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

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Sandlings Walk - Martlesham to Rushmere Heath

Martlesham Heath Control Tower Museum

A 4.5 mile walk across heathland from Martlesham to Rushmere Heath on the eastern fringes of Ipswich

Like most modern towns, Ipswich is suffering from a seemingly endless amount of urban sprawl that envelops the traditional villages that once surrounded it. However, this walk follows heathland that is hidden behind the housing estates all the way from Martlesham through to Rushmere Heath and Ipswich Hospital

The Sandlings Walk - Martlesham to Rushmere Heath - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Martlesham View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Ipswich Hospital View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
2 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)


Details of public transport that is required for the walk

First Group - Bus Service
Service Details
64 - First Group 64 service connects Ipswich, Woodbridge, Wickham Market, Saxmundhamm, Leiston and Aldeburgh.

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
13:00 to 14:30
Weather Conditions
Overcast, brightening up

Walk Notes

Although this route is covered in the Ipswich to Melton walk, it is nonetheless worth recording this shorter route which is useful for getting to and from Ipswich Hospital without having to negotiate the traffic of the Woodbridge Road. The trail is surprisingly rural considering that it is just behind the main roads through Kesgrave and the sprawling urbanisation of Ipswich. In fact, the only give-away that one is in any proximity to such a metropolis is the distant sound of traffic, which always seems to be interspersed with a single motorbike giving plenty of throttle.

This particular occasion was to coincide with one such visit to Ipswich Hospital. With visiting hours starting at 3pm, this leaves a couple of hours for an afternoons amble to make a pleasant way of combining both a walk and a hospital visit. Starting at the Black Tiles pub in Martlesham, the route is easy to follow, well marked, and has some key points of interest with the mysterious Dobbs Graves and the Martlesham Heath museum on the route.

As the path enters Rushmere Heath there is a choice of two paths. One heads across to Heath Road, emerging by the hospital, and the second diverges to the right and comes out on Woodbridge Road from where the Hospital is just down the road and around the corner. Having walked the route to Heath Road previously and with ample time available I chose the Woodbridge Road route on this occasion.

Public transport links the start and end of this route, with the 64 and 65 bus services linking the Heath Road roundabout at Rushmere Heath with the Black Tiles stop at Martlesham.

Track through woodland by Martlesham Heath
Track through woodland by Martlesham Heath


The route is marked out with the distinctive Sandlings waymarkers that are conveniently placed throughout the distance

A public footpath enters the woodland opposite the Black Tiles pub, adjacent to the bus stop. Keep to this path through the wood and across the subsequent heath until it meets the Sandlings path by the perimeter of the Tesco superstore.

Turn right and follow the path which soon leads through an underpass to junction with a paved path on the other side. Turn right and follow the path, then road, past the Suffolk Constabulary headquarters. Before the road junctions with the Woodbridge Road, turn left on a track through the woods. Keep to this track and where it meets a school turn left and follow the route past the Martlesham Heath Control Tower Museum. Just past the museum bear round to the right and through more woodland to the road at Dobbs Corner.

Cross directly over the road and the path continues past Dobbs' Grave then leads out across some playing fields and continues along grassed area to Bell Lane. Cross straight over. There is an alternative Sandlings route on the left which will end up at Bixley Heath. Ignore this and continue straight ahead.

The path is now a typical footpath through more wooded areas which soon emerges onto Rushmere Heath where there is a Sandlings sculpture. At this point there are two possible choices. Either continue straight ahead which will emerge onto Heath Road opposite the hospital or take the path that diverges off to the right that leads to Woodbridge Road. Continue left along Woodbridge Road, straight over at the roundabout and just beyond, on the left, is a walkway that leads through to the Hospital.

Track through woodland by Martlesham HeathDobb's Grave
On the left Track through woodland by Martlesham Heath; On the right Dobb's Grave


Black Tiles, Martlesham View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Black tiles Lane, Martlesham

This unusually named pub was built in 1936 as a tea-room and takes its name from the shiny black pan-tiles that were used to roof the building. At the time the building was bordered to the east and south with Beech trees and a pine plantation stood to the west which provided a tranquil setting. The tea rooms were frequented by tourists up until the outbreak of WWII when trade changed to pilots and aircrew that were stationed at the nearby RAF Martlesham.

The tea room obtained a licence in 1956 but this was for diners only. It was not converted into a pub until the 1970s. Today it is a renowned and popular family pub with a variety of food on offer and a large garden. Ales are from Adnams.


I was one of the first lunchtime customers before the family crowds started to descend on this popular eating house. A variety of Adnams ales were on offer and Ghost Ship was my choice. A mighty fine ale, a full bodied and complex beer that starts with some maltiness but tantalizes the tastebuds with hints of lemon and lime as it goes down.

