The first four miles of this leg are spent in Rendlesham Forest, skirting the eastern end of Woodbridge airfield on tracks before curving around northwards. It skirts the eastern end of the old Bentwaters airfield – once the domain of the USAF – before heading north through Tunstall Forest and across Tunstall Common. The trail heads across the edge of Blaxhall Heath before reaching a road; the last mile follows the road eastwards to Snape Maltings, which lies at the end of the tidal River Alde.
It is a pleasant and easy stroll, the best stretch being across Tunstall Common and Blaxhall Heath. Some of the trails through the woodland can get slightly boring, but several sculptures have been erected amongst the trees to surprise you as you come across them.
4 hours 21 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 a road by the entrance to the Tangham visitor’s centre at TM354484. Cross the end of the road, and head eastwards along a track, immediately passing a cottage on the left. Do not enter the forest campsite and keep to the track. After a third of a mile at TM359484, turn left to head north along another track through the forest. After half a mile a junction with another track is reached; turn left for a couple of hundred yards, and then turn right up another track. After another couple of hundred yards it reaches a junction of tracks at TM359495; here turn left to head westwards. This track eventually ends at a road at TM355496.
Cross the road and continue straight on west-northwestwards through the forest. When the good track curves to the left, turn right along a rougher, but still clear, track. Half a mile after the road another track is reached at TM346499; turn left and almost immediately right to continue west-northwestwards. This eventually curves to the right, soon reaching a road in the forest at TM340503. Cross the road and continue on northwards along a track through the forest; it curves to the right and the left before regaining the northerly course.
After three-quarters of a mile this path meets the fence guarding the southeastern corner of Bentwaters Airfield near to some tall water tanks. Head north along the path with the boundary fence on the left; this passes an entrance into the airfield and then Wantisden church on the right. Shortly after the church, turn right to take a track that heads southeastwards and then east-northeastwards for half a mile until a road is reached at TM369533. Turn right along the road to head southwards for a fifth of a mile. Ignore the first track off to the left, and take the second that is directly opposite Dale Farm.
The track heads east-southeastward for 0.8 miles until a junction with another track is reached at TM382526. Turn left and follow this track as it heads in a rough northerly direction for nearly a mile and a half, skirting the western edge of Tunstall Forest. It passes Bracken Farm before ending at the B1078 road at TM375548. Cross the road and continue north along a footpath.
After a few yards, take a path that curves away to the left to take a northerly course. This soon reaches an unsurfaced track called Forest Enterprise Road. Cross this and continue northwards; after a few yards turn right to join another footpath that heads east-northeastwards across rough scrubland and past gorse bushes. It slowly curves to the left to take a more northeasterly course, running with a field a short distance away to the left. At TM378551 turn left along a narrow path, and then right to join another track. Half a mile after crossing the track, it reaches anther track at TM380554.
Turn right and follow this new track eastwards; after a while the surface becomes firmer. After 0.4 miles at TM387553 turn left to join another footpath that heads in a rough northerly direction through the forest for a little over a third of a mile until it reaches a road. Cross this and continue on northwards along a footpath on the other side. Just before this curves to the left after a couple of hundred yards, turn left to join a footpath that angles away from the track on the right. The footpath heads northwesterly across Blaxhall Heath for a quarter of a mile until it reaches the B1069 road at TM382565.
Turn right along this road for a few yards, and as the track comes in from the right turn left and go past a metal barrier to join another track. This heads northwestwards before reaching a road after half a mile at TM378571. Ignore the road going straight on, and turn right to follow another road in a rough easterly direction. After two-thirds of a mile it joins the B1069 road opposite Dunningworth Hall; turn left to continue on along the main road as it descends slightly to reach Snape Maltings on the right.
Rendlesham Forest and aliens
Rendlesham Forest is the largest of the three forests in the Sandlings area of Suffolk.
An incident at the end of 1980 led to the forest’s biggest claim to fame. In what has become known as the ‘Rendlesham Forest Incident’, strange lights were seen within the forest by staff at the Bentwaters airbase. Fearing a crashed plane, they investigated the lights and failed to find a cause. The lights were seen for three nights in total and UFOs have widely been blamed. Extra credence has been placed on the reports because the phenomena were seen by trained air force personnel.
No explanation has been accepted for the lights, but it is perhaps coincidental that the period of the flashes corresponds with that of a lighthouse on the coast, a relatively short distance away. Changes to the shape of the forest and lines-of-sight since that date probably mean that determining the cause of the lights is now impossible. Not being a UFO believer, I think that a number of men on cold nights let their imaginations run away with them. You may well disagree, so it may be worth keeping your eyes and ears peeled for any strangeness amongst the trees.
Rendlesham Forest lost nearly a million trees in the 1987 storm, the area being rendered virtually unrecognisable by the time the storm abated on the 16th October. The forest has slowly recovered and there are several trails (including a UFO trail) through the trees. There is also a visitors centre and a camping site in the forest.
RAF Bentwaters was a massive USAF airbase, twinned with RAF Woodbridge a few miles away. It was built during World War II and starting operation in 1944 after the runways had been scythed through part of Rendlesham Forest. In 1951 the USAAF took control, keeping a presence all the way through the Cold War in the form of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing. Unfortunately the fall of the Iron curtain meant that the US’s military presence in Europe was reduced and Bentwaters was a victim of these cuts. It was closed in 1993; since then it has been used as a storage area called Bentwaters Park. There is also a cold war museum that is occasionally open to the public.
Tunstall Forest is one of the three major forests in the Sandlings area of Suffolk. It is formed by a combination of heathland, deciduous and coniferous woodland, the heathland including the beautiful Blaxhall Common.
The Sandlings Walk heads through the western and northern edges of the forest, following pleasant, sandy paths.
Rivers Alde and Ore
The River Alde runs from Laxfield in Suffolk southeastwards towards the coast; just below Aldeburgh it curves to head southwards, prevented from joining the sea by the large shingle bank that forms Orford Ness. It runs south and then southwestwards for ten miles, becoming the Ore before finally draining into the sea at Shingle Street near Hollesley. It once entered the sea near Oford (which is why the small village has such a prominent castle), but the spit grew by another five miles southwards.
The river is tidal as far inland as Snape, and is little more than a freshwater stream beyond. The first crossing point of the river is at Snape Maltings, although a foot ferry does operate occasionally from Orford across to the shingle spit of Orford Ness.
Snape and Snape Maltings
Snape is a small village based near the first crossing point of the River Alde. It is most famous as being the site of Snape Maltings, an massive complex of buildings that closed in 1960. The area had long been the home of the composer Benjamin Britten, who started the Aldeburgh music festival in 1948. Over the years the festival moved to various locations, finally settling into a concert hall converted from one of the malting’s buildings in 1967. Since then more of the buildings have been converted into studios, rehearsal spaces, shops, a pub and residential accommodation.
The village of Snape itself is home to two pubs, and allegedly was J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for the surname of one of Harry Potter’s enemies, Severus Snape.
In 1862 a boat grave, believed to date from 530CE, was found under a burial mound on Snape Common; this was similar to the famous boat grave later found at Sutton Hoo. The boat was clinker-built with rivets; although the grave had been plundered many interesting finds were found, including a gold ring that is now in the British Museum.
There is no bus stop near Tangham; it may be best if this leg were combined with the next walk to get to Snape Maltings, from where Anglian Bus’s route 165 leads back to Ipswich station via Woodbridge; however this would be a 21-mile day. This could be shortened by a couple of miles by starting at Melton instead of Woodbridge.