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Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Coastal Erosion at Thorpeness

Erosion at Thorpeness

A circular walk from Sizewell to Thorpeness along the Suffolk Coast Path

In recent years the Suffolk Coast Path has been rerouted in-land from Sizewell across the commons to Thorpeness due to coastal erosion. The old coast route can still be walked when the tide is right and there is always an escape up the cliffs to Thorpeness Common just before the Thorpeness cliffs where the tide cuts off access to the beach.

Coastal Erosion at Thorpeness - 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


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
10:30 to 16:00
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Fresh autumn day

Walk Notes

The power of the weather and the sea never ceases to amaze. This section of coastline between Sizewell and Thorpeness has been fairly stable ever since I first moved down this way back in the late 90's. The coastline is predominantly shingle with some sand which can increase when storms wash the shingle away, although it always returns given time. To the south of Sizewell the sandy cliffs are slowly eroding, probably more from the wind and rain rather than the tides. There are two precarious falls by the footpath along the cliff top in front of the Dower House. This can still be walked but it will probably not be long before the erosion encroaches on the footpath itself which will prevent access along the cliff top.

Further south, the shingle beach broadens as the shoreline turns south-west. This spit was appearing to increase in size over the years I have known it, offering haven to the village of Thorpeness which lays immediately south. However, in recent years a dramatic change has seen the end of the spit being taken by the sea with the cliff top houses being threatened as the sea encroaches onto the cliff. At high tide this is completely impassable and even at low tide, at times, can be difficult to get past.

To protect the houses, the existing cliff defences have been strengthened at a cost of £400,000, partly funded by Suffolk Council and the Environment Agency with a sizable contribution being put up by the householders. The defences involved placing nearly 2,000 fabric bags filled with sand and shingle which have been placed at the base of the cliffs. These were laid eight to ten layers deep on more than one-and-a-half square miles of geo-fabric, creating a 600ft toe-shaped structure to provide support to the existing rock- filled wire basket revetment. The work was completed in December 2011

There is no clear explanation of why this stable part of coastline dramatically changed in recent years although some locals appear to blame the erosion on the dredging that has been carried out just off the coast. Their argument being that the shingle beach has slipped down to fill the excavation caused from the dredging. The British Marine Aggregate Producers Association have denied that this has been the cause but then they cannot be said to be neutral in this affair as it is in their interest to negate any controversy over their business.

Taking the entire coastline between the Blyth and Alde estuaries, it would appear that erosion occurs in unpredictable phases. Many years of stability are then affected by a sea change resulting in significant erosion, the worse case being the disappearance of Dunwich which happened in the 13th century when a storm destroyed this sizable seaport overnight. During more recent years, with tightening budgets, there has been a managed retreat of the existing defences with the shingle bank north of Dunwich being left to the mercy of the sea with recent breaches remaining neglected. Further south at Minsmere a new inner sea wall has been completed allowing the north side of this bird reserve to be breached by the sea.

The worrying aspect of all this erosion is the siting of the new Sizewll C Nuclear Power Station. With the integrity of this section of coastline being compromised by the lack of investment in defences then it seems strange that such a vulnerable construction should be contemplated in being placed here. At a recent public exhibition in Leiston organized by EDF, the power company investing in the construction, I put the question about coastal defence to one of their representatives which was answered along the lines of 'research is still being undertaken as to whether it is needed'. In the Executive Summary of the documentation that was handed out at this exhibition it clearly states:

'We have been monitoring coastal processes in the area surrounding Sizewell C for a number of years. Our studies will help us decide how best to protect Sizewell C while limiting effects on the local environment as far as practicable. The future evolution of the coastline itself and the offshore Sizewell and Dunwich Banks, and the potential long-term interactions between the Minsmere Sluice, local shores and Sizewell C are being considered as part of our studies.'

There is more in depth documentation concerning their policy on coastal erosion in the Environmental Report.

Erosion is a big concern and despite the awareness that has been cited in these documents there does appear to be a certain amount of complacency towards sea defences by both the Government and the Power Companies in their fast track approach to address the lack of power generation in this country. In my opinion I would say that this section of coastline needs defending as an utmost priority and funds should be set aside to keep the integrity of such for the duration of the Power Stations. This not only needs doing if a new Sizewell C is built but also needs addressing in the present as Sizewell B is still in operation with its decommissioning schedule going on well into the next century. It is worrying that EDF are conducting the study of the impact of coastal erosion themselves rather than having an independent body assess such studies. They are naturally a biased party as the cost of any defence work will impact upon their profits. I do remember reading a report prepared by Imperial College with reference to Coastal Erosion on this part of the Suffolk Coast. This was inconclusive as it stated that there was not enough historic data to determine the course of future erosion. Unfortunately I have been unable to locate this report on-line.