Long Strops
Long Strops


Dobbs' GraveView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The meeting point of the parishes of Kesgrave, Foxhall, Brightwell and Martlesham is the location of Dobbs' Grave. The grave is marked by a headstone and a footstone and enclosed within an ironwork fence following repeated acts of vandalism in the 1990's. The only marking on either stone is a simple cross.

Although the name of the incumbent of this grave is universally accepted as Dobbs, there are many stories that claim to put an identity to this person. Some say Dobbs was a highwayman who was left hanging beside the road as a warning to others and then unceremoniously buried alongside the gallows. Another story states the grave belongs to a gypsy who was hanged for stealing sheep.

The most popular tale is that Dobbs was an unfortunate shepherd who hanged himself in a barn on Kesgrave Hall Farm, now known as Grange Farm. Records appear to concur with this, showing that a John Dobbs, whose wife and children died, did indeed hang himself in the 1700's. The custom of the time was to bury all suicides and wrongdoers at the meeting of four crossways. It was considered that the spirit of the guilty may well return to seek revenge and by placing their bodies at a crossroads would confuse the spirit as to the direction of their home. To further prevent the spirit from raising it was often customary to also drive a wooden stake through the heart.

To add a curious twist to this story, local folklore states that many years later, the story of Dobbs was being discussed during the harvest celebrations at the nearby Bell Inn. With a lot of drink flowing it was eventually decided that the only way to determine who lay in the grave was to dig it up. With the Dutch courage from the drink to fuel their endeavour, a group of men made their way to the site around about midnight. They started digging down and eventually discovered the bones of a man with a wooden stake in his rib cage. Before the hole was in-filled, one of the men, a chap from Bealings known as Reeves, removed one of the skeletons teeth. He is said to have worn this as a pendant for the rest of this life.

Martlesham Heath AirfieldView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Martlesham Heath was Suffolk's first airfield, becoming the home to the Royal Flying Corps in 1917 being enlarged in 1924 to become the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment. In 1939 it was allocated to No.11 Group of Fighter Command, as a satellite to North Weald and Debden.

Soon after the outbreak of WWII the airfield gained a permanent squadron, No.264 with visits from 266 Squadron from Rhodesia and 85 Squadron. The hostilities resulted in attacks from the Luftwaft though little damage was inured. In 1943 the 356th Fighter Group arrived from the US and flew missions until the end of the war when the airfield reverted back to RAF use.

The airfield finally closed in 1963. Much of the former site were taken over for industrial use and the hangars and technical site buildings became storage areas and sites for light industry with part of the site given over to the main headquarters to Suffolk Constabulary. The former control tower has now become a museum dedicated to the history of RAF Martlesham Heath and is open on Sundays between April and October. On the old RAF parade ground is a memorial to commemorate the members of the 356th Fighter Group who lost their lives in the war.


Long Strops View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Long strops is a mile long bridleway and public open space between Kesgrave Wood and Bell Lane.

Long Strops was once a track across heathland. Gradually the heathland was cultivated. Old maps show that there were fields called long strops and short strops located next to the track. The origin of the name strop is unclear but it may refer to a strip of land

Rushmere HeathView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Rushmere Common is common land that dates from the Middle Ages. In the 18th century it was the place of execution for crimes of house breaking, burglary, robbery and murder among the misdemeanour's of those who suffered their fate on the heath.

During the early 19th century the area was used by the army with up to 11,000 men under arms being stationed on the common.

Over the years there has been disputes between thee Manor and the commoners over its rightful use with a man named Nathanial Abblit being a champion of the commoners' rights. In 1861 he had a stone tablet erected on the outside of his cottage, which can still be seen today on the wall of the Baptist Chapel. The stone is inscribed with:

This tablet sheweth every person's right to the heath who lives or occupies in the parish, by the decision of Lancelot Shadwell Counsellor in the House of Lords, being applied to when the 800l was paid by the government for the troops exercising there, he gave his opinion that every person must have equal share who cut whins and feed cattle there, so we had all 8l each them and ever since the parish receive 5l a year the troops being few, this 5l is always divided.

In 1881 a Commoners Committee was established to manage the common. In 1895 a golf course was established on the common which is still there today. In 1958 the title to the land was purchased by the Chairman of the Commoners Committee, for £500, who then sold it to the Commoners for the same price. The title is held in trust by the Trustees and the conduct of the Commoners' affairs is regulated by the Trust Deed. In 1967 the common was registered as a common under the Commons Registration Act. After that time, all commoners' rights not registered by individual commoners were lost.

Rushmere Heath
Rushmere Heath


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: 2018-12-20

2013-06-05 : Initial publication
2018-12-20 : General website updates


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