Sunday, September 07, 2003

Walk 83 -- Dunwich, via Walberswick and Southwold, to Covehithe

Paul and Caroline joined us for this Walk.

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 122 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 264 days.
Weather: Overcast, but warm with a light breeze -- ideal for walking!
Location: Dunwich to Covehithe via Walberswick and Southwold.
Distance: 10 miles.
Total distance: 619½ miles.
Terrian: Gravel track in a wood, reed marsh, then a firm beach for most of the way. A short section of concrete prom and a wooden pier in Southwold.
Tide: Out, coming in.
Rivers to cross: No27, the Dunwich which we crossed twice -- firstly in Dunwich and then back across it in Walberswick just before it entered the River Blyth. No 28, the Blyth at Walberswick.
Ferries: No 9 across the River Blyth, cost 50p each.
Piers: No 18 at Southwold -- which was quite a surprise because it is brand new and not even marked on the map!
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The 'Lord Nelson' in Southwold where we enjoyed a range of Adnam's beers and Strongbow cider.
'English Heritage' properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying with Paul and Caroline in Isleham. Colin drove Paul's car and Paul drove Caroline's car (this was because our car was still packed with camping stuff) to Covehithe where we parked Caroline's car on the road about a hundred yards before it ends sharply at the cliff edge -- Paul called it 'the road to oblivion'! Then we all piled into Paul's car which he drove to Dunwich.
At the end Colin and I sat drinking tea while Paul picked blackberries. Caroline (who didn't want any tea) then drove us to Dunwich to pick up Paul's car. We called in at the local pub for a very nice evening meal. Then Colin drove Paul's car and Caroline drove her own back to Isleham -- it was a long way, and a miracle the drivers didn't fall asleep!

