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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Leiston to Westwood Marsh

The old Westwood Marsh Pumping Mill

A walk encompassing the Westwood Marshes footpath into a circular route from Leiston

The Westwood Marshes footpath is little gem of a path that links the Newdelight Walks with the Suffolk Coast Path through the Westwood marshes. The route for this walk uses this path as the ultimate destination from Leiston but shorter alternatives to include this path are also detailed.

Leiston to Westwood Marshes Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
LeistonView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Westwood MarshView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
4 miles
Walk difficulty
Easy walking
Terrain
Footpaths, tracks, country lanes
Obstacles
The marsh footpath can become very muddy during bad weather.

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2016-03-25
Walk Time
08:30 to 15:00
Walkers
Griffmonster
Weather Conditions
Sunny spring day

Walk Notes

The total distance of this walk is 18 miles making it a good full days hike. This may seem somewhat overkill to access a short 1.5 mile marshland path. However this short path is worth the effort and the rest of the route is just as awe-inspiring, meandering through Suffolk's renowned Sandlings landscape.

It is true that there is a car park at the head of the valley where the marshes path starts. A simple walk could be tailored from this point, either as a linear route or, using the Sandlings Path, making a circular walk via either Dunwich or Walberswick. Alternatively one could set a circular route from Eastbridge where this walk passes through in each direction.

The outward bound route from Leiston follows the old course of the former Blythburgh to Aldeburgh road. Some 19th century antiquarians have insinuated that this as an old Roman road (see Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, 1774, pp225-226) due to it being ...a road nearly in a straight line from Aldeburgh to Beccles, crossing the little Minsmere near a place called East Bridge Street. From a mapping overview it does appear to be fairly straight but from a navigation perspective it is full of short twists and turns. Whether modern day thought persists with the idea of this being of Roman origin is unknown.

Judging by John Careys map of 1794, there is no direct route through to Aldeburgh. The map does depict a straight line south from Beccles but beyond Eastbridge the road splits with a westward fork heading to Leiston and Snape whilst the easterly fork leads to Thorpe, which is the location of the modern day village of Thorpeness.

This old road is still accessible for anyone travelling on foot or bicycle, with country lanes that follow its course intermingled with paths and tracks where modern day realignments have taken precedence on its route. From Leiston the path is accessed via Lovers lane and a track leads through to Eastbridge. A section of lane heading towards Minsmere is then followed before more tracks and lanes to navigate around the eastern flanks of Westleton. Beyond Westleton a footpath meets the modern day road to Blythburgh. Although this is nothing more than a country lane, it is certainly not suitable for walking and can be somewhat unnerving, dangerous even, for a cyclist. Despite its rural setting, this road is a busy thoroughfare that links Blythburgh and Theberton and is used as a rat run for drivers heading to and from Sizewell Power Station. From personal experience of driving this road I can well attest that many of its motorists drive without thought or consideration to either walkers, cyclists or the abundant wildlife that crosses the road. I would strongly recommend avoiding this at all costs.

Luckily there is a footpath that leads across the fields and is a mere 20 yards up the road from where the old route joins. The 20 yards is on a clear section of road with a small verge which makes this relatively safe to navigate before heading away on the footpath down into the valley of the Dunwich River. Tucked in these meadows and hemmed in by forest to the north is a group of buildings which collectively take the name of Potton Hall. Such a moniker inspires one to think that this should be an old manor house, or at least the site of such an ancient building. However, little can be found about the history of these buildings or the name of Potton although one travel website alludes to the main house as dating from the 16th century. The hall does appear on OS maps from the late 19th century but no reference to the name of Potton can be found in old publications. This area is in Westleton Parish and is on the boundary of a medieval village known as Hinton. The name of Hinton is reflected in the landscape and Hinton Hall still exists to this day which is not far off from Potton Hall. John Careys 1794 map depicts the areas of Hinton and Hinton High Ash but there is no reference to Potton which appears odd if this was indeed an old manor house to a parish of Potton. Maybe we could speculate that the name was adopted by a former owner of the buildings who wanted a grand title for their home, or maybe it was some sort of Victorian folly. Who knows? This is currently a mystery but if more information is discovered, it will be updated on this page. Today the buildings have all been renovated and incorporate an audio recording studio, a concert hall and holiday lets, together with an accompanying camping ground.

