The Stour and Orwell Walk in a day

Stephen Dunnett
By Stephen Dunnett
8 minute read

During lockdown, Stephen Dunnett set himself the challenge of keeping it local by exploring the long-distance routes in his home county of Suffolk. He suggests that this is a quiet part of the country worthy of consideration for a walking trip.

Late summer 2020 continued to be dominated by talk of an imminent second lockdown and those of us who enjoy outdoor activities involving travelling, probably felt some urgency to get those planned walks completed before we were yet again told to stay home.

I had spent a fair bit of time during the first lockdown thumbing through my Cicerone guides, either reminiscing on past walks and cycle rides or getting ideas for future trips.

However, it was my local Cicerone guide, Suffolk Coast and Heath Walks (Lawrence Mitchell – 2017) that received the most attention as there was the opportunity to "keep it local" at times when some travel was permitted.

870 FC

Suffolk Coast and Heath Walks

3 long-distance routes in the AONB: the Suffolk Coast Path, the Stour and Orwell Walk and the Sandlings Walk

£11.66

Guidebook to 3 long-distance routes exploring the varied landscapes of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB. The Suffolk Coast Path covers 55 to 60 miles from Lowestoft to Felixstowe. The Stour and Orwell Walk is 40 miles from Felixstowe to Cattawade near Manningtree, while the Sandlings Walk is 59 miles from Ipswich to Southwold.

More information

Local walks in a day

In July 2020 I completed the Sandlings Walk in a day and that started the idea of a trilogy of Suffolk Coast and Heath Walks in a day.

Motivation during lockdown was definitely an issue for many who enjoy getting outdoors for long walks and cycle rides. As I suggested in my article, using Cicerone guides to plan future trips or variations on trips in areas that you may have visited before, can be a motivational activity in its own right.

Suffolk may not be an area you associate with long walks but I would suggest to you that a visit to our quiet corner of the country would be well rewarded. Cicerone’s Suffolk Coast and Heaths Walks guide contains three routes within Suffolk so it seemed obvious(!) that I should be completing a trilogy of walks in a day.

The Stour and Orwell Walk in a day

So, it was the Stour and Orwell Walk that was next on the list. The route broadly follows the North and South banks of the River Orwell and just the North bank of the River Stour, keeping it wholly in Suffolk.

This walk was a much more modest undertaking in a day than the other two routes in the book and the date I had picked in late September still gave plenty of time during daylight hours.

River Stour
Heading towards Stutton Ness on the River Stour

The guidebook route starts at Trimley St Martin but I opted to start from the finish at Cattawade as this fitted in better with the kind offer of drop off and pick up service by my wife.

I would suggest that in any case, Cattawade may a better start point as it provides a rather non-descript finish, where-as, if the route is walked in reverse and extended to a more satisfying finish on the coast at Felixstowe, there are more food, transport and accommodation options.

The Suffolk Coast Path also starts/finishes in Felixstowe and the guide contains a helpful Suffolk Coast Path/Stour and Orwell Walk link.

Cattawade and Xylonite

So, 8am on a dull September morning saw me dropped in the small carpark at Cattawade. The Stour Valley Way (60 miles) also starts/finishes here so I thought a good start may be to head out in the correct direction!

I had planned to fast walk and jog some sections of the route and as the first couple of miles are not visually the most exciting, a short jog got the legs moving nicely.

This area was home to the British Xylonite Company from the 1880s, pioneers in the earliest production of celluloid plastic. It was also home to a large ICI plant so it is little wonder that it has required a huge regeneration project to restore a heavily polluted chemical site.

Once clear of Cattawade, the River Stour soon comes into view and this section was all new to me. How many of us have visited areas so close to our homes that we still would not have visited were it not for lockdown?

I was quickly reminded of how remote the estuaries feel; other walkers are rare for most of the way and do not expect there to be a ready supply of refreshment and food. I made fast progress to Shotley Gate where I thought a take-a-way coffee from the little shop may be a good option but the shop had long closed down since my last visit!

Shotley Gate
No shop at Shotley Gate but a pub in ‘normal’ times

Lost in your own back yard?

What then followed was another lesson in over-familiarity. How many times have we all thought we knew where we were and where to go but a little bit later, found out that we should have checked that map/route description after all?

There used to be a few boats moored at Shotley Gate when I was a boy, but there is now a posh new marina with posh new boats and that means they don’t want walkers near the area. But I knew where I was so I walked through anyway because I knew the footpath was there 20 years ago!

All was fine until 10 minutes later, my path was blocked by a 6-foot wooden fence complete with pointy tops. This would not be a problem if the route was followed in the book direction but I was doing it in reverse.

The options were to retreat 10 minutes then another 10 minutes to get back to where I was now, only on the correct side of the fence, or to go back to my irresponsible "yoof" and climb over the thing. I climbed over the thing with only a small graze and saving 20 minutes.

Having missed out on coffee and almost being impaled, I now headed out on the well-maintained sea-wall paths that run alongside the River Orwell. I think the Orwell is a beautiful river with so much nature, open views, a fascinating history of smuggling from the ‘good old days’ and even a few good pubs.

As an Ipswich boy I may be a bit biased but I am sure you would also love it.

Pubs, menthe a l’eau and articulated lorries

I made good progress with a bit of slow jogging and arrived at Pin Mill just in time for 1pm food. The Butt and Oyster pub couldn’t be any closer to the river and indeed on a high tide, you need to walk through their beer garden. Unfortunately, due to Covid restrictions, it was still closed but if it is open, it really is worth a visit. I would include Pin Mill on my must visit list if I was showing people this area.

Pin Mill
Beautiful Pin Mill

After making do with a couple of cereal bars and some mint syrup I was heading onwards towards the now iconic view of the River Orwell … but wait … what do you mean, “what is mint syrup?” Well, this is the stuff of Gods. Some think it tastes of mouthwash but it is mint so it would wouldn’t it, but as a drink in a Sigg bottle for a hot day, I just love the stuff.

The iconic view of the Orwell Bridge soon loomed into view after a surprisingly hilly for Suffolk path through woods at Freston. By now it was close to 2pm so I decided to make use of the picnic tables at the Suffolk Food Hall.

I am tight so consumed my own food but this is a good place to aim for if refreshments are needed as it is one of the few places on the route that is almost guaranteed to be open. It is also a good point from which to admire the curve of the Orwell Bridge.

The route offers two options; a loop through Ipswich, which I would recommend if you are visiting this area, or the direct route across the Orwell Bridge. I went for the bridge option, which was a rather surreal experience.

A rather scruffy path left the Suffolk Food Hall, up a steep embankment and onto the bridge itself. From the quiet isolation of the previous paths to an Armco protected walkway beside 44 tonne artics; it was oddly different and rather fun!

R Orwell
The River Orwell from the Suffolk Food Hall at Wherstead

The final stretch

After a brief return to the north bank of the River Orwell and a lovely spot to take a few photographs, I decided to run the next section as the path wasn’t that exciting and there was an unpleasant bit of road before Nacton was reached.

It was good to run for a while and the legs felt good and I knew it was not too far to my pick up at the end. I reached Levington at 4.15pm and enjoyed a pretty jog around the marina, with no fences this time!

The huge container cranes of Felixstowe Docks were a clear sign that the end was in sight and I ran most of the way past the bird hides of Trimley Marshes and up the access track to the carpark and my awaiting picnic and transport home.

It had taken me 9hr 40 min to cover the 35 miles of my route and it was what I would class as a good day out in my own backyard. Now, where is that guide? – I have the final part of the trilogy to plan.

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