This is a fine stroll with which to end the Sandlings Walk. The trail heads westwards away from Dunwich and he sea, before turning to head north through the borders of Dunwich Forest. It winds northwards along the edge of the forest before heading northeastwards, emerging out into farmland. A long stretch of path then heads across superb heathland, paralleling the course of the old Southwold railway before crossing the River Blyth on a footbridge. The last stretch of trail takes you down the quayside in Southwold before heading off towards the centre of the town, where you can buy a pint to celebrate another completed trail.
3 hours 17 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.
This leg starts at the Ship Inn on St James’s Street in Dunwich at TM479705. Follow St James's Street westwards and when it curves to the right with Dunwich Church on the left, continue straight on along a track between hedges. This curves to the left to take a rough southwesterly course across Broom Hill.
Shortly after passing Sandy Lane Farm on the right, turn right along a track that runs northwestwards through some woodland. After a few hundred yards turn left to head westwards along another wide track that plunges through Rookyard Wood. At TM455701 the track curves to the right to head west-northwestwards through the woods. After a few hundred yards it leaves the trees; as it does so, turn right to head northeastwards along a rough path across scrubland, with trees on the right. It eventually emerges into a field; angle across slightly to the right to join a hedge on the left. Cross a footbridge over a stream, and head on along the path through gorse until it angles to the right at TM457708.
Here turn left and follow another path west-northwestwards, with some scrubland on the right. After a short distance turn right across the scrubland. Just after some trees are reached on the right, turn left along another track until a T-junction with another track is reached at TM454712. Turn right along this track and follow it for a short distance until it reaches a road at TM455714. Turn right along this road for a few yards, and then turn left to join a track that heads northwestwards.
After a couple of hundred yards turn right to head eastwards through woodland for a little over a quarter of a mile until it ends at a road at TM458717. Cross the road and go into the trees on the other side; after a few yards turn left along a rough path that angles through the trees. Initially it follows the road on the left before the latter angles away to the left; the ground becomes clearer until a track is reached at TM45327. Turn left along this track for a few yards past a gate, and then turn right at a bend in another track.
Follow this track as it heads northeastwards through sparse woodland. After 0.8 miles it curves to the right to take a more east-northeasterly course, climbing up a small hill. It passes to the south of Westwood Lodge, becoming the surfaced Lodge Road on the way. Continue on along the road; a mile after the lodge turn left at TM480742; turn left to head westwards along a path across a field. When this meets the eastern edge of some woodland, turn right to head north with the trees on the left. Just before the trees end, turn right along a path that heads northeastwards, passing through a sparse hedge and crossing a hedge before ending at the B1347 road at TM479748 directly south of Eastwoodlodge Farm.
Turn right to head eastwards along this road for a couple of hundred yards, before turning left through a gate to join a footpath. Head northeastwards along this footpath, which parallels the course of an old railway line on the left. Aim for the water tower that could be seen on a hill in the distance. After a while the path joins a track, which then joins the course of the old trackbed. Continue straight on for a quarter of a mile until a bridge over the River Blyth is reached at TM494757.
Cross the bridge, and on the side turn right to follow a footpath that heads southeastwards downstream along the eastern flood bank of the river. It drops down off the bank to join Ferry Road and passes the Harbour Inn on the left. Continue down the road until the buildings on the left end; a bank soon starts, parallel to the road. Climb up onto this bank and follow it southwards for a short distance until it approaches a bank is reached on the left, just before a ditch and caravan park. Turn left and follow a path along the top of this bank as it heads northwards towards Southwold; the trail ends after about half a mile, when the bank and path meets a road at TM506757.
Dunwich and the friary
Dunwich is now a sleepy little village, situated where the shingle bank that stretches south from Walberswick reaches the cliffs. Nowadays it consists of little more than a hotel, a few houses and a museum, but once was an important port at the mouth of the River Blyth. The main trades were grain and wool out to the continent, whilst wine, cloth and timber would be bought into the country. A storm in 1286 caused shingle to block the harbour’s entrance and forced the mouth of the River Blyth to move northwards to its current position, reducing the village’s importance as a port.
Yet the village is famous for erosion rather than deposition. Dunwich was the capital of East Anglia in Saxon times, showing its importance to the area. The 1286 storm also started the erosion that has led to the vast majority of the town being lost to the sea. Of its eight churches none remain (the current church being a Victorian addition that was sensibly built a long way inland). The last to be lost, All Saints, was finally lost to the sea in 1919. Legend has it that its bells can sometimes be heard ringing from beneath the waves.
Perched perilously near the edge of the cliffs are the ruins of Greyfriars, a Franciscan Priory. This was originally much further to the east but was abandoned in 1328, less than a century after it was founded. The current ruins are of its replacement, and it can only be so long before these ruins are also lost to the sea.
Dunwich museum has many interesting displays about the history of the village, including a fascinating model of the village at its height. The village retained the right to return two members to Parliament until the Great Reform Act of 1832, making it one of the infamous ‘Rotten Boroughs’.