There is a lot of concern from local residents after the catastrophe at Fukushima and one of the regular meetings between EDF and the local community had to be adjourned when EDF refused to answer the local residents concerns over this particular aspect. It is true that such events as major earthquakes or tsunamis are highly unlikely in this part of the world but the sea should not be taken for granted as a docile beast that will not turn against our coastline. It has done so in the past and I am certain it will do in the future and adequate funding should be put in place to safeguard our future and the future of those who will be living here in years to come.

Suffolk Coast Path Re-routing

With the Thropeness erosion preventing access along the beach at high tide, the Suffolk Coast Path has been re-routed, taking the public footpath away from the beach at the Dower House to the south of Sizewell, then navigating across Thorpeness Common to emerge into the village on Old Homes Road. This is an enjoyable little walk across the common land that is typical of this area. This route also avoids the crumbling cliffs in front of the Dower House.

It is still possible to walk along the cliffs and beach given the right tide conditions and there is access up the cliffs to the common just before Thorpeness should the tide cut off the route.

Defences in place at ThorpenessDefences in place at ThorpenessDefences in place at ThorpenessDefences in place at ThorpenessDefences in place at Thorpeness - the pillbox in the foreground was purposily pushed over the cliff after erosion threatened it fallingDefences in place at ThorpenessCliff erosion at SizewellDefences in place at ThorpenessDefences in place at ThorpenessWarning sign at ThorpenessFace in the shingleCliffs by Thorpeness Common being eroded by sea and weather
On the left Defences in place at Thorpeness; On the right Defences in place at Thorpeness


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). Take the path on the left as the path emerges from a tunnel of trees, then follow this round ignoring the private track that leads straight ahead. Look for the style on the right that leads onto Thorpeness Common. Take this and follow the path through the trees and out onto the cliff top heath, taking a left diagonal to the edge of the heath where there is a path down the cliff.

Either take the beach or the cliff path through to Sizewell. At Sizewell follow the road, past the Vulcan Arms inland. At the first junction on the left follow the road up to a cottage on the right with a track down the side. Take this track and at the end where the track branches off into two more tracks take the footpath on the right through to the rear of Halfway Cottages. Bear around to the left and then turn right to take the path between two fields, continuing straight ahead at the end onto the track that leads onto Red House Lane into Leiston.

Erosion at Thorpeness before the defences were completed
Erosion at Thorpeness before the defences were completed


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

Image of pub
The Vulcan Arms, Sizewell:

Another curious named pub with an award wining sign to match. 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 Cromwell's 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 offers a caravan site, food each lunctime and evening with Saturday evening carveries and Sunday Roast dinners. Ales on offer are Greene King IPA and Abbott and Woodfordes Bure Gold.


A Sunday afternoon at the Vulcan is always a welcome treat. I know I dont particular care for Green King ales but the Abbott here is always recommended and there is always some friendly banter with the host of this historic inn.

Cliff top erosion at SizewellRain channels down the cliff causing more erosion
On the left Cliff top erosion at Sizewell; On the right Rain channels down the cliff causing more erosion


Coastal ErosionView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Coastal erosion is the wearing away of land and the removal of beach or dune sediments by wave action, tidal currents, wave currents, or drainage. Waves, generated by storms, wind, or fast moving motor craft, cause coastal erosion, which may take the form of long-term losses of sediment and rocks, or merely the temporary redistribution of coastal sediments; erosion in one location may result in accretion nearby. The study of erosion and sediment redistribution is called 'coastal morphodynamics'.

The Suffolk Coast is composed of soft rock and sand which presents a vulnerable defence against wind and tide. There is a long history of man made defneces along this coast which have kept towns such as Southwold and Felixstowe safe from the sea although not all have had such a happy history. Dunwich was once a thriving port, one of the largest in East Anglia before it succombed to the sea. Slaughden, at the southern side of Aldebuurgh has vanished into the sea and what remains of Aldeburgh was at one time the centre of the community.

Stormy seas at Sizewell
Stormy seas at Sizewell


Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on an image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2019-01-01

2013-01-01 : Adapted from original Aldeburgh walk entitled 'Erosion at Thorpeness' which will be updated to focus on the Suffolk Coast Path to Aldeburgh
2013-02-05 : Added link to Lines of Defence timelapse video

  1 comment:

  1. more erosion at Thorpeness due to storm and tidal surge


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