Shingle beaches from Felixstowe to an island bird reserve
The River Deben, winding downstream between marshes and low wooded hills, reaches the sea between Felixstowe Ferry and Bawdsey Quay. There it forms the one major break in the long banks of red shingle that line the shore north of Landguard Point. The delights of this coast are quiet rather than spectacular, ranging from the sedate holiday pleasures of Felixstowe to the bird-haunted wilderness of Havergate Island.
There are two distinct aspects to Felixstowe. One is the family seaside resort, consisting largely of gabled houses built around 1900, with the coming of the railway; the other is the busy container port which has expanded in recent years to become one of the largest in Europe.
Seaside Felixstowe is strung out round a gently curving bay, above a beach consisting of banks of red shingle, with patches of sand at low tide. The town prides itself on the beauty of its seafront gardens, especially the Spa Gardens, north of the pier. The Victorian atmosphere is heightened by the rows of bathing huts along the promenade. The Spa Pavilion provides theatrical entertainments, and there is fishing to be had from the pier and the beach.
At the south end of the town a road leads to Landguard Fort. The first fort was built on Landguard Point in the 1540s, to guard the eastern entrance to Harwich Harbour. The present fort dates mainly from 1718. The chapel above the gateway was the scene of a notorious scandal in 1763, when the acting governor of the fort held a dance in the chapel, and used the altar as a bar.
Just beyond the fort is a small public viewing area, with parking space for about a
A fiercesome bronze and iron helmet is part of the Sutton Hoo treasure.
A SAXON KING’S TREASURE At Sutton Hoo, across the River Deben from Woodbridge, lies a sandy heath where in 1939 the buried treasure of a Saxon king was found beneath a grave mound. A priceless hoard of jewellery, coins and regalia had been placed in a seagoing ship and buried in a great oval pit. The owner of the hoard may have been King Raedwald, King of East Anglia from about AD 610 to 625. But no trace of a body was found in the ship, so the burial may have been intended as a cenotaph rather than as a tomb. The treasures are now in the British Museum. dozen cars, where ships from the port pass so near that the observer can almost reach out and touch them.
Swimming is safe, except at Landguard Point where there are dangerous currents. There are also hazards 1 mile north of the pier, where remains of an old pier are covered at high tide, and 2 miles north, where the remains of an old fort lie 75 yds from the low-water mark. Felixstowe is the southern end of the Suffolk Coast Path, which runs north for 50 miles to Lowestoft.
Day trips round Harwich and the Stour estuary run from Felixstowe docks, and there are cross-Channel day trips to Zeebrugge in Belgium. There is a ferry for foot passengers to Harwich.
This small village is clustered round a Martello tower – one of three on the coast between the Deben and Orwell rivers. It is reached by road or on foot across the wide spaces of the Felixstowe golf course. The ferry, for foot passengers only, across the mouth of the River Deben to Bawdsey Quay runs at weekends in summer. Swimming is hazardous, as the tide at the river mouth can run at 4-5 knots.
Twisting by-roads lead from Felixstowe through Kirton and Newbourn to this attractive little village on the River Deben. The waterfront is muddy shingle, with a small sandy beach, firm enough for launching boats. Waldringfield is a busy sailing centre, with ships’ chandlers and boatyards on the narrow lane that runs along the foreshore. It is also a favourite place for the birdwatcher, with teals, wigeons, shelducks and turnstones to be seen.
Lovers of solitude can find it in riverside walks upstream and downstream, though breaks in the river wall limit them to 1 mile or so in both directions.
Parking at the waterfront is very restricted, but there is a large car park behind the Maybush Inn just up the hill.
Woodbridge must come high on anyone’s list of the most picturesque small towns in East Anglia. From its central market place, dominated by the Dutch-gabled Shire Hall and the magnificent parish church of St Mary’s, steep streets of old houses lead down to the level of the River Deben. The town’s name is said to derive from the Anglo-Saxon Woden Burh, meaning ‘Woden’s town’, and it was already an important place in Saxon times.
The quayside, reached by way of the level-crossing, is an attractive jumble of boatyards and chandleries, with yachts of all shapes and sizes lying at anchor, or stranded on the mud at low tide. Its chief landmark is the superb, white weather-boarded Tide Mill, built in the 1790s and now restored to working condition and open to the public as a museum; it is open daily from mid-July to mid-September, and at weekends during the remainder of the summer.
