Southwold to Wal­ber­swick with Far­ley the Clum­ber spaniel

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

“THERE’S no such thing as bad weather – only bad cloth­ing.” I leave Southwold for a day’s walk with wife Clare and our Clum­ber spaniel, Far­ley, and won­der whether my shorts and a t-shirt will in­deed be ‘bad cloth­ing’ dur­ing the coming hours of in­tense, mid­sum­mer sun­shine.

This Suf­folk sea­side town of­fers such a choice of places to walk that we can go where the day takes us. First, we must de­cide whether to head for the beach or the har­bour. Although dogs are wel­come on the beach there are some re­stric­tions. Coun­cil­lor Graham Catch­pole, of Waveney District Coun­cil, says the coun­cil recog­nises that part of the plea­sure of own­ing a dog comes from go­ing for walks on the beach:

“We want to ad­dress the wishes of all beach users and feel that the re­stric­tions bal­ance the needs of both dog and non-dog own­ers, and will al­low our beaches to re­main ac­ces­si­ble and en­joy­able for ev­ery­one.”

From April 1 to Septem­ber 30 no dogs are al­lowed on the beach for half a mile from the north­ern-most end of the prom­e­nade along to the south­ern-most end of the prom­e­nade. There are no re­stric­tions out­side this area.


From the free park­ing on York Road ad­ja­cent to the cricket club we head off to­wards the

har­bour. Far­ley can cool off in the sea later in the day. Southwold’s ‘old’ and ‘new’ water tow­ers stand con­spic­u­ously next to its golf club. We walk be­hind them, our heads up ad­mir­ing the views. Far­ley walks in front of us, nose down en­joy­ing the smells. For a short dis­tance, the path dis­sects this fa­mous heath­land golf course, so dogs should be kept on leads and care taken when cross­ing the fairways.

A track to Palmers Lane passes through a copse of gorse. Twice in May this year, 60,000 sq me­tres of heath were dam­aged by fire. The smell of charred wood lingers, while black­ened trunks and branches cre­ate an eerie air.

Af­ter three-quar­ters of a mile, a Bai­ley bridge spans the River Blyth. St An­drew’s Church, Wal­ber­swick nes­tles in trees on the hori­zon be­yond. Rey­don Marshes stretch for miles. Birds chat­ter, a breeze flut­ters, and cu­mu­lus clouds hang lazily in a rich blue canopy. The hot sum­mer morn­ing tin­gles every sense.

Just be­fore the bridge a bri­dle­way to the har­bour and a path back up to the com­mon would give us a gen­tle stroll of two-and-ahalf miles. But in­stead, we cross the bridge head­ing south­west. Cu­rios­ity draws us onto Wal­ber­swick com­mon. It is our first visit to this patch­work of fern, gorse and grasses, sewn to­gether with path­ways and bri­dle­ways. It will add a mile to our walk. Dogs can re­main off the lead at all times on the public rights of way but, to pro­tect ground-nest­ing birds, they must be on the lead on other paths from March 1 to July 31. The San­dlings Walk – 55 miles of path through Suf­folk’s san­dlings from Ip­swich to Southwold – passes through the com­mon, as did the old nar­row-gauge Southwold Rail­way. Part of the Wal­ber­swick sta­tion plat­form re­mains, though trains last ran in 1929. While here, we see no one. The views to Southwold, the river and the har­bour dis­ap­pear. We are glo­ri­ously iso­lated, and could be any­where or nowhere. We will cer­tainly be back.

Wal­ber­swick, a thriv­ing town in the 15th and 16th cen­tury due to ship­build­ing and fish­ing, has re­laxed to the idyll it is to­day. It boasts fa­mous writ­ers, broad­cast­ers, and film pro­duc­ers as its res­i­dents. Its un­de­ni­able charm makes it a pop­u­lar choice for sec­ond­home own­ers.

The Bell Inn, close to sand dunes and the pic­ture-post­card vil­lage green, is busy in the early af­ter­noon. We have lunch here, although The An­chor Inn would also have served us well. Both are dog friendly, and have ex­ten­sive, rea­son­ably priced menus. Fam­i­lies, walk­ers and dog own­ers all find shel­ter from the sun un­der para­sols in The Bell’s large garden. Dogs hide be­neath ta­bles. Those shorts and t-shirts that leave arms, legs and necks ex­posed look a poor choice now.

