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

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Captains Wood, Sudbourne

Captains Wood

A 2.4 mile walk around the ancient woodland of Captains Wood just outside the hamlet of Sudbourne

This is a hidden gem of a walk close to the Suffolk Coast in woodland which is currently under the management of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. The ancient woodland is full of life, colour and a natural wildness that is a pleasure to behold. A waymarked path provides easy access around the wood so one cannot get lost. Just take ones time and take it all in.

A walk around Suffolk's Captains Wood at Sudbourne - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Sudboure Tunstall Forest car park View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Captains Wood View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
2 miles
Walk difficulty
woodland paths
There is no parking at the site, a car park exists east of the village by Tunstall Forest from where it is a 5 minute walk back to the woodland


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
12:30 to 14:00
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Overcast but warm

Walk Notes

The best kept secrets always lie on ones doorstep. A typical example is the ancient woodland located in Sudbourne parish that is commonly known as Captains Wood. It is off the beaten tourist track and is seemingly only known by locals although I have lived in the area for 16 years with no knowledge of it until recently. Having said that, when I moved to this part of Suffolk I was told that it would take 25 years to be accepted as a local. I believe that qualification has increased in the years since although I have now found the secret of Captains Wood which must mean I am somewhat local now. The secret is also given away by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust who own the area and have a website advertising the fact but one needs to know it is there to search for it.

The hamlet of Sudbourne is on the Snape to Orford road, an unassuming small Suffolk village with an ancient history whose manor dates from Saxon times. Records show that King Edgar, the king of England from 959 to 975AD and known as Edgar the Peaceful, gave the Manor to Bishop Æthelwold in exchange for the Bishops translation of the Rule of St Benedict into English. The manor house, which was rebuilt as Sudbourne Hall in 1784, still exists to this day and is located close to Orford. During the WWII the Hall was employed as an officers mess when the entire village was evacuated to make way for a tank training ground, remnants which can still be found at Boyton marshes. A local reminder of this period of hostilities can still be seen today in the Sudbourne Village Hall which was built during the war years as an army hut.

Unfortunately, this remote part of Suffolk has no public transport these days, therefore getting to Sudbourne involves a 5 mile hike from Snape, the location of the nearest bus service which itself has had its frequency reduced recently, with a similar return distance. The only other alternative is, as on this occasion, to drive. It must be noted that Captains Wood has no parking and the narrow road that leads to it certainly is not a suitable place to leave ones vehicle without obstructing the thoroughfare. However, the locals have placed convenient notices pointing down School Lane indicating 'Parking for Captains Wood' in large black lettering. Following these markers will lead one through the village and out to a little parking area on the edge of the Sudbourne section of Tunstall Forest. From here it is a simple walk back to the village and the old schoolhouse where a track on the right leads down to Captains Wood which is clearly marked with another simple black on white notice.

Captains Wood is unlike most of the managed woodland in this area as it is open and airy with many fallen trees together with old gnarly ancient trees providing an interesting landscape at every turn of the path that leads through it. Ancient oak and birch stand amongst hazel, chestnut and Scots pine to provide a mixed scene. In springtime it hosts one of the largest expanses of bluebells in Suffolk. In autumn fungi spring from the ground and the rotting wood. There are sections of rough grassland and scrub and areas of marsh that support a wetland habitat. It is a wonder in itself and certainly well worth the effort of seeking out, and, as on this occasion when one is not 100% in health, then it is very therapeutic.

The history of the area is discussed in the main feature of this walk. There is also a feature discussing the Sudbourne hobby lanterns, also known as will-o-the-wisps, which are peculiar dancing lights that are said to occasionally appear in this area.



A well marked waymarked trail around the ancient woodland

A small rough area accessible as a car park can be found east of Sudbourne along School Lane and on the edge of Tunstall Forest. Return back along School Lane until the road has a slight bend where the old Schoolhouse is located on the right. Just past this, what looks like a driveway, is the access to Captains Wood. At the top end, a gate leads into a meadow with an information board just beyond the gate. This details the route around the forest plus provides information about the flora, fauna and wildlife.

