Rambling Suffolk Rivers
It hasn’t taken me long to learn that Suffolk has nearly as many rivers as Essex and at this time of year the ferries don’t run. Therefore, since arriving in this gentle county I’ve tramped down the banks of the Stour, and up and down all or most of the rivers Orwell, Deben, Butley, Ore and Alde. I should have thought to bring my own kayak with me!
Already I can see contrasts between the Essex and Suffolk landscapes. The countryside is less harsh and remote here. Underfoot, clay mud has been replaced by soil with a high sand content which supports two important industries: pig farming and turf farms. The grassed protective seawall defences continue, but they feel far less remote than those that bordered the Essex marshes. Suffolk has much more woodland and my route has taken me through some tranquil spots along the rivers.
Initially waymarking of the Stour and Orwell walk was poor, but since picking up other routes, namely the Suffolk Coast Path, Arthur Ransome’s (of Swallows and Amazon fame) East Coast Walk, the Sailors’ Path and the Sandlings Walk, it’s clear Suffolk has signage cracked.
My first day of walking in Suffolk weather down the river Stour, was particularly wet and cold.
My consolation was walking past the beautiful Royal Hospital School, Holbrook knowing I’d soon be enjoying a hot shower there later that evening. Although it was half-term the school looked after us well. The sad part of that route was seeing the former HMS Ganges, now looking extremely forlorn and derelict. Previous ‘Button Boys’ could never have envisaged how their mast would be allowed to rot away.
I walked up the Orwell with some trepidation, knowing I’d have to face the Orwell Road Bridge which carries the manic A14 across the river Orwell. It stands 141 ft high and is approximately ¾ of a mile long. Well known for its closure in high winds and a place for suicide jumps, the bridge now has the Samaritans Help Line number regularly indicated along its waist-high parapet. There was a strong wind behind me as I ventured onto the narrow walkway, with only a knee-high crash barrier separating me from the traffic whistling by. This walk is not for the faint hearted or those who dislike heights.
The trip down the other side to Felixstowe was a battle against strong head winds, and chilling rain pellets beat my face senseless. Eventually I reached the perimeter of the fascinating container port, crazily busy with containers being moved at remarkable speed in all directions. I was glad to find refuge in a Truckers’ Café where I thawed over a steaming mug of coffee. Later, I ventured out again to complete the leg into the seaside town with its refurbished pierhead building, but a crumbling pier that’s out of bounds. I was relieved!
From Felixstowe, the walking conditions up the Deben were equally testing, but there was a consolation – I hit 700 miles. Chilled to the marrow by the time I reached Woodbridge, it wasn’t until the next day that I could appreciate this lovely tranquil town. My return trip on the Deben’s opposite bank was far more enjoyable: seeing the sunset as I walked into Bawdsey at the river mouth was a superb end to a tough few days.
I meandered around the Butley river, before passing through Orford and covering a long seawall stretch which led me into the river Alde. My crossing point was up at Snape Maltings and from there it was an easy walk back down the north side of the river into the ancient fishing town of Aldeburgh. The place positively heaved with people - a queue of at least 25 stood outside a fish and chip shop! I fled for the calm of Thorpeness and the striking contrast of Sizewell B Power Station.