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Friday, 17 January 2014

The Aftermath of the 2013 Storm Surge Dunwich to Walberswick

Floods and dykes at Dingle Marsh

A 8 mile beach walk to witness the damage caused by the 2013 Storm Surge

The December 2013 Storm Surge caused widespread flooding of the marshes between Dunwich and Walberswick and along the Blyth estuary, closing the main A12 road at Blythburgh for three days. With most of the waters receded, this was the first opportunity to witness the damage caused to this vulnerable section of coastal marsh. Damage to the boardwalks and bridges have currently blocked access along the Suffolk Coast Path although the Beach Route is still accessible providing the tide is right.

Dunwich to Walberswick Beach Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
DunwichView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
WalberswickView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
8 miles
Walk difficulty
Heavy going across shingle
Terrain
Shingle beach throughout
Obstacles
Due to the storm surge damage, the shingle is regularly breached at high tide making the route inaccessible. Consult the Southwold tide times and allow for walking 2-3 hours either side of low tide.

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2014-01-11
Walk Time
10:00 to 15:00
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Bright sunny day with clear blue skies. Southerly breeze.

Walk Notes

The storm surge of December 2013 was the worse for 60 years bringing devastation and destruction to both Norfolk and Suffolk. Although the area around the Blyth estuary is not hugely populated it nonetheless is very vulnerable to surges, especially since 2006 when funding to maintain the shingle bank around the bay from Walberswick to Dunwich was withdrawn. The shingle has since been breached by successive surges and spring tides but this particular surge wrought more devastating changes, washing masses of shingle across the marshland behind it. The result is a vast stretch of this coast where the flattened shingle is now regularly breached by high tides.

A full report of the damage around Walberswick is contained in the January edition of the Walberswick Village News and is quoted here:

The storm surge in the first week of December caused considerable damage to the Village's surrounding environment but property damage was far less than that experienced by some other communities along the east coast. The peak water level was higher than that in 2007 but was still 4 feet below the flood defence walls. It was not just the height of water that caused the damage, but rather the speed at which the surge engulfed the area.

Water entered the ground floors of properties at the end of Ferry Road and also the huts by the ferry, leaving behind thick silt that will have to be cleared. Beach huts around the camp site were moved and damaged. The camp site, Cliff Field and the caravan site were covered in reed litter to a depth of 2 feet. The dunes and shingle ridge have been badly eroded and towards Dunwich the ridge had been breached causing more water to enter the marsh each high tide. The Blyth river wall on the Walberswick side has been breached near the Ferry Road car park, opposite the Harbour Inn and to the west of the Bailey Bridge as a result the marshes between here and Blythburgh have been flooded and flood water came within 3 feet of properties at the bottom of the Lea. The marshes of the Nature Reserve between here and Dunwich are badly damaged with bridges and board walks being torn up and reed beds flattened.

Fortunately the Environment Agency moved fast to fill the breaches in the river bank, and had machinery in place to start work less than w=one week later.

The power of the tide is quite awe-inspiring and walking along the beach from Dunwich one soon comes to the flattened area of shingle that now covers most of the distance to Walberswick. Masses of shingle have been swept across the marshes with some residual flooding being caught in its gulleys. Even the remaining heightened bank at each end has been eaten into and at the Walberswick end it has become the resting place of one of the footbridges that was swept away by the floods. A Suffolk Coast Path marker on its woodwork indicates that the long distance footpath across the marsh is now blocked. This was later substantiated by notices that have been placed along the footpaths leading into the marshes from Walberswick. The notices include a map with markers pointing out the positions where the bridges have been washed away.

The recommended alternative route for the Suffolk Coast Path is via Hoist Covert, but the footpath leading down to this area has a notice placed at its head, stating 'Footpath Closed due to flooding'. Judging by the waterlogged footpaths down to this point one can fully understand this closure. However, speaking with a family who proceeded along the route to investigate gave a little more insight. The path is passable but extremely boggy and muddy with the result of heavily soiled boots and trousers. Hopefully this path will eventually dry out with a sustained period of dry weather providing full access across the marsh to Dunwich. The path from the Westwood Windmill towards Dunwich appears to be intact with plenty of walkers seen heading along this stretch. The boardwalks and bridges were a part of an upgrade to the footpaths that was undertaken during the autumn of 2013 and it seems such a shame that a lot of this effort has now gone to waste.

The footbridge across the Dunwich River by the Town Salts, that also carries the Coast Path, appears to be intact, but this is inaccessible from the footpaths from Walberswick village, with the boardwalks connecting the bridge to the footpath swept away leaving a boggy quagmire to negotiate. Even if it was possible to get to this bridge, the only route forward would be towards the beach as the next bridge is one that has been swept away and is now lying by the shingle bank. The bridge by the car park and the two bridges within Walberswick remain intact.

With the Hoist Covert route flooded and the beach route being breached at high tide this leaves the only feasible alternative route for the Suffolk Coast Path being the Sandlings path around the perimeter of the marshes and through Dunwich forest which is a considerable extra distance. The beach route is passable, as shown by this walk, but consideration must be given to the state of the tide. On this particular occasion we left 3 hours before low tide and this gave ample time to navigate in both directions and have a break at Walberswick.

