Monday, September 01, 2003

Walk 79 -- Bawdsey to the Butley Ferry

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 116 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 258 days.
Weather: Mostly sunny with a warm wind, but scudding clouds and some rain.
Location: Bawdsey to the Butley Ferry.
Distance: 10 miles, including the Butley Ferry.
Total distance: 575 miles.
Terrain: A shingly beach, a firm beach – then we had to climb a cliff!! After that, grassy paths on river banks.
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: No.25, the Butley.
Ferries: No.8 across the River Butley; cost £1 each.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.79 at Dumboys Cottage! (Could that have had anything to do with the nearby Young Offenders’ Institution?)
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None, because they didn’t tell us from the direction we walked that the path was closed, so when we got cut off by the tide we climbed the cliff!
How we got there and back: We camped the night before at Shottisham. We drove, with bikes on the back of the car, to the nearest point we could get to the Butley Ferry which is in a very remote location. We cycled down to Bawdsey where the ferry crosses the River Deben, and chained our bikes to a tree.
At the end, we couldn’t take the ferry because it has to be pre-booked, and only runs at weekends. So we pretended again, walked back along the river bank and climbed a track to where we had parked the car (this was about a mile). There we drank two cups of tea each. Then we collected the bikes and returned to our campsite at Shottisham.

We started today’s Walk in poor light with black clouds darkening the sky. From the state of our nearby campsite it obviously hadn’t rained in this part of the world for a number of weeks, and we couldn’t believe that we had picked the very day the weather was turning to resume our Trek! However the wind was gentle and warm, and when the rain did eventually materialise, it wasn’t very much and soon stopped.
We looked for the ferry coming across the Deben, but it didn’t seem to be there that day. Perhaps they thought the holiday season was over – the children went back to school later that week and not many people were around. We took a path along the top of the beach from the quay, and very soon we rounded the corner and strode out in a north-easterly direction. Looking back, we could see a procession of container ships leaving Felixstowe – ploughing their way along the horizon towards Holland, Scandinavia and Germany.
The tide was right in and the waves were quite ‘frisky’. Along the beach were a large number of wooden groynes which looked as if they had suffered somewhat from the attentions of the surf, there seemed to be sticks all over the place. They certainly made very effective barriers to our progress – there was no way we could have walked down there because we would have been climbing over them every couple of yards. Our trail led along the highest part of the beach where a kind of coffer barrier had been set into the shingle in line with the shore. We could walk along the top of this – well above the breakwaters – where we had free passage. The trouble was, it was very narrow in places so that we felt as if we were balancing along a rail. Also, it meant we were walking on loose shingle which was leg shattering. After about a mile of this, the wooden structures on the beach had either been phased out or completely washed away. Whatever, they weren’t there any more, so we tried further down near the water. To our delight, we found the shingly sand was fairly firm and certainly easier to walk on. Occasionally we had to leap out of the way of an extra-exuberant wave, but that was quite fun!
Before we had descended from the ‘coffer’, Colin noticed something a bit odd about the heavily eroded soft cliff to our left – it looked as if it was man-made. We scanned it more closely, and realised we were looking at the remains of a very neglected rock garden which had partly fallen into the sea! We could make out the partial routes of paths, unusual plants and even the occasional grotto which, I believe, were all the rage in the 18th century. One such structure had even been converted into a ‘pill-box’, Second World War style! I perused the map, and announced we were passing Bawdsey Manor – we reckon this was the remnant of its clifftop garden. The sea defence we were walking along was very modern and new, and seemed to be effective so perhaps the rot has stopped. The ‘garden’ looked sad – I wonder if there is any possibility of it being restored.
When it started to rain, Colin gently cursed because he had forgotten his umbrella. I was secretly pleased because I feel his wretched umbrella is more trouble than it is worth. He always claims that he hates the rain splashing in his face and that a peaked hat is ineffective. I just loathe the amount of faffing he does choosing which umbrella he should use, trying to get it up in a high wind, and the swearing that ensues when it turns inside out or breaks – you wouldn’t believe the antics, he really is quite eccentric! Anyway he didn’t have it today, so he grumpily donned a kagoul which is one of Cecilia’s cast-offs and is really a size too small for him, and then we started on the overtrousers saga. (I had long since put on my ‘guaranteed-fully-waterproof’ kagoul with peaked hood and sleeves which cover my hands, and pulled on my overtrousers with zips at the ankles so they don’t flap – and was hanging about waiting for him.) His overtrousers he bought cheap in a sale, and they have no ankle zips so he cannot put them on unless he takes his boots off! Of course, he didn’t fancy doing that on a wet beach in the wind, so he tucked his overtrousers into the waist of his ordinary trousers at the front and secured them at his ankles with his bike clips – one of which is a black plastic rigid clip and the other a brilliant green velcro strip! (The ‘pair’ of each of these has been lost.) I couldn’t help falling about laughing – he did look a sight! Luckily we were the only people in the world – as we have been for about 90% of our Round-Britain-Walk – and it didn’t rain for long. My husband and walking companion will not go and get himself properly kitted out for wet weather hiking – I shall have to work on him before we get to Scotland! (UPDATE: It took me another six years to ‘persuade’ him to buy decent wet-weather gear!)
