In which we walk the Shotley Peninsula, explore Pin Mill and its history and finish with a meal at the Butt & Oyster, made famous by author Arthur Ransome.
The coast of Suffolk with its small towns clustered on spits of land, carved out and isolated by tides and rivers, became a place where traditionally the up-and-coming middle classes from our engine-room cities came to rest up and regain their spirits after maintaining the empire. Marry this with the independent and reserved personality of the indigenous ‘South Folk’, their toughness and shy self-sufficiency hard-wired via centuries of fighting off challenges by land grabbing invaders such as the Danes, Angles and Norman nobility and you can see why our county sea borders are home to such a compelling mix of people- an intriguing place to visit and live.
The Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) actually extends from the Stour Estuary in the south right up to Kessingland near the Norfolk borders and covers over 403 square kilometres. We recently spent a few days exploring a small part of it: the coastal areas around Pin Mill on the Shotley Peninsula, a spit of land between the River Orwell and the River Stour. The two rivers meet at Shotley Gate, merge and eventually flow into the North Sea where the north bank is crowned by the international port and docks of Felixstowe and the harbour town and port of Harwich on the south point. A passenger ferry transports people between the two.
Found on the western shore of the River Orwell, Pin Mill was made famous by the author Arthur Ransome of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ and fronts onto the Harry King Boatyard. In his book “We Didn’t Mean to Go To Sea”, the young and adventurous protagonists were staying at Alma Cottage, located right by the Butt & Oyster pub. Ransom had his own boats built at Harry King’s yard, although he actually lived on the opposite side of the Orwell, at Levington. Humans also live on the river and there are quite a few houseboats tilting on the mudflats when the river runs low, then slowly righting themselves as the tide turns and refloats them: the red-sailed Thames sailing barges are a common sight at Pin Mill too as they were once built here.
During the 19th century, coastal vessels stopped off here to offload shallower barges and local farms would have their produce collected and transported elsewhere by them. Buttermans Bay (to the right of the pub) was named after the fast schooners that carried dairy produce from the Channel Islands and to this day there is still an annual Thames Barge Match held here even though the halcyon days of trading here have now passed. The Orwell River was once a prime trading route between Ipswich, the European mainland and the rest of the country and in the Middle Ages, the wool produced by wealthy East Anglian merchants and farmers was exported via the town whilst hemp, coal, iron and timber was brought in. The once bustling docks area in Ipswich is now slowly being restored although the waters bob with yachts and houseboats now instead of the merchants ships that once plied their trade there.
The Stour and Orwell Walk at Pin Mill is a well known trail that loops around the Palladian Woolverstone Hall and its Park, essentially in the shape of a figure of eight, taking walkers over sleeper bridges and past mud flats and saltings; through spinneys, woodlands, meadows and scrub, rises up to the Pin Mill cliff plantation and skirts the tiny village of Chelmondiston, before returning you to your start point- The Butt & Oyster Inn. The pub overlooks the boatyards which edge Pin Mill Common on both sides and makes a logical and scenic place to start or finish at although if you like a drink, it might be best to wait until after that walk- the fireside seats and sunny warmth streaming through the picture windows overlooking the water makes it hard to get up and get going.
Once out in the fresh air, the clanking of halyards in the breeze and puttering of outboard motors, coupled with the sounds of men and women working on their boats will remind you that this is very much a working boatyard and river as opposed to a place for the flip-collared deck shoe-shod regatta brigade. Brick-edged creeks and streams edged with mossy seaweed run past the paths, the water clear and ice-cold. The brackish waters of the saltings and tidal mud flats act as a magnet for overwintering birds: waders such as the egrets-all orange beak and spindly-legged; avocets which breed here in the summer and the plovers and oyster catchers which feed and breed, then rest on the tongues of land that bisect the lagoons. They are partially camouflaged by the lush summer foliage of sea-lavender and purslane and breeding linnets soar overhead too, far above the scrubby gorse that lines the opposite side of the river and up to the woodlands clustered on the bluffs.
The sandy heathland is a welcoming habitat for the gorse that flowers from mid winter onwards, providing nectar rich blooms for insects to feed on, which are, in turn, eaten by the linnets. The acid-yellow of its flowers carry a heady scent of coconut and saffron on the breeze, melding with the salt and dankness of the estuarine mud to create the unique smell of Pin Mill. The estuaries of the two rivers provide a vital stop off or stop over point for many migrant species and carries the European designation of Special Protection Area (SPA) as “a wetland of international importance”.