With the flattened section of the shingle bank allowing ingress from high tides and no concern or funding from the authorities to repair this bank it seems inevitable the these marshes will become saltmarsh in the near future. The major breaches which allowed a flow of water between marsh and sea during the surge have now been sealed by tidal action but their position is noticeably visible by the signs of where the water flowed across the overtopped shingle. Calmer weather usually brings a natural seal to the breach as can be seen at the Suffolk coastal broads of Easton, Covehithe and Benacre which are continually being breached and sealed by the tide, although the overall action is one of steady erosion with up to 5 metres of land being lost each year at these locations. I suspect a similar scenario will unfold along this section of coast with the coastline steadily retreating into the marsh.

On a final note, returning along the beach around low tide, the most significant observation revealed by the low tide was the amount of concrete and metal that littered the shore line. There are also noticeable areas of rocky land poking out from under the shingle. Speaking with one of the many rod fishermen who regularly use this beach confirmed suspicions as to the source of this debris. This chap was a regular at the beach, kitted out in hat and thick clothing against the cool breezes. We had exchanged casual greetings on our way up to Walberswick, and recognising us returning had prompted a friendly conversation. Although much of the banter was concerning the tides and the flooding, this chap, who had seen many years working along the coast, confirmed that the debris was all part of old WWII defences. He had been part of a team who had to remove the dreaded Dragons Teeth that had been laid during the war to prevent tank landings on the beach. These metal spikes were a hazard to all and sundry and had been deployed all the way down this coast. '...and mines' he also declared with testament to finding a mine that poked out of the shingle. It is common knowledge that this area is always having old WWII ordnance washed up, with regular controlled detonations being undertaken by Army bomb disposal units. He assured us that one of the dykes up by Walberswick is full of old ammunition, washed in there by storm surges.

As for the fishing, it had been a poor day. One small dab and one whiting.

Walberswick houses on stilts proving a sensible way to escape the floods
Walberswick houses on stilts proving a sensible way to escape the floods

Directions

Beach walk between Dunwich and Walberswick with a short footpath section around Walberswick.

From the beach car park at Dunwich head down to the beach. The shingle bank stretches around Sole Bay with Southwold in the distance, easily visible by its distinctive lighthouse. The shingle bank flattens giving some picturesque views across the marshes. Excellent views can be had of Southwold in the north and Sizewell to the south. Continue along the shingle up to the river piers. Cross over the dunes and follow the path down to Wallys Bridge, named after Keith ‘Wally’ Webb who died in July 2012 and who was was co-founder of the British Open Crabbing Championship as well as continuing to restoring the bridge.

Follow Ferry road away from the river. The Bell pub is off to the left before the village green. Continue through the village, following the road as it turns a sharp right. Continue past the Anchor pub and take the footpath opposite the first road on the right. This gives some great views over the marshes. Continue down the footpath and take the first footpath off to the left. Follow this down to the metal sea defences around the car park. Turn right around the marsh side of the defences and across the bridge which leads onto a path to the dunes and the beach. Return along the beach.

Coast Path footbridge now laying against the shingle bank, swept down by flood waters
Coast Path footbridge now laying against the shingle bank, swept down by flood waters

Pubs

The Bell Inn, Walberswick View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
Ferry Road, Walberswick
Website

This 600 year old pub still retains the original worn flagstones on its bar floor. There is lots of charm and character about this historic building full of wonky steps, ill fitting door and oak beams and numerous intimate rooms with numerous photos and artifacts decorating the uneven walls. A good selection of Adnams ales is on offer with snack, sandwiches and the usual pub food on offer. Large grassed garden area and children and dogs are welcome.

It is said that a ghost of a fisherman can sometimes be seen sitting in the smoking room. There was also a tunnel that led to the old vicarage near the ferry, part of which was discovered when building work was being carried out.

Review

Walberswick is a haven for tourists and day trippers with the Bell often being very busy. On this occasion it was quiet and peaceful, which I much prefer. A roaring log fire with two chairs either side of the open fireplace was a perfect place to sit, placing ones glasses on the stone hearth. A rewarding pint of Adnams Old suited the occasion. A most satisfying drink in a most satisfying surrounding and a most satisfying fire.

Boardwalks swept away destroying access to a surviving footbridge
Boardwalks swept away destroying access to a surviving footbridge

Features

Walberswick and Dingle MarshesView in OS Map | View in Google Map

During the early middle ages the River Blyth flowed south towards Dunwich where it entered the sea where it was joined by the Dunwich river. Storms in the 13th and 14th centuries blocked up the harbour at Dunwich and changed the course of the river with the Dunwich River course changed to flow north to the outlet east of Walberswick. This not only led to the decline of Dunwich as a port but also led to Walberswick relocating from a point on the marshes to its present position. This original area is still known as Oldtown Marshes although the date of its enclosure is uncertain. However, it is known that embankments had been constructed along the river edge by 1587 along with embankments to Dingle and Reedland Marshes. Ponds throughout the area were constructed during the 20th century, primarily as wildlife conservation.

References
Fishermen at Dunwich
Fishermen at Dunwich

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-15

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