In our April issue, Joly Braime takes us along a section of the England Coast Path. Here’s a walk inspired by another section that’s well worth doing

There’s nothing quite like the England Coast Path anywhere in the UK. When completed, it will be 2,795 miles in length, up there with some of the world’s top long-distance trails. The idea is simple: a continuous footpath following the entire coastline of England.

Currently, only isolated fragments have been completed and formally designated. The plan is to have the entire trail complete by 2020. It will be the longest managed and waymarked coastal path in the world.

In our April issue, Joly Braime explores the longest section to have been completed so far, between Middlesborough and Filey. It’s a section of coastline with tremendous variety: industry, the quaint former fishing village of Staithes, and Cold War-era intrigue.

Further south along the North Sea coast, in Suffolk, an existing long-distance path called the Suffolk Coast Path (formerly known as the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Path) will be integrated into the England Coast Path. However, in the opinion of this author, the Suffolk Coast Path cuts out the best bit of this whole coastline. Here’s where we think the route should go…


Atom bombs and gunnery ranges: hiking the Suffolk coast

By Alex Roddie

There’s something unique about walking alongside the River Ore from Orford. Navigation couldn’t be simpler: just follow the path along the top of the river wall, occasionally avoiding cows. It’s a walk where you can really stride out and enjoy the miles, surrounded by vast open skies and expansive views across the estuary.

On the other side of the river, military secrets lurk. Orford Ness is a huge shingle spit, known locally as ‘the Island’, formed by longshore drift over the centuries (maps from the 15th century show it to be shorter by some miles). Its isolated location was attractive for the Ministry of Defence in the early 20th century, and it has been the site for multiple clandestine projects, from an early RAF base to a bomb-testing run, from an experimental over-the-horizon radar array to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. The latter is perhaps the most intriguing. The concrete shells of the ‘Pagoda’ labs remain clearly visible from the other side of the river: buildings where atomic bomb casings and fuses were rigorously tested at the height of the Cold War. To this day, conspiracy theories and UFO sightings abound.

The view from the top of Orford Castle © Alex Roddie

Along the river wall © Alex Roddie

The Project Cobra Mist facility, abandoned in 1973 © Alex Roddie

At Ferry Point, a ferry used to ply its trade between the near shore and Slaughden, saving walkers a long round-trip via Snape. Although there were plans about ten years ago to resume ferry crossings, it remains abandoned – but fortunately the long way round is a splendid walk.

The Iken marshes form a unique landscape. At this point, the estuary is very wide and shallow, and the vast mudflats, flanked by reedbeds, are a precious habitat for wading birds and invertebrates. The pub and shops at Snape Maltings make an excellent place to stop for lunch, then it’s back into the marshes for the final few miles to Aldeburgh.

Iken © Alex Roddie

The official Suffolk Coast Path misses out the miles along the river wall, instead cutting a direct path through Tunstall Forest. While this is a good walk in its own right, it cheats you of the opportunity to see the mysterious Orford Ness up close – and maybe catch a glimpse of a UFO…


Route description

Start: Orford, Suffolk. Parking available opposite the Jolly Sailor pub. GR: TM 425 497.
Finish: Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

1. From Orford (parking available) walk to the quay on the riverbank and head along the river wall path, at first east before turning north.

2. Continue for some miles along the flat, easy path – getting lost is impossible! About a mile after turning Ferry Point, directly opposite Aldeburgh on the other side of the river, the path heads inland through fields towards the village of Iken.

3. Pass through Iken village, turning off before Iken Hall to enjoy a splendid track next to the estuary beside Cliff Reach. At Iken Cliff you’ll join the Suffolk Coast Path, a long-distance trail. Look out for wildlife in the reedbeds nearby.

4. Continue past Snape Maltings (refreshments, pub food, toilets, shops) and over the bridge at Snape, then immediately take the path heading east through the marshes. Follow the waymarked Suffolk Coast Path through Black Heath Wood to Aldeburgh.

Details

  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
  • Distance: 16 miles / 25.75km
  • Highest point: About 20m
  • Total ascent: about 140m
  • Maps: OS Landranger 1:50,000 169 (Ipswich & The Naze) and 156 (Saxmundham, Aldeburgh & Southwold)
  • Transport: Bus services connect Orford and Aldeburgh with Woodbridge, which has rail links with the rest of the country. Saxmundham is another possible point from which to access the region by rail
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