On warmer days when the tide is low children paddle by the pub, stepping gingerly over the pebbles on the shore that runs alongside the raised outdoor seating area and car-park whilst dogs plunge in, recklessly. They are overlooked by the pub windows, the shore reached by a ladder fixed to its wall which is rapidly submerged as the tide comes in. Beyond the shore we continued our walk along the undercliff which is rapidly being eroded and has been partially protected by riverside revetments. It is possible to head west, in the opposite direction too, upriver, by turning left as you walk down the shaded narrow lane to arrive at the pub which will then be on your right. This route will take you past the Pin Mill Sailing Club, alongside the boatyard with its hedges bedecked with bunting and surrounding woods and sheep pastures and eventually towards the woods. In the summer, the fields that surround Wolverstone Park are filled with red campion, cornflowers, clover, jack-in-the-pulpit and tall thistles, stiff purple bristles bursting out of their calyxes and as you approach Woolverstone Marina, you will get wonderful views across to the Orwell Bridge which carries the A14 over the river.
Our lunch at the Butt & Oyster on an overcast early September day didn’t include the oysters that the pub name commemorates (there were prolific oyster fisheries here) but was otherwise resplendent with its piles of local seafood and fish, all slippery hues of coral and oak and palest pink. Smoked trout, salmon and mackerel plus shell on prawns, crawfish and crab came with Marie Rose sauce and the obligatory granary bread and salad. A starter of goats cheese and red onion marmalade on a shoe sized crouton was large enough to be a main course; the cheese was young and crumbly, lacking the barnyard rigor of older cheeses and possessed instead, a lemony rime.
Sticky toffee pudding with banana fudge ice cream, chosen from a menu of different ice-cream flavours rounded off a lighter meal than we had originally intended; the other choices of pork and apple burgers, smoked haddock risotto and fish stew with a tomato and chili sauce had sold out. We arrived late and were happy we were fed at all. The pub has a dining area, smaller side room heated by a wood-burning stove and outdoor seating but we sat by the main bar near the picture windows and watched the river rise. If you aren’t that fussed about a meal but want to nibble at something then the roasted cashew nuts will keep you pretty happy, I reckon. I imagine the Fritto Misto would too- a heap of deep fried prawns, squid, whitebait and gougons of white fish served with a pot of coleslaw. One of those things you order thinking you aren’t that hungry then find yourself tearing into like some ravening creature with poor table manners.
In my first edit of this piece I forgot to mention the lovely staff at the Butt & Oyster <the shame> who were super accommodating towards two ditsy, tired, grubby and hungry walkers. Nothing was too much trouble for them, including my complete inability to decide between the ice-cream flavours, a decision they appeared to be as invested in as I was. Their advice was considered, patient and great fun too.
Staff did not know we were coming, were not told we were reviewing and indeed remained unaware of this until this feature came out. At no time have we received fiscal reward for this review.
November is past its midpoint and sitting here at five pm with the nighttime already pressing against the windows, it is hard to imagine that in just over a month, the winter darkness reaches its zenith and will start to ebb. By now we have nearly forgotten the long summer nights when sleep can prove elusive in a light room, with the thickest of window coverings struggling to keep out those rays sharp enough to find the small gaps between curtains and the edge of the window.
Despite the increasing lack of street lights in towns and cities, none of us in the western world will ever experience the dark skies of our ancestors. That blackness as thick as felt, lit only by stars and the wash of the moon, encouraged us to adopt the diurnal rhythms of the natural world, even when we learned how to push back against the night with light and fire.
We have more than our share of crepuscular days when it seems the sky barely makes it past the grey of first light and the moisture in the air is omnipresent and oppressive so the urge to give in and hibernate is understandable. However on those days when our skies are larkspur blue and the air snaps with cold, that is the time to get out and enjoy East Anglia at its most beautiful. Living near the countryside provides us with ample opportunity to defy the impending hours of darkness with hundreds of square miles of outdoor space to explore: nature reserves, country lanes, footpaths and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Whether you choose to be on horseback, on foot or enjoy these from the window of a car, doesn’t matter- the views are there for the taking and they are free.
The postcard perfect images of a landscape under a blanket of snow appear to be more elusive now, sadly. That blueish early morning light behind the curtains disorientates us at first until we realise what has caused it, making us scramble out of bed shouting: “Its snowed, it’s snowing.” but this happens less and less. The traditional ways of an East Anglian winter; sledging and snowball fights, skating on the fens and walking to school down lanes banked with snow seem far back in the past as warmer winters result in months going by with hardly a flurry. As a teenager I recall hitchhiking from Bury St Edmunds to Sudbury in the early eighties during a near white out and these blizzard conditions weren’t a rarity. The only vehicle on the road was a snow plough whose operator took pity on me, stopped and gave me a lift all the way even though he was only going as far as the Alpheton turn off. Winters seemed harder then with’bigger’ weather that conversely didn’t trigger the closure of schools and roads: trains continued running even when they ran so slowly that they appeared to have turned into snow ploughs themselves, pushing drifts of the white stuff in front of them as they trundled along the Sudbury to Bures branch line.
