Suffolk has long been a place of retreat, somewhere to escape to, far removed from everyday life. It may have its busier town centres, but in the main Suffolk remains a rural area of enormous variety, from heather-covered heathland to softly rolling hills, long shingle spits to genteel coastal enclaves and kiss-me-quick seaside resorts.
Whether you’re looking for a morning hike or an afternoon stroll, Darren Flint and Donald Greig’s hand-picked selection of 40 walks is guaranteed to fit the bill – or the boot. Suffolk boasts 5600km of public rights of way: take your pick, put your best foot forward and discover this most gentle of English counties.
96 pages / 105mm x 148mm / step inside the guide
Suffolk boasts 5600km of public rights of way: take your pick, put your best foot forward and discover this most gentle of English counties. Suffolk may no longer be off the tourist radar or free from London influence, but it remains on the whole a rural landscape, a place of quiet country lanes, pretty villages and, in the east, a glorious coastline. It is also a county with no cities or motorways and boasts some 5600km of public rights of way. Thankfully, even amongst its handful of honeypots, buzzing with visitors and traffic during high season, it is still possible to find isolation and calm.
East Anglia, of which Suffolk is one of the constituent counties, is lowland, but this doesn’t mean it’s completely flat. The fenlands aside, most of the county undulates gently, with some areas, such as the Glem Valley, rolling more than others. ‘Big skies’ is something of a clichéd response to Suffolk, but big they certainly are.
Each of these 40 walks explores much of what makes Suffolk a great outdoors county and, whether you are resident or regular visitor, you should find something new here. If you have never visited Suffolk and are contemplating it, then may this book entice you to roam widely.
From the pastoral to the industrial, the Suffolk of today has been formed through a complex mix of human and natural forces. The largely undeveloped coast of around 65km runs the length of Suffolk’s eastern edge, fringed with shingle, sand, tidal estuary and marsh, while rivers hem in the north, south and west, creating natural boundaries between Norfolk (the Rivers Waveney and Little Ouse), Essex (Stour) and Cambridgeshire (Kennett). Water binds the county boundaries on all sides and, through the ages, has benefited the region through the riches of maritime trade, but it has also left the area’s – and country’s – eastern flank exposed to invading forces.
Visitors today are greeted with a smile and friendly conversation, but historically incomers weren’t always so welcome, with wave after wave of invaders making this part of the country their own. Sometimes their influence petered out, sometimes it remained, helping to shape Suffolk’s modern-day fabric. Romans came and went, Angles established themselves as the ‘south folk’ (hence ‘Suffolk’), the 9th-century Danes were less hospitable and removed King Edmund’s head, while the last and most successful invasion came from the Normans a couple of centuries later. The Dutch had a go in 1667 and Napoleon planned to in the early 19th century: the coastline is lined with Martello Towers built to ward off the French threat. From the 20th century, the relics of World War II pillboxes still pepper the countryside.
The 15th-century textile industry brought the county all the accoutrements money can buy, while the lack of a local hard building stone led to the characteristic Suffolk look of timber and flint so well known today. Our forebears deserve thanks for preserving so carefully such a proliferation of half-timbered buildings and flint-built churches, both of which still stand in numbers which newcomers to the area find surprising. Of course, flint structures tended to go up gradually, for the mortar was notoriously slow to set and prone to failure in frost. Happily, what went up has, in a great many instances, not come down, for such buildings boast a pleasing longevity.
From a cultural perspective, Suffolk has given us several famous sons and daughters who have immortalised its landscape in art, literature and music. Many of the walks in this book pass through scenes that have inspired great cultural and artistic figures such as John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, Maggi Hambling, Arthur Ransome, Benjamin Britten and, of course, in more recent times, the unmistakable Ed Sheeran.
These walks reveal a Suffolk that has been on the frontline for centuries, if not millennia. Explore the remains of a once mighty town now all but washed away, discover the burial site of an Anglo-Saxon king, and learn about one of the largest caches of Roman gold and silver found anywhere in the Roman Empire. (Remember, keep your eyes peeled for treasure when crossing a ploughed field!)
