Car-free break in the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB
Updated: Jan 10
As we launch our Green Traveller's Guide to Suffolk Coast and Heaths, Juliette Dyke discovers a slower way to see the sights as she travels under her own steam and on buses, trains and a rather quaint ferry.
I’m the first to admit that I’m a nervous driver. As a Londoner, it’s not a problem as I have access to a plentiful supply of tubes, trains and buses, and so can merrily ignore the car for weeks at a time.
However, when it comes to exploring the countryside, this state of denial becomes a bit of an issue. Rural public transport can be patchy and some bus services have suffered badly from cutbacks in recent years. Often it seems much easier just to hop in the car to reach the nearest lovely garden or historic house (with my boyfriend at the wheel yet again, bribed heavily with promises of cake), rather than spend time pouring over train timetables and OS maps in order to figure out how we’ll get there.
However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that congestion is becoming a real problem in many popular and beautiful parts of our countryside. So when I decided to explore Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB, I was keen to prove that it is possible to travel around without clogging up its narrow country lanes. After all, with three long distance paths and miles of cycle routes, bridleways and plenty of open access land, it sounds like an ideal place for the car-less to visit.
My first port of call was Southwold on the northern edge of the AONB, which is easily reached by train to nearby Halesworth, followed by a short bus journey into town.
From there you can take the ‘ferry’ from Southwold to Walberswick, which actually consists of rowing boat expertly navigated by one lady captain who charges 90p each way for what has to be the most memorable morning commute in England.
Once across, it’s a short stroll into Walberswick, or you can then pick up the scenic Suffolk Coast Path to Dunwich, either along the shingle beach or inland via Walberswick Nature Reserve and DIngle Marshes or along the edge of Dunwich Forest.
For cyclists, you can bring your bike on the train then join the local cycle routes from Ipswich and Woodbridge, or park at Darsham and Halesworth and then access the area by bike from there.
Woodbridge itself is a great base for exploring some of the most popular local tourist attractions. There are regular bus services to Snape Maltings and the pretty coastal town of Aldeburgh, and the ancient Saxon burial ground of Sutton Hoo is within walking distance along the Deben Estuary. The National Trust will even give you a discount on your entry fee if you arrive without a car.
So would I do it again? Well the best thing about exploring the AONB on foot was discovering all those quiet, hidden corners that I would never have seen by car. Stopping to ask locals for directions would often lead to friendly chats, offers of tea and some excellent insider recommendations. Sometimes it was frustrating having to wait for a bus and it did require a little extra organisation, but if you’re prepared to slow down, savour the details, and be open to the places and faces that come your way, then you’re in for an absolutely priceless experience.
For bus timetables and details about the Coast Link service, visit www.suffolkonboard.com
For information on walking and cycling routes visit www.discoversuffolk.org.uk
For train timetables, visit www.greateranglia.co.uk
Where to stay
The Crown Inn is a 15th century smugglers inn, close to Snape Maltings and its world famous concert hall. They offer two en-suite B&B rooms, both stylishly decorated but still retaining a traditional feel with their old beams and sloping floors.
Cheerful hosts Gary and Teresa Cook have run the Crown Inn since 2007 and are justifiably proud of their menu which includes their own home reared meats and produce from the allotment. Amongst the locally sourced dishes I tried were a delicate goat’s cheese tart, made with milk from their Anglo Nubian goats, and Dover Sole landed at Orford Quay that same morning. By all accounts the potted pork is also one of the stars of the menu, but having met Gary and Tessa’s resident pigs and even learned their names, I didn’t have the heart to order it. Which, according to the locals, makes me a big ‘city softie’.
The Crown Inn is only a five minute walk to Snape Maltings, where you can enjoy lunch at Café 1885 or a sit outside the Granary Tea Room overlooking the River Alde and tuck in to a delicious cream tea.
By Juliette Dyke