Like many rural areas all over the country, the downside of snow is that it can bring chaos to the narrow local roads making them impassable but on a fine clear day, there are parts of Suffolk and Norfolk which actually become more accessible in the Winter because the seasonal restrictions on open access land are lifted. From November to February, the Brecks and Suffolks eastern fringes are opened up for walkers and are at their best, populated by the sere white barked birch, needled clumps of gorse and springy broom and patchworked by the faded purples and pinks of heathers. Protected miniature ecosystems flourish among the dark pine lines along the horizon and along the deliberately uncultivated field margins. Goldcrests and siskins, lapwings, crossbills, turtle dove, firecrests and woodcock all live and feed here alongside the ever present muntjac and roe deer. The Brecklands (meaning ‘broken lands’) are the largest lowland forest in the UK and span nearly 1,000 kilometres of sandy flinty soil providing a home to over 28% of the UK’s rarest species including the Stone Curlew, saved from a miserable decline by the concerted efforts of the regions farmers supported by the RSPB and several EU fiscally protective measures.
Alternatively, drive out to our coastline or the wetlands and river estuaries to see stilt-legged wading birds such as godwits and avocets in reserves such as the RSPB’s Minsmere or Lackford Lakes near Bury St Edmunds, managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. The latter is home to many cormorants, silhouetted against the branches of the trees- living Japanese paintings as they hold out their black wings and warm themselves in the winter sun. Clumsy Egyptian geese putter about by the lake side, tearing up and eating the grass and churning it into a muddy slipway. On the river Stour, keep the binoculars handy to spot flocks of Brent Geese (their clamouring will give them away), the red breasted mergnasers and long tailed ducks and as you approach its estuary, white fronted geese, goldeneyes and snow buntings, peeping away. In Mid Suffolk is Needham Lake, quite compact and very easy to get around if you have young children or have ambulation problems. It is also near to the River Gipping, the Museum of East Anglian Life at Stowmarket and Needham Market itself if you want to go for a drink or meal afterwards. The path is firm going beside the river and ventures past Wildwood (a community woodland) and fields of sheep up to Alder Carr Farm and its excellent farm shop.
Iken Cliffs (Landranger grid reference: TM399561) has wonderful views across the River Alde and is a lovely site to enjoy nature and views that extend for miles. The mud flats and salt marshes are important feeding grounds and migration sites for waders and wildfowl with shelduck, redshank and avocets all common visitors. When you’ve finished your picnic, it’s a short walk to the internationally renowned Snape Maltings or charming Iken Church. or take the Iken road, 2 miles south of Snape and you can then access the South Suffolk Coastal Pathway for a more ‘serious’ walk along some of the most stunning coastal scenery in Europe.
As the new year beds in, rooks begin to nest again, rising and falling in dizzying spirals and columns against a background of arable land, edged by lines of tall trees, home for centuries to these birds. Starlings too, murmurate across the skies at dusk, their screeches felt rather than heard. Lackford Lakes is one of the best places to see this awe inspiring sight and has reported starling gatherings of over 800 birds. This is also the place to enjoy the sundowner barks of the many deer that populate the woods and copses nearby. Or drive out to the lanes around Bures and Arger Fen and enjoy views from some of Suffolk’s highest ground where birds wheel and swoop down valleysides and deep cuts. Arger Fen is one of Britain’s most beautiful bluebell woods with steep woodland trails landscaped with fallen trees and steps cut into the earth underneath a canopy of mixed broadleaf and coniferous trees but it is just as lovely in the Winter months. The surrounding fen meadows provide panoramic views over the entire Stour Valley and a bucolic place to escape to.
River walks along the Stour can be taken from a number of picturesque locations and several of them also follow parts of the old railway line from Clare to Sudbury, via Long Melford and Lavenham plus the beauty of Clare Castle Country Park and its circular walk. The Valley Trail comprises a wide and compacted path suitable for sturdy pushchairs and some wheelchair users taking you past woodlands, field footpaths, railway line trails and along river paths.
