First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A breezy, sunny day, and the East Anglian coast lay under a proper Constable sky. I hadn’t been to Orford for some time, and was looking forward to diving in again among the mellow brick houses and curly Dutch gables of the old Suffolk port, silted away from direct contact with the sea for the past 400 years. In the car park of the Jolly Sailor near Orford Quay I found the odorous booth of the Sole Bay Cheese Company open for business. Well, you have to, don’t you? Munching a granary bun slathered with Norfolk White Lady – a creamy, tangy, stinking sheep’s cheese you’d give your fleece for – I set out along the seawall path into the bright afternoon, content to the gunwales.
Halyards clinked in the stiff south-east breeze, and the chuckle of waves on the pebbly shore of the River Ore underlay the harsh screeching of black-headed gulls. The tide was setting up the narrow river which runs separated from the sea by the ten-mile-long shingle spit of Orford Ness. The isolated spit, out here on the remote Suffolk coast, was perfectly placed for experiments with Armageddon weapons. Pagoda-roofed laboratories where nuclear bombs were subject to fierce stress tests still stand on the low horizon of the Ness, sinister in silhouette against this afternoon’s pale North Sea sky. Beyond them lay the blank-faced grey block of the building that once housed the top secret site code-named ‘Cobra Mist’. What a splendid wheeze, bending radio waves round the curvature of the earth to monitor Soviet rocket launches behind the Iron Curtain. And how illustrative of Sod’s Law that a mystery hum should have condemned the whole huge and costly scheme to a fruitless abandonment.
Shelves of saltmarsh fringed the Ore, their pools and creeks glinting red and green with mineral salts. Along the river scudded sailing boats, heeling extravagantly in the blasting wind. Lapwings tumbled over the cornfields and river with wheezing cries, and oystercatchers skimmed away on black and white scimitar wings with a ‘pic! pic!’ of alarm. Soon the tan-coloured cylinder of the Martello Tower on Slaughden Beach – still defying the ever-encroaching sea – hove up on my starboard bow, and beyond it the red roofs and white houses of Aldeburgh on their slight rise of ground.
It was hard to tear myself away from the splashing yachts, the courting birds and the breezy exhilaration of the coast. But there were compensations on the homeward hike through a rolling hinterland rich in corn and potatoes: partridges whirring low over the fields, bright flowers in the green lanes, sandy tracks through the conifer forests, and the pure pleasure of walking country roads with never a car in sight or sound.
Start & finish: Jolly Sailor, Orford, Suffolk IP12 2NL (OS ref: IM 424497)
Getting there: A12 to Woodbridge, then follow ‘Orford’ signs.
Walk (10 ½ miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 212): Jolly Sailor – Orford Quay – sea wall path to Slaughden Point (461553) – inland for 2/3 mile to 450551 – green lane to road (439546). Left along road; right by Ferry Farm; follow road for 1&freac12; miles to pass Depewall Cottage; right (426527) into Tunstall Forest to 421526; left on bridleway for 1¼ miles, passing All Saint’s Church (420520) to cross B1084 (417508). Left at 417506 to road (420502). Right fork to T-junction by Crown & Castle (421499). Continue to sea wall (424493); left to Orford Quay.
NB: Detailed directions, online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Take picnic
Accommodation and food: Jolly Sailor PH (01394-450243; www.jollysailor.net) – refurbished, characterful, very friendly. Fabulous homemade pâte and other food.
Orford Ness: www.nationaltrust.co.uk.