Af­ter lunch, Far­ley gets his time in the sea. He took to the ‘wig­gly water’ as a puppy and seems to sense when salt is in the air. His en­thu­si­asm for swim­ming and re­triev­ing al­ways raises a smile. There are no dog re­stric­tions on Wal­ber­swick beach. Half a mile of dunes and marshes sep­a­rate the golden sand from the Dun­wich River as it weaves a path to the sea.

Here, among salt­ings and marshes young­sters and par­ents, like their fore­bears, spend sum­mer days crab­bing armed only with a line, a bucket and a hand­ful of ba­con. Some have a prime spot on Wally’s Bridge, aptly named af­ter vil­lage stal­wart and Crab­bing Cham­pi­onship co-founder Wally Webb. Time can al­most stand still here.

So too, it would seem, at the har­bour. We stroll the short dis­tance to a jetty to take the ferry the 60 me­tres back across the river.

Dani Church is the fifth gen­er­a­tion of her fam­ily to op­er­ate the row­ing boat ser­vice. It has been her life since her father, David, died in 2001. She says she has the most beau­ti­ful set­ting in which to do her job:

“The peo­ple are lovely, I am sur­rounded by wildlife and the river. It’s a beau­ti­ful area.” Im­por­tantly, Far­ley can travel on the boat.

“Dogs are very wel­come,” she says. “We love hav­ing dogs on our ferry. Pas­sen­gers can bring them free of charge. In most boat­loads I have a dog on board, and had four on a river trip I have just done. I have a dog and she’s on the boat with me as well.”


Across the water Southwold’s Blackshore is unique. Change here is slow, sub­tle and sym­pa­thetic. Dark fish­er­men’s huts stand al­most ran­domly along the dusty, bumpy track. Wooden jet­ties, some new, some weary with age, stretch into the water as if sta­pling the river­bank down.

A Southwold trip is not com­plete with­out a half-mile stroll along the Blackshore. As it is a work­ing har­bour Far­ley is back on his lead. We quench our thirst at the Har­bour Inn, though out­side there is nowhere to es­cape the sun and heat.

Our walk back to where we be­gan takes us on the lat­ter part of San­dlings Walk and part of the Suf­folk Coast Path, be­hind the camp­site, across the marshes and up Con­sti­tu­tion Hill. On this sum­mer’s af­ter­noon the town is awash with vis­i­tors, many saun­ter­ing with a Labrador, spaniel or French bull­dog for com­pany.

There is some­thing of in­ter­est at every turn, restau­rants, gal­leries, bou­tiques and tea­rooms. Along the High Street and near­ing our jour­ney’s end we pause a while at The Southwold Gallery. Its owner, lo­cal artist Karen Ke­able, has a piece of Southwold in her heart.

“There is some­thing of in­ter­est at every turn, restau­rants, gal­leries, bou­tiques and tea­rooms”

“I love how tra­di­tional Southwold is,” she says. “There is still a town crier to de­liver the news, and the pro­ces­sions and march­ing band are a joy to be­hold. Peo­ple are friendly, ev­ery­one says good morn­ing, and the town and sur­rounds are stun­ning.” She also draws her in­spi­ra­tion from here.

“From an artist’s point of view I love the big skies and the drama that the ter­rific light casts on sim­ple coastal life. The work­ing har­bour is ever chang­ing. Boats are left to weather on the shore, fish­ing para­pher­na­lia, folk and the shift­ing tides make for daily, re­fresh­ing paint­ing ma­te­rial.”

By 5pm we are back. The sun re­mains high and the af­ter­noon still warm. Our shoul­ders and necks feel sore – T-shirts with­out col­lars were a bad idea! We have walked six miles, Far­ley many more. The town, the vil­lage, the heath­land, the beach, the dunes and marshes pro­vide such a va­ri­ety that there is some­thing for ev­ery­one. There are walks of a mile or less, to ten miles or more.

Southwold and Wal­ber­swick, their peo­ple and places, were a de­light to­day. It is easy to en­joy walking in this beau­ti­ful part of Suf­folk again and again . . . whether you have four legs or two.

Southwold Har­bour - a work­ing har­bour full of in­ter­est

Crab­bing on Wally’s Bridge

Far­ley fol­lows his nose on Wal­ber­swick Com­mon

Time for a rest - Clare and Far­ley

Wal­ber­swick vil­lage


The Wal­ber­swick ferry - dogs are wel­come aboard

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