Alternatively start in Sudbury or Bures and walk along the Stour, taking in Bures, Little Cornard, Henny and Lamarsh. This section is about ten miles or you can start off at Bures Hamlet and walk its winding roads through valley cuts, taking the five mile route from Bures Hamlet, Lamarsh and Alphamstone, circling back again to end up from whence you came. There are regular buses from Sudbury to Bures (the Colchester-Bury St Eds route) so you don’t have to walk its entirety. The Sudbury water meadows (the oldest grazed land in England) make a lovely place to visit in the Winter when the bare trees allow an even more sweeping view from one side of the valley to another and herons, egrets and kingfishers dip in and out of sight.
The Long Melford to Sudbury ‘Three Mills Walk’ follows the old Great Eastern Railway line via Borley Mill, Brundon Mill and Sudbury Mill which is now a hotel. Brundon Mill is the site of the lovely swan feed, where hundreds of the birds make their home on the Mill Pond with the bridge over it making a stopping off point to visit and feed them. This walks also takes you through Melford Country Park before you arrive at the meadows (5.5 miles approx) and you can then continue on the twelve mile Gainsborough Trail that covers the whole Sudbury area including the three and a half mile Meadow Walk. We love the Three Mills Walk with its grassy paths and dinky bridges and kissing gates (all designed for wheelchair users) which kids love scrambling through and over. You can follow any of the meadow paths, keeping your eye out for cattle which graze the common lands, or simply keep to the Stour Valley Path, a firmer route alongside the River Stour. If you want to keep it town based, yet be near the river then wander over to The Croft in Sudbury which offers an old boating lake, the ‘washing machine water’ aka Weir, a cow which is great for picnics in warmer weather and the old bridge populated by generations of ducks kept fat by generations of locals.
If you enjoy your walks punctuated by a pint of beer or pub meal then Suffolk has a plethora of routes that are near to, or go past some of our loveliest and most welcoming hostelries. Lackford Lakes, and Culford are all near to the Woolpack Inn at Fornham St Martin with a view of the church and a walled garden should it be warm enough to sit outside. You can wander down to the nearby Suffolk Golf Club and follow the walk along the river, all the way to Lackford Lakes and West Stow. The Newmarket Ridge is the highest point of Suffolk, formed of the north-eastern extreme of the Southern England Cretaceous chalk formation that stretches from Dorset to Dover. Near to the tiny hamlet of Rede, you might want to take on the ten or so miles of the walk that starts and ends in the hamlet and walk through the villages of Brockley Green, Hawkedon, Somerton, climb the highest point of the ridge at Great Wood Hill then finish up in the Plough pub. Stoke up those energy levels with a meal and a drink by the fire. Lastly, why not amble through one of our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty which happens to have two great inns at either end of the walk Start at the venerable old smugglers haunt, The Ship at Dunwich and end at a 17thcentury coaching inn – the Westleton Crown. This Inn to Inn walk sounds a perfect way to work off the beer and food you will no doubt consume.
The villages of Groton and Boxford provide ample pub punctuated walks and we like this one, devised by Cyril Francis in Suffolk Mag. Starting and ending at Boxford’s Fleece Inn, a mixture of field pathways and country lanes takes you through Groton, birthplace of John Winthrop, founder of Boston and first governor of Massachusetts and you will pass a mulberry tree reputed to have been planted by members of his family, back in 1550. Boxford also has the White Hart, once home to publican George Smith who used to keep a pet lion that roamed the street of the village, tame and well known to the locals. The lioness formed part of George’s stunts and rode on the handlebars of his Indian Scout bike as a cub, graduating to a sidecar once fully grown. She is buried under what is now the pubs car park.
Woodland walks can be found near the village of Lawshall where you will find the local Frithy and Golden woods, the former an ancient woodland of mixed broadleaf and near to the public footpath that takes you around the estate of Cobham Hall, built in 1574. The footpath goes around Lawshall past the Hall, returning to the village where a drink awaits you at The Swan pub. Not so far from Lawshall is Bradfield St George with its woods administrated by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and criss crossed with trails and there are numerous pubs nearby including The Manger at Bradfield Combust on the main Sudbury-Bury St Edmunds road (A134). We are big fans of Brandon Country Park with its mix of woodlands, parks and manicured Edwardian arboretum planted with monkey puzzle trees, copper beeches and false acacias-the latters fern like open tracery is such a contrast to the prehistoric chunkiness of the monkey puzzle. This park comes into its own in the autumn with fiery leaf colours and under planted heathers coming into bloom. Take your pick from different walks, some on firm paths which lead you around the walled gardens, lake, mausoleum, play area for kids and a cafe to revive you with hot drinks on a cold day.