One of the joys of walking in Suffolk is the sheer range of wildlife. The county has its fair share of rarities, but even the most common species can bring interest: a flash of colour from an early orange-tip butterfly on bluebells, the laughing call of a green woodpecker, the mew of a circling buzzard in autumn or a hedgerow full of winter redwings gobbling hawthorn berries. Harder to spot, but all the more rewarding for that if seen, are the elusive bittern, marsh harrier, avocet, crane, otter, little tern, bearded tit, water vole and rare butterflies such as the silver-studded blue.
The changing seasons bring a floral spectacle, too: a verge of yellow cowslips, fields of scarlet poppies, the muted blue-green of sea kale on shingle, golden fields of rape or corn, the burnt reds of an autumn woodland or frosty reedbeds decorated with icy spider’s webs. For foragers, late summer brings a bountiful hedgerow – two of the best blackberrying spots, with the plumpest, sweetest fruit, are on the Hadleigh and Walsham Le Willows walks.
Walking, weather and topography
Walking just for the sake of it is never as rewarding as walking with a purpose, and so these walks all have some sort of focal point: an ancient church, the chance of spotting a rare bird or butterfly, a perch offering a fine view, a micro-brewery or pub, or a place with an historical footprint. Churches are a recurring stop-off, not because of any particular creed but because in a county with around 500 medieval churches – a greater density than in any other county in England – most walks are likely to pass one. There is a benefit to this, though, and not just in terms of architectural or historical appreciation. No, the great thing about churches is that they almost invariably have a bench in the churchyard, offering the perfect location for a picnic stop or a moment’s pause.
Suffolk is one of the driest and warmest counties in Britain. However, the North Sea can still batter the coast with a mighty storm at any time of the year, and winter often shrouds the river valleys and fenland in a thick mist, only to disperse a day later revealing a cloudless blue sky and warm(ish) sun. With this in mind it’s advisable to carry warm and waterproof clothing, a drink and a snack.
Suffolk’s topography is gentle. Its drama is mostly on the coast in the crashing waves and shingle spits stretching as far as the eye can see. There are those big skies, too, of course, and in its southwest corner there are even a few unexpected hills, but on the whole this is not a place of extremes. However, what it lacks in lofty heights it more than makes up for in sheer variety over a relatively small area. For walkers it is perfect: with no unassailable hills and an altogether flatter terrain, it works well for all abilities.
For each route, public transport options (where available) from the nearest towns are listed. However, Suffolk can be tricky to navigate by bus or train, particularly to the more isolated spots. Buses might not be frequent so it’s best to check in advance and, if required, arrange any taxi rides home before setting out as mobile coverage can be patchy in the more remote areas. A useful website is www.suffolkonboard.com.
For drivers, many routes start from a small village hall, beside a church, or on the green, where parking considerately is the order of the day. Take care not to block farm gates, do pay for tickets where required, and try to be generous in supporting rural communities by leaving donations if requested.
About the guide
These 40 walks are a mix of classics with a sprinkling of less walked paths. Distances range from 2.5km to 12.5km and rough timings are based on walking about 3.5km per hour, plus some wiggle room for harder walking terrain. Not included in the times are refreshment breaks or stop-offs for visiting attractions.
Included for each walk are details of both OS Explorer (1:25,000) and Landranger (1:50,000) maps.
For more intrepid walkers or those with a bit more time there is a choice of long-distance routes. Some of the best known are the Icknield Way, Stour Valley Path, St Edmund Way, Angles Way, and Suffolk Coast Path. The walks in this book offer a taster of all of these routes. Dogs are welcome on most of these walks but, it goes without saying, they should be kept under control and on a lead through fields of livestock, sensitive wildlife-breeding habitats or where signs advise. The exceptions – routes on which no dogs are allowed at all – are those that pass through wildlife reserves or private property not on a public right of way.