Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Saturday, 11 June 2011

A Trek Around Sole Bay

Sole Bay

A 24 mile circular walk between Sizewell and Southwold along the Suffolk Coast Path and Sandlings Walk.

Back in the 17th Century, Southwold was England's main fleet anchorage. Sole Bay (Sawolde Bay) was a bay centred on Southwold with Easton Ness to the North and Dunwich to the South. In May 1672 this bay was the scene of a fierce sea battle when a fleet of 75 Dutch ships took an Anglo-French fleet by surprise. There were heavy losses on both sides in this, the first naval battle of the third Anglo Dutch War, but luckily for the English fleet the wind turned to their favour resulting in their success in the battle. Today coastal erosion has straighted the coastline of the former bay and all that remains of the battle are the stories and the cannons pointing out to sea on Gun Hill.

Leiston to Southwold Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
LeistonView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
SouthwoldView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
23.5 miles
Walk difficulty

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
08:30 to 19:00
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Sunny day with a brisk south-westerly wind.

Walk Notes

The Suffolk Coast Path through the marshes north of Dunwich had been closed throughout the winter and had reopened in May. This closure was for essential maintenance on the river defences and boardwalks. The result is a much better stone surface which on previous walks through here was prone to becoming very muddy after rains. New boardwalks have replaced the old ones beyond the old windmill which was another great improvement.

The shingle bank between Walberswick and Dunwich had been breached by storms the last time I waked along this. On this occasion a vast section was laid flat with the high tide mark along the top of the shingle. The Environment Agency has stated that they cannot afford to maintain this defence so I assume this breaches will become more commonplace and the marshes will soon be at the mercy of the sea. The same goes for the northern end of Minsmere, although the RSPB who owns this land have stated that they will be building another defence further inland. On a personal note, I would have thought that EDF who plan to build Sizewell C would have invested in the coastal defences along this section to keep the integrity of this vulnerable coastline intact when such a valuable asset lies at its southern end.

As ever the ferry across the Blyth was one of the days highlights. On this occasion the ferry was very busy and there was two rowing boats crossing the river to cope with the demand. This was the first time I had noticed the additional safety awareness for the crossing which amounted to notices declaring the availability of life jackets and the constant 'official advice' Dani Church, the oarswoman, had to issue. No doubt this has been ordered by the Health and Safety Executive who have considered that after many centuries of operation the ferry service is a safety hazard. It certainly did not deter us from crossing on this Walberswick institution. The fare had increased from 80p the previous year to 90p this year but this did not really matter as I always donate a quid for the crossing anyway.

With regard to the rather ludicrous activities of the Health and Safety Executive, it was announced that this years Walberswick crabbing championships have been cancelled due to safety concerns with such a large crowd. What a load of prattle in my opinion, soon we will not be able to congregate in groups of more than 3 due to safety reasons, just in case one member of the group explodes I assume.

Crabbing at Walberswick
Crabbing at Walberswick


The walk follows the Suffolk Coast Path up to Dunwich Heath where a newly desginated footpath along the roadside will join back with the Suffolk Coast Path at Greyfriars Woods and leads to Dunwich. Keep with the Coast Path through Dunwich and across the marshes to Walberswick where the river Blyth can be crossed using the ferry and continue into Southwold along the Suffolk Coast Path. Return is straight down the coast to Dunwich then head across the heath through to Eastbridge and Leiston following the Sandlings Walk.

Leiston to Sizewell

Head down Red House Lane toward the Leisure Centre. Continue into the lane at the end until it crosses the former railway by a farm cottage. Proceed straight ahead across the fields toward Halfway Cottage. Turn left to walk down the side of the cottage and onto the road. Turn right and keep walking down to Sizewell.