Like Brandon Country Park, the National Trust owned Ickworth Park also offers a range of walking from manicured formal gardens to woodlands, pastures, meadows and stumperies with, of course, that amazing Italianate rotunda crowning the view from afar. We absolutely love the way the copper toned leaves pile up against the wire retaining fences, the views across the fields to Bury St Edmunds, the vineyards and kitchen gardens and tiny, recessed bat cave in the formal gardens. It is perfect for families with children because you can give them their head and let them run then come back to the more sedate part of the grounds when they have calmed. Wrap up warm because those north and east facing meadows catch quite a breeze and enjoy this amazing park, ending up in the cafe for a warm cup of tea.
Discover Suffolk provides a pdf of easy walking trails across the county for wheelchair and pushchair users and most of the trails are low-level walks on firm ground with occasional gentle slopes. Alton Water has an 8 mile looped path along the lake allowing walkers to see it from many different perspectives and enjoy the wildlife that makes the lake their home. From ducks, geese and swans to the barn owls that swoop low at dusk in search of food, this is a great family destination with toilet and changing facilities nearby.
In the north east of the county can be found the Beccles Marsh Trails on the edge of historic Beccles, a series of paths among grazing marshes with the River Waveney flowing through them. There is an information centre and cafe at the Quay, a toilet plus free parking. The Blue Walk across Beccles Marsh has been designed as an easy access trail, with a combination of tarmac paths and natural, hard surfaces with benches placed at intervals along its length. Part of the walk follows the ancient Angles Way, a long distance footpath that follows the course of the River Waveney from its source at Knettishall Heath Country Park to the North Sea near Lowestoft. The marshes themselves are nature reserves in miniature with grazing lands crisscrossed by a network or hand dug dykes to manage the variations in water levels.
Another handy and multi use walk is the Thornham Walks between Diss and Stowmarket, twelve miles of trails that criss cross landscaped parkland. There is a restored walled garden planted with fruit trees and herbaceous borders, a bird hide, folly and pet cemetery which is always intriguing for children, especially when they read some of the more unusual pet names carved on the gravestones. Look out for the nuttery and aviary populated by raucous Asian pheasants, providing more entertainment for the smalls. All trails are well marked, easily navigable by pushchair and wheelchairs and the pathways are exceptionally well surfaced. The Forge Café and Old Coach House Café serve excellent food, drinks and snacks and there is a shop, parking and toilets.
Wolves Wood near Hadleigh is the opposite of Thornham Woods in that it does not have all the amenities but what it does boast is a fine and noble history as one of the few remnants of the ancient woodland that used to cover East Anglia and a name that enthralls children. The RSPB manages it using the traditional method of coppicing (a special way of cutting the trees to let light in), which means that the wood has a wide variety of birds, plants and mammals. Visit early on a fine clear morning to hear the chorus of up to 20 species of bird, including the rich, musical song of the nightingale. We strongly advise you to wear wellington boots as the woods can be muddy, even in the open access car park.
These are just a tiny percentage of the thousands of miles of walks to be found in the county of Suffolk. We’d love to hear of your favourites so please do post them below and we can add them to this feature for others to discover.
Some well known, others not so, here are some of the loveliest places to visit either en famille or for some much needed down time alone by the water, in it, above it or doing things on it.
(1) Blakeney Point in Norfolk
The best way to arrive at Blakeney Point, a sand and shingle spit stretching out into the sea from the heart of Blakeney national reserve, is on a boat trip from Morston Quay. You not only get a chance to see grey seals basking on the sandbanks, but you leave the boat at the blue Old Lifeboat House, home to National Trust rangers and now a visitors centre packed with information. From there, you can explore the rare habitat and its inhabitants, which range from sandwich terns to otters and yellow-horned poppies. The more energetic might opt to walk back to Morston , a worthwhile though demanding tramp across four miles of shingle back. Nearest train station: Sheringham, then get the CH3 bus to Morston. There is restricted access to the western end of Blakeney Point from April to mid-August, to protect birds nesting on the shingle, and from November to mid-January during the seal pupping season.
(2) Lackford Lakes, Nr Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
A man made landscape of reclaimed gravel pits in the valley of the river Lark, Lackford Lakes is owned and managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and boasts a year round programme of family events. Walk around this ever changing landscape of reed beds, meadows, pastures, woodlands and wetlands and watch Kingfishers, bitterns, otters, cormorants and many other creatures as they go about their business from one of the bird hides cleverly positioned to give access to different habitats. The sailing club SESCA is based here too should you wish to learn in one of the UK’s most beautiful environments. We often come here at dawn or dusk, a time of great animal activity and sit quietly watching bats pour in and out of their converted pill box home overlooking meadows full of grazing cattle and Jacob’s sheep. A well equipped visitors centre offers drinks, cakes and ice creams plus a bird viewing window and also sells bird food and other equipment.
