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Dunwich Heath in Suffolk

GUEST BLOG: Clair, Julian and Sam escape to Suffolk in Search of Adventure

This year we decided to take a break from our usual 2 weeks in France and explore a little of our own green and pleasant land. As our 13-year-old son Sam hurtles towards adulthood at an alarming rate, we are determined to spend some quality time with him, making memories that don't include battling it out with a virtual cyber world.
Julian and Sam ride a boat along the River WaveneyJulian and Sam at the helm on the River Waveney


After a long, but not as long as we'd feared, drive we found our way to Cliff House Holiday Park, near Dunwich. By this point it was dark, so we couldn’t really make out much of our surroundings. Reception was closed but we had been pre-warned to make our way to the on-site bar and restaurant: The 12 Lost Churches. A warm welcome and well-earned tipple promptly greeted us, and we were soon in possession of a welcome pack and keys to our lodge. Following the map, we passed through a lively camp-site where families gathered round tents chatting, playing games and enjoying being together. The lodge area, set away from the tent and tourer pitches, were more serene and the lodge itself was ideal; neat, compact and well-equipped – a perfect base for our Suffolk escape.
Cycling along reed beds and marshland on Day 2Cycling along reed beds and marshland on Day 2

Day 1: Cycle Ride 1 to Sizewell Beach

After a quick trip to Saxmundham to pick up provisions for the week, we prepared the bikes and armed ourselves with an OS map and plotted our route. After heading off and taking a wrong turn, we were rapidly ushered off private land just a short walk from the holiday park. However, after a quick detour to take in the spectacular views from the cliff edge, near the visitor centre at RSPB Minsmere, we were back on track. With our newly acquired knowledge we picked another circular route and in no time at all we were whizzing through woods, flying across fields and careering along country lanes.

Our route took us through the pretty hamlet of Eastbridge and the charming village inn, The Eels Foot, which seemed like a perfect place for a quick break. After snacking on a delicious bowl of crispy chips we vowed to come back one evening to sample the menu more thoroughly. Suitably refreshed we continued our route to Sizewell Beach; a destination with an odd mixture of wild nature habitats, co-existing alongside towering man-made structures that are, in themselves, not without charm. The last leg of the journey along the beach and back to Minsmere wasn’t completely without its challenges, but the views and peacefulness of our surroundings distracted us from our weariness.


Sizewell BeachMagnificent views of Sizewell Beach 

Day 2: Cycle ride 2 to Southwold

Taking the road to Dunwich, followed by the Westleton Road to the Bridleway, we turned off at Bridge Barn. The Bridleway skirts woodland on one side and spectacular views of the marshes towards the sea, before heading along a well-maintained path mostly suitable for bikes.

The path leads to the picture postcard town of Walberswick, which is as quaint as its name suggests. Making a mental note to come back for further exploration we continued onwards to reach our goal for today’s adventure - Southwold. We followed the well-trodden footpath along the River Blyth, passing gently bobbing vessels, before crossing the bridge and following Palmers Lane. Southwold itself is charming; it has managed to maintain its old-fashioned seaside quality and charm, supported by a wonderful selection of independent shops, the obligatory gift shop and only a smattering of high-street chains. Continuing by foot, we wandered down to the seafront for an ice cream before making our way along the promenade to the pier. Seduced by delicious smells emanating from The Beach Café, we decided to sample some well-earned fish and chips. Reassuringly busy, and with a bit of a wait, Sam and I took full advantage and headed to the penny slots in the adjacent arcade, leaving Julian to wait for the order. And boy, it was worth the wait! Paper-wrapped food in hand, we took a gentle stroll along the pier, enjoying the views and comparing our freakish reflections in the Wacky Wall of Mirrors.

Retracing our route back, we made a quick pitstop at The Bell Inn in Walberswick to dodge the rain storm that had been brewing since we left Southwold, before heading on back to the lodge.


Southwold PierHead to Under the Pier Show on Southwold Pier for quirky fun

DAY 3: A treasure hunt!

