Today is a day of forests, fields, pigs and hay fever.
Unable to follow the coastline today, I begin my walk along the official Suffolk Coastal Path, as it leaves the main A1094, leading out of Aldeburgh. This takes me through forest and across marshland. The sun is filtering down through the clouds as I pass through the trees. Squirrels race away from me. The marshland is aglow with yellow flag irises and, in some places, pink rhododendrons.
The path is well-maintained – grassy floor and just wide enough for a coach and horses. I feel I could be walking along a medieval road. The coast, on the other hand, is wilder, older – primeval.
I meet one solitary male walker, of a certain age, walking back close to the Aldeburgh road. From then on, I meet nobody for the next couple of hours until I reach The Maltings at Snape.
Along the path are pottery structures – art works – which I admire in the mottled light of the forest. They seem both modern and ancient. Further along, in Snape Warren, I see lines of cones on the ground. Apparently, these cones mark out giant drawings and were laid by school children at the instruction of an Artist. I cannot make out what the drawing is. Perhaps I need a helicopter.
I approach The Maltings across a marsh. This should be a good place for birds, but I see none. The sky has grown dark and I decide to wrap my camera in my fleece jumper at the bottom of my rucksack. As soon as I do this, a couple of beautiful swans appear.
At The Maltings is a bridge, the first point across this river estuary from Aldeburgh. Some old sail boats are moored and the place is very scenic. I meet some people with binoculars and camera on tripod, heading out to the marshes. If they are looking for birds, they are going to be disappointed.
Beyond The Maltings, I see a huge cart horse and its loaded cart, standing patiently looking out to the marshes. It doesn’t move. After a while, I realise it is a statue – very realistic and slightly larger than life.
The path leads along the estuary itself. I enjoy being back alongside water. Then the path heads inland and I miss the first turning, but pick up the path again by heading inland along another footpath and trip back along a road. From here, the path is not so well-maintained. I follow signs down the side of a farmer’s fields. He has set up a low fence to protect his crops, but has not made the path obvious. I end up following a rutted, muddy track and realise I am in a field of pigs. Not sure if I am on the right track or not, I wander around the pig farm for a while.
Pigs are large. They make small burrows in the mud and roll in this, so they take on the colour of the ground. They are mainly sleeping, but as I pass the edge of their field, the nearest ones wake up with grunting snorts and stand, menacingly heads down, watching me. I notice the only thing that separates me from them is a single strand of electrified wire fence. Pigs are clever. Haven’t they learnt to jump this fence yet? I am even more concerned when I notice piggy footprints on MY side of the wire.
I spend some time walking in circles around the pig farm. Finally, I notice a coastal path sign again, and head in the right direction. The trail is still not clear, and at every fork in the track I am forced to consult the map and agonise about the right direction to take. This is not necessary. If the farmer resents people walking on his land then, surely, it is much better to keep the path properly marked. Otherwise, walkers have no choice but to bumble all over the place, trying to find their way.
I have seen nobody during my walk round the farm – just pigs. There is nowhere to sit down – the tracks consist of dried mud, churned up – possibly deliberately – by huge wheels. I am hot and thirsty and running late. My mobile phone signal is very poor, but I send my husband a text to tell him I am going to be late for lunch.
Going across an arable field, I find a road and cross into forest. This forest walk should be enjoyable, but I am hurrying now and everything aches. John Merrill was right about finding your own walking rhythm. By pushing myself to go quickly, I accentuate every ache in my body and feel fatigued. Across another road and through woodland, I pick up a track. A snake slithers across the path and disappears into bushes. It is long, 2 or 3 feet, with a thick body. I think this is too large to be an adder and I hope it is a harmless grass snake.
The track leads straight to Chillesford and I feel relieved when I reach the pub. This turns out to be a rather nice restaurant. I feel embarrassed arriving in muddy boots, straight off a pig farm, but the young waitresses make me feel welcome. There is no sign of my husband. My phone is not working. I order a cider and wait for him. He turns up, just in time to order lunch – from a wonderful hot buffet with a great choice of main meals.
After lunch, I continue along the Coastal Path, starting along a quiet lane and ending up along farm tracks. There are fields on either side. I see a strange shape in one of the fields – is it a tree trunk, a sculpture, or a scarecrow? I don’t know, but it looks really sinister.
This part of the walk is deserted and boring. Farm tracks lose their charm after the first mile or so. The sky is very grey and the light is too poor for photography. Rain could start at any time. However, I cheer myself up with thought I am heading back to the sea again.
I pass through a village called Butley Low Corner – really just a few houses at the end of a track road – and then reach a point where the path passes over a stile and tracks head straight up a hill. This must be Burrow Hill. I cross the stile and realise, to my horror, that I am in a field of cows. I hate cows. They are large and scary. I hurry up the hill, heart pounding from exertion and anxiety. The cows ignore me completely.
At the crest of the hill are wonderful views. I can see forwards towards the estuary and the Butley Ferry point, behind me is the route I have come along and inland are fields and distant farm buildings. I feel a sense of elation and achievement. It is only a shame that the weather is too bad for great photographs.
Down the hill, I reach Butley Ferry crossing point. This is an ancient crossing point and now consists of a rowing boat – big enough to transport a bike – and is manned by enthusiastic volunteers at weekends. Today is Thursday and there is no ferry running. I knew this would be the case, hence my inland detour along the official Suffolk Coastal Path – running nowhere near the coast.
The official path now follows the top of the bank of the river. It is very overgrown here, just a narrow passage through the long grass. I cannot see my feet and hope there are no snakes. The river is to my left and Boyton marshes to my right.
I have discovered another hazard of field walking. I am sneezing and my eyes are itching madly. I could scratch them out. My one remaining tissue is soaking wet. Yes, hay fever has struck. I had been blissfully free of symptoms during my walks along the beach and carelessly not taking my medication. Now I am feeling the consequences.
There is a path leading inland from the riverside route. I come down off the river bank and follow this, leading through a wonderful marshy area, alive with birds. I see a heron, swans, geese, seagulls, wading birds with huge long, ridiculous beaks and rabbits. Then, passing up a farmer’s tracks, I reach a road. This is narrow with no pavement – only wide enough to allow one car – and, incongruously, I notice the back of a large white bus disappearing down it, brushing the bushes on either side. This narrow road leads into Boyton. Nervously, I start walking along the edge of the road and hope I don’t meet another bus.
I reach the small village of Boyton and find the telephone box. This is my designated meeting place with my husband. Telephone boxes have become a useful meeting place as they are always marked on the maps and offer shelter from rain and hail.
I am 5 minutes late. My husband is nowhere to be seen. I manage to find a signal on my mobile and contact him. He is lost – the roads are short on road signs in this area. I sit on the grass – sneezing and crying – with hay fever in full spurt. Half an hour later he arrives.
This has been another great day of walking through varied scenery. Apart from the pig farm and my hay fever, it has been thoroughly enjoyable.
Miles travelled = 12.
Average speed = 2 miles an hour
Wrong turnings = 2
Injuries from animals = 0