This leg forms a surprisingly varied and interesting walk. There is not just one start point but three, all of which avoid the worst excesses of suburbia as they head out of the eastern outskirts of Ipswich. Indeed, some stretches of path seem positively rural, even as they pass the stock-car stadium at Foxhall. The second half of the walk is definitely more rural; after passing the developments around the old Martlesham Heath airfield, it passes through woodland and across fields before descending down to the edge of Martlesham Creek. The last couple of miles are a delightful walk along the banks of the creek and the River Deben to reach the town of Woodbridge.
The walking is generally easy, with no ascents or descents worth the name. There may be a few boggy sections near Brookhill Wood and at Martlesham Creek.
3 hours 29 minutes
Map of the leg
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format.
There is no official start-point of the Sandlings Walk; indeed, there are three start points. In the absence of one, the Bucklesham Road near the A1156/A1189 roundabout at TM194429 seems as good a place as any, with a church on the left. Take a narrow path on the left, which runs with a fence, driveway and church hall on the left.
Follow the path as it heads northeastwards; after a short distance it curves sharply to the right to run between fences. The path curves to the left before emerging out onto some heathland; immediately turn to the right to access a wider path. Turn left and follow this path eastwards across the hillside; eventually the path becomes less open. Take a track that leads off to the right, crossing a stream on a bridge before ending back at Bucklesham Road (do not enter the golf course).
Turn left and follow Bucklesham Road east-southeastwards for a third of a mile until a track leads off to the left, towards Ipswich Golf Club. Follow this for a few yards, and then turn right to join a rutted track called Purdis Farm Lane. Follow the lane for nearly a mile, passing Purdis Hall and Farm on the left. Shortly after it climbs up a small hill, a junction with a path is reached on the left at TM219428. Turn left and follow this footpath as it skirts the side of a field, before entering an area of woodland and descending downhill.
The path crosses a bridge over a stream, and then turns to the left to keep the stream on the left. Much of the following stretch follows a boardwalk, which makes the going easier of boggy ground. When a junction with another boardwalk is reached, turn right to climb uphill; the boadwalk soon ends, and the path reaches Foxhall Road at TM212439. Turn right to follow this road uphill for a few yards, and then turn left along a footpath that passes a house on the left before quickly ending at a track. Follow this track northwards as it heads towards the Foxhall Stadium.
As the track approaches the stadium, it curves around to the right across some grass, taking a more east-northeasterly course as it enters an area of woodland before reaching Bell Lane at TM218445. Turn left to head north along this lane for a few yards, and then turn right to take a bridleway that enters a car park. Continue on eastwards, keeping a hedge to the right. Eventually the broad track widens out into playing fields; when the fields end at woods, turn left for a few yards and then right, to join a track that runs northeastwards through the woods, emerging out onto a road at Dobb's Corner (TM238452).
Cross the road and take a track that heads straight on the other side; when it meets another track, turn left to head north along this track with a playing field on the right. When this reaches a school at TM238455, turn right along another track. Just before this reaches an old aircraft control tower, turn left along a path that runs along an old concrete airfield parameter track. This curves to the right, passing the Suffolk police headquarters before approaching a dual carriageway. When it meets Portal Avenue, turn right to follow the road with the dual carriageway to the left, before descending to reach a subway.
Turn left to pass under the dual carriageway, and on the other side continue straight on northeastwards across some heathland, with the car park belonging to a large Tesco Extra superstore a short distance away to the right. Shortly after the northwestern corner of the car park is passed, turn right along another path to head eastwards across heathland. Keep another, smaller, car park on the right, before the path ends at Felixstowe Road at TM249461.
Carefully cross the road and enter a car park on the other side. Continue straight on and go through a gate to join a track that runs eastwards for two-thirds of a mile through the centre of some woodland, eventually emerging out onto Newbourn Road. Head straight on eastwards along this road for a couple of hundred yards, and as it curves to the right turn left to join another footpath. This heads northwards across a field before ending at Waldringfield Road at TM261463.
Turn right along this road for a few yards and then turn left along a track that heads northwards. This slowly curves to the right and descends to reach Martlesham Hall. Pass the buildings for a few yards, then turn left to take a footpath that heads uphill along the edge of a field, with a hedge on the right. Follow the footpath as it heads through a church car park. It then turns to the left, again with a hedge on the right. When the hedge ends, turn right to cross a lane and go through another hedge to join another footpath. Follow this downhill through Sluice Wood to reach the southwestern bank of Martlesham Creek at TM258470.