We enjoyed stomping along the beach like this, putting the world to rights in our conversation. We noted that there was an enormous amount of rubbish on the beach – discarded from ships, we guessed. What concerned me a little was that I could see waves splashing up against some man-made rocks further on, and no sign of a way up the cliffs. Sure enough, when we reached the cut-off point, there wasn’t any way at all! We felt rather let down because, not only were we following a public footpath, we were on the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Path as well. Either we retrace our steps, or climb the cliff! It was made of soft sand, and we found a cliff-fall where it was easy to climb to within about four feet of the top. I clambered up first – while Colin was faffing once again – looked over the rim and grabbed hold of some weeds which were growing about a foot away from me. Luckily they held, and I was able to haul myself (in a very ungainly fashion) into a field on top of the cliff. I was very proud of myself! Colin followed, and made it all look easy – but then he would.
We walked along the edge of a cabbage field for about a hundred yards to a Martello Tower, one of dozens we had passed or were to pass on this coast. Below us were a number of rocks which had recently been placed there in an attempt to slow coastal erosion – the very same rocks which had formed a barrier to our progress along the beach. There was a derelict old-fashioned water pump right on the edge of the cliff next to the tower – bet it was well inland when it was put there. Just beyond it was a notice with its back to us. We passed it, turned round and read:
Now they tell us! Further on was an explanatory notice with a map, suggesting an alternative route for those following the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Path. Since this involved a lengthy detour inland, we were rather glad we had missed the notice at the southern end of the diversion – if, indeed, there had been one.
We continued along the clifftop path, which gradually descended to beach level, until we came to a place called ‘Shingle Street’. There, the ‘nearest safe path to the coast’ cuts across said shingle to the sea – BUT, we had had enough of leg-shattering loose pebbles… so we instituted a new rule about not having to walk across such uncompromising surfaces if there was an easier way further inland. Therefore, with a clear conscience, we were able to keep to the grassy path that we were already walking on until we got to the next Martello Tower. We did try to walk on the beach at Shingle Street, in front of some buildings, but it made our legs ache so. We soon reverted to the road which ran behind them. A concrete extension of this road seemed to lead out on to the beach once more, but that came to an abrupt end and yet again we retreated to the now familiar seawall path alongside a marsh.
We had come to the River Ore. It is a strange river – it’s mouth obviously used to be at Aldeburgh, but nowadays it does a sharp right turn there and hugs the coast behind a narrow sandbank southwards for approximately ten miles to the point we had just reached. The sandbank – which is barely wider than a road at Aldeburgh – is unstable and private, so our route has to follow the Ore’s western bank for that ten miles, then turn inland for a further five miles or so before we can find a crossing point. Once more we have ‘lost’ the sea, and – because of all the wiggling about we will have to do – we won’t regain it until we have tramped another twenty-eight miles! That was quite a depressing thought.
By then, the weather had cleared up and it had turned into a pleasant afternoon. Yachts and sailing craft of all shapes and sizes were whizzing up and down the river, including a ‘trippers’ boat which came down from Aldeburgh and turned round opposite us. We couldn’t quite hear the skipper’s commentary through his loudspeaker, but since we were the only features on the landscape for miles around – perhaps it was us he was pointing out!
Once more we found ourselves trekking along a grass bank with a river to our right and swamp to our left – and we thought we had left all that behind in Essex! We had to digress a little to get over a small stream, but that was quite pretty. A nearby house was called Dum-boy cottage, and we idly wondered if it had anything to do with the Young Offenders’ Institution which was just over yonder! We sat on the grass to eat our apples, and supplemented them with luscious juicy blackberries from adjacent bushes.
After that, there was nothing really of note that we hadn’t seen before. We saw a lot of birds – goldfinches, egrets, geese, terns, oystercatchers, cormorants, gulls, a heron, a kestrel, tufted ducks, coots, swans – but we met not one other human being. The way seemed long (it was!) and then the Ore widened with an island in the middle – so now we were even further away from the sea! Even the boats sailing up and down were behind another piece of land.
The path turned inland, now alongside the River Butley which is a tributary of the Ore. There were a number of boats moored in this sheltered haven, but still no people. We were putting more and more distance between us and the sea, and the countryside – though farmed – was very remote. Eventually we came to the Butley Ferry. Painted on a stile was a notice FERRY CROSSING HERE. A small jetty led into the water. A few oarless rowing boats lay scattered on the sludge, one of them bearing the legend BUTLEY FERRY. No one was in sight, but a notice pinned to a post informed us of the telephone number to ring if we wished to use the ferry. It must be pre-booked, and only operates at weekends.
Today is Monday! Aa-aa-aa-ah-argh!!

That ended Walk no.79, we shall pick up Walk no.80 next time on the other side of the River Butley – also a remote location which will be difficult to access. In actual fact we did know about the conditions for using the ferry in advance. To have arranged our schedule to do this Walk at a weekend would have been inconvenient for us, we would have found it difficult to pre-book a time because we didn’t know how long the Walk was going to take, and to have parked on the other side would have extended our eight mile cycle ride to seventeen. So once more we pretended! We retraced our steps along the river bank a short way, and climbed a track to where we had parked the car (this was about a mile). There we drank two cups of tea each, collected our bikes from Bawdsey and returned to our campsite at Shottisham which wasn’t far away.

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