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

Monday, 7 January 2019

A Walk to the Dunwich Leper Chapel

Leper Chapel

A 14.25 mile circular walk between Leiston to Dunwich

A simple walk using the Suffolk Coast Path from Sizewell to Dunwich with a visit to the ruins of the 12th century Leper Chapel. The return uses the the footpath via Mount Pleasant to get onto the Sandlings Path across Dunwich Heath to return back to Leiston.

Leiston to Dunwich Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

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


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. The links include published hard copy as well as online plots and downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.

Ordnance Survey Explorer Map
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Online Ordnance Survey Route
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Online OpenStreetMap Route
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Online Google Route
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ViewRanger App Route
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GPX data for route (download)

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
10:00 to 16:30
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Warm spring day with lots of sunshine and blue skies.

Walk Notes

There are a few alternative routes on this website for this circular walk which makes use of the Suffolk Coast Path and the Sandlings Path. This specific walk makes use of a couple of additional paths. Firstly there is a relatively new path that connects Dunwich Heath with the Coast Path through Greyfriars Woods. This is more in keeping with following the coast with the path running parallel to the road. The advantage of this is that it also passes the Cliff House holiday park where the 12 Lost Churches is located. The fields along this section have been donated to the National Trust and will eventually become heathland.

The return is similar passing Mount Pleasant amidst more field that are being given over to Heathland. This path connects back in with the Sandlings Path to cross the heath through to Eastbridge. This is some spectacular heathland filled with heather and a riot of colour in late summer.

This is certainly one walk I never tire of, and this is revisited many time each year.

Fairy bridge in Greyfriars WoodSnowdrops and Daffodils
On the left Fairy bridge in Greyfriars Wood; On the right Snowdrops and Daffodils


The walk uses the Suffolk Coast path northwards to Dunwich, returning along the Sandlings.

Leiston to Sizewell

Take Redhouse Lane on the south side of Leiston, continuing onto the track marked as Grimseys Lane and at the end cross the field and emerge onto the Sizewell road at Halfway Cottages. Follow the road through to Sizewell.

Suffolk Coast Path

Walk up the coast in front of Sizewell Power Station, past Minsmere and at the northern edge of the reserve head up the cliff to the coastguard cottages. There is a path that winds its way in front of the cottages and across the heather, following the cliffs. This eventually meets the road. Cross the road and follow the path that runs alongside the road until it meets the coast path route which crosses the road and heads into Greyfriars Wood. Take this through the wood to emerge onto the road into Dunwich. Continue straight on as the road bends sharp left, down the track in front of a terrace of cottages. Before it meets a small bridge, turn left through the woods and follow the Greyfriars perimeter fence around to the cliff edge, keeping to the path until it emerges opposite the Ship Inn. The Leper Chapel is at the end of the road, just behind the church.

Return journey

Opposite the church, just around the corner from the war memorial is a track marked as the Sandlings. Take this until it passes a farm on the right. Just before the farmhouse take the track on the left. This eventually crosses the road and meets the Suffolk Coast Path on Dunwich Heath. As the paths cross, turn right and follow the footpath across the heath. Keep to this, through the woods, across the Minsmere road, across a grassed field and then down through more woods where it joins the road into Eastbridge. Continue through Eastbridge and beyond there is a track on the left marked with a Sandlings waymarker. Take this all the way through until it meets the Sizewell Road. Keep straight ahead, down the hill and in the dip is a footpath on the right which leads back into Leiston. Keep to Valley Road through Leiston until it gets to the town centre, turn left and walk through the town.

Leper Chapel window archButtress from All Saints church
On the left Leper Chapel window arch; On the right Buttress from All Saints church


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

Image of pub
The Ship, Dunwich

The Ship is part of a portfolio of inns, restaurants and hotels owned and managed by Agellus Hotels Limited which specialises in distinctive properties offering quality food and accommodation and guest ales.

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 300 year old knarled fig tree for the summer. The pub offers the usual Adnams ales as well as regularly changing guest ales from a local small Suffolk or Norfolk brewers including Mauldons, Blackfriars and Earl Soham.