Continue straight on northwards, with the creek to the right. When the northwestern corner of the creek is reached, turn right and follow a rather ramshackle floodbank eastwards for three-quarters of a mile. The path drops down onto the foreshore as it approaches Kyson Point. Note: at high tides this part of the path may be impassable. Follow the path around as it curves to the left to head northwards along the foreshore. After a short distance it climbs up the small hillside to the left; when it meets a track turn right to descend down to join another stretch of floodbank. Head along the floodbank as it winds north-northeastwards, eventually becoming a promenade before reaching Woodbridge railway station.
Rushmere Heath is an attractive area of heathland situated to the east of Ipswich. It is topped by a rather brutal concrete water tower, and a golf course takes up a goodly proportion of the heath. Many paths criss-cross the public areas of the heath.
Foxhall transmitters and heath
Foxhall Heath is an area of heathland trapped between the suburbs of Ipswich to the west and Martlesham to the east. The area is slowly being reduced as housing encroaches from Kesgrave to the north.
At the western edge of the heath is Foxhall Stadium, a compact speedway and stock car/ banger racing track. This rather incongruously sits on a pleasant stretch of the heathland.
The two branches of the Sandlings Walk (the northwesterly branch across Rushmere Heath and the southwesterly one from Broke Hall) meet up on the heath.
A couple of oddly-shaped transmitters stand on Foxhall Heath; nearby is a disused USAAF telecommunications base that belies their original purpose. They were built in 1940 as a radio relay station and was later used and extended by the USAF, who used it as part of the US’s global command and control system called AUTOVON. The base closed in 1992 when new digital technology took over. The remaining masts are used for television and radio transmissions.
Some metal railings at the eastern end of the heath guard Dobbs’s Grave. This is the resting place of a shepherd - John Dobbs - who hung himself in the 1700s after losing a sheep. As he had committed suicide he could not be buried in consecrated ground and therefore he was buried in this spot, where four parishes met. Vandalism of the grave led to the railings being erected.
RAF Martlesham Heath
RAF Martlesham Heath was built during the First World War in 1917 and was used for research into aircraft until the start of the Second World War. During the war it was used by fighters and bombers of the RAF before the USAAF took over. The airfield was returned to the RAF after the war and finally closed in 1963.
The entire airfield area has now been developed including, amongst others, the headquarters of Suffolk police. There is not much remaining of the original airfield, except perhaps for the control tower which is somewhat incongruously situated near to a primary school. The control tower is home to a museum that is often open to the public.
A large tower beside the A12 to the northeast of Ipswich is topped by a large ‘BT’ symbol. This marks Adastral Park, home of BT research. The site was originally developed by the Post Office to research letter sorting technology, but switched to concentrate on telecommunications after BT was privatised from the Post Office. Other high-tech companies now share the property with BT.
Martlesham Creek is a small creek that runs for three-quarters of a mile westwards from the River Deben immediately to the south of Woodbridge. It is bounded by high ground to both the north and the south, whilst the western end is cut off by sluices and a flood bank. Smuggling was rife here; the creek was used by small boats of contraband, aided in their illicit work by a local rector.
Footpaths run around all three sides, granting a picturesque walk.
The River Deben rises near Debenham in Suffolk before making a slightly circuitous route towards the sea. It becomes tidal to the northeast of Woodbridge before flowing past the town and widening as it heads south towards the sea. It flows out into the North Sea immediately to the north of Felixstowe. The tidal sections of the river are very popular with boaters, and the river bank between Woodbridge and Melton are often filled with moored boats. A foot ferry operates across the mouth of the river to Felixstowe Ferry.
Woodbridge is a pretty town situated on the banks of the tidal Deben. The entire settlement seems focussed on the river, which can only be accessed by crossing the railway line that runs alongside. The river is often lined with boats, as is the marina. Additionally, it is well known for the high-quality food served at many of its establishments. The Fynn Valley Walk and the Sandlings Walk both follow the river through the town. It is the last settlement of any size directly on the Sandlings Walk before it ends at Southwold (although Aldeburgh is a short distance to the south of the trail).
It is home to a picturesque tidal mill, clad in white Suffolk boarding and with a Dutch roof. A mill was on this site in at least 1170; the current building probably dates from the 17th century. After falling derelict after closure in 1957, it was restored from 1968 - a massive job that took five years. It is open to the public.
Regular services run from Woodbridge station back to Ipswich; see the National Rail website for more information.
Landranger 169 (Ipswich & The Naze, Clacton-on-sea)