Walk 97: Southwold Circular: “We’re Ladies you know!”

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 5.3 miles (8.8km)

Time to walk: This is a leisurely stroll, sit on the pier, explore the shops, have food & drink, admire the views, type of walk so it’s not possible to put a time limit on it. We took half a day

Difficulty: Easy, flat & mainly on hard surfaces, although the final part is on heathland paths which are well-draining

Parking: We parked for free in Pier Avenue

Public toilets: Plenty in the town & cafes etc on the route

Map of the route:

With its sandy beach & beach hut lined promenade, Southwold is the quintessential English seaside town

It’s a small town on the North Sea coast in Suffolk laying at the mouth of the River Blyth an area of outstanding natural beauty, as we’ll see. The town is about 11 miles south of Lowestoft & was mentioned in the Domesday Book as a fishing port. It received its town charter from Henry VII in 1489, however, a shingle bar built up across the harbour mouth, preventing the town from becoming a major port

There’s plenty to see & do here & is also the home to our favourite brewers, Adnams who until recently delivered their beer to the pubs by horse & cart

Today’s walk starts at the pier & explores the town, before moving out across the marshes & following the estuary. It then cuts back across heathland (mind the adders) to arrive back in the town

We’ll tell you more about the history as we go so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our circular walk starts, where else, but opposite Southwold’s iconic pier

The pier was built in 1900 as a landing stage for steamships that brought tourists from London, Clacton & Great Yarmouth until the 1930s. It was 270 yards in length & finished with a T-shaped end

The landing stage of the pier was destroyed during a storm in 1934, with the T-shaped end being swept away. An addition of a concert hall & amusement arcade was made during 1937 at the shore end of the pier. During the Second World War the pier had a section removed due to the fear of its use during an invasion. Further damage occurred from an impact with a mine. The pier was rebuilt after the war at a cost of £30,000. Further damage caused by storms in October 1955 & February 1979 left the length of the pier at 20 yards

A major refurbishment program was started in 1999 in order to rebuild the pier. This was completed in 2001 almost 100 years after it was first opened. In 2002 a new T-Shaped end was added, bringing the pier to a total length of 208 yards

The pier is home to several shops & attractions including traditional souvenir shops, cafés, restaurants & amusement arcades

2. It’s also home to the magnificent Water Clock…

“Watch the water show every 30 minutes…
“The boys drop their trousers and pee, missing the loo”

Made in three weeks in 1998 by Tim Hunkin & Will Jackson, to an impossibly tight budget, the Water Clock was designed as a feature about water recycling, sponsored by Thames Water. The water is pumped up to the top of the clock from the pond & it was originally this water that then powered the cheeky antics that happen on the half hour. The hands & pendulum are now powered electrically. All the copper on the clock comes from old hot water cylinders. Click on “Play” below to watch it in action

3. At the shore end of the pier is a great mural to one of Southwohd’s adopted sons, George Orwell. Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist & critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism & outspoken support of democratic socialism

Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction, & polemical journalism. He is best known for Animal Farm & the dystopian 1984. In 2008, The Times ranked him second on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”. His parents lived in the town & Orwell spent some time there with them

4. The view from the pier is pretty special. One way the town sweeps round & down to Aldeburgh & Thorpeness…

…whilst on the other side are a row of the glorious beach huts the town is famous for. If you fancy buying one then you won’t get much change from £130,000!!

5. Leave the pier & turn left along the lower esplanade…

From here you get a good view back to the pier we’ve just been walking along. Looking back, our view of it was it wasn’t like the usual “tacky” piers, with some lovely shops & very good food offerings – very classy!

6. Walk up to the upper esplanade which gives equally as good views in all directions

We didn’t realise until we passed a sign, but this historical cliff path is called ‘Ladies Walk’. It had been closed for quite some time. but has now been restored to its original glory & was also used for the filming of the ‘Little Britain’ where Matt Lucas & David Walliams displayed their “lady-like” behaviour

It is a fabulous restoration…

7. Shortly on the right we come to St James’ Green where a pair of cannons stand either side of a mast

This is a very pretty little corner of the town with the lighthouse dominating the skyline at the back

8. Turn right towards the town centre along Trinity Street…

Are you ready for quirky, individual & classy shops etc? Then you won’t be disappointed!