We were delighted to have Paul and Caroline’s company for today’s hike – the first Walk we have not done on our own. It also meant we could use two cars, so we weren’t exhausted with a long cycle ride before we had even started. Before we left the car park at Dunwich, I stood up on the shingle bank looking out to sea and tried to imagine the medieval city which was once there. I just couldn’t get my mind round it! It was only months later, after I had researched the full history from several books and sketched in pencil on the map the probable location of the metropolis, that I was able to get a little understanding of what it must have been like. It all looked so empty and wild today.
I also noted that the beach looked rather shingly for as far as I could see to the north. My calves began to ache at the thought of it, so I made the decision to start the Walk along the west side of the marshes using the official ‘Suffolk Coast & Heaths Path’. We left the car park, walked past the pub and came to the museum which was just about to open. There we spent a pleasant and very informative half hour – the photographs of All Saints’ church, which finally disappeared into the sea in 1923, were most interesting.
We had to tear ourselves away, and up the road we passed the only church now left in Dunwich, the Victorian church dedicated to St James. Behind it is the ruins of the leper hospital, and although there is not much of that left, you can see that it was a richly-endowed establishment.In the churchyard stands the last remaining piece of All Saints’ church – a buttress from its tower. Colin and the others had gone on, but I wanted to take another photo from a different angle. The Sunday morning service in the church had just finished, and the congregation were enjoying coffee and biscuits in the entrance area. The Vicar called across to me with an invitation to join them. I thanked him, and explained that my walking companions were waiting for me just down the road, and that we hadn’t really got time to stop as we had a ten mile walk ahead of us – we were walking the coastline of Britain and had come all the way from Bognor Regis so far. He was very impressed. “How many pairs of boots have you got through?” he asked. I replied, “I’m on my second – but still on my first pair of feet!”
We crossed the Dunwich River over a little road bridge. It seemed very insignificant – it is amazing to think that this tiny little stream made such a difference to the development of the port when it joined up with the River Blyth at that spot in medieval times. Paul saw a notice about a tea shop, but I reminded him we still had a ten mile hike ahead of us!
We followed a gravel track for a mile or two, and then we came out on to the marshes. We were all rather hungry by then, so we sat down and ate our lunch. According to a notice we passed, we were munching our picnic in the largest reed bed in England!
There are a number of paths wandering all over the swamp, the map is a mish-mash of green dotted lines at that point. One of the inland ways is the ‘Suffolk Coast & Heaths’ Path, and the nearest to the sea is the beach itself. So we wandered over to the shingle bank to look at the shore, and found firm sand all along the waterline. That settled it! It was much more pleasant walking by the waves, watching the sunbathers, the paddlers, the swimmers, the canoeists and wondering if the water-skier was going to stay upright! We reached Walberswick, where the River Blyth meets the sea, and the approach reminded us of Littlehampton when you come to it from the west beach.
We turned inland along the riverside to look for the ferry – yes, there was one, and we did use it! We crossed over some sand dunes and came to a little plank bridge across the River Dunwich. A family, with several children, were lying on their stomachs with their heads and arms over the side catching crabs in nets. There was much squealing as we passed because one of the kids had tried to catch an extra large one, but it had got away. Behind them, on the bridge, they had a plastic see-through bucket half filled with seawater, in which they had put the crabs they had already caught. Unknown to them, their dog (a golden labrador) was sticking its face into the bucket trying to catch these wretched crustaceans! It couldn’t reach them because the water was too deep and it kept having to come up for air. It looked so funny! I tried to photograph the scene, but before I could get my camera ready the dog had lost interest and gone on to something else.
We found the ferry, a little rowing boat that took half a dozen or so people at a time for a fee of 50p each. He was very busy, plying backwards and forwards with his boat full on each crossing – well, it was Sunday afternoon, and only a week into September. We walked down to look at the river on the north side – again very like Littlehampton – and then turned towards Southwold. Colin was champing at the bit about his ‘real ale’ pub, and – to tell the truth – we all wanted a break and a drink by then. He reckoned we must have passed it on the beach, so we went up through the beach huts on to the road, and had to go back on ourselves a little. At last we found it, and very nice it was too – we took our drinks into the garden out the back. But we completely ignored Southwold lighthouse which is one of the features of the town! It wasn’t until I bought a wall calendar for 2004, and March’s picture was Southwold Lighthouse, that I said, “Oh! Did Southwold have a lighthouse? I don’t remember it!”
Back on the beach, we made towards the pier. Now that was a surprise – for there was no pier marked on our map! Only a little bump with the word ‘pier’ written next to it, and we assumed that – like Margate, Herne Bay and others – Southwold’s pier had long since been dashed into the waves. The structure looked newand it was! Building a replacement pier had been Southwold’s millennium project! Very nice it is too – perhaps not as ornate as those beautiful wrought-iron Victorian piers like poor sad Brighton’s West Pier used to be, but a lot prettier than that concrete monstrosity at Deal. A hundred times better than that rusty wreck at Bognor!
All round the railings there were rows of plaques, there must have been hundreds of them. Some of them were dedicated to loved ones who had died. Others were celebrating the birth of a child, a marriage, a dear friend, parents, children or simply in memory of happy holidays spent in Southwold in years past. One which intrigued me was some grown-up children remembering their parents who had spent their first honeymoon in Southwold in 1952, and their second in 2002! It was really interesting reading them, but we didn’t have time to look at them all. This was obviously how they had raised the money for the pier. People love doing that kind of thing – what a wonderful idea! I said to Paul, “If only Bognor would pull its finger out and do a similar thing, now that three-quarters of our rusty pier has fallen into the sea.” He replied, “You know they’d never do it – too much corruption! Too much infighting! Too many people trying to feather their own nests!” I know it’s all too true. It’s a sad world we live in.
Another item of interest halfway along the pier was a modern sculpture – a water clock made from hot water tanks, pipes and cisterns! Unfortunately we had just missed the hour when it was all supposed to happen, and couldn’t afford the time to wait until five o’clock. We were not sure exactly what occurred when the hour was up, but it involved a bathtub with two smiling figures in it, various bits of plumbing and two figures either side of a toilet!! Intriguing!
We left Southwold, and when the prom ran out we took to the beach. The sand was fairly firm, so it was okay. The cliffs, however, were not! Very soft sand, they looked most unstable. When Paul spied a house peeping over the top, he remarked, “I’m very glad I don’t live there!” I wonder how near it was to the cliff edge when the house was built.
As we approached Covehithe, we got on to the cliffs where they were low and walked along a meandering unofficial path until we got to ‘the road to oblivion’ where Caroline’s car was parked. Paul had coined that phrase earlier in the day – we don’t know how far the road originally went, but now it goes straight to the clifftop and is broken off!That ended Walk no.83, we shall pick up Walk no.84 next time on the ‘road to oblivion’ at Covehithe. Colin and I had some tea from our flask, Caroline was happy with water and Paul was still way back in the bushes picking blackberries. Caroline drove us to Dunwich to pick up the other car – it seemed a long way, and we were glad that we hadn’t had to cycle it before our Walk. We were all very hungry and had a long drive back to Isleham, so we went for a pub meal in Dunwich despite our rather desperate financial situation. A good meal, and reasonably priced, so we were well pleased. Paul proposed a toast to our progress so far Round Britain – I think he is rather proud of us! Then Caroline drove her car, and Colin drove Paul’s car – in the dark and following her tail-lights – all the way to Isleham which took nearly two hours. He found this very difficult, especially when she was on roads she knew and he didn’t. Several times I thought he was falling asleep, and kept jolting him and talking nonsense in a sudden loud voice to keep him awake. It was with relief when we finally arrived safely at their cottage.

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