Suffolk Coast Path 3: Southwold - Hopton-on-Sea

Date walked: 20/09/2019

Time taken: 1.5 days

Distance: 34km

Ascent: 150m

web Suffolk Coast & Heaths waymark.jpg
Suffolk Coast and Heaths Waymark

The Suffolk Coast Path currently follows rights of way and permissive paths along the Suffolk Heritage Coast north from Felixstowe to Lowestoft South Pier.

I'm currently completing the walk in sections as a series of linear walks using public transport; circular routes that return by the Sandlings Walk (which I am also completing as a series of short walks); or "out and back" walks where neither public transport nor suitable circular walks can be devised. This report is the first of three that I shall be uploading (despite the report number!) It is more practical for me to walk the sections south to north and therefore simpler for the reports to be numbered in sequence from Felixstowe northwards.

Suffolk Coast Path 3: Southwold to Hopton-on-Sea

In many places the official route detours quite a long way inland and, currently, finishes at Lowestoft. The total length of the route is about 90 - 100 kms (60 to 65 miles) in length depending upon the choice of route taken. Between Southwold and Lowestoft it is possible to “straighten out” the route and follow the coast much more directly and Laurence Mitchell’s excellent Cicerone guide details these alternatives.

Some caution is required, particularly north of Southwold, around Benacre and Pakefield. High tides could trap the unwary up against cliffs, particularly around the Spring and Neap tide periods where they do come right up to the cliffs at several points. In bad weather, don’t even think about it. Cliff erosion is also an issue, so it may be sensible to check the Suffolk Coast & Heaths website for the latest news on coastal erosion and be prepared to turn back if it is unsafe to proceed. Check the tide tables for all the key sections of your planned walk, and make a note of them.

When we walked the section between Southwold and Lowestoft it was only a couple of days before the high Neap tides, however, the weather forecast was perfect and we set out shortly after High Tide at Southwold, which meant that by the time we reached Benacre and Pakefield the tide was well out. Even then, considerable care was needed negotiating some of the, still wet and slippery, sea defenses.

Public transport to and from Southwold is much less frequent than from Lowestoft, so it makes sense to plan your arrival/start from this end and walk back to Lowestoft, rather than the other way round.

So why do it? Because a Coast Path should follow the coast as much as is possible, and there is some fine coastal walking along this stretch and it really is a lovely walk if you get the tides and weather right.

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Southwold Lighthouse

Southwold Pier to Lowestoft Station

Southwold is a lovely and very fashionable seaside town complete with Adnam's Brewery, its white lighthouse (above) , iconic brightly coloured beach huts and pier.The pier is notable for its water clock, which is well worth a look in passing.

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Walking towards Southwold Pier

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The Water Clock, Southwold Pier

The waymarked Suffolk Coast Path and Sandlings go off inland to the west, shortly after the pier is passed. My route continued straight on along the coast towards Covehithe. Some care may be needed on the rocks here if the tide is still up as they may be wet and slippery. Once negotiated, the walking thereafter is straightforward all the way to Covehithe, where the SCP route may be re-joined. Our choice was to continue to Benacre Broad where, despite very low water levels, hundreds of feral Barnacle Geese were present. In early 2000 a White-tailed Eagle took up temporary residence here, together with some Hooded Crows, much to the delight of local birders. In the winter months the broad and sea here can offer good coastal birding most years, usually by walking out and back along the cliff top from Covehithe.

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Near Benacre Broad

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Benacre Broad in late September

Beyond Benacre the main SCP is re-joined and followed all the way to Kessingland, where, again, there is an inland option that avoids walking beneath Pakefield Cliffs (high tides can, again, catch out the unwary here). At low tide and in good weather, the beach continues to offer a very pleasant alternative route into Lowestoft.

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Kessingland Beach

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Approaching Lowestoft along the beach.

our_route.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Length: 16.5 miles 26.6 km Ascent: +114m -115m Naismith: 5h 30m
Completed on 12.09.2019

If you decide to make your own way and continue north towards Hopton-on-Sea and Norfolk, there is not yet a designated National Trail path, and the section around Corton Cliffs is especially problematic (footpaths along the cliff tops have recently fallen into the sea and, even at low tide, there currently appears to be no way through below them. Sections of the sea defenses and promenades are in a very bad state and currently best left well alone, and I’ve deliberately not suggested any route beyond Corton as the “best” (only?) option currently appears to be along a busy road that currently has no footpath.

I’ve walked all the Norfolk Coast Path from Heacham to Hopton-on-Sea, and so was quite keen to join that walk to the start of the Suffolk Coast Path. Perhaps others may feel that it may be best to wait for the “official” National Coast Path route to be designated before going beyond Corton. I can’t pretend that it’s pleasant but it is only for a mile or so.

Lowestoft Station to Hopton-on-Sea

There are good road, rail and bus links from Lowestoft to Norwich and to Ipswich.
There is no official National Trail for this section yet, but I'd recommend walking past the fishing dock to the sea.When I was a child it was possible to cross the harbour by walking across from boat to boat, the trawlers and drifters being so closely moored together (as it was in Great Yarmouth). If anyone tried it today in either harbour it would probably end very badly, certainly very wet!
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The Fishing Dock

A visit to Ness Point, the most Easterly point on Britain, should be the next point of call. The sheer size of the marker caught me by surprise the first time that a saw it, hence the 55 litre rucksack up against it to give some sense of scale.
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Ness Point

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Ness Point plaque detail

From Ness Point the walk continues northwards along the sea wall past the lighthouse and on towards Gunton Warren.
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Lowestoft lighthouse

Gunton Warren Nature Reserve, managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, is the only remnant of the Suffolk Coast that still has a full range of natural habitats from shingle, sand dune, vegetated cliffs and lowland heath and it supports a wide variety of species.

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Gunton Warren

Beyond Gunton the quality of the walking deteriorates and it is necessary to leave the beach and take the promenade and slope up to the village. The cliff top footpath here has recently disappeared into the sea and the continuation onwards to the National Trail at Hopton-on-Sea in Norfolk is disappointing at present. Hopefully by 2020 better alternatives will be available.

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Length (as shown on the map above): 6.5 km (4.0 miles) Ascent: +29m -21m Naismith: 1h 20m

Completed (in both directions) on 20.09.2019

Recommended Reading

Laurence Mitchell (2017) Suffolk Coast and Heaths Walks Cicerone
OS Explorer Maps: OL 40 The Broads
231 Southwold and Bungay

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