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snape maltings2

The Sandlings Walk in a day

Stephen Dunnett returned from a trip to New Zealand and a country in lockdown. All events were cancelled and the challenge became staying motivated. Here he suggests that planning for the future is a positive way to prepare for the freedom that will come.

Dreaming of and planning for a ‘good day out’ gives us all hope. It lifts the spirits. It allows us to walk through the pages of a well-written guide book. It inspires us to go somewhere different; to try something new. Isn’t that what it is all about for us now?

I am a very lucky person. My sons live in New Zealand and in normal circumstances, my wife and I get to spend the English winter in the New Zealand summer. Last winter was a bit different however as the whole world lurched towards a pandemic that until then, most of us would have thought was something out of a sci-fi film.

Cycling the length of New Zealand

We left home in February last year for our usual New Zealand trip but this time, I had a specific challenge of riding the Tour Aotearoa. This is a 3000km bike packing event from Cape Reinga on the North Island to Bluff on the South Island. The ride was a never-to-be-forgotten experience, starting with an 80km ride along a beach! I found plenty of interesting people to talk to when not riding my bike and there was barely a mention of Coronavirus. How naive was I about what was to come!

Tour Aotearoa
A day out on the beach – Tour Aotearoa, New Zealand

Coronavirus lockdown hits

Ten days after completing my ride, New Zealand went into total lockdown. I had a couple of half marathons cancelled that I had planned to run but hey, the sun was shining and the local trails were quiet. I was happy to stay there but the insurance company had other ideas and after a slightly extended stay and a hellishly expensive re-arranged flight home via LA (that is why you need good travel insurance) we arrived home to lockdown in the UK.

Cancelled events and a need for motivation

Once home, it was quickly clear that most of the events I had planned for the summer would be cancelled or unwise to do. I am not very good at sitting around and having a challenge is what keeps me motivated.

I am sure many of you reading this are exactly the same and faced the same situation. I had a 24-hour endurance trail event planned for July but, sensibly, this was postponed until July 2021. (Snowdon24 – 10/11 July 2021 Always Aim High Events) I needed something to do so swung into keep-it-local-planning mode.

I have a reasonable collection of Cicerone guides that I often dip into for inspiration. As I live in Suffolk, the Suffolk coast and the numerous walks in the area are familiar to me. It is often a revelation to people who are not so familiar with the area, that there are also some good long-distance walks within the county and these are covered in the excellent Cicerone guide Suffolk Coast and Heaths Walksby Lawrence Mitchell.

Sandlings landscape
Typical Sandlings landscape near Wantisden

One of the walks contained in this guide is the Sandlings Walk – a 59 mile walk between Ipswich and Southwold. The other walks are the Suffolk Coast Path – 60 miles from Lowestoft to Felixstowe – and the Stour and Orwell Walk – 40 miles around the Stour and Orwell estuaries.

It is possible to link these together to make a much longer single walk. I decided a shiny, new copy of Suffolk Coast and Heaths Walks was in order as, if nothing else, it always lifts the spirits to receive a new guide book through the post. (You could buy it in a shop – remember when we were allowed freely in those!)

Sandlings Walk in a day

So, the seed was set, my new guide was received and the Sandlings Walk seemed to be a suitable replacement for my cancelled Snowdon24. Now we are into our 3rd lockdown, perhaps what follows will inspire you to plan a project for later in the year when hopefully, we will be free to exercise away from our local area. Personally, I find that planning is part of the fun of a walking or cycling trip and certainly lifts my spirit.

Being my local area, I had walked most of the Sandlings Walk over the year as parts of other walks. What I had not done was all of it in a single walk so doing so in a single day seemed to be a logical thing to do. This is not everyone's idea of fun and if you choose to do the walk over a few days, there are some lovely places to stay on the route.

I was lucky that my wife falls into the camp of not everyone’s idea of fun but was more than happy to act as a support driver, meaning that I didn’t have to carry much in the way of food and drink, or queue outside local shops to buy stuff.

Suffolk sunrise
5am Suffolk sunrise

13 July 2020, 4.45am, and I was deposited at Rushmere Heath in Ipswich, ready for the off. Ideally, I wanted to complete the walk before dark so fast walking and some jogging was the order of the day. Most of the route is on well-defined tracks, which are ideal for trail running so progress towards Woodbridge was quick.

However, the sun rising through woodland and later, the low sun over Martlesham Creek was too good to rush through. In fact, there are plenty of diversions to fast progress on this route and if you are new to this area, slower progress would be well rewarded.

Watch out for UFOs

bacon sandwich
Life is complete with a bacon sandwich pit stop

By 9.10am I had covered around 17 miles and arrived at Rendlesham Forest car park where I had a pit stop bacon sandwich waiting – now that is service. The ex-USAF base close by was the supposed site of a UFO landing back in 1980 – you decide!

The route is marked throughout with a rectangular plaque depicting a nightjar and although there are a lot of twists and turns on the section through the forest and on towards Snape Maltings, it is easy to follow and the walking is very pleasant.

Time for another pit stop here and 31 miles covered. The restored maltings are an interesting place to linger for a while, especially if you visit the very agreeable Plough and Sail pub – I didn’t!

Snape Maltings
Too good to rush. The River Alde near Snape Maltings

Time to push on to Sizewell and a first sight of the North Sea and the huge buildings of Sizewell A and B. Despite the power stations, I like this section of the walk as, for the first time, it actually runs beside the sea. During early summer, a large colony of kittiwakes make use of the power station cooling outlet and is well worth a look.

However, the proposals for Sizewell C will have a huge impact on the tranquility of this section of the walk and I suspect it will result in significant changes to the current route. Get in quick!

I was still moving well with 40 miles under the belt and I ran a fair bit of the stage between Sizewell and Dunwich, passing close to the internationally famous RSPB Minsmere. It was pleasant and easy running across Dunwich Heath – beautiful in late summer when it is a mass of heather – before passing the remains of Greyfriars Priory as I entered Dunwich.

This is a reminder of the great settlement this used to be before being claimed by the sea – a constant threat on this coast. It is all very interesting and the small museum next to The Ship pub is worth a look but I had a far more interesting pit stop waiting in the carpark by the sea. There is also a good fish and chip shop here but be warned, the queues get mental in the summer.

Southwold pier
Just about light at the end and a happy Stephen

Chelsea on Sea here I come

I had made good time on the previous stage and as I left Dunwich at 6.35pm with only a shade over 10 miles until the end, I knew I could take my time and still finish in the light. I must admit, the legs were getting a bit sore by now and as the route follows paths that I regularly use, this stage did drag just a bit.

However, the legs held up and I was soon dropping down on to the prom at Gun Hill. Brace yourself – beach huts here regularly sell for upwards of £100K. Now you know why Southwold is disparagingly known locally as Chelsea on Sea. I wipe the mud from my shoes before I jog on past, towards the finish line at Southwold Pier. There was a strange reminder of the pandemic with a so called ghost ship moored up just off the coast. Cruise ships have nowhere to cruise and it is too expensive to keep them in ports.

Stay positive, plan and get out there

My final note scribbled into my Cicerone guide reads: "End 9.05 pm. 16 hours 20 minutes. Hot and sunny all day until a few showers after Dunwich. Not wet enough for a coat. A good day out."

Just buy a Cicerone guide and dive in. We WILL soon be able to do that route we plan.