So, onwards, through Dunwich forest and following the Sandlings Trail through to where the Westwood Marshes path begins. This is an area known as Newdelight Walks, at the crossroads locally known as Five Fingers Post. The actual Five Finger Post, a direction marker that this is named after, no longer exists although there is a four finger post set on the earthen bank by the road. I have seen this post knocked down a couple of occasions by collisions with a speeding cars, they must have been doing a rate of knots to mount the bank! The crossroads have a history of motoring accidents. Sited at the bottom of the hill after a long straight section of road leading down from Blythburgh which itself is full of hidden dips makes a hazard for any unwary driver, least of all those who appear to see this road as a racetrack. Some say that the collisions and accidents at this spot are caused by the ghost of Anne Blakemore, the girl who was allegedly murdered by Black Toby in 1750 (see the walk Down the Blyth Valley in Pursuit of Black Shuck for details of the legend of Black Toby). This local legend states that she haunts the crossroads, running out in front of cars in her blue dress, especially on the anniversary of her death, namely June 24th. I am more inclined to think these collisions are caused by mad drivers who do not restrict their speed when approaching the cross roads.

The marsh path starts with a straight section into the wooded Fen Covert and Fen Hill before opening out onto Westwood Marsh which is all part of the Walberswick National Nature Reserve. This initial section is very boggy but there are boardwalks across the worse of the areas. The rest is a well trodden path which in places does suffer from becoming very muddy during wet weather, such as on this occasion. Despite this, it is well used and most of the muddy areas have 'stepping stones' made out of any available material such as sticks and logs.

Eventually the path rises out onto the broad expanse of marsh where the surface is better drained. From this point onwards one can experience Westwood Marshes in their full glory. Tall reeds. Big skies. Wildlife an ever constant distraction. Dingle Great Hill sits ahead looking like an island in the marsh. Dunwich forest rises on the slopes of the valley to the south and on the north is the high ground above Walberswick where the distinctive Westwood Lodge sits on watch across the marsh. Historically the marshes were known as Pauls Fen and East Fen and were enclosed in the late 1500's with the marsh subsequently being drained for agricultural use in the 17th century. This lasted until WWII when the marshes were once again flooded as part of the coastal defence against German invasion.

At one point a track can be distinctly seen leading down from Dunwich forest to the marsh. Stop to observe this and take a mental line from this track and across the marsh to Westwood lodge which sits proud atop the opposite side of the valley. This defines the route of an old medieval road that linked Blythburgh and Dunwich when the town was a major sea port. The point where this track crossed the marsh path is most likely where an old bridge once stood, known as Stonehill Bridge, which crossed the unnamed river that flows alongside the marsh path. On the Dunwich side of this old road, sitting in what is now the marsh, is the location of the medieval village of Hethern and the hillside beyond was the site for a fortification known as Stonehill Castle. For more information on all of these lost features refer to the walk In Search of the lost Suffolk village of Hethern in which there are full details of historical records that record these lost landmarks.

The old marsh mill sits on the horizon and is the object to aim for although one cannot go wrong on this footpath. The path finally rises onto the embankment that carries the Suffolk Coat Path with the mill a few yards along it towards Walberswick. Take some time out to view this relic from the past before continuing the walk, following the Coast Path towards Dunwich. Where the path heads towards Dingle hill, depart from the main route and take the path down onto the shingle beach where a beach walk whets ones appetite ready for refreshments at either Dunwich beach cafe or the Ship Inn.

The return route heads across Dunwich Heath and down into Eastbridge which is typical of the Sandlings area, full of heather, sections of forest and open meadows with views of the coast. From Eastbridge the route proceeds up Potter Street and across the fields, past Leiston Abbey back to Leiston. More details of Leiston Abbey can be found on a the Griffmonster walk In Search of Leiston Abbey.

Aldehurst Nature Reserve taking shape
Aldehurst Nature Reserve taking shape

Directions

A circular route from leiston, via Eastbridge to the Westwood Marsh Path, returning via Dunwich

From Leiston town centre, take Valley road out of town. Just past the railway arch, take the footpath which is somewhat hidden on the left by the junction to the sewage farm. The path leads past the newly created Aldhurst Farm Nature Reserve and out onto Lovers Lane. Turn left and follow the road up the hill. Take care on this section which can be busy especially during ruch hour times. At the top of the hill proceed straight ahead on the track past Kenton Hills woods. Keep to the track for a mile or so until it bears left past a house and leads out onto the Eastbridge road. turn right and continue into Eastbridge.

Pass through the village and out on the road towards Minsmere. This goes over the river bridge and through an avenue of trees. Where the road takes a sharp right, continue on the track straight ahead. Keep to this track to the far end where it meets a road junction. Proceed on the road straight ahead. At the far end where the road junctions with the Dunwich road, continue straight over and onto the footpath leading straight ahead. This eventually emerges onto the Blythburgh road. Continue along the road for 20 yards and take the footpath on the right. This leads diagonally across a field and through some trees before descending down to Potton Hall. Keep to the track past the hall and onwards straight ahead where a style leads into the woods beyond. The footpath leads up a hill and joins the Sandlings Trail. Follow the waymarkers for this route. It takes a right turn in the woods, then leads out to the road. Go straight across, and follow the trail on the left which heads up to Newdelight Walks.

