Lowestoft to Snape Maltings / Orford to Shotley Gate



In 895 the name was Suth Folchi, meaning "Southern people", to distinguish them from the "Northfolk". The painter Constable was drawn to the place and there is a rich wool tradition.

Felixtowe Beach

Suffolk is a peaceful county with few main roads. There are many alluring little places, often built around a green and with an impressive church. Despite its heritage of fine buildings, Suffolk does not have a great town of architectural style and beauty or cultural centre of the county like Norwich in Norfolk.Suffolk Marshes

On its North Sea coast there are shingle shores, sandy beaches or low cliffs, but the sea can be violent and often erodes as much as it deposits and bird life thrives along parts of this stretch. The Suffolk coast is one of low marshes and reed beds interspersed with beaches of sand and shingle. Several long estuaries serve to keep the major roads well inland and preserve a sense of unhurried calm along the coast.

Oulton BroadMuch of the coast remains accessible only by foot and so retains a special atmosphere. The Suffolk Coast & Heaths Path is a 50-mile walk from Lowestoft to Felixstowe linking up with the Stour & Orwell Walk.

Oulton - swing bridgeThe shallow waters of the Norfolk Broads resulted from medieval digging for peat. Reed-fringed Oulton Broad, the southern gateway to the Broads, is one of the finest yachting lakes in Britain, and the only place on the Broads where powerboat race meetings are held.

We made two visits to the area, staying here overnight the first time. We set of to explore the county on a fine sunny morning.



Lowestoft


Lowestoft MarinaLowestoft is the most easterly town in Britain is a large fishing port and a holiday resort. Oulton Broad runs into Lake Lothing and this divides the town in two. The two halves are linked by a bascule bridge, which can be raised to admit boats to the main port.

An old centre of fishing, about 30 trawlers unload their catches of plaice now for the busy fish market. In the 19th century, the Dogger Bank became a trawling ground and the main catch was herring - most of which was smoked and sent away by rail. At the height of the herring boom, there were over 700 drifters worked from Lowestoft. On its seafront, Bird’s Eye has a frozen food plant as vast as a power station. Museum

At the northern end, the beaches are lined with the usual static parks and grot, but there is a maritime museum. The town was badly damaged during World War II, but a unique series of steep parallel lanes survived, known as 'scores’ they run down from the high street with a squat white lighthouse to the shore.

East Point Pavilion

To the south, there is a wide esplanade, pier, newly furbished marina and the sandy sweep of South Beach that spreads through Pakefield. The East Point Pavilion is an imposing glass building in Edwardian style, with a heritage exhibition, tourist information and a children's play platform based on the theme of a North Sea gas rig. We walked around the marina that is home to the Suffolk Yacht Club, past the brightly coloured boats and down to the two small lighthouses at the harbour mouth.



Kessingland


Kessingland Once rumoured to be the richest village in England, there is a wide shingle shore backed by holiday camps and the usual amusements. Palaeolithic and Neolithic implements have been unearthed from the shingle beach and it looked as if a few were still lying there.

An ancient forest lies buried beneath the sea-bed and south-west of Kessingland is the Suffolk Wildlife Park.Going on foot along the Suffolk Coast Path, you can reach the headland at Benacre Ness and a nature reserve at Benacre Broad, although this stretch can be dangerous in bad weather.



Covehithe


Covehithe Church We went in search of the lonely, ruined Church of St Andrew at Covehithe. This is remarkable for the thatched chapel built inside its roofless nave in 1672. The original 15th century church with its surviving tower became too large for the parishioners to maintain – there were never more than 300 of them - so they constructed the smaller church using materials from the old one!

Suffolk's soft rocks are quickly eroded by the constant battering of the waves, most obvious on the low and crumbly cliffs, composed of sandy, orange-brown crags. Their vulnerability is most evident at Covehithe where the severed ends of the roads near the church hang in mid-air above the cliff face, so dangerous here that the coast is fenced off.



