Today I wear my bright pink fleece jacket. If the beach is not wide enough to walk on, I may have to clamber on rocks. Bright pink should be highly visible against the brown rocks and grey sea – just in case I need to be rescued. What is the one thing more embarrassing then being rescued by the coastguards? Drowning.
Covehithe has a strange little thatched church built, literally, in the arms of a ruined abbey. It is pretty, but there are a few houses here and no real feeling of a village community. With the sea encroaching every year, this little village is slowly dying.
The road comes to a dead end and signs warn me there is no access to the sea straight ahead. A man in rubber boots ignores the sign and walks on. I hesitate, tempted to follow him, but don’t want to find a dead end, so I follow the marked coastal footpath. This detours across fields. I see nobody but I notice fresh footprints – there are walkers ahead of me.
The shingle beach is wide and almost deserted. I notice the man in boots has emerged behind me. I see ahead of me – and eventually overtake – a group of 3 walkers with poles. Do poles make walking easier? I would like to know other people’s thoughts.
I walk past crumbling cliffs and fallen trees. I can’t resist taking photographs, wanting to capture some of the drama and sadness of this doomed area, as the land gives way to the tides and the greedy sea. Now I am alone on the beach. The tide is going out and leaves a small sliver of sand to walk on below the shingle. Like a misty ghost in the distance, I can just make out Southwold Pier. Ahead of me is a gently curving bay with cliffs at the edge. Will there be enough beach beneath the cliffs to walk on? I hope so. If my way is blocked, it is going to be a long, tiring trek back to my starting point.
I walk easily, only the sea for company. I feel a quiet joy. John Merrill, that great walker, advises you find the right rhythm of walking and walk without stopping. Stopping breaks the rhythm. I believe he is right. For this section of the beach, I walk without taking photographs and make good progress. I feel I could walk forever, without effort.
The beach narrows as I approach Southwold. The cliffs become higher. I reach a point where there are landslips lying in my way, leaving only a narrow stretch of sand between fallen rocks and the waves. Grateful for the way through, I walk onwards. There are a few houses perched on the edge of the cliff above me – only a matter of time before the inevitable happens. Already there is debris from fallen buildings at the foot of the cliff. I notice a couple of people on the beach, picking their way through the ruins.
Now I meet the beginning of Southwold promenade. It begins to rain. I shelter behind the brightly coloured huts that line the promenade until the worst is over. Walking onward I reach the pier. Here I stop to have a cup of coffee and, in this dry place, I phone my husband. He is out cycling and is thoroughly wet.
The rain stops and I spend a few moments enjoying Southwold pier and promenade. This is a very elegant, unspoilt resort. There are no amusement arcades, no tatty souvenir shops, no crazy golf – and the houses are very pretty. I walk along the promenade, passing a long line of cheerful beach huts. They have amusing names painted on them – “Lovely Jubbly”, “Gin in It”, “Ma’s Place”, “Nap Time” and, my favourite “Expensive Third Shed”.
When the promenade ends, I walk across dunes towards the river. Here I find Southwold harbour. I had wondered where all the fishing boats and sailing yachts were – and now I find them. The harbour is full of small craft and is beautifully untidy – clearly a busy, working port. There are sheds selling fresh fish and, further on, small cafes and a pub.
My map showed a passenger ferry across the river, but the sign says the ferry stops between 12:30 and 2:00pm. It is, of course, 12:35 pm. I continue down the harbour road, knowing there is a bridge ahead. It takes me some time – I stop and take too many photographs of boats and boatsheds.
The bridge is a narrow pedestrian bridge; not pretty, just functional. There are fields on either side and I enjoy the walk back along the far side of the river. There are some jetties and a few boats on this side of the bank, but the main action is on the opposite bank.
Ahead I see the beginning of Walterswick and arrive just in time of lunch. I wait at the pub for my husband. He is, of course, at the other pub in the village. We meet up eventually. Sitting in the garden, the sun comes out. We dry out and enjoy huge platefuls of food – I have fish and chips with extra vegetables. And of course, a lovely cold glass of Aspell’s Cyder. Full of enthusiasm, I decide to extend my walk for a few miles further than planned and discuss a new rendezvous with my husband.
After lunch, I begin to follow the Suffolk Coast Path. It winds through some marshland, but I stick to the beach for the moment. Ahead of me the bay curves – despite the coast appearing as a straight line on the map – and I can see a distant dome. That must be Sizewell, tomorrow’s destination.
The sun is hot and the beach is made of difficult shingle with big pebbles. Walking becomes hard. I decide to cut inland and follow the official Coast Path. This crosses some marshy area, with nesting birds on either side, and then enters woodland. The cool woods are a welcome change and, as the sun filters down through the trees, I take some photographs and enjoy the play of light and shade.
The path becomes a track. I see the occasional farm and, through the trees, glimpse a wonderful modern house – all light wood and huge glass windows. I disturb rabbits and, as the track skirts woodland, I pass fields of cows and sheep. The track takes me up a hill and I find the incline to be hard work. I am used to walking on the flat. I think ahead to how I will need to deal with hills and cliffs in Devon, Cornwall and, later, maybe, Scotland …..
Eventually, I reach the road and follow this into the village of Dunwich. I have read that Dunwich has lost most of its land into the sea and I was expecting to see some evidence of this, but there is no wreckage – just a low crumbling cliff when I reach the sea. Here there is a car park and I notice my husband’s car is here – our original rendezvous point. I am hot, thirsty and my feet are aching. So, I stop at the cafe and buy a cold coke. The cafe is just behind a shingle bank and I can see the beach and the wide bay curving back to Southwold.
Sitting outside, enjoying the view and the sunshine, I decide I won’t continue further today and I text my husband to let him know – I am ready to end today’s trek.
Vital stats: 11 miles in 6 hours.
Blisters: 1 new. 1 old
Things I learnt today: Southwold is a very pretty seaside town and is also the home of Adnams Brewery.