The pub is said to be home to 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.


There was two guest beers on tap during this visit, Brandon's Rusty Bucket and Green Jacks Red Herring. I elected for the Red Herring on account of it being one of Green Jacks brews I had never tried before. This was a smokey full flavoured 5% ale, probably not the ideal companion for the dish of Morston mussels we had to accompany it, but certainly a rewarding and distinctive brew, and worthy of the Green Jack name.

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 at least three of their cask ales on tap, with the Bitter and Broadside plus seasonal ales. The pub is popular with walkers and birdwatchers from nearby Minsmere bird Reserve.

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.

Up until late 2014 the wall in the alcove adjacent to the bar was decorated with a curious painting of a medieval country feast. On a casual glance it was nothing more than an insight into times gone by but on closer inspection would could see that some of the men within it were wearing rather large codpieces. The painting appeared to be a corruption of 'The Peasants Wedding Feast' by Pieter Bruegel. His son, Pieter the Younger, would copy his fathers work and this particular article could have been a humorous copy as the original has a completely different background and no cod-pieces. Unfortunately this has now been removed, which, so I am told, caused some controversy.


An excellent pint of Adnams as always in this award winning pub.

Minsmere New Bank
Minsmere New Bank


Leper ChapelView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Leprosy is a disease most associated with biblical times and was known in Ancient Greece as elephantiasis. There is evidence of the disease in Britain as far back as the 5th century AD though its prevalence was not significant until post Norman conquest times, most likely bought in by returning crusaders. Dunwich in those times was a major port, second only to London, and in so being was more susceptible to contagion from visiting crews of the ships that would have docked there.

Leprosy is a progressive disease caused by bacteria and eventually results in skin sores, nerve damage and muscle weakness. No effective treatment was found until the 1940s, prior to which a range of practices were used as treatment. Up until the late 1700's drinking or bathing in blood was thought to be a cure. The blood of virgins or children was said to be especially potent, although dogs, lambs and even the blood of the dead was used. Other practices included snake bites, bee stings, arsenic and hellebore and even castration!

Those that were unfortunate to contract the dreaded disease were condemned to a life of isolation, forbidden to mix or work with the rest of society and required to ring a bell if they ventured into town. In 1175 the English Church Council decreed that that lepers should be accommodated in hostels on the outskirts of towns and cared for by the church. It was during this period that the Dunwich Leper Hospital was most likely built, paid for and maintained by Walter de Riboff. Its location was beyond Pales Dyke, a fortified ditch that marked the limits of the old town of which the only remaining evidence is a small section from the Grey Friars Monastery precinct wall to the eroding cliff edge. The original Hospital building was over 100 feet in length, constructed with stone from Caen in Normandy and local flint. The hospital had two parts, a hall and a chapel, the remains which still exist, and was able to house 20 men and women in the open-plan hall from which they could view the alter of the chapel from their beds.

Leper hospitals had no form of regulation and financially they relied purely on the honesty of those in charge. Unfortunately, in the case of Dunwich, a succession of dishonest masters resulted in an investigation being ordered by Henry II in 1252. With the town slowly succumbing to the sea, especially during the 13th and 14th centuries, and its importance as a port becoming untenable, the viability of the Leper Hospital diminished. Despite this, it managed to carry on as a hospital until the 1800's, even surviving Henry VIIIs dissolution of the monasteries. The last leper to be buried there was in 1536 and the Chapel was last used in 1685.

It is thought that there was probably a church nearby when the hospital was built. The present church of St James was built in 1830. The towns only remaining parish church of All Saints closed its doors in 1778 when the threat of erosion beckoned to topple the church over the cliffs, although this did not actually happen until the 1904, the final part falling in 1919. The north west buttress of All Saints was rebuilt in St James churchyard in 1923 and still stands there as a monument to the old church.

Local legend states that mysterious shadows accompanied by wails from the old leper colony can be seen and heard during the hours of darkness.

Swan near Eastbridge
Swan near Eastbridge

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2019-01-07

2012-03-18 : Initial publication
2016-01-15 : General website updates
2019-01-07 : General website updates, update notes


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