As the path leads out to an open area, soon after a map of the area, one will find the Marsh path on the right. If the car park is reached then one has gone too far. The marsh path leads into some sparse body woodland. keep to this, there are no other paths that lead off this path. It will eventually lead out through the Westwood marshes.

The path eventually leads across a raised bank - continue straight over. Soon after it joins the Suffolk Coast path on a raised defence bank. Turn right and follow this path. where a path diverges towards the beach, take this and then follow the shingle bank along the coast to Dunwich. As Dunwich approaches walk on the landward side of the shingle which provides an easier path. Proceed through the beach car park and head to the entrance road on the far side. The road leads round to a junction. On the right is The ship Inn. On the left, by the side of the house is a footpath leading up the cliffs. Take this. This follows the cliff top, past the ruins of Greyfriars Abbey, and through Greyfriars Wood.at the far end of the wood the path turns to head inland. This passes a row of cottages and leads out onto the Dunwich road. Go straight ahead. Soon after, turn left at the track marked with both Coast Path and Sandlings Waymarkers. Proceed through the woods and then across a road. Keep to the path ignoring all other routes and waymarkers. This leads across Dunwich Heath and eventually crosses the Minsmere road. go straight ahead and across the meadow where there are views of the coast. /keep to the path at the edge of the meadow. At the far end it leads into more woodland and down onto the Eastbridge road. go straight ahead and follow the road into Eastbridge.

At Eastbridge bear right at the junction just before the pub, then bear left on the road by the village sign. Keep to this until it meets a crossroads. Turn left and follow the lane up to the main road. Turn left and cross the main road and there is a footpath diagonally across the fields to Leiston abbey. Pass by the abbey and onto the access track which leads up to the road. Cross straight over the road and follow the path onwards. This leads across a field then behind the first houses of Leiston, eventually emerge onto the main road. Keep ahead along the road until the traffic lights, turn left to return to the start of the walk.

more boardwalksPath down from Dunwich forest to the marsh
On the left more boardwalks; On the right Path down from Dunwich forest to the marsh

Pubs

The Ship, Dunwich View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
The Ship, Dunwich
Website

The Ship is part of a portfolio of inns, restaurants and hotels owned and managed by Agellus Hotels Limited which specialises in distinctive properties offering quality food and accommodation and guest ales.

This 16th century Inn was previously known as The Barnes Inn after the family that once owned the village. There is a roaring wood fire in winter, and a garden complete with a 300 year old knarled fig tree for the summer. The pub offers the usual Adnams ales as well as regularly changing guest ales from a local small Suffolk or Norfolk brewers including Mauldons, Blackfriars and Earl Soham.

The pub is said to be home to a ghost in the attic room. A tale told by a previous owner relates how one dark night she awoke to find a mysterious ghostly figure sitting on the end of her bed. The figure got up and walked through the wall. To add to the intrigue, years later it was found that there was a hidden door in this wall which led to another room which the landlord had no previous knowledge of.

Review

A sunny day, a pub garden and a refreshing pint of Greene Jack Waxwing. What more could one ask for.

The old route of the Blythburgh to Aldeburgh road
The old route of the Blythburgh to Aldeburgh road

Features

Westwood Marshes MillView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Sitting proud above the marsh and reed beds is the distinctive ruins of the Westwood Marsh Mill. Its weathered red brickwork stands out for miles and is a focus for all those who walk through this marshland. Many resources quote that the mill dates from 1798, although there is a reference from Thomas Gardner that mentions a 'mill ' and sluice being erected on this site in 1743.

The mill originally had a boat shaped cap fitted atop and a tail pole to turn the mill sails to the direction of the wind. The sails were made of cloth and the amount unfurled regulated the turn rate according to the wind strength.

Prior to 1875, the marsh had been drained and the land put to agricultural use. At this time the mill had a pair of grinding stones and a scoop wheel, and was employed to grind meal for farm horses although the primary use of the mill was for drainage.

The mill lasted until 1940 when the marshes were flooded as part of the WWII defences. This period also saw the mill fall into ruin, suffering damage from target practice during the war. With the war over the mill was repaired with a view to restoring it as an example of an old Suffolk pumping mill that could be made available to bird watchers. The work was scuppered in October 1960 when an act of arson by two young boys destroyed much of the wooden structure. It has since been slowly decaying into the marsh.

References
Sandlings sculpture lurking in the forest
Sandlings sculpture lurking in the forest

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: ... 2016-04-24

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