(3) The Little Ouse at Thetford & Santon Downham, Norfolk and Suffolk borders.
The River Little Ouse, a tributary of the Great Ouse, once had more than one natural course and runs alongside a popular walking trail that runs between Thetford and Brandon and traverses Thetford Forest via Santon Downham. To the North is Grimes Graves, the amazing Neolithic flint mining site which is reachable via forest tracks or from Santon Downham Village. These same forest tracks lead to High Lodge and Go Ape!, both popular places for activities, picnics and family fun.
The Little Ouse runs through the Brecks, one of the most fascinating and unique habitats in the country- tranquil forests, open sandy heaths ablaze with sulphur yellow Gorse in the summer and a patchwork of agricultural land. The Brecks cover 370 square miles, has the rare nightjar and stone curlew as residents and bears the marks of the Ice Age that created this landscape of Pingoes and scrubby low growing plants, ancestors of those which were once all that could grow in the Permafrost that characterised the Ice Age.
Alternatively, stay in Thetford and sit or walk by the river from St Mary’s Priory to the fishing lakes (photographed above), watching skeins of electric blue dragonflies dart above the riverbank. Occasional kayaks and row boats pass by too, trailing ducks in their wake. A beautiful place to take a picnic, a sandwich and a book, we often come here just to relax and get away. Ten minutes is all it takes to recharge.
(4) The Lido at Beccles, Suffolk
Sadly becoming an endangered species, outdoor pools are something to treasure and we encourage not only their patronage, but donating whatever spare change you have to their funds for upkeep. We have such warm memories of the sadly defunct Sudbury swimming pool with its competition height diving boards, pool side tiers of concrete sun decks and hut selling post swim cups of hot cocoa.
Beccles Lido is run by a community run charity who bought the Lido from Waveney District Council and re-opened it in 2010, restoring the 1m springboard, installing a slide, all-weather awning and a fun giant inflatable aquarun. Canoe hire is also available and there are separate toddler and paddling pools, also heated. With paved and grassy areas for sunbathing, as well as picnic tables, chairs, sunloungers and a covered outdoor eating area, families are well catered for and a well stocked Splash Pool Bar sells hot and cold meals and snacks, cold drinks, icecreams, delicious Fairtrade teas, coffees and hot chocolate.
(5) The Kings Lynn Ferry Ride, Norfolk
Got a boat mad child or fancy a trip across river yourself? A trip on the Kings Lynn Ferry after exploring the towns maritime trade, its fishing communities and its famous navigators via the Maritime Trail, will give you a different take of the architecture of the town from the west bank of the Lynn. This town with its royal links was originally known asLin and in 1101, Bishop Herbert Losinga (the same Bishop that established Norwich Cathedral) founded St Margaret’s Church and the town became known as Bishops Lin.
Trade built up quickly around the waterways and a few years later a second settlement was established to the North, each with its own church and marketplace. In 1537 King Henry VIII decided he would take control of the town from the Bishop of Norwich and it became known as King’s Lynn; the town growing rich from trade within Britain and abroad. By the middle ages, the town ranked as the 3rd port of England and was considered as important as Liverpool. Although the town’s importance then declined, King’s Lynn today is a still an important regional centre for a largely sparsely populated part of England.
Fishing has always been a strong part of Lynn’s history. Queen Elizabeth I granted Lynn fishermen the right to “free and uninterrupted use of the Fisher Fleet for ever and ever.” Lynn’s whaling ships would sail to Greenland every March and return back here in July with their catch. On their return this quay would be full of excitement; today it is an attractive place to sit and watch boats sail by from wharfs converted into bars or restaurants and a visitor centre. Mid-way along King Street you will find Ferry Lane leading to the ferry service.
(6) Sea views from the summit of Muckleburgh Hill, Norfolk
Got children who enjoy a physical challenge? The hill may only be a few hundred feet high, but it is a spectacular view from the summit of the coast and glorious Norfolk countryside in all directions, making it a great adventure to climb for people of all ages. Dense woodland, at the base of the hill makes finding the path to the top a bit of a puzzle, but when you do find one of the network of woodland paths and climb it, you are rewarded with views over Weybourne andSheringham to the east and Salthouse and Cley next the Sea to the west. Immediately below Muckleburgh Hill is the Muckleburgh Collection, a museum of military hardware.
Nearby Weybourne, a pretty village, is home to the North Norfolk Railway station and goods yard. The station has a workshop and is home to various railway vehicles that adults and children will enjoy looking at. Steam trains regularly pull into the station and you can ride the “poppy line” to Holt in one direction and Sheringham in the other. It is easy to stop off at the villages and towns along the route, catching a later train back. This means adults can leave the car behind and enjoy some libations at some of the excellent village pubs, many spectacularly beautiful with corresponding views.