Sizewell to Southwold

The Suffolk Coast Path keeps to the dunes past the Power Station and alongside Minsmere Bird Reserve. At the north end of Minsmere follow the path up to the top of the cliffs and the Coastguard Cottages. The Suffolk Coast Path heads across the Heath in a diagonal fashion here but an alternative route is to pass past the front of the coastguard Cottages and a path leads across the cliff-tops. After a short distance there is a lookout with a telescope and it is worth while stopping off and surveying the sea for any seals or dolphins. Continue of the cliff-top path until it reaches the road at the entrance to Dunwich Heath. Cross the road and bear right and follow the path adjacent to the road. There is a new section of path here that runs alongside the road through. Once it meets the path heading across the heath, turn right, cross the road and head into the woods. This eventually comes out on the Dunwich Road. Turn right and where the road bends sharply left continue straight ahead down past the cottages. After a bungalow on the left a path leads through Greyfriars Wood to Greyfriars ruins. Walk around the edge following the footpath which comes out in Dunwich. Head along the road past the Ship, the museum and the Church until you come to a track on the right with the Suffolk Coast Path marker. Take this and keep to the track through the woods. Eventually this will lead out onto the marshes, it goes around a small hill on the marsh and up onto the defences. turn left and keep going until it reaches the ruins of an old windmill. A series of steps leads down onto a boardwalk alongside the river. Keep along this until there is a bridge across the river. Take this and follow the path up onto the shingle coastal defence. Turn left and follow the waymarkers towards the river Blyth where it heads into Walberswick. The Ferry is easily found on the riverside. On the Southwold side, turn right and walk alongside the river for a hundred yards and there is a footpath that runs down the back of the campsite and into Southwold.

Southwold to Leiston

Return along Ferry Road or the beach to the Ferry and Walberswick. Here head to the beach and walk through to Dunwich and take the road through town, past the Ship and the Museum. Just beyond the church where the road junctions there is a footpath on the left marked with a Sandlings waymarker. Take this and keep walking until there are some buildings on the right and the footpath is crossed by another. Turn left and follow this down to the road, cross the road and continue along the footpath. Where the footpath meets the Suffolk Coast Path which continues ahead, turn right to cross the northern side of Dunwich Heath. Keep straight ahead when it crosses a road into Minsmere and it ends on the road into Eastbridge. Keep to this road, through Eastbridge and down to the main road into Leiston. Turn left and follow the road back to Leiston. Theres a pavement on the right hand side just past the Abbey.

Walberswick Ferry
Walberswick Ferry


The Red Lion, Southwold View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
The Red Lion, Southwold

This 17th century oak beamed inn close to South Green was a rare survivor of the great fire of Southwold (April 1659) that destroyed most of the town. The characterful interior is divided into three areas with a wood panelled bar to front and two quieter seated areas to rear. Adnams tied pub with food available.


A very fine pint of Ghost Ship, Adnams new seasonal ale. The name of this pale coloured ale was inspired by the ghostly goings on at the Walberswick Bell, together with the legends of sunken wrecks of smuggling ships that are said to lie off the coast of Walberswick.

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

Image of pub
The Ship Inn, Dunwich

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 gnarled old fig tree for the summer. As well as the usual Adnams ales there is always a guest ale which is usually from a small Suffolk or Norfolk brewer such as Mauldons, Blackfriars and Earl Soham. The food is excellent and the home made soup is certainly recommended, a hearty and warming treat for a cold winters day. The pub has accommodation available and is open all day.

Legend tells that the building is haunted by 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. Well worth the visit.


Earl Sohams Blundeston Gold Ale was on offer on this occasion - a very drinkable pale coloured ale with an excellent balance of bitter and sweetness with citrus notes to tantalise a thirsty palette.

Eastbridge Eels Foot View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Eastbridge Eels Foot

A curious name for a pub; some say it comes from a Heel's Foot, a cobblers implement, others will argue that it is named after the Eel's Boot, a type of woven reed basket used in Eel Fishing. A more fanciful explanation is that it is a derivation of Neale's Boot, named after a medieval priest who trapped the Devil in his boot and tossed him into the river. The Devil escaped disguised as an eel.