Southwold


Beach huts The Suffolk Coast Path runs alongside the shingle beach past Easton Cliffs to Sole Bay near Southwold. We had a long walk around this small town that has remained remarkably unchanged for the past century. Its red-brick and flint cottages and colour washed houses are built around a series of delightful greens, created after a fire devastated the town in 1659. The promenade is lined with some 250 brightly coloured beach huts. Quite a few of them were bizarrely stored in the middle of the car park! Southwold Jack

The tallest buildings in Southwold are the brilliant white Victorian lighthouse, and the great flint Church of St Edmund. The church has a fine hammer-beam roof and contains a 15th century painted oak figure of a man-at-arms carrying a sword and a battleaxe - he is endearingly named 'Southwold Jack'. Church services begin after the jack has struck a bell.

Cannon

There is a Dutch influence to some of the houses, including the little town museum. The Sailors' Reading Room on the cliff and the Lifeboat Museum on Gun Hill both have mementos of tall ships and oil-skinned heroes. There are six cannons on Gun Hill that were given to the town by the Duke of Cumberland on his return to London from Culloden.

Southwold is the home of Adnams Brewery, whose beer is delivered to local pubs by drays pulled by percheron horses. Andy sampled this in the Red Lion where we had a very nice lunch. I think this is the nicest resort on the East Anglian coast and it has a pleasant old fashioned atmosphere and is certainly one of the jewels of the Suffolk coast.



Walberswick


Walberswick From the harbour there is an iron footbridge, and a small passenger ferry in summer, across the Blyth to Walberswick which is a rather isolated. We found the way to drive to it from the south and found it full of overpriced car-parks. We only wanted to stop for a short time - not all day.

The quay looked quite sweet and there is a way to the Westwood marshes nature reserve. Just outside the village, part of the 15th century church has been rebuilt but the remains are quite dangerous and a home to pigeons.

Carved  angel

3 miles inland at Blythburgh we went to the impressive church that is visible for miles around and is floodlit at night. Cromwell's men desecrated the church, using the great winged angels of the ceiling for target practice and screwing tethering rings for their horses into the pillars.

Among the church's unusual features are carvings of the Seven Deadly Sins, and another clock 'jack’, who strikes the bell with his axe and turns his head. Blythburgh was once a thriving port with its own mint and jail.



Dunwich


dunwich forest To reach Dunwich, we had to drive through a very pretty forest with all sorts of woodland trails. The road passes a Victorian church with the remains of a leper chapel and arrives at a shingle shore.

Dunwich was once a prosperous medieval port with a trade in woollen goods, but after a series of violent storms in 1286, it was demolished by the North Sea and bits still keep falling into the water from the constant erosion. By 1677 the sea had reached the market place and All Saints' Church collapsed into the sea in about 1920. Dunwich had eight churches before the storms began their work.

Dunwich

Dunwich is one of the strangest places on the coast - famous for no longer existing. The surrounding land is low and boggy with marshes, fogs, shifting sands, long tides and medieval churches with some of the oldest graveyards in England. The story of the drowned church precedes any visit and stories say that the bells clang when the sea is rough. The empty, depopulated atmosphere inspired ghost stories, tales of sinking spells that travelled through Dunwich houses, and there was a legend about a Black Dog, a phantom hound that appeared at night in the village and caused acute depression.

DunwichMany villages on this shore were associated with ghosts and there is a wealth of folklore and legends in East Anglia - a region that was gripped by witch-hunting hysteria during the 16th and 17th centuries. One is that three holy crowns were buried around the coastline to protect England from the peril of foreign invasion and were hidden sometime after the Norman Conquest. One crown is believed to have been lost when Dunwich crumbled into the sea. Another, dug up at Rendlesham, was apparently melted down for its silver content and the third has yet to be found.

Friary ruinOn leaving the village we passed the clifftop ruins of a 13th century friary and drove through the rather posh village of Westleton with a large lawnmower shop. Dunwich Heath is a stretch of National Trust land on the crumbling clifftops.



Minsmere RSPB Reserve


Minsmere At the mouth of the Minsmere River is a nature reserve incorporating reedbeds, artificial lagoons and islands, heath and woodlands. It is remarkably pretty and shelters one of Britain's widest varieties of breeding birds, as well as many migrants. The reserve has several observation hides including one on the beach. Unfortunately we managed to pick the day it was closed so we could only drive along the outer roads.

