For the first time, the Sandlings Walk makes contact with the sea. From Sizewell Beach it heads along a path between the nuclear power stations and the beach; an interesting and peculiarly unique stretch of trail. It then heads inland past forestry before bearing north towards Eastbridge, the only settlement on this leg. It then heads northeastwards through woodland and across fields to reach Dunwich Heath. A sandy path across Dunwich Heath takes the trail northwards, before it enters some woodland and passes the ruins of the Greyfriars Priory and descends into Dunwich.
Dunwich Heath is one of the high-points of the trail; an interesting and rewarding place to spend a couple of hours exploring. Please note that care needs to be taken on the cliffs above Dunwich; erosion means that the path may be rerouted at any time.Always follow signed local directions and never get too near the top of the cliffs.
3 hours 11 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 end of the road in Sizewell Beach at TM475627. At the end of the road, turn left to head northwards. When the houses end on the left, a path heads off slightly to the right, crossing through a car park and then passing another on the left. A good path continues northwards across grass, with the fence of Sizewell power station hidden to the left and the beach away to the right. At TM475645, one mile after leaving the road, turn left immediately before some anti-tank blocks to head westwards across heathland.
The path crosses a couple of small streams on footbridges and enters some woodland; it skirts westwards along a track past Goose Hill on the right, although it is hardly worth calling a hill. Continue along this track as it winds along with a stream on the left; it leaves the woodland and crosses an area of scrubland west-southwestwards. It re-enters an area of woodland, continuing in the same direction along the northern edge of the trees. It eventually passes a metal gate to reach a track at TM453639.
Turn right to follow this track northwards for 0.8 miles, passing Upper Abbey on the left. When the track forks take the left-hand fork and continue northwestwards for a short distance until the track ends at a road at TM453652. Turn right and follow this road as it heads in a rough northerly direction. After half a mile it enters the small hamlet of Eastbridge, passing the wonderfully-named Eels Foot Inn. At a road junction by the pub, continue on northwards along the road for another third of a mile, crossing Minsmere New Cut on a bridge.
At TM451667 turn right along a surfaced track that heads northwestwards through Hangmans New Wood; when the track curves to the right, continue straight on up Saunder's Hill along an unsurfaced track. It emerges from the woodland and continues between fields, with power lines on the left. It crosses another track and enters yet another area of woodland. A few hundred yards after entering the woodland turn right along a footpath that heads in a rough easterly direction through the trees, eventually leaving them to cross a stream and enter Dunwich Heath. Join a track that heads eastwards across the heath, slowly curving to take a more east-southeasterly course before reaching the old coastguard cottages (now a National Trust visitors centre).
Just before the cottages are reached, turn half-left along a clear track that heads north-northwestwards across the heathland. When the clear path curves to the left, continue straight on until a junction with a track is reached at TM469689. Turn right, and follow the track northeastwards for a quarter of a mile until Minsmere Road is reached. Cross the road, turn right and then immediately left to continue on northeastwards through some woodland. After a couple of hundred yards the path curves to the left, taking a more northerly course before ending after half a mile at Westerton Road.
Turn right and follow the road eastwards; as it curves to the left continue straight on along a track. Just before it meets a little arched footbridge, turn left to follow a path northwards through woodland. After a short distance it leaves the path as it approaches the ruins of an old friary; turn right towards the coast, and then left. The path descends down a sunken track with woodland on the right; after a short distance the path heads up to the right away from the track, and then left to head downhill through the trees. The path meets St James’s Street in Dunwich at TM479705, with the Ship Inn on the left. Walk up to reach the Ship Inn, where this leg ends.
Sizewell A and B power stations
The small hamlet of Sizewell on the Suffolk coast is famous for its two nuclear power stations. Sizewell A started operating in 1966 and ran through to 2006; it could generate 420MW of power. The building is an ugly grey concrete monolith that seems totally out of character with the area.
In the 1980s work began on Sizewell B power station, the country’s first and only (so far) Pressurised Water Reactor. It started generating power in 1995, and has a maximum output of 1,195 MW. Unlike the A power station, the B station could be described as beautiful, with its white containment dome sitting above a squat blue building. The dome can be seen for many miles along the coast in either direction.
In 2010 it was announced that Sizewell was one of eight preferred sites for new nuclear power stations; the current plan shows Sizewell C as being a 1,600 MW unit that could be operating as early as 2020. If it is built, then we can only hope the design is more like the B unit than the hideous A unit.
Minsmere Nature Reserve
The Minsmere Nature Reserve is the most important sanctuary for wading birds in Eastern England. Once farmland, the area was flooded during the Second World War to offer extra protection against a German invasion, and soon became used by wading birds. The RSPB took over the area in 1947 and continue to run it to this day. More than 100 species can be found at the reserve, and there is a visitors centre and tea room.
Some reminders of the Second World War still exist on the dunes in front of the reserve, including long rows of anti-tank blocks and a pillbox hidden inside the ruins of an old chapel. The Suffolk Coast and Heaths Path follows the shoreline south, whilst the Sandlings Walk heads inland to the west of the reserve through Eastbridge.
Dunwich Heath is a spectacular expanse of low-lying heathland situated to the south of the village of Dunwich. Such heathland is a rarity in the UK, and it is much beloved by birdwatchers. In summer the heath becomes a riot of colour as the heather and gorse flower.
There is a family Field Study Centre at the Heath Barn, and events such as warden-led walks are held throughout the year. The old whitewashed coastguard cottages on the cliff top now contain tea rooms and an information centre.
RAF Dunwich on Minsmere Cliffs was home to one of the ‘Chain Home’ radar stations in the Second World War, providing low-level cover for the central East Anglian coast. Little now remains.
Both the Sandlings Walk and the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Path cross the heath.
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.
Getting public transport from Dunwich is troublesome – although it is in a Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) area. This is where you can phone a number to book a bus. See Suffolk Onboard for details, although I believe that the bus needs to be booked the day before. It may be best to turn this stroll into a two-way stroll or combine it with one of the other walks.