 and is the oldest British castle with remaining documentary evidence – part of this shows it cost £1413-9s-2d to build!

About a mile further walk to the south is Chantry Point with a view of Havergate Island and the strangely named Cuckolds Point. A number of small boats are dotted around here. The island was taken over by the RSPB in 1947 and is noted for avocets which breed there. Retrace your steps back to Orford quay.

On the opposite bank there is much of interest on Orford Ness. It has been owned by the National Trust since 1993, even so there is limited access to it should you wish to explore. Ferries run from Orford Tuesday to Saturdays between 10 and 2 mainly from July to October. There is a Saturday service a few weeks either side of this – in any case it is wise to check before going. I viewed the Ness from the river bank on the walk northwards in the direction of Aldeburgh. An iconic red and white lighthouse is prominent and further up a large concrete building surrounded by large aerials. This is where BBC Radio transmits the World Service. The buildings were originally top secret and built by the military for testing atomic bomb detonators – the idea being that if something went badly wrong the pillars of the building would collapse and the heavy roof fall sealing the mess underneath! The spit is one of the most important of its kind in the country and is favoured by shingle loving birds and plants.

The path goes northwards alongside Sudbourne Marshes and Orford Ness. Near the Aldeburgh end, on the opposite bank, is Slaughden. This is the name for the stretch of land with sailing clubs and a boatyard which finishes at the Martello Tower. It was a busy, commercial quayside in past centuries. A map in Aldeburgh museum shows great activity in the year of the Armada – 1588.

Looking northwards at Westrow Reach is the southern end of Aldeburgh. Retrace your steps back to Orford.

If there is time, a short drive to The Maltings near Snape is worthwhile. The Maltings now include an array of craft shops, galleries and a concert hall. The buildings, based on the banks of the River Alde, were originally granaries and malt-houses for the brewing of beer. They were built in the nineteenth century by Newson Garret whose ten children included Elizabeth Garret Anderson, Britain’s first woman physician. The brewery was closed in 1960 and converted into the current buildings. The world class concert hall houses the Aldeburgh Music Festival inaugurated by Benjamin Britten (born and lived locally) and his partner Peter Pears. Nearby is the Holst Library, named after Benjamin Britten’s friend Imogen Holst – the daughter of Gustav Holst. It contains a range of reference material and recordings of many genres of music.

Snaps show: Orford village; Orford Castle; Orford Ness; riverside at Snape Maltings.