And…if you fancy an early ice-cream there’s always H&J (Harris & James) Gelato which many think is the best in Southwold. Not only does it sell ice cream, it’s also a bakery & chocolatiers

9. Turn right into East Street where, “ice creamed” out, it’s time for some fish ‘n’ chips & there’s nowhere better than The Little Fish & Chip Shop. But if you think it’s just a chippy then think again – this is Southwold & this place also sells fresh fish, oysters & seafood

10. At the top of East Street is the Market Place with its cast iron Town Pump which was constructed in 1873 & whose castings show herrings, the crown & crossed arrows of St. Edmund

On the colourful butchers shop you will find the Jubilee clock from 1977. It was a fabulously sunny day when we were there which helped make the town look even more colourful

11. Across the Market Place is one of Southwold’s iconic hotels, the Adnams owned, The Swan which was undergoing extensive reservation when we were there

Their website states 1345 as “The earliest record of brewing at the back of The Swan. Johanna de Corby, along with 17 other ‘ale wives’ of Southwold, were charged by the manorial court with breaking the ‘assize’ of ale (selling ale in unmarked measures). She continued to do so for the next twenty years appearing in court records on a regular basis – a determined lady!”

In 1872 Adnams bought The Swan along with its brewery

12. Walk up the right side of the High Street & back down the left. There’s so many unique little shops to visit that this might take you some time! One of these is the rather splendid Crown Hotel, an old coaching inn & another owned by Adnams

It’s interesting that the sniping that Rick Stein’s faces for owning a lot of businesses in Padstow, doesn’t exist with Adnams. Maybe it’s the fact that the company has been historically part of the town for a very long time

Somewhere else that caught our eye was the magnificent sausage rolls & pies in the window of the Two Magpies Bakery!

This is not only a superb bakery, but also a cookery school. Have a look at their website & get ready to salivate. We could really appreciate their range of breads

13. Almost next door, the property with the flag is Sutherland House, one of the most important buildings in the town & also an award winning restaurant

It dates back to 1455 & was the home of Thomas Cammel, an Elizabethan merchant. It also has connections to James II who, when Lord Admiral of the Fleet established his headquarters here during the Anglo Dutch Wars

14. At the junction look for the modern barn-style building on the right in Drayman Square which is the Adnams Store (with tastings!), shop & cafe…

The earliest recorded brewing on the Adnams site was in 1396 by Johanna de Corby & the Sole Bay Brewery in Southwold was purchased in 1872 by George & Ernest Adnams. The company was incorporated in 1890 & has remained independent since then, producing a range of beers for distribution mainly in East Anglia. The Adnams family still has members of the family on the board, with Jonathan Adnams as chairman

Until 1953 & from 1970 to 2006, casks of Adnams ale were delivered to the six pubs of Southwold by horse & dray; the tradition ended when a new distribution depot was built three miles from the brewery

The company founded a charity, The Adnams Charity in 1990 to celebrate its centenary as a public company. A percentage of the company’s annual profits is used to support worthwhile causes within a 25 mile radius of Southwold

In 1993, Adnams Extra won the Champion Beer of Britain, an award presented by the Campaign for Real Ale at the annual Great British Beer Festival. The brewery remains committed to brewing cask ale & operating non-themed pubs

15. Walk back up the other side of the High Street, passing the United Reform Church. There was a craft market taking place inside, with some superb scones & sausage rolls

The present building opened in 1837. It’s a continuation of Southwold Congregational Church, formed in 1672 when ‘dissenters’ were ejected from the Parish Church. In 1972 the congregation voted to join the newly formed United Reformed Church

16. Continue back down to the square. Even though it’s a rather posh place, it still has room for some saucy postcards!

Keep straight on down the left side which is East Street to arrive at The Lord Nelson

Another Adnams pub, it appears in Rick Stein’s ‘Food Heroes’ programme when Rick sat on the bench above sharing a pint with one of the family. Apparently the pub sells renowned fish & chips!

17. At the end of East Street’s the Southwold Sailors’ Reading Room

The Southwold Sailors’ Reading Room was built in 1864 as a refuge for fishermen & mariners when not at sea to try & keep them out of the pubs & encourage them in Christian ideals. It was built in memory of a Sea Captain, Charles Rayley RN who was Church Warden at one time & generally a well respected man. He married twice & after he died in 1863 his widow had the Sailors’ Reading Room built in order to provide somewhere for fishermen & mariners to go to other than the pubs, somewhere they could read things that were good for the soul & drink liquids that wasn’t going to be harmful to them & their families

Displays of a seafaring nature line the walls & fill glass cabinets. Pictures & portraits of local fishermen & seascapes, model ships & maritime paraphernalia offer a fascinating history of Southwold’s connections with the sea

18. Turn right along the cliff top…

…to arrive at Gun Hill. The six 18-pounder cannons commemorate the Battle of Sole Bay, fought in 1672 between English & French fleets on one side & the Dutch (under Michiel de Ruyter) on the other. The battle was bloody but indecisive & many bodies were washed ashore. Southwold Museum has a collection of mementos of the event. It has occasionally been said that these cannons were captured from the Scots at Culloden & given to the town by the Duke of Cumberland, who had landed at Southwold in October 1745 having been recalled from Europe to deal with the Jacobite threat, but they are much larger than those used by Charles Edward Stuart’s army in that campaign

