Text & photos by Patrick Meehan
On this brisk, sunny Sunday morning, with the mercury holding at -1° C and the wind from the north-east, eighteen people (and one dog) joined walk leader Ian Robinson on one of his favourite jaunts; Dunwich beach and environs.
Approximately ten miles in length, the walk comprised a figure of eight loop, with each loop being approximately five miles in length. This configuration offered the option of a shorter, five-mile walk for those who only wanted to do the first loop.
In the Anglo-Saxon period, during the Early Middle Ages, Dunwich was the capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles, one of the main Germanic peoples who settled in Great Britain in the post-Roman period. In its heyday, Dunwich was a thriving international port-town, similar in size to fourteenth-century London. Its decline, however, is documented as early as the Domesday Book, when over half the taxable farmland was recorded as being lost to the sea between 1066 and 1086.
The decline continued in earnest in 1286, when a storm surge hit the East Anglian coast, followed by further great storm surges in ensuing centuries – particularly in 1347, which saw the loss of approximately 400 properties in what were then low-lying areas of the town. The harbour and most of the town have long since disappeared due to relentless coastal erosion, gradually reducing it to the small coastal village we see today – and the fabled ‘lost city’ that we don’t!
After a 10:30AM start, the first loop took us along a clifftop walk where there were some fabulous views of the sun glittering like spilled diamonds on the ice-blue North Sea. Then, past the Last Grave and the historic ruin of Greyfriars Abbey (pictured at top) and onwards through woodlands already dreaming of spring. The Last Grave contains the remains of one Jacob Forster – who died in the late eighteenth century and lies close to the crumbling cliff edge. It is the last surviving grave in the grounds of All Saints Church – lost to the North Sea in the early twentieth century.
Once past the Coastguard Station and cottages, we walked around the heath and back through more heath and along woodland paths before a lunch-stop near Dunwich Church.
The second loop of the walk took us along a well signposted track across the Dingle Marshes Nature Reserve, a 300-acre mixture of coastal and freshwater habitats, saline lagoons, heathland and forest through which Dunwich River wends its way to the sea. The reserve supports a wide range of bird life, including a large proportion of the UK’s bittern and marsh harrier populations. Both species are prominent throughout May, whilst reed-dwellers like the bearded tit can be seen at most times of the year. https://www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org/dinglemarshes
Once through the marshes we shuffled along the mile of shingle ridge that makes up the reserve’s seaward side, heading southwards back towards Dunwich. The extra effort the shingle demanded (as promised by Ian) was more than compensated for by the bright sunshine and fresh sea air, as well as the crenelated blue and white southern sky hanging over distant Sizewell, and the ceaseless yet meditative ebb and flow of the waves along the shoreline.
Over a subsequent drink at the Dunwich Ship pub, we were able to re-live the splendours of a fine Winter afternoon’s walk in coastal Suffolk. https://www.shipatdunwich.co.uk/