(7) The Rodbridge Picnic Grounds, Nr Long Melford, Suffolk
A proper river side tramp where kids can run amok over the scrubby grassy paths and fields, splash through the muddy woodland tracks and paddle, it is best to put the littlest one in the back carrier or fit mudguards to the all terrain buggy when you come here. Walking boots or wellies are also advisable. Rodbridge Corner is a place we adored as kids where we’d hurtle up and down the hummocks dotted with rabbit warrens (a kind of mini race track), eat our fish and chips in the car park then walk the river path, stopping to smell the scent of the river as it bumps over the weirs. A wonderful place and free to use. Might be an idea to avoid the car park from dusk where local people have reported a problem with it being used for more nefarious purposes (dogging) although we haven’t had any problems yet, have seen nothing and wouldn’t advise walking along an unlit river path at night anyway.
The nearby towns of Sudbury and village of Long Melford will provide those fish and chips should you not have brought a fancier meal!
(8) The Croft in Sudbury, Suffolk
An embarrassment of riches awaits the river lover in Sudbury, embraced in a loop by the famous river Stour. Captured so often by famous artists and possessed of many bucolic stopping off points for paddling, boat sailing, water sports or simply musing or walking along the path, the railway walk (the railway line follows the river for many miles) or water meadows also offer hours of outdoor exercise and beauty. Just keep an eye on the cows that graze the common lands and don’t let your dog worry them.
The Croft offers an old boating lake, the ‘washing machine water’ aka Weir, a cow pond around which you will find groups of picnickers and the old bridge populated by generations of ducks kept fat by generations of locals. Park quality grass for sunbathing (although keep an eye out for duck poop before you sit down), stands of trees and bench dotted tarmac paths make this popular because it is less then 400 yards from the town centre. A short walk down the riverpath leads you to The Mill, now turned into a hotel and complete with walled up cat (an ancient practice), or you can walk along the Railway walk in the other direction to Brundon Mill where the swan feed, resplendent with a hundred or more swans, awaits. The meadows around Sudbury are the oldest continuously grazed land in England and are crossed by many footpaths, making them excellent for walking.
The Croft is just off the Sudbury one way system, past the fire station and St Gregory’s church and can also be reached from North Street. Turn left at Argos, pass the short stay car park and turn right by the entrance of the Waggon and Horses pub. The Croft is across the main road. As you cross the bridge at the Croft, keep an eye out for the poignant memorial to the left, set with flowering plants. A tribute to a family from nearby Great Cornard who died in the Yugoslav air disaster in May 1971, we always stopped here to lay flowers because our grandmother taught the children at playschool. Roger and Margaret Green and their sons, Simon and Ian, were on board the Tupolev-134 which crashed at Rijeka airport when attempting to land in a heavy rainstorm; 78 of the 83 people on board were killed. Simon was a member of the Round Table and his fellow Round Tablers cleared the land of bushes and scrub.
(9) Sea Views at Wiveton Hall Cafe in Norfolk
Slip off your shoes, sit yourself down on one of the candy coloured outdoor seats, exhale and look out to sea from this playful cafe which is nonetheless deadly serious about the quality of food it serves. The views out over the marshes to the sea are superb and, under the pine trees; sand and pebbles underfoot, you will think you are in the Med. Take a walk along the beautiful Norfolk coastline before or after your meal, pick fruit on the estates fruit farms or wander around flint faced, Dutch gabled Wiveton Hall, built in the 17th century on what had been monastic land where the sea once came almost to the door. Should you decide never to go away again, the hall offers accommodation in either its spacious wing or self catering farm cottages.
(10) Wild Swimming in the river Waveney, Suffolk
The Waveney was much beloved of the nature writer Roger Deakin who used to live in Mellis and who was one of the ‘pioneers’ of the new Wild Swimming movement. A two mile loop around Outney Common starts and returns from Bungay, one of Suffolk’s tiny towns where you will still find independent stores and good places to eat. With its own river meadows at the bottom of Bridge Street that are ideal for a swim and a riverbank picnic, there is also canoe hire at the Meadow Caravan park, next to the river itself. Should you swim at dawn or dusk, keep an eye out for the otters- they live happily here. Grid reference: 52.4572, 1.4413
(11) Peer at the view from a Pier
Fly over the coastline of East Anglia and you will see venerable examples of the quaint Victorian habit of building out to sea; a perfect example of follies on a grand scale for what else would you call a pier- those curious testimonies to holiday frivolity on stilts? From Cromer and Gt Yarmouth in Norfolk to Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Aldeburgh and Southwold in Suffolk, our counties have worked hard to maintain and develop their piers resulting in yet another generation of coastal visitors who enjoy their very British charms.
