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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.

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