There is a large car park behind the beach, near which is a good cafe. There is also a hotel / pub in the centre of the village.
The Dunwich Forest is a large area of coniferous and deciduous woodland situated to the northwest of the village of Dunwich, a little way inland from the sea. Work started on the forest in 1920 to produce wood in case of war; Douglas Fir, Scots and Corsican Pine all thrived in the sandy soil, yet destroyed the natural ecosystem.
The forest is now jointly run by the Forestry Commission, the RSPB and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, who are currently implementing a scheme to return much of the forest back to a wilder form, as it was before the conifers were planted. As part of this process some of the woodland is being returned to lowland heath. There is a four-mile waymarked walk through the north of the woods and the Sandlings Walk makes an indirect route round its southern and western edges.
Walberswick is a small village situated to the south of the mouth of the River Blyth. It was once a major port, having gained when Dunwich to the south lost much of its trade due to erosion. Trade only really petered out in the early years of the twentieth century, late enough for leisure craft to rapidly take over.
A long shingle beach stretches southwestwards from Walberswick; the three miles to Dunwich protect low-lying marshes inland. The walk along the shingle to Dunwich is hard going and can be rewarding, especially if you take time to watch the birds on the marshes. The village is now justifiably very popular with tourists, and many of the properties in the village are used as holiday homes by the rich and famous.
The River Blyth acts as a barrier to the north. You can cross it either using the footbridge a mile upstream, or by using a foot ferry nearer the mouth that operates during the summer months. The nearest road bridge over the river is many miles upstream at Blythburgh.
The River Blyth is one of the several winding tidal rivers on the east Suffolk coast. Its mouth is situated immediately to the south of Southwold and the first mile forms Southwold Harbour, the uppermost extent of which is defined by a pedestrian bridge over the river (which replaced one belonging to the Southwold Railway).
The stretch of river downstream of Blythburgh is dominated by the Angel and Bulcamp marshes, large expanses of tidal mud flats. The river originally had a much narrower defined course, but the banks burst during the 1953 North Sea floods and were not repaired. Therefore the footpaths shown on the map across the marshes are not necessarily passable.
Upstream of Blythburgh the river becomes freshwater as it heads towards its source near Halesworth.
The Southwold railway
3-foot gauge Southwold Railway was built in 1879 to connect the seaside town with the main railway network at Halesworth station. The arrival of motor busses, the non-standard gauge and the rather eccentric rolling stock led to the closure of the line in 1929. The main piece of engineering was the swing-bridge over the River Blyth near Southwold; this has now been replaced with a long footbridge that allows pedestrians to cross the river. Some good views of the course of the line can be seen from the Sandlings Walk across Walberswick Common, with low brick abutments and gorse-filled shallow cuttings.
The Southwold Railway Trust wanted to rebuild the entire 8.5-mile route of the line; local opposition has led them to pursue smaller aims.
Southwold is well known as being an archetypal seaside town; once a busy fishing harbour sheltered in the River Blyth, it declined when nearby Lowestoft became more usable by the larger nineteenth-century boats. As the majority of the fishing fleet left, tourism took over and the town grew into an Edwardian Resort. Fortunately it did not get ruined in the postwar years and now seems almost perfectly timeless, with its pier by the sea, rows of brightly-coloured beach huts and lighthouse high above the town. The sandy beach is popular throughout the year.
Expansion of the town has proved difficult; the south is guarded by the River Blyth, the east by the sea, and the west and the north by Buss Creek, beyond which lies marshland. The high ground around the water tower is home to a golf course. This is probably the reason why the town has remained so gloriously unspoilt; there was no room to expand into.
Southwold lighthouse started guarding the coast in 1890, replacing some earlier lighthouses that were threatened by erosion. Unusually it is situated right in the middle of the town, and the whitewashed tower has become one of the town’s main landmarks. Another landmark is the massive 150,000-gallon water tower just outside the town, built in 1937 to replace an earlier structure.
The town is also home to Adnams Brewery. Visits of the brewery are available regularly throughout the season and include a tasting session at the end - it is best to book in advance.
In 1672 the combined English and French fleets fought the Dutch in the Battle of Solebay. This occurred just off the coast of Southwold and ended in an expensive draw. The local museum has many artefacts of the battle.
The 623-foot long Southwold pier was originally built in 1900 to serve the steamers that plied the east coast. Like many coastal piers it was sectioned during the war, and despite being repaired after the hostilities ended, it was damaged by gales and neglect. It looked like facing the same fate as many coastal piers - continuing decay and demolition - but its owner carefully restored it at the turn of the century. The pier finally reopened in 2001 and is a superb testament to the craftsmen who worked on it. Although there are two arcades on the pier, neither of them have gambling machines (one features weird and whacky machinery), enhancing the pier’s and town’s Edwardian feel. It is surely the finest jewel in Lowestoft’s crown.
Transport from Southwold back to Dunwich is problematic; it may be best to use a taxi back to Dunwich, or to link it with the previous leg and walk from Sizewell in one day. Alternatively, you could turn this stroll into a two-way stroll and return to Dunwich.