The first mill on the site was built about 1170, and its last successor remained in operation until 1957. As the tide rose, the pressure of the water opened the sluice gates and filled a 7 ½ acre pond behind the mill, When the tide turned, the first outflow of water closed the gates, leaving the pond full. When the tide had fallen far enough, the miller opened the sluice gates and released the water to drive the mill wheel.
Woodbridge’s best-known resident was the 19th-century poet Edward FitzGerald, who translated The Rubd’iydt of Omar Khayyam from Persian into English. He died in 1883, and is buried in the lonely churchyard at Boulge. The rose tree above his grave was grown from a hip brought from Omar’s grave in Iran.
South of the town is Kyson Hill, 4 acres of which belong to the National Trust. From the southern slopes of the hill there are panoramic views across the river. A footpath leads down to the Deben’s muddy foreshore and then follows the river bank to Wood-bridge quay.
Much of the original heathland of the plateau east of the Deben has vanished before the needs of modern farming and forestry. Sutton Heath is a valuable reminder of what this whole tract of countryside was like a century ago. There are two car parks and picnic sites, backed by gorse, conifers and bracken, while a nature trail takes about an hour to walk.
Ramsholt’s pretty little boating haven, consisting of a waterfront pub, a disused ferry quay, and a shingle foreshore leading down to mud, is reached down Dock Road. Parking by the foreshore is limited, and the last 300 yds down to the quay is a private road, but there is a large car park at the top of the hill, giving glorious views towards the Deben estuary.
Ramsholt’s lonely church of All Saints, which has a battered Norman round tower, can be reached by a half-mile walk along a footpath from the quay. Near by is a small sandy beach known as The Rocks.
Although the tip of the quay is Ministry of Defence property, leading to an RAF station, the public are allowed on to it and cars can park there. There is a passenger ferry across to Felixstowe Ferry. North of the quay is a 133 > bird sanctuary. The water levels in the bare, muddy lagoons are artificially maintained to provide the correct depth of water for Britain’s oldest and largest breeding colony of avocets, which returned there to nest in 1947, after being absent from Britain for 100 years. Gulls, terns, shelducks and redshanks are also present.
The island can be reached only by boat from Orford Quay. All tours are escorted by the warden; permits and visiting dates must be sought in advance from the Permit Secretary, 30 Mundays Lane, Orford, Woodbridge.
Tourist information Felixstowe 282122/28
HM Coastguard Frinton-on-Sea 5518 for information, 999 in emergency (ask for coastguard).
Weather Ipswich 8091.
Loca/rad/o IBA Radio Orwell, 257 m, 1170 kHz, 97.1 MHz. small shingle beach, but bathing is dangerous. There is good fishing from the shingle beach south of the quay.
The road to Bawdsey village from Bawdsey Quay passes the radar ‘ears’ and sinister, dart-like missiles of RAF Bawdsey. It was there that radar was developed before the Second World War, and the modern dish aerials are the successors to the system that played an important part during the Battle of Britain.
The beach, reached down East Lane opposite the church, consists of steep banks of dark red shingle, held in place by frequent breakwaters, and backed by a large Second World War strongpoint, with limited car parking behind. The foreshore to the north is guarded by a row of Martello towers, reminders that this spot has long been a likely landing point for a would-be invader.
As its name suggests, Shingle Street, reached down a twisting road from Hol-lesley, is little more than a row of cottages built above a boat-studded stretch of shingle, which the sea has pushed up into a high bank. Hollows in the shingle enclose shallow lagoons left by the high tides. Behind the beach are peaceful water-meadows, in places only a few feet above sea level.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Easton Farm Park, 8 miles N of Woodbridge Working Victorian farm. Sun.-Fri. in summer.
Helmingham Hall. 8 miles N of Woodbridge, on B1077. Gardens and park. Sun. afternoons in summer.
Letheringham Watermill, 8 miles N of Woodbridge, off B1078. 18th-century mill. Some afternoons in summer,
Otley Hall. 6 miles NW of Woodbridge. 15th-century house. Occasional afternoons in summer.
A concrete track leads to the mouth of the Ore, opposite North Weir Point, at the end of the shingle bank that runs for 6 miles up to Orford Ness. There are surging currents at the river mouth, but swimming is safe from Shingle Street itself.
This boomerang-shaped island of 300 acres, lying in the long channel that runs downstream from Orford to the sea, is an RSPB
SHINGLE STRAND The beach that gives Shingle Street its name is vast, lonely and desolate, yet there is a compelling appeal in the row of white cottages, the sea-mirrored sky and the curving foreshore.