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Walking in Suffolk © David Falk

Suffolk's Walking Festival

This year is a rather special one for those who love to ramble through Suffolk's countryside, along the coast and around the county's pretty market towns and medieval villages.

It is the tenth anniversary of The Suffolk Walking Festival (13th May - 4th June 2017) and the programme is packed with over 100 guided walks of varying lengths and levels of difficulty. From gentle one-mile strolls to the impressively ambitious 63 mile Mega Challenge (to be completed in 30 hours!) there is plenty to choose from.

Lesley Dolphin, producer and presenter at BBC Radio Suffolk, is patron of the festival and a keen walker herself. We asked her to share with us her thoughts on walking in Suffolk, and to pick out the highlights of this year's festival.

Lesley Dolphin, BBC Radio SuffolkLesley Dolphin, Producer/Presenter at BBC Radio Suffolk and patron of the festival

What is it about walking that you enjoy so much?

It makes me feel alive and in touch with my surroundings. I love the smells and sounds - when I'm walking to work through Ipswich I often catch a waft of bacon being cooked, and hear the children laughing as they head off to school. If I'm on the local Heath I know spring has arrived when the gorse blossom is out smelling of coconut and the birds are singing away.

Where in Suffolk do you enjoy walking and where is your favourite walk?

It's almost impossible to pick just one walk - I love Suffolk for its variety. When my boys were little we would visit Sudbury water meadows which look much the same as they did when the artist Thomas Gainsborough painted them.

These days I live in Ipswich very near to Bridgewood and really enjoy walking along the shore with views of the Orwell Bridge and across the river to Freston Tower. My favourite sound is of oyster catchers and curlews calling on the mudflats.

Freston Tower © David Parker / vividmind.uk
Freston Tower © David Parker / vividmind.uk

If you had to pick five walks to do from this 10th anniversary Suffolk Walking Festival programme, which ones would they be (and why)?

Discover Newmarket History and Heritage Walking Tour - 21st May. I love learning about our history - and this combines that with a walk!

Twin Peaks - 29th May. I love the humour here - a walk from Christchurch park to the Waterfront and then to Holywells Park! Ipswich is so underrated and anyone going on this walk will get to hear about Ipswich's amazing industrial history and will get to see some lovely parkland.

Westleton Heath Nightjar Walk - 2nd June. Although I've been lucky enough to see and hear nightjars before this would be so well worth doing. They make the most amazing sound!

Hearing Care Centre Charity Dog Walk & Breakfast - 20th May. This is a slightly longer walk around Newbourne and Waldringfield which is such a lovely area - so near to Ipswich and yet really remote. I love that it's raising money for hearing care dogs.

One of the Challenge Walks - 25th to 28th May. I would really love to do all four days following the Stour river but sadly I couldn't take all that time off work, so I'll pick just one of the days - probably day three as it will pass through some rolling Suffolk countryside that's really different.

Newmarket gallops (c) Visit England
Newmarket gallops (c) Visit England

In 2014, you undertook an impressive walk of 60 miles in 24 hours along the Suffolk coast. What were the highlights of this adventure and would you do it again?

This was such a fantastic experience - partly because of the most wonderful scenery but also because of the peopIe I walked with - Nick, David and Jayne [Nick and David were involved in organising the festival and Jayne is editor of the EADT Suffolk Magazine].

The idea to walk the coast in one go came about because I wanted to find a fundraising challenge that would inspire people to donate. I wasn't even sure it was possible! We had lots of support but it was a real adventure and it made me realise just how much of Suffolk there is to see.

Highlights included walking the Sailors Path from Aldeburgh to Snape at night and hearing the waders feeding on the river, seeing dozens of piggies snuggled up together for the night and hearing their snoring, and stopping in Tunstall Forest to look at the starry, starry sky. The sticky toffee pud at the Froize Inn at 2.30 am was pretty good too!

Would I do it again? I don't think that coastal walk could ever live up to the first time but I'm sure I could be persuaded to attempt another challenge elsewhere!

The Sailor's Path in Snape (c) Richard Law
The Sailor's Path in Snape (c) Richard Law

Finally, what tips have you got for people who would like to start going for walks regularly for pleasure or as part of a fitness routine?

I'm no expert, I just fell into this walking lark when someone invited me to join them, but the main thing must be comfortable footwear and a waterproof jacket - then just go for it and enjoy it!

Thank you Lesley!

Tickets for the Suffolk Walking Festival are available on the festival website; via the tourist information centres in Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich, Lavenham, Stowmarket or Sudbury; or via the festival box office (telephone 0333 666 3366)

Where do you like to go walking in Suffolk?

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2017 Suffolk Walking Festival