First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Southwold at the cusp of autumn and winter; a trim little resort out on the Suffolk coast, its tight lanes packed with bookshops, cake shops and bric-a-brac emporia. The lighthouse, sited well inland, towered over the town like a guardian nanny in a white cloak.
On the seafront promenade the Sailors Reading Room, built to offer Victorian seafarers an alternative to the demon booze, was packed with photos, drawings, models and mementoes of bygone ships, shipmen and the sea. Below the white railings of the prom a beach of pebbly sand and an orderly rank of beach huts led north to the skeletal finger of Southwold’s pier, its line of neat pavilions and shelters lending it the air of an old-fashioned railway station miraculously suspended above the shingly grumble of the North Sea.
Beyond the pier the fast-crumbling cliffs extended in a low pink arc. We turned inland along the reedy ditch of Buss Creek, the dimity charm of the town instantly exchanged for rough grazing marshes and scrub woodland.
A wild babbling in the sky heralded the approach of a great crowd of barnacle geese, all yapping like excited puppies as they came in to land, the clean white of their heads and breasts in contrast to the sober grey-black of their backs. Further on behind the town on Botany Marshes, the water of the creek lay mirror-still. The flanking reeds were trapping the wind, tossing their feathery heads with a loud hissing, every empty seed cone glistening in the strong afternoon sunlight.
A scuffling in the grass drew our attention. A rabbit was scampering along the seabank nearby, pursued by a stoat, a lithe streak of ginger. The rabbit bounded up the slope and into its hole so adeptly that the stoat seemed baffled, and soon undulated off in search of other prey.
We turned south and crossed the Bailey Bridge that spans the narrow tidal reach of Southwold harbour, its outflowing water olive-green and wrinkled. Beyond lay the church tower and roofs of Walberswick, neighbour and rival to Southwold. Feathery grasses made a ground haze of silver on Robinson’s Marshes as we headed for home by way of the rowing boat ferry that links the twin communities. The jolly ferryman sculled us over the tide, and we strolled back along Southwold promenade with nothing more noble on our minds than a nice pint of the town’s famous Adnams ale.
How hard is it? 5 miles; easy, level walking
Start: Southwold Pier car park, 27 North Parade, Southwold IP18 6LT (OS ref TM 512769) – £6 all day.
Getting there: Bus 146 from Norwich.
Road: Southwold is on A1095, signed from A12 between Blythburgh and Wangford
Walk (OS Explorer 231): Turn north from car park; in 50m, left (513769, fingerpost) on path across marshes. Cross A1095 (504769); on across Botany and Busscreek Marshes to Bailey Bridge over River Blyth (495759). Right across bridge; follow cycleway. In ½ mile, just before Heath House, left (492750, bridleway fingerpost). In ¼ mile, left at road (496748); in 150m, left (‘Bird Hide’). At hide (497750), right (yellow arrow). Follow ditch on right for 250m to gate and steps (500748); left along bank to West Harbour and Walberswick ferry (501749). Cross harbour; ahead (‘Sandlings Walk’) for ⅔ mile to Queen’s Road (508758). Right across green to Gunhill Cliff (509757); left along promenade for ¾ mile to car park.
Lunch/accommodation: Crown Hotel, High Street, Southwold IP18 6DP (01502 722275; thecrownsouthwold.co.uk)
Info: thesuffolkcoast.co.uk; exploresouthwold.co.uk
Walberswick ferry: runs on demand. Adults £2, children under 5 free, under 18 £1. Check timetable first! – firstname.lastname@example.org, walberswickferry.com