Southwold Pier boasts the the famous ‘Under the Pier Show’, an assortment of bonkers Tim Hunkins creations- Steampunk crossed with Victoriana; a penny arcade, the Clockhouse cafe and pizza place plus those wide planked boardwalks to walk along and sit on, looking out onto those stupendous Suffolk sunsets and sunrises. Tasteful to attract the Notting Hillers, this pier doesn’t have that brash gaudy seaside appeal of other resorts (which we also love) – think Enid Blyton as opposed to the local fair.
Gt Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier carries on another great British seaside tradition- that of the live show, amusements and carney style food- candy floss, doughnuts, rock and hot dogs and is none the less enjoyable for it. Attracting hordes of visitors all year round, the piers original wooden structure was designed by A.W. Morant, opening in July 1858. A wooden construction leaves piers at risk of fire and Britannia Pier has certainly had a fair share of these- the first in 1907 and the second in 1914, badly damaging the newly built pavilion. Ironically, both the ballroom and pavillion survived the war, only to be both destroyed by yet another blaze in 1954 and subsequently rebuilt where they thrive to this day. Felixstowe Pier is very similar with amusement arcades, a lovely boardwalk, plenty of food and proximity to safe clean beaches.
Cromer Pier boasts and end of the pier show and claims this to be the last remaining true show of its kind. Opened in 1902, Cromer Pier was damaged by the 2013 storm surge and is newly repaired in time for summer where the famous Cromer crabs can be caught from the sides. The decks are lined with buckets and lines and on fine days, fringed with children and adults all hoping to net the big one!
Lowestofts Claremont Pier can be found between Lowestofts Award winning beaches to the south of the town and has an award winning restaurant, a family-orientated amusement arcade and luxurious casino area. The latest additions include a large wooden floored roller skating rink and a contemporary multi-purpose venue. Like all piers, it was seen as a possible security threat during the Second World War and in 1940, with the Axis Forces sweeping across the Continent, the Royal Engineers blasted a hole in the pier to stop the Luftwaffe using it as a possible landing place. Visitors will be relieved to know that this hole is now repaired!
(12) Or look out from high from a Lighthouse
Due to its long coastline, East Anglia has always had a strong connection with the sea, and this has led to the building of some fine lighthouse. Many of these have been adapted over the years and not all have survived. Some lighthouses have been converted to private homes and are no longer available for public viewing from inside. However, some classic examples of these famous seaside icons still exist and they are well worth seeking out.
Although Happisburgh Lighthouses (there are a pair of them) are privately owned, they do open on particular weekends to the public – Easter and Bank Holidays. Built in 1791, the pair formed leading lights marking safe passage around the southern end of the treacherous Happisburgh Sands but it was not always effective, as the graves in the churchyard show. Inside, the 96 stone steps wind their way up the inside to the light at the top (134 feet above sea level) and when you reach the top, you can see the working lamp, some 500 watts of light, and visible for about 18 miles. The views of the coast and village are spectacular – on a clear day you can see for about 13 miles.
Other great lighthouses to visit are Southwold Trinity Lighthouse which can be explored and one in Hunstanton which is now a private holiday home and sits near to the ruins of St Edmunds Chapel on the cliffs.
(13) A steam launch ride through the Broads
The lovely Museum of the Broads offers rides in their own steam launch down to Barton Broad, giving visitors a taste of Arthur Ransome style nostalgia. The only museum to be actually located on the waters of the Broads, the museum can be found at Stalham Staithe. Find out about the boats of the Broads and see how peoples working lives shaped the landscape with activites for all the family and a cafe to keep them well fed too. ‘Falcon’, their Victorian steam launchruns hourly from 1030 – 1430, conditions permitting and because she is an open boat, you will need to dress warmly in waterproof clothing. Booking ahead is advisable and toavoid disappointment, please telephone 01692 581681 to book seats. The photo is courtesy of the Museum.
(14) Or be ferried across a Suffolk river
The Walberswick to Southwold Ferry is a much loved Suffolk institution, carrying locals and visitors across the mouth of the River Blyth for decades. The route is understandably a seasonal one and the timetable is available on the link- dogs go free of charge too and adults only pay a pound. The seaside here is backed by a thousand acres of heath and marshland and is protected as an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB). The seaside town of Southwold is a short stroll away with its quirky cinema, ice cream and cake hut by the dunes and a plethora of independent shops. Walberswick is famous for its crabbing and used to hold a well attended festival. Both will provide you and the kids with an unforgettable day out.