First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A pure blue-sky morning, a dreich drizzly afternoon, and in between whiles, one of the classic walks of coastal Suffolk. Senior citizens perambulated the village green in Orford between mellow red brick cottages whose windows peeped out among rambling roses. Down on the quay, fresh-landed skate had just hit the slab in Brinkley’s shed.
Orford is a pure delight, a self-sufficient coastal village at the end of a long road. Not that Orford faces the bracing tides of the North Sea directly – the monstrous shingle spit of Orford Ness, ten miles long and still growing, cut the village off from the open sea hundreds of years ago.
The strange pagoda shapes of long-abandoned MOD nuclear laboratories straddled the pebbly spine of Orford Ness. We turned downstream along the flood banks of the River Ore, looking back to see the red roofs of Orford bookended by the village church and the octagonal tower of Orford Castle. The garrison of the castle in medieval times, it was said, once hung a captured merman upside down in their dungeon when he refused to speak. He got the better of them in the end, though, slipping away and back to the sea when no-one was looking.
Hares scampered in the meadows under the seawall, and a tern dive-bombed a shoal of fish in the incoming tide of the Ore. We made inland for the dusty road to Gedgrave Hall, where the breeze carried beautiful tarry whiff from Pinney’s fish smokery near Butley Ferry.
‘Smallest ferry in Europe’, said Roy the ferryman, skilfully balancing the forces of wind and tide as he rowed us across the Butley River in his little muddy dinghy. ‘We don’t like to drown too many, though.’
We crossed the back of Burrow Hill, at 50 feet high a mountain hereabouts, and followed broad flowery lanes inland for miles to Chillesford. It was slow, heavenly walking in calm clear air through a seductively beautiful coastal landscape.
In Sudbourne Park on the homeward stretch, cricketers in their whites were preparing for their Sunday match. Bowlers pounded the nets, batsmen practised immaculate strokes they’d never execute, and as the umpires emerged from the pavilion the first spits of rain were felt on the wind, in true traditional style.
Start: Orford Quay car park, Orford, Suffolk IP12 2NU (OS ref TM 425496)
Getting there: B1084 from Woodbridge, B1078 from Wickham Market, both off A12 north of Ipswich.
Walk (10 miles, easy, OS Explorer 212): From quay, right along seawall for 1½ miles, passing Chantry Point. At tide gauge where River Ore bend south-west, bear right off sea wall path, through gate (416485, ‘Suffolk Coast Path, Orford Loop’/SCP/OL). Up grassy lane for ½ a mile to road (409490). Left; 500m past Gedgrave Hall, right (401483, ‘Butley Ferry’) past Pinney’s fish smokery (397485), following SCP to Butley Ferry (393482). Cross Butley River; ahead through gate; in 150m, right through gate (390482, SCP); follow well-marked SCP for 2½ miles via Burrow Hill (389485), Coulton Farm (382498) and South Chapel (380496) to road at Butley Mills (383515). Right to B1084 in Chillesford (386522); right past Froize Restaurant. In another 100m, right (391522, SCP/OL, ‘Orford 2¼’); follow marked SCP back to Orford.
Conditions: NB This is a weekend walk. Butley Ferry runs 11 am-4 pm Sat, Sun, BH, Easter-end October; £2 (07913-672499, butleyferry.org)
Accommodation: Crown & Castle, Orford, Woodbridge, IP12 2LJ (01394-450205, crownandcastle.co.uk) – wonderfully friendly and classy village inn.