The pub is an Adnams establishment and regularly has three of their cask ales on tap, these usually being the Bitter, Broadside and a seasonal ale. The pub is popular with walkers and birdwatchers from nearby Minsmere bird Reserve. The interior is pretty basic but do check out the painting on the wall of the bar, this depicts an outdoor banquet in what would seem like medieval times - if you look carefully there are several of the characters with rather large cod-pieces. Food and Bed and Breakfast accommodation is on offer and The Eels Foot is renowned for its long tradition of Folk Music which still continue on Thursday evenings with a jam session.


Another pint of Ghost Ship in here. Was very busy with campers from the campsite at the farm up the road.

The Cannons on Gun Hill
The Cannons on Gun Hill


The Battle of Sole BayView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The 28th May 1672 marked the opening of the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-4) and was heralded by the Battle of Sole Bay. The Anglo-Dutch Wars were a series of wars fought between the English and the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries for control over the seas and trade routes. After humiliations in the previous war, English public opinion was unenthusiastic about starting a third one. However, bound by the secret Treaty of Dover, Charles II was obliged to assist Louis XIV in his attack on The Republic in the Franco-Dutch War.

The Anglo-French fleet, led by James, Duke of York (Lord High Admiral and later James II) was anchored in Sole Bay three days prior to the battle, having the task to press men on-board and take on provisions and ammunition. However Parliament had not provided funds and this left the fleet ill-equipped.

The Dutch fleet, under Michel de Ruyter, Lieutenant Admiral of Holland, saw this as an opportunity to attack, and with an easterly wind in their favour made approach to Sole Bay. With the Dutch fleet on the horizon, there was immediate confusion among the ranks of the Anglo-French and against the Duke of York's drawn up battle plan the French headed south as the English headed north to confront the attack.

The French were pursued southwards by 15 Dutch ships and the engagement of battle resulted in the loss of 450 French sailors. Meanwhile, the rest of the Dutch fleet took on the English and with 70 ships had a superiority of two to one over the Duke of York's division. The ensuing fighting was intense with the Duke of York's flagship the main target. After a fierce battle she was so badly damaged that she could no longer function as a flagship, and the Duke was forced to transfer his flag twice during the ensuing action.

As the battle wore on the wind shifted giving the English the benefit and in the late afternoon the Dutch withdrew as the sun set and the remains of the French fleet returned to back up the English. Losses were heavy on both sides: one Dutch ship, the Jozua, was destroyed and another, the Stavoren, captured, a third Dutch ship had an accident during repairs immediately after the battle and blew up. The result of the battle was inconclusive with both sides claiming victory. It had been a particularly bloody battle, and bodies were washed ashore for some time afterward.

On the green just above the beach, descriptively named Gun Hill, the six eighteen-pounder cannon commemorate the Battle of Sole Bay. It is said these guns were given to the town in 1746 by the Royal Armouries, as a protection to shipping against raids. The last known firing was in 1842 to celebrate the Prince of Wales birthday. Tragically whilst re-loading one of the cannons, a man was killed by an explosion.


Walberswick FerryView in OS Map | View in Google Map

It has been stated that there has been a ferry at Walberswick from the 13th century onwards. There is certainly pictorial and documented evidence of the ferry from the nineteenth century when the Cross family worked the ferry. As the century drew to an end a chain ferry became established. This was initially a hand-cranked ferry but was later replaced by a steam ferry. The chain ferry service operated up until the second world war when the local landowner Sir Ralph Blois refused to renew the lease. It was then that Old Bob Cross set up a rowing service which passed passed down to his son, Young Bob and then to Young Bobs nephew David Church and finally to Dani Church who is the present oarswoman.

These safety conscious days the ferry is forced to provide life jackets and issue warnings of 'Keep your hands on deck' as the ferry approaches the landing stage. Nonetheless it is always a pleasant experience to cross the Blyth on this friendly ferry service. As a tribute to her dad, Dani Church wrote a book containing a collection of stories and the history of the ferry. This is available from Amazon.

Stormy seas at Walberswick
Stormy seas at Walberswick


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

2013-04-10 : update broken links


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