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Suffolk is the ideal place for a quick and easy long-distance walking holiday. The Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB is host to three long-distance trails – the Suffolk Coast Path, the Stour and Orwell Walk, and the Sandlings Walk. Each of these paths has been carefully developed to reveal the most distinctive features of the area, which can be explored in easy stages.
This region can be broadly divided into three types of landscape – coast, estuary and heathland, or Sandlings, as they are locally known – and the three long-distance walks are each focused on one of these landscape types. All three have plenty to offer visitors in terms of scenery, wildlife and historic interest, and the footpaths, bridleways and quiet lanes found here make for excellent walking.
It seems hard to imagine that somewhere quite so tranquil is just a couple of hours’ drive away from London.
The sky seems enormous here, especially on a bright, early summer’s day, and the sea beyond the shingle almost endless. Apart from the gleeful cries of children playing on the beach, the aural landscape is one of soughing waves and the gentle scrape of stones, a few mewing gulls and the piping of oystercatchers. Less than a mile inland, both scenery and soundscape are markedly different – vast expanses of heather, warbling blackcaps in the bushes, and a skylark clattering on high; the warm air is redolent with the almond scent of yellow gorse that seems to be everywhere. This is the Suffolk coast, and it seems hard to imagine that somewhere quite so tranquil is just a couple of hours’ drive away from London.
None of the routes here are especially demanding – all are suitable for newcomers to long-distance walking and all can be done by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. All the routes are clearly waymarked and involve easy walking on the flat, although some stretches along shingle and sand will inevitably be more tiring, as will muddy paths after wet weather.
The Suffolk Coast Path stretches along the coast between Lowestoft in the north and Landguard Fort, close to Felixstowe, in the south, a total distance of 55–60 miles (89–97km), depending on whether beach walking or inland options are followed. The path can be walked in either direction, but, if walked north to south, can link up with a south to north traverse of the Sandlings Walk. The finish point at Landguard Fort also marks the beginning of the Stour and Orwell Walk, which makes a natural extension for those wishing to walk further.
The Suffolk Coast Path will probably take the average walker between five and seven days – although building in a rest day to enjoy either Southwold or Aldeburgh, or both, is recommended.
The Stour and Orwell Walk continues where the Suffolk Coast Path ends, starting at Landguard Point and threading around the estuaries of the Stour and Orwell rivers to finish at Cattawade, close to the Essex border. This 43-mile (69km) route takes in both the north and south shores of the River Orwell and the north shore of the River Stour. Although much of the way is beside the water, there are inland sections, too, which add to the variety.
This whole route can be completed over a period of four days, or even three long days for fitter walkers. The route may also be shortened considerably by making use of the seasonal Landguard Fort to Shotley Gate ferry service, which effectively cuts out the Orwell section of the walk.
The third route, the Sandlings Walk (59 miles/94.5km), thoroughly explores the heathland region that lies immediately inland from the Suffolk coast. Beginning in Ipswich, the route passes through Martlesham Heath before following the River Deben estuary up to the pleasant riverside town of Woodbridge and meandering through several tracts of Sandlings Heath before finally arriving at the delightfully old-fashioned resort of Southwold. Although almost entirely inland, there is a short coastal section close to Sizewell that is shared with the Suffolk Coast Path. Otherwise, this route offers a different perspective on the hinterland of the Suffolk coast and ideally complements the coastal route.
To walk the complete length, it is best to allow around five days in total. As well as combining well with the Suffolk Coast Path, the Sandlings Walk could also easily be linked with the first two stages of the Stour and Orwell Walk.
Laurence Mitchell is an expert on walking in Suffolk and has written the Cicerone guidebook to Suffolk Coast and Heath Walks.