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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Autumn on Thorpeness Common

An 7 mile circular walk across the commons of the East Suffolk Coastal area linking Leiston, Thorpeness and Sizewell.

Autumn on Thorpeness Common is a great time to hunt out mushrooms, harvest sloes and admire the changing of the seasons. I am not expert on mushrooms and certainly would not even dare to pick a wild mushroom to eat without specific advice from a fungi expert, nonetheless, it is always good to view them. The sloes are a different matter though, for a second year running we have gathered copious quantities of this bitter fruit in order to get some sloe gin ready for Christmas. There were so many this year we ended up giving much of our labours away!

Leiston to Sizewell Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Leiston View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Sizewell View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
7 miles
Walk difficulty

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
10:30 to 16:00
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Fresh autumn day

Walk Notes

Autumn is always full of colour on Thorpeness Common. The gorse is about the only shrub in flower and the hedges are full of plums and sloes and crab apples. If you are lucky you can even get the discarded remnants of the harvest from the farmers onion fields. There are also a bountiful supply of mushrooms this time of year including the iconic fairytale red with white Fly Agaric. Unfortunately most of the examples were knocked down.

I have always thought that one never ever fully knows the landscape no matter how many times one walks through it. This proved to be the case yet again when, emerging out into Thorpeness, we encountered a dilapidated old shack. Sure, I have walked past this ramshackle and forlorn building hundreds of times before but have never stopped to investigate. Looking closely on the front are the fading remains of what looks like the words 'The Fish Shed'. Asking around, it would appear that many years ago this was the outlet for a local fisherman to sell his wares. So sad that this has gone.

Thorpeness is nice and quiet this time of year, the crowds of visitors have thinned to a few hardy daytrippers and the Meare is vacant of the usual flotilla of rowing boats. This is also a good time to browse around the curio shop for old books of local folklore and ghost stories. Nothing new to me on this occasion though!

In front of Thorpeness the beach erosion continues unabated although £650,000 pounds worth of defences being inserted to attempt to arrest this erosion in order to save the houses on top of the cliff. This area of the beach is currently fenced off whilst the construction work takes place. However, the tide was sufficiently out to enable us to dodge around the bottom of the fencing and walk along the beach.

A couple of weeks later there were some high spring tides together with some stormy weather and a tidal surge which took away most of the beach between Thorpeness and Sizewell leaving a whole lot of sand. This, over the next few months, will slowly get replaced by the usual shingle. The photo slideshow is a combination of three walks over autumn.

Gorse, no matter what time of the year, it is in flower
Gorse, no matter what time of the year, it is in flower


A simple walk following the marked out routes across the heaths and commons between Leiston and Thorpeness. A lot of this land is open access which allows the walker to find a myriad of alternative routes

Head out of Leiston on the Aldeburgh Road. Almost opposite Goldings Lane there is a little road on the left. This leads onto a footpath alongside the field boundaries. Keep to this until it bears to the left and joins another footpath at an angle. Almost double back on yourself and walk through to the field adjacent to a copse of trees with a track down the side of this. Cross the field diagonally and keep in a straight line through the golf course beyond until the path meets several other paths at the point of the old railway track. Go through the metal gate and onto the common following the yellow topped marker posts. This emerges through another metal gate onto a sandy track. Cross the track and follow the footpath through he trees until it joins another path. Turn right along this, which is now the re-routed Suffolk Coast Path (due to coastal erosion) and follow the marker posts into Thorpeness.

From Thorpeness, take the beach through to Sizewell. At certain times of tide the beach in front of Thorpeness can be inaccessible and an alternative route is to follow Old Homes Road round to North End Avenue which is marked as a private road. Walk up this, parallel to the beach, and at the end there is a footpath out onto the common with multiple access to the beach and cliff paths.

At Sizewell follow the road, past the Vulcan Arms inland. At Halfway Cottages, as the road bends round to the right, there is a track just past the last cottage. Take this, continue straight ahead past the cottage and turn sharp right to take the path across the fields and onto a track at the far end, past the cottage. This track eventually leads out onto Red House Lane where the walk started.

