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Sunday, 13 February 2011

In Search of the Mysteries and Legends of Iken and St Botolph

A 7 mile walk along the Alde estuary, following the Suffolk Coast Path from Snape to Iken

There are disputes as to whether Iken is the land at Icanho that St Botolph was granted by King Ethelmund to build his minster. For this walk, we will take it that Iken was the true location - you can certainly feel the eerieness of the area with the mysterious Yarn Hill where Botolph reputedly drove away the ghosts and marsh demons in order to build his minster which is said to have finally been constructed on the site of the historic church at Iken which bears his name. The church is a fascinating place to visit - be sure to spend a little time here and see St Botolphs stone cross which was unearthed in 1977 and is on display within the church.

Snape Maltings to Iken Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Snape MaltingsView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
IkenView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
Walk difficulty

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
12:00 to 15:30
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Overcast and blustery winters day

Walk Notes

This walk was done on a cold and blustery early spring Sunday. There is a car park at Snape Maltings, which is worth using in order to take an hour or two perusing the Maltings before or after the walk. The Maltings have frequent craft and farmers markets offering a range of local wares and produce, as was the case on this instance. There is also a coffee shop and the Sail and Plough pub for refreshments.

One of the main reasons for walking this route was to catch a closer glimpse of Yarn Hill. This anomolous artefact on the landscape has intrigued me for many years. It stands out as a perfectly circular hill that is topped with a crown of trees. Its geometry gives the impression that it is man made but there is no documented evidence of such. In fact, there is little published documention about the hill altogether. Local legend does state that St Botolph attempted to build his church on the hill but was forced to abandon the attempt in favour of the current Iken church location on account of the marsh demons that inhabited the area. There is no public right of way to get to the Hill, but a private track exists which leads up to and around the foot of the Hill.

St Botolphs at Iken
St Botolphs at Iken


The route follows the Suffolk Coast Path from Snape Maltings to Iken Cliff, then going beyond to the lane up to Iken. Return is via tracks across the fields to meet back with the Suffolk Coast Path.

Take the path out of the rear of Snape Maltings which leads along the Alde estuary down to Iken Cliff. Keep following the path until it goes over the river defence and onto a narrow road. Turn left and keep bearing left along this lane and this will lead up the hill to Iken. Return back down the lane and at the junction bear left down to Iken Hall. Yarn Hill is on your left and is identified by the small wood that sits atop the hill. At Iken Hall take the right junction and follow this lane until it turns a sharp right almost back on itself. A footpath carries straight on through the fields up to a small wood. Follow the wood round to the right and at the end turn right onto the official Suffolk Coastal Footpath as indicated by the round blue and yellow markers. Follow this footpath along the field edge, then alongside another wood on the left. Keep the wood to your left as the footpath leads down to a farm. Take the farm track to the left and follow this past the farm and bear right where it takes you up to the road. Cross the road and a footpath takes you back down to Iken cliff from where you can retrace your steps across the marshes back to Snape Maltings.

The church of St Botolph, Iken
The church of St Botolph, Iken


Plough and Sail, Snape View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Snape Maltings, Snape

There has been a pub here since the 16th century, when it was a smugglers inn at the head of navigation on the River Alde. Throughout this period and right up until 1965 the pub was also the focus for the sailors who traded barley on the Thames Barges that berthed on the quayside.

The pub was taken over in April 2012 by twin brothers Alex and Oliver Burnside. They offer quality seasonal food produced from local suppliers as well as local ales. There is a spacious restaurant, a cosy bar and intimate balcomny area. Seating is provided in front of the pub and there is a courtyard at the back.

The lower part of St Botolphs carved cross decorated with the heads of dogs or wolves that was found during excavations in 1977
The lower part of St Botolphs carved cross decorated with the heads of dogs or wolves that was found during excavations in 1977


The myth and legend of St Botolph: View in OS Map | View in Google Map

The legend of Botwulf, better known as St Botolph is full of intrigue. Some say that the mysterious land of Icanho where he built his minster was at Boston, Lincolnshire, and the residents there would argue their right to claim the legend for Botolphs Town. However, it is much more probable that the location of Botolphs famous minster was located where present day Iken stands amidst the marshes of the Alde estuary.

Botolph was born of noble Christian Saxon parents. Together with his brother Adulph, they was sent to the continent for Christian study. Adulph remained abroad, eventually becoming Bishop of Utrecht but Botuplph returned to England with the intention of building a monastry. In AD654 Botulph sought favour with the Anglian King Ethelmund and was granted a tract of desolate land at Icanho, 'The Isle of Oxen', on which he could build his monastry. In those days Icanho was indeed an island in the Alde estury surrounded by marshes and was considered a gloomy and evil place haunted by ghosts and marsh demons. Botolph intially attempted to build his monastry on Yarn Hill but during the night the stones would be moved and the workers were found dead, their bodies mutilated. The road to Scillasforda (Chillesford) was also said to be plagued by ghosts of restless souls. Botolph believed the island was posessed by the devil himself and built the Iken high Cross, a monolith of stone seven feet tall and inscribed with carvings of wild dogs and wolves. This was to ward off the evil spirits and banish the devil from the island. This appeared to work and the construction was shifted from Yarn Hill and onto where the modern day church stands.

During his excavations in 1977, Dr Stanley West found within the fabric of the church the lower part of a carved cross decorated with the heads of dogs or wolves and dating from the 9th or early 10th century. The shaft formed the lower part of a large stone cross perhaps ten or twelve feet in height and is now on display within the church. Local legend tells of a gamekeeper finding a similar peice of stone during the 19th century whilst digging for his dog in a rabbit burrow on Yarn Hill. A replica cross has been constructed in wood and is mounted at the entrance to the car park at Iken Cliff, though sadly this has been vandalised.

St Botulph died on 17th June AD680 and was buried at the site of his famous minster. It was proclaimed that Botolph was a man of unparalleled life and learning, and full of the grace of the Holy Spirit. His tomb survived the destruction wrought by the Vikings in the winter and AD869-870, and in AD970 his bones were moved with the consent of King Edgar to a site at Burgh-by-Woodbridge near Grundisburgh. It has been said the Burgh was suffering similar problems with ghosts and marsh demons as had beset Icanho and Botolphs bones were brought here to banish the evil spirits. Whether this worked or not is not told but his relics were housed at Burgh for around fifty years until the time of King Cnut who granted permission for them to be divided between several minsters, including Bury St Edmunds where they were venerated in a shrine. The ruined crypt can still be seen there today.

The present day thatched church of St Botolph at Iken consists of three parts. The most ancient bit is the nave which dates from before 1200. The chancel, like all others in England, fell into disuse after the reformation. By the 18th century it was ruinous, and was demolished and rebuilt in 1853. The tower is from the mid-15th century and is of typical Suffolk style.

The mysterious Yarn Hill with its wooded crown, the place said to be infested with ghosts and marsh demons
The mysterious Yarn Hill with its wooded crown, the place said to be infested with ghosts and marsh demons


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


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

2012-10-20 : added in more photos


  1. Thanks for a fascinating write-up - I will definitely try to do a walk in that area sometime this year. The Suffolk coast and estuaries are truly little-known gems.

  2. I am glad you liked this - it is a splendid area with a lot of hidden history. Iken can be included by walking the Suffolk Coast Path Orford extension and walking this as a circular walk by returning back to Iken from Chillesford along the inland route of the path (17 miles or so).


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