During World War I, it was widely thought that these cannons were one reason why this part of the coast was bombarded by the German Fleet as a “fortified coast”. In World War II the cannons were prudently removed, reputedly buried for safety, & returned to their former position after hostilities

19. Turn away from the cannons & walk down to the impressive South Green…

There’s a very elegant private house on the left. It’s said that 40% of the properties in the town are second homes

20. Turn left along Queen’s Road to the junction with Gardner Road

Cross the road & look for the Ferry Path footpath through the marshes on the right…

The Path follows a stream as it heads towards the estuary. This seems a mile away from the seashore & cliffs that we were walking along a few moments ago

21. At the end walk up to the mouth of the River Blyth

The course of the river passes through agricultural land between Laxfield & Halesworth, flowing through the estate of Heveningham Hall & the village of Walpole before being crossed by the A144 road & the East Suffolk Line to the south of Halesworth. East of Halesworth the river is canalised in places & has a clear flood plain with land being used as grazing marsh. At Blythburgh it enters the estuarine section of the river

The estuary mouth forms the main harbour area of Southwold & is still an active fishing harbour. The estuary is central to the plot of Peter Greenaway’s film Drowning by Numbers, being the scene of the final drowning

The river gives its name to the settlements of Blyford, indicating a formerly important ford over the river, & Blythburgh. The river’s name itself comes from an Old English word blithe meaning “gentle or pleasant”

22. Turn right & walk inland along the river bank…

…passing the Walberswick ferry. A ferry has operated across the River Blyth since 1236. It was always been a rowing boat until 1885 when a chain ferry was put into operation to take cars cattle & even elephants

This ran until 1940 when it was laid up the rowing boat service was resurrected. The main cargo nowadays is people, bicycles & dogs, but the essence of the Walberswick Ferry hasn’t actually changed very much for hundreds of years

23. There’s some rather lovely old fishing huts along here, many selling fresh seafood, plus others that have been converted into restaurants & cafes

On a day like this there’s no better place to be, walking along with all the activity on the boats & the smell of the sea in the warm air

There’s even a cockle stall!!

24. If you fancy a stop then the Harbour Inn is well worth a visit. Yet another Adnams establishment it’s described as a proper old fishermans’ pub

Continue alongside the river over the boardwalks path…

25. When we reach the footbridge across the river, it’s our sign to head back towards Southwold which looks magnificent across the marshes…

It’s now a straight, but interesting path back to the town

26. In the distance is Water Tower in the middle of Southwold Common, which was built in 1890. The tank held 40,000 gallons of water & was powered by huge sails. On St Valentine’s Day 1899 George Neller, a respected local man, died when his coat got caught in its machinery

In 1937 a new 150,000 gallon capacity Art Deco water tower was built next door. The then Southwold Borough Council bought the Old Water Tower before it came into the hands of successive water companies. It was returned to the Town Council for a nominal fee of £100 in 1987. The Old Water Tower has since been used as the Lifeboat museum & was later used by Adnams for a number of years

27. The path closes in through the gorse. At the fingerpost keep straight ahead…

This area has obviously suffered quite a serious fire recently, but amongst the ashes new shoots are appearing

28. Pass through the gate & turn right up the slightly wider track – note the sign!!

There’s a new project happening on the left – the Southwold Railway Steamworks

Planning consent was granted in 2016 for a Visitor Centre, Railway & Nature Reserve. The plan shows the project which will include a Visitor Centre building with cafe, shop, toilets, museum & engine shed, plus 11 chains of three foot gauge track, including a run parallel & close to the site of the original track as it approached Southwold Station

The project includes a 7¼ inch gauge miniature railway running around the site & eventually visitors will find over a quarter mile of track, in two gauges, which will be set in a landscaped Nature Reserve containing ponds, wild flower meadow & woodland

29. Be careful of ‘stray balls’ along this stretch as Southwold Golf Course is on the right…

…& some great allotments on the left

30. The path eventually reaches the main road where we turn left, cross & then turn right

This is Pier Avenue where we parked up at the start of the walk so follow it up & down the hill to arrive back at the pier

So…that’s our stroll around the quintessential English seaside town which is a place we’ll definitely return to

If you’ve never been to this part of Suffolk, then try it & combine the walk with our other one around Thorpeness, plus don’t forget fish & chips in Aldeburgh

It’s a beautiful part of the country so….

Go Walk!