Southwold is a brilliant place. Okay, maybe it’s not for those seeking the dizzy heights of Blackpool Pleasure Beach or Alton Towers. If that’s what you’re after you’d be lost in Southwold. The nearest thing you get to thrills and spills is the amusement arcade at the absolutely amazing Southwold Pier; exactly what a pier should be like.
No, Southwold is a reserved place where the pace of life moves more slowly, a stroll along the promenade, a morning coffee, an hour in the Sailor’s Reading Room with a good book, or maybe a pleasant walk. Which is where I’m going to go now.
If you’re really serious then get a copy of OS Landranger #156 – Saxmundham, Aldeburgh and Southwold. To be fair you don’t really need it for this short walk as you remain within sight of the town constantly and the paths are easy to follow. It’s as flat as it comes and, by my reckoning, just short of four miles. The route is very suitable for all abilities of walkers including children, and the faint hearted have the opportunity of short cutting the full route and returning to the town at several points. No special equipment is required, I did it in shorts and walking sandals. A hat and a bottle of water is a good idea in summer, and I’d go for stout shoes and a weatherproof coat, and pack waterproof leggings, in the winter.
There are three pubs en route (that all do food within set times) and a choice of several at the end in Southwold. In Walberswick there is a small convenience store and a Fish & Chip shop and Seafood Restaurant/Retail shop on the Blackshore.
Starting in Southwold town centre I suggest a hearty breakfast of some description in one of the various cafés, coffee shops, or even Adnam’s retail emporium and café. You could of course start as you mean to go on with a pint in one of the pubs I recommend. When bunkered up, head towards the promenade and turn left (North) walking past the pier and through the public car park until you see a path on the left, just after the model boating lake.
Follow the path through a reedy expanse of marsh, keeping Buss Creek on your left. After about half a mile you reach the busy A1095 where the creek goes under the road. Cross the road and at the same time cross the creek and follow the path to the left of the bridge on the far side of the road.
You are now on a path with Buss Creek on your right hand side. Just follow the path as it winds along through reeds and fields for about a mile. There were signs saying, ‘Bull in Field’ and I did see a couple of young bulls, but they were preoccupied with their harems, and at all times at least a couple of hundred yards away. For the most part the path is on top of the bund at the side of the dyke, so you re afforded a good view and the reassurance of high ground. Personally, the presence of the bull doesn’t put me off, I’ve been confident with livestock since an early age. I might be wary if I had a dog that wasn’t used to beasts with me, cows generally don’t like them.
The scenery on this part of the walk is quite interesting. If you keep looking to your right you might think you were in a vast reedy fenland wilderness that goes on forever, a glance to your left reassures you that you’re still only half a mile from the town.
Keep going over/through several fences, there’s gates and stiles, until you come to the sluice at The River Blyth where, to your immediate left, is a footbridge over the river. Cross the bridge then stay on the metalled road until you come into Walberswick village. Wander past pretty cottages until you get to a t-junction with a through road, turn left into the centre of the village and just follow the road going past a mini market on your left, keeping an eye out for the many ‘Wally Webb’ plaques, until you get to The Anchor Inn.
The next pub The Bell Inn, is only a hundred yards or two further along. Please note, all the pubs are Adnam’s managed or tenanted tied houses, sorry, that’s all you get around here.
On leaving The Bell Inn turn right again and walk through the pretty village green and crafty type shops until you reach the river again. There’s a few options here. My suggestion would be to make The Harbour Inn, on the other side of the river, the next port of call.
To get there you can either walk back up the riverside path to the bridge you crossed earlier, you’ll see the pub on the opposite side of the river but the bridge is a bit further upstream and you have to cross and re-trace your steps on the far bank.
The other option is to use the Walberswick Ferry. It’s a quid each and it literally takes a couple of minutes. The boat is only a rowing boat carrying eight or so people, so you may have to wait at busy times. On every occasion I’ve been on it the rower was a very nice lady called Dani who’s family have run the ferry for five generations, she’s even written a book about it, which is well worth a read. When the tide is running hard, you’re very glad that a professional is in charge, I doubt whether any inexperienced rower could get you efficiently and swiftly across from jetty to jetty.
Once safely on the Northern bank, turn left and walk through the shanty town of the Blackshore and the many moored and beached boats to The Harbour Inn. Like I said earlier, you can get Fish & Chips or Seafood, or even some wet fish to take home on the Blackshore. If you’ve crossed via the ferry, you could forget about The Harbour Inn and walk directly back into Southwold down Ferry road, or even along the beach.
After a decent pint in The Harbour Inn, leave the pub via the back (North aspect) door. Just to your left is a stile out of the beer garden that takes you across the town marshes. You don’t need any directions here, just walk along the path through the fields towards town. I say fields, it’s a very mixed marshland pasture. The fields look like they are at, or below, sea level and dykes run around the perimeters. When we walked through this year there were some fine beef cattle grazing on the grass and marsh herbs. This is the proper way to fatten beef cattle. I can vouch for that as the lady Butcher at Mills and Sons, Southwold told me that the ‘best steak I have had for a long time’ was locally reared; on those marshes no doubt.
There’s plenty of other stuff to see, wild flowers, abundant pond life and in the early evening the unmistakeable white rump of a female Hen Harrier as she cruised about a yard above the meadow before soaring briefly over the reeds at the fields edge. Earlier, I saw a Little Egret (a small white Heron) wading the margins of the main river, a bird I’ve only previously seen on the South Coast.
If I had to recommend one, then it’s The Lord Nelson I’d go for.
If you want me to recommend two (or three) then add one or both of The Crown or The Sole Bay Inn. I wouldn’t personally recommend t’other one I mentioned, if you click through to my previous review you’ll see why.
And that’s it folks. A pleasant but easy going walk around Southwold and Walberswick with three pubs en route and a choice of several at the end. I did the walk in high summer, so everywhere was open all day (but not for food). Even then the little ferry stopped at 5pm. If you go outside the holiday season then I recommend you check the opening times of all the pubs you want to visit and the ferry, which only operates at weekends outside the school holidays, and closes for the winter.
Even in high season, once you leave the honey pot of the town, you’d be very surprised how few, if any, people you meet until you get to Walberswick village. The walk itself, without any pit stops, takes a very steady hour and a half. With the various beer stops en route, or maybe a sandwich and a sit on a bench, or a pub lunch, it could take you as long as you like!