Leiston Abbey

Leiston Abbey was founded by the Premonstratensian Order in 1182 at Minsmere, rebuilt on its present site in the 14th century and destroyed in 1536. The Chapel has been restored and the other buildings were used as a retreat house from 1923.

The Abbey is now in the care of English Heritage but it was sold to the Pro Corda School for young string players in 1979. New studio rooms have been built and the Guesten Hall has been rebuilt for accommodation and studios. There is also an impressive tithe barn, and the place has a lovely atmosphere, especially with the sunshine and wafting music.



Sizewell


SizewellA road to the coast leads to a hamlet that was a notorious smuggling village in the 18th century. Nowadays it is better known for its twin nuclear power stations, the first of which opened in 1966 and the second in 1995.

The site is dominated by a gigantic and dazzlingly white dome, and by a network of enormous pylons. We drove in to the visitor centre complex, past the sign ‘You are entering a Nuclear Zone’ - a bit off-putting but that's the idea I suppose.



Thorpeness


Thorpeness What a peculiar place this is! It is reminiscent of Port Merion in Wales and is also a holiday village, but centred on a shallow man-made lake called The Meare. Thorpeness was created by Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie when he inherited the family estate in the early 1900s. There are several styles of houses, including Tudor, Jacobean and traditional 18th century East Anglian tarred weatherboard. House in the clouds

We could see a red building that appeared to be at tree-top level and went down a track from the main village street. This must be the most strange building that I have ever seen and is known as the ‘House in the Clouds’. It can be seen from all directions and was originally a water tower but it is now used as a holiday home. Outside, a group of nutty people were having fun playing Boule. Next to it, is a restored windmill, first built at Aldringham in 1804 and was moved to Thorpeness in the 1920s.

We left the village by a little road that runs southwards beside the shingle beach towards Aldeburgh. We arrived as it was getting dusk, but returned the following August to get a better look.



Aldeburgh


AldeboroughThis is a quaint old town with a wide main street of elegant Georgian houses and older cottages behind a shingle beach and popular with visitors. Aldeburgh became a prosperous fishing centre by 1600 until it became a resort in the 19th century. Reputedly the best sprats and herring are caught in November and December along its famous long, straight and somewhat desolate shore.

Aldeborough

The half-timbered Tudor Moot Hall, is now almost on the shore, the three roads which originally separated it from the sea have been washed away over the centuries. Inside the Hall there is a rather nice museum that has maps of the old town and photographs of past storm damage.

Slaughten QuaySouth of the town at Slaughten Quay is a recently built sea wall, wide enough for cars to park on, but rough enough to make driving on it difficult. At one time, Slaughten was the main port but it was gradually washed away over the centuries. The River Alde takes a sharp bend to the south here, cut off from the sea by a huge shingle spit and is now a place for yacht clubs.

Martello Tower

At the end of the sea wall there is a Martello tower, shaped like a quatrefoil. It was one of many on this coast built as a defence against Napoleon, but never used and now converted into a holiday home. The 10-mile shingle spit of Orford Ness once housed a secret military site but is now owned by the National Trust. There is no public right of way from here as it is too dangerous.



Snape Maltings


Snape Maltings This is a group of Victorian barley maltings that were converted in 1965 into a visitor complex with gifty shops and tea rooms. Snape was in the heart of good barley growing land, and the river provided easy transport to ship the malt to the London breweries. Sailing barges once lined the quay and Snape was a busy port until in 1859 when the railway came. By 1960, old fashioned floor malting had become uneconomical and malting came to an end.

Snape Concert HallIn 1948 the Suffolk composer Benjamin Britten and the singer Peter Pears established the Aldeburgh Music Festival. The largest malt kiln caught the eye of Britten, for conversion into a Concert Hall and it opened in 1967. There is also an advanced music school and some henry Moore sculpture. We went inside to get a programme of future events and were surprised to see how varied it was.

The River and marshes surrounding it are rather pictuesque and a haven for wildlife. The river is tidal as far as Snape, 20 miles from the river mouth, but only 5 miles from the sea as the crow flies.


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