Sam’s choice of activity today satisfied his obsession with collecting ‘treasure’. With a metal detector in hand (a recent birthday present), we headed to the beach for a spot of treasure hunting. We took the convenient steps from the holiday park and walked slowly along the shoreline, stopping intermittently as it bleeped. I, on the other hand, walked ahead, stopped to read my book and listened to the soothing sound of the waves lapping over the pebbles. Once a sufficient amount of bounty had been collected, we made our way towards the National Trust’s Coastguard Cottages Tea Room at Dunwich, indulging in yummy cream teas and frothy hot chocolate.


Beachcombing and treasure hunting on the beachDiscovering treasures at Dunwich Beach

DAY 4: Shopping, eating and lovely market towns

Today we planned to hire a boat and cruise the River Waveney, but our ad-hoc approach of driving to a marina in Beccles expecting to come across a boat hire facility, did not have the desired outcome. After an hour wandering around, we did what we should have done in the first place and handed it over to Google. We quickly found and hired a boat for the following day. On the plus side, Beccles is a gorgeous market town perfect for nonchalantly exploring its streets and independent shops. There is even an outdoor lido; unfortunately, we hadn’t brought our swimsuits! Spurred on by pangs of hunger, Sam decided that he wanted to eat at The Bell Inn at Walberswick, so we enjoyed a delicious lunch there, followed by a lovely walk along the beach, through sandy dunes.
Bridleway from Dunwich to WalberswickViews during a cycle ride from Dunwich to Walberswick

DAY 5: Boating on the River Waveney

Very excited about today’s adventure, we headed to the Waveney River Centre. Although officially in Norfolk, a 2-minute hop across the river on the Ternpike Ferry takes you back into Suffolk. The Centre is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but we found it well organised and the staff very friendly. We were shown to our ‘Pilot’ boat: a 21 ft vessel fitted with a toilet, wash basin and hob which is suitable for up to 6 people and is dog friendly. After a quick lesson, we were off; meandering our way down the river towards Beccles. A wonderful way to spend an afternoon, we all took turns at the helm, with varying degrees of competence and more than a few tousles with the bank and over-hanging foliage. Sam, hesitant at first, soon became an expert - even performing a tight U-turn on the way back! We sat back and enjoyed the passing landscape and nature – the perfect way to relax and unwind.


Boating on the River WaveneyScenic views along the River Waveney

DAY 6: Cycle ride 3 to Turnstall Forest

Back on the bikes for our final day, we found what looked like a fairly circular path around the Turnstall Forest, near Snape. However, on arrival at the Sandgalls car park in the north of Tunstall we discovered ‘The Viking Trail’, a 10-mile forest trail originally mapped out by motorcycle enduro events but has since been extended and enhanced by the Turnstall and Rendlesham Off-road Group (TROG). Although red graded, don’t be put off! It’s largely due to its width rather than severity. I managed to make it around on my 25-year-old ladies Apollo bike without too much difficulty! The trail is extremely well signposted and offers a shortcut if you want to reduce its length. Perfect family fun, Julian and Sam raced ahead squealing in delight at the bumps, jumps and sharp bends, whilst I took it slightly more cautiously and enjoyed the forest scenery.
That evening, we revisited The Eels Foot Inn to indulge in some of their cuisine. Once we got a table, we then had to decide from a list of mouth-watering options. I went for the Butternut spinach and chickpea curry, which was delicious. (Julian and Sam's meals were equally delicious!). The staff were attentive and friendly, the atmosphere was relaxed and homely; with live folk music playing in the other part of the bar, it was a wonderful way to spend the final evening of our trip.
Julian on Dunwich BeachJulian and Sam taking in the views and relaxing on Dunwich Beach

Day 7: Homeward bound

Sad to be going home, with so much to still see and do, we travelled back via Flatford and spent a couple of hours exploring the John Constable Exhibition and wandering through the hamlet, which inspired his greatest works. Clearly a visitor destination which has managed to maintain its uniqueness and authenticity. After picnicking on the leftover food supplies from the week, we continued our long journey home, looking forward to all the things we would do on our next visit to Suffolk.


Guest blog by Clair Matthews


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