Clearing the undergrowth on the commonmore unidentified mushrooms
On the left Clearing the undergrowth on the common; On the right more unidentified mushrooms


The Vulcan Arms, Sizewell View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
The Vulcan Arms, Sizewell

The history of this establishment goes back many years. It was recorded as being an alehouse in the census of 1540 but then changed to a blacksmith under Cromwells reforms. Eventually it returned to being a pub in the early 1700's when it took the name of The Vulcan Inn, Vulcan being the Greek god of fire and smithery. It also has a history of smuggling, Sizewell Gap being the haunt of many smuggling operations, including the infamous Hadleigh Gang during the 1700's. Local folklore suggests that there was a tunnel linking the Vulcan cellar to the beach. Unfortunately the original cellar was filled in during WWII. The pub serves Greene King IPA, Abbott and Speckled Hen and has an extensive food menu. Saturday nights it hosts a renowned and well recommended carvery.


I am not a keen fan of Greene King but I am partial to a good example of Abbott ale and, as ever, The Vulcan always serves an excellent pint.

Fungus on the treesThe old Fish Shed at Thorpeness
On the left Fungus on the trees; On the right The old Fish Shed at Thorpeness


Sloes and Sloe GinView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Thorpeness Common is abundant with Sloes

The word sloe comes from Old English slāh which derives from the Germanic root slaiχwōn, meaning any species of plum including sloes. The Latin name for this large deciduous shrub is Prunis Spinosa, and is more commonly known as Blackthorn characterised by its blackish bark and dense, stiff, spiny branches and abundantly found in hedgerows. The fruit, known as a sloe, are small black berries with a purple-blue waxy bloom. It is easy to mistake small plums for sloes, but the tell-tale test is to bite into the flesh. A plum is sweet, a sloe is extremely bitter and unpalatable.

The wood makes excellent firewood that burns slowly with a good heat and little smoke. It also takes a fine polish and is traditionally made into walking sticks. The fruit can be used in jams and fruit pies or made into wine, but is probably best known for the flavouring in Sloe Gin.

Sloe gin is a simple to make. Gather 1.5 pounds of sloes. Tradition states that one should pick the sloes after the first frost of the autumn but placing them in the freezer for a couple of days is just as good and tends to split their skins which eases the laborious job of pricking each sloe with a knife. Place the sloes, together with a litre of gin and 7-8 ounces of sugar (Castor sugar is best, but granulated can be used) into a large container such as a demi-john. Give this a gentle mix and put into a dark place such as a cupboard. Once a day for a month give the container a gentle mix, then continue once a week thereafter until all the sugar is dissolved. Filter the result back into a bottle. The end result is as good as any commercial sloe gin!


GorseView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Gorse is a common feature throughout the Suffolk Coastal Area

Gorse, also known as Furze or Whin, is a species of thorny evergreen shrub related to the broom and pea family and native to western Europe and northwest Africa. It has green stems and very small leaves and has a profusion of small yellow flowers with a distinctive coconut scent. The flowers can be seen through all the seasons though most prevalent during the spring. An old country phrase states "When gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion".

Gorse thrives in poor dry conditions and is highly flammable. The Commons and heaths of East Suffolk, where the plant is abundant, suffer regular summer fires which consume the gorse. This encourages new growth as the seed pods are opened by fire. The burnt stumps also readily sprout new growth from the roots. Where fire is excluded, gorse soon tends to be shaded out by taller-growing trees.


MushroomView in OS Map | View in Google Map

A wide variety of mushrooms can be found on the heaths, commons and woodland of East Suffolk

A mushroom is the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source. The terms mushroom and toadstool go back centuries and were never precisely defined. The term toadstool was often, but not exclusively, applied to poisonous mushrooms or to those that have the classic umbrella-like cap-and-stem form.

Probably the most commonly found mushroom in fairytale books and films is the distinctive Fly Agaric characterised by its bright red colour with distinctive white spots. This poisonous and psychoactive fungus is native throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere usually associated with woodland. An interesting note is that the Sami, an indigenous people inhabiting parts of far northern Sweden, Norway and Finland have a custom of feeding fly agaric to their deer and collecting the urine to drink. The reindeer's digestive system metabolises the poisonous components of the mushroom, leaving urine with the hallucinogenic and psychotropic elements of the fungus intact. Drinking the urine gives a 'high' similar to taking LSD. It is said that when the Sami were intoxicated with the hallucinatory effects of the drink, they would see their reindeer flying through the sky looking down on the world and it was these stories which were the source of western Christmas folklore of Santas flying reindeer.

The fairytale Fly Agaric mushroomabundant supply of sloes
On the left The fairytale Fly Agaric mushroom; On the right abundant supply of sloes


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: 2017-09-29


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