I will not see the Norfolk coastline again, until I approach the completion of the England Coast Path, maybe in 2022 if time allows. Starting in Cromer is a tactical move, to navigate the estuaries, ferries and convoluted southeastern coastline before the end of 2021 and make a dent in the mileage chart. Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft out-of-season are not pretty, with a little too much road walking for my liking. I stay at a campsite in Kessingland, feeling tired. It is a decision that pays dividends the following day.
The map shows the Suffolk Coast Path (with uninspiring yellow arrow markers) taking an inland route, and my ambition is to reach Dunwich, but on reaching a pumping station, a tide table shows low tide in 3-hours and the beach looks clear and the weather is glorious. I take a risk and walk towards Covehithe, which has an escape route. I can see walkers further south and carry on all the way into Southwold – my timing is perfect as the tide closes the access onto the breakwater at Sole Bay ( a difficult, slippery climb on large slimy rocks). I have been lucky and arrive in Southwold at 10AM for breakfast. The combination of tide conditions, weather, wind direction has just made this possible, but it was a risk to walk the 8km along the beach with few escape routes. I ask around for a good cafe and get directions to an old-fashion bakery, which has a few tables.
Aldeburgh is now reachable, once I cross the River Blyth by ferry into Walberswick. I am feeling chuffed with my progress as I weave through the marshes towards Dunwich and the Nation Trust heathland towards the coast guard cottages, where there is a water tap and cafe. I see a great egret standing in the creek, a stunning bird almost as large as the common grey herons. This is a bird watcher paradise and I regret not bringing my binoculars. In contrast, the Sizewell nuclear power station makes its presence known, numerous banners protest against future investment in Sizewell C.
I am tired as I reach Thropeness and I can feel blisters developing, mostly from the road walking. As I was not expecting to have travelled so far in a day, I have not booked accommodation, which is a major error as all but one bed has been taken in this popular resort and it is expensive. Nevertheless, a room with a deep bath is a luxury, and the service and early breakfast are wonderful. The majority of the customers are taking an early morning dip in the Bay, all kitted out with swimming gowns and neoprene gloves and boots.
The route now has no alternative than to go inland to avoid Orford Ness restrictions, but the woodland path is delightful towards Snape Maltings and on through the Tunstall Forest. I come across a lost piglet, who has got beneath the electric fence of its enclosure, but after a few squeals from piglet and mother, they are reunited. The paths are sandy and there are frequent warnings of adders as I reach the Butley Ferry on the opposite bank and start a long walk along the seawalls that will be a feature on the path until I reach Whitstable in Kent in a few weeks.
I pick up the pace on an assumption I can catch the last ferry at Bawdsey to reach Felixstowe. The walking becomes laboured over shingle beaches until a road takes me to the quayside and I can wave a white signal bat for the ferryman. I am now just a few miles from the town, but as the ferry to Harwich is cancelled, I make a decision to return home, as it is cheaper than the weekend accommodation options. Booking an open return is only £1 more – a decent meal and a familiar bed is the better option and I can spend a few days recovering from the blister on my left heel.
Now into Essex, the longest county coastline in England, considering all of its estuaries. This must be a major challenge for the planners of the England Coast Path and I do not expect to walk every last creek and island before I get to the Thames estuary.
Read about my other adventures along the National Trails.
Tales from the Big Trails, in print on 2nd September 2021, available now for pre-order from Vertebrate Publishing. Featuring all 15 National Trails in England and Wales, and the 4 designated long-distance Scotland’s Great Trails. This is the story of the people I meet, the landscapes and coastal scenery and the sheer joy of walking these iconic long-distance routes in the UK. Click on a link below for a copy.