Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
So sung Gerry and the Pacemakers and countless hoards of Liverpool FC supporters and so thought I as I looked at the weather forecast for day two of Suffolk 60. Still to quote from another famous song, not, so far as I know, a favourite of the Kop, ‘Let’s start at the very beginning’.
Day one the Lawyer and I set out from Lowestoft on this little challenge, the slightly misnamed Suffolk 60 the coastal path (it’s about 57 miles and, as you’ll see doesn’t hug the coast) with the Beautician and the Dog for company. The weather was glorious and the beaches utterly empty, despite it being high season and cloudless. Either not so many people are on ‘staycations’ as the papers suggest or it was too early. Hopefully the latter.
Lowestoft is the sort of seaside resort that feels like it has fallen between two stools. Part throwback to saucy postcards, kiss me quick hats and candyfloss, partly modern holiday resort for the family on a budget. Nothing exemplifies this more than the amusement arcade with modern computer murder games for the under tens alongside air tables and their slidy round discs and grab-a-toy machines.
The front soon gives way to Victorian houses and then modern boxes. Finally after a wiggle a lovely church appeared (together with sleeping resident) and a line of chalets. It took a good two miles for the run of buildings to end and just as it did, the route went due west inland. Come again? Ahead was a perfectly good path, with no sign of erosion yet we detoured into another group of chalets and permanent caravans and then a drive thru MacDonalds. Ok so we grabbed a cuppa but that’s not the point. Point to note for all those who scoff at Maccy Dees; they do a very acceptable latte or cappuccino for a reasonable price. If you feel the need for a hit and all there is is a MDs then don’t despair.
It got worse; the route went alongside the A12 for a while. Why? This was hardly coast line.
Eventually we were directed back to the sea at Kessingland, past yet another permanent caravan park. We passed Pontins on route offering us a Wedding from £699. Blimey. At a distance it looked nicely trimmed and tidy, not the awful sheds of old.
Of course having got my wish, back alongside the sea the path then diverted to the beach and the soft sand and slidy shingle. Much more of this and we’d take a week to do the walk. Happily it lasted as long as the chalets of Kessingland, small, tidy and well maintained. Still, stuck on a cliff they must worry about the erosion and longshore drift which is taking large chunks of the east coast and dumping them further down. Sometimes you see a picture of a house within feet of a cliff, its owner devastated to have to move. Today the houses are demolished before they collapse but as a child, on holiday in North Kent I remember seeing buildings hanging over the edge. I suppose it makes sense to take away the risk but you do lose that childlike thrill of watching something so solid disappear. Not much fun for the owner of course.
Again, no sooner had we left the hosues behind than the path made off to the west and inland. This time, I suppose I understood as the cliff was hard by the beach and it was clear, with the tide in, walking along the shoreline could be difficult. Still it was a shame because it meant we missed the ruined church at Covehithe which is worth a peek.
Despite the glorious weather and the good pace, I was getting a mite cheesed off with the amount of road waking we were doing. So, being the boy scout that I still am and studying the OS map (oh how I like paper, which is just as well because hereabouts the signal for sat nav is crap) I took the route into my own hands. Which meant we lost a mile or two and eventually we had to take our lives in our hands a little on the old Lowestoft road to cross the marshes (it was only half a mile or so). But it was a lot better than the official route.
One other complaint I have while I think about it and it is not uncommon. Now I’m a bit geeky with maps so am pretty confident I know the way anyway but often we would reach the point where I knew we had to turn or whatever and there was no sign, not even a hint. We’d set off the way I directed and, lo!, there was the sign, like a prize for guessing right. Why do they do that?
Inland we followed green lanes and bridleways and footpaths, skirting maize and potatoes and barley as well as a oink or two of pigs. Pigs are big around here; Blythburgh pork have 10,000 pigs (source: the Vet) and while there can be acres covered by huts and troughs they seem to have a decent amount of space so as not to make a mockery of the notion of ‘free range’.
We reached Reydon, north of Southwold and then Southwold proper for a lunch stop. Now, here I should confess to a small crime; it was the Textiliste’s birthday. We abandoned her. No, that’s not true. We had her drop us at the start and collect us at the end and then we abandoned her. She didn’t seem to mind, set as she was on having some me-time and we did meet up for a decent if rather speedy lunch.
Southwold is a contrast to Lowestoft. It is unashamedly a throwback and doesn’t try and pretend it is modern and it works. The shops and cafes are a delight and the beach (despite the Stasi-like insistence of barring dogs – look I don’t mind barring other people’s but Dog deserves a special licence or what have you) is just the right amount of sand and shingle. It has dunes and fresh fish and… well, all I want anyway (so long as it isn’t a beach hut – they retail at something ridiculous like £50,000 or more – I mean, they are just a shed for Pete’s sake).
Beyond Southwold your cross the river Blyth – by now the Beautician and Dog had joined the Textiliste – and the Lawyer and I debated ferry versus bridge. He won, we did the bridge (the official route ) and an extra mile.
On the far side is Walberswick, home to a bunch of luvvies and where Gordon Brown holidayed once, during the financial crisis (and didn’t the Daily Mail give him a hard time – well a harder time than usual).
From Walberswick, the conditions change. We enter the marshes and the reed beds. The Dunwich river runs close to the coast and creates an odd and unique environment. It is peaceful, in amongst the reeds, whispering as we passed. If the Lawyer hadn’t decided about then to compose a rap to the Vet and mumble it out loud it might have been perfect. A mile on and we entered the start of Dunwich woods. Dunwich was once a significant port but the changing coast line and the silting of the harbour ended those glory days. In the erosion that followed its ancient churches were swept away and local legend has it that occasionally you can hear the bells tolling under the sea.
Behind the remaining church (St James) is the remains of a leper hospital from medieval times. Hard to believe we once had leprosy in England.
Quite honestly by now I’d had my fill. However our end point was the National Trust tea rooms at the Coastguards cottages at Dunwich heath, above Minsmere bird reserve. Tea and cake were calling so on we plodded and we were treated to a fantastic sight of the purple heather in full blast. When nature gets her gaudy clothes on she can be fabulous.
And so ended day one. The app on the Lawyer iPhone said 40,840 steps. We thought about 18 miles. Plenty.