Text and photos by Patrick Meehan
At approximately 10:30am and in glorious sunshine, Sarah and Simon led our group of nine out of Fort Green Car Park on Slaughden Road, Aldeburgh, into the adjacent marshes.
In her pre-walk notes, Sarah had helpfully advised that this particular car park had a £4 charge for the whole day (more than 4 hours), payable in coin in the machines or by card via the RingGo App, and that there were toilets adjacent. Sound preparation and good communications are a widely acknowledged hallmark of Simon and Sarah’s walking adventures.
Turning right out of the parking area and away from the beach, we took the raised causeway between the River Alde on our left and the streams and ponds of the marshes on our right. Minutes later, looking back towards Aldeburgh across what seemed miles of fields, one became aware of the enormous blue vault of the sky extending in all directions towards the horizon.
Looking across the marshes towards Aldeburgh
At length, we turned off the causeway, bearing right and heading back through fields, dykes and scattered homesteads (with ample vegetable gardens) towards the north end of the town, where we picked up the main Saxmundham Road before crossing over to Aldeburgh Golf Club, through whose grounds our path led.
South-east of Aldringham, we halted for a welcome lunch break beside the trail, which overlooked a large expanse of tablecloth-flat fallow fields and isolated woodland outcrops sitting in the middle distance.
Lunch stop, south-east of Aldringham, Suffolk
Less than an hour later, we arrived at The Parrot & Punchbowl pub/restaurant in Aldringham – which is three miles north-west of Aldeburgh and about one and a half miles west of Thorpeness. This beautiful 16th-century smugglers pub and its fine ales provided a timely interlude on our adventure, and we made the most of our time in its fine pub garden with its abundance of shaded seating.
At the bar, the colour of one of the ales was off apparently, and, eavesdropping on the regulars, we heard a fascinating conversation to the effect that one should not drink with one’s eyes; one should “Taste it first before you change it”, they advised.
Now back on the trail and heading for home, we soon came to St Andrews Church where the laburnum at the entrance was spectacularly in bloom. Part of the adjacent churchyard is a wild flower conservation area which is left largely unmown during the summer months, and over 40 different species of native plants have been found there.
Laburnum at St Andrew’s Church, Aldringham, Suffolk
Back on the trail once more, and now heading south-east for Aldeburgh, we soon came to the North Warren Nature Reserve – said to be a great place to see hobbies (a type of falcon), marsh harriers and bearded tits.
It was here also that we picked up the old railway line that would take us back to Aldeburgh. Simon and Sarah advised that the line had been a branch line that ran from Saxmundham to Aldeburgh, and the station at nearby Thorpeness was open from 1914 to 1966.
Along this path, sheltered places and areas of scrub are said to attract dragonflies, bees, butterflies, warblers, bullfinches and nightingales, and we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of the Konik ponies that graze the surrounding area. These locally bred, hardy ponies – which originate from eastern Europe – eat grasses, reeds, waterside plants and shrubs, including willow leaves, and help to create and maintain a diverse landscape attractive to a wide range of flora and fauna.
Within no time we were out of the countryside; through Marsh View Lodges, through the grounds of the Church of St Peter & St Paul, out onto Victoria Road, across High Street and past the Moot Hall onto the lively seafront. At the boating pond, children squealed with delight as the breeze caught the sails of their galleons, propelling them on fantastic adventures through the pirate-infested waters of the Caribbean. Dutiful parents meanwhile, were sent to fetch badly needed provisions – from the nearby ice-cream kiosks. The public benches at this end of town were also well used by grateful visitors making the most of a beautiful sunny day in this seaside sanctuary.
A leisurely stroll southward along the seafront path (Crag Path) took us past the wide beach on our left, where fishing boats had been pulled up onto the shingle, past the high tide watermark. Scattered among the same fishing boats – and for much of the length of Crag Path, one’s eye was drawn inexorably to the scattered clusters of red and pink valerian, (a member of the sage family), whose presence felt like a smile from the afternoon: a gift from Mother Nature for us to take with us into the coming week.😉
Four Daughters, (with red valerian in the foreground), Aldeburgh beach, Suffolk
Another notable feature along Crag Path is the much-photographed group of four-storey, pastel-coloured houses facing across the beach towards the North Sea, (see main photo above). These same colours are to be found on a great many homes in Aldeburgh, which some people refer to as ‘pastel town’!
Relaxing on Aldeburgh beach, Suffolk
We learned from Sarah and Simon that Aldeburgh was once a thriving fishing and boat building town until a decline set in with the silting up of the River Alde. Maps from 1594 indicate there were at least four rows of streets between the current market place, (site of the Moot Hall today), and the shore. Maps from 1790 however, indicate that none of these streets then remained. The Moot Hall was built in the 16th century to serve as the Council Chamber, and whilst it still houses the Council Chamber, it now also serves as a local museum. https://www.aldeburghmuseum.org.uk/
Aldeburgh is also famous for its outstanding fish and chips, provided by three chippies on High Street, the most famous of which is the original Aldeburgh Fish & Chip Shop, owned by the Cooney family. All three establishments consistently receive rave online reviews from satisfied connoisseurs of British cuisine. https://www.aldeburghfishandchips.co.uk/
Back at the car park, all that remained was to thank Sarah and Simon for a splendid afternoon’s adventure. Some of our number headed (inevitably) to a nearby fish and chip shop. Others made plans to sample the local ale before returning home – with a valerian smile from the afternoon.😉