For this instance of the walk take the right hand route alongside the boundary of the field and keep following the path and waymarkers. Eventually the path comes to a pond across which there is further woodland, at this point follow the waymarkers away from the pond. Eventually the route comes to a meeting of paths, take the right hand route which has the waymarkers on the opposite side of the posts and continue along this route until it eventually returns to the meadow.

One cannot get lost, although it can be disorientating as to where one is relative to the start. There is no more than 1.5 miles of walking in the forest and the end of the route is soon reached. Take ones time and enjoy the natural woodland scenery.

Natural looking benches blend into the sceneryShadows and light in Captains Wood
On the left Natural looking benches blend into the scenery; On the right Shadows and light in Captains Wood


History of Captains WoodView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The derivation of the name of Captains Wood is unknown. Late 19th century OS maps indicate the size and position are pretty much the same as the present day, although the surrounding areas of heathland and much of Sudbourne Great Wood has now been given over to farmland. The most notable feature of these old maps are what looks like a landscaped area on the Sudbourne side of the wood. The outlines of the circular features can still be seen today on the aerial view of Google Maps. The Suffolk wildlife Trust acknowledges this old feature, noting that,

...all that can be found today are a few exotic trees, crumbling walls and lines of thistle and nettle that follow the course of former walls and ditches

The creation, and ownership of this landscaped area is unknown. There are no large houses close by which may have had the resources to construct such an ornamental feature so its existence is a mystery. There are a couple of theories as to its origination, such as that described by the Butley Research Group who have published an online document which suggests that the area may have been a creation of a local landowner named William Chaplin, who it suggests was a keen landscape gardener. This paper then proposes that the name of the wood may have been a corruption of the name Chaplin to that of Captain. It is certainly a thought and there is a Chaplins Carr indicated on the 19th century OS map, east of Sudbourne church. This reference also states that William Chaplin died and was buried at Sudbourne in April 1882 which does beg the question as to why the maps of this era have the name of Captains Wood rather than Chaplins Wood. Surely if this was a corruption of the Chaplin name then it would have occurred after his death.

Another suggestion comes from a 1970s thesis document by PM Warner and entitled Blything Hundred A Study in the Development of Settlement AD. 400-1400 which has a footnote on page 33 concerning Cutmore Wood next to Sudbourne Common which it states is taken from the 1785 Hodskinsons Map of Suffolk. This account is used by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust in their History of Captains Wood, stating that the name of Cutmore devolved to that of Captain although it provides no reference as to where this idea was found or its timescale.


Sudbourne Hobby LanternsView in OS Map | View in Google Map

A reputation was gained for reports of strange lights in the Sudbourne area ever since December 1980 when local man Gordon Levitt became one of the first civilian witnesses to report what was to subsequently become known as The Rendlesham Forest Incident. The phenomenon he reported from a cottage known as White Lodge, by the junction with the B1084 and the Orford Road, was of phosphorescent light that hovered and descended over the cottage before moving off towards the Randlesham Forest area. Interviews with Mr Levitt have appeared across the internet and in the media and this has put Sudbourne on the map for strange encounters.

This account has led many die-hard ufo researchers grasping for other historic encounters around the area and one specific incident has been repeated many times in the media. This is a case reported in the 1940s and is undoubtedly a good description of what is known as earthlights, or more colloquially hobby lanterns or will-o-the-wisps. This appears to have little connection with the Rendlesham phenomenon but it is an interesting observation of a little understood natural phenomenon.

There is no definitive answer as to what causes these lights and it is often quoted as ignited marsh gas or natural luminescence from phosphor compounds although many other explanations have been put forward even without the existential ideas of the new-age fraternity. Traditionally these lights were reputed to be the ghostly eminences of restless souls which would lead the unwary traveller away from well trodden paths and to their doom across marshes. One such piece of folklore, known as Heards Holde, is discussed in another walk in the Norfolk section of this site.

The Sudbourne account provided here dates from the late 19th century and was said to have been originally published in The East Anglian Miscellany during the early 1940's as a letter by a Mr G F Fell of Orford, although there appears to be no definitive mention as to the specific edition of this periodical. The letter was much later republished in the Fortean Times as an online article and it is from this account that the following extract has been taken:

May I beg a space in the ‘Miscellany’ for a problem I have never been able to solve? Perhaps some reader can explain or enlighten me on the subject. In my boyhood days 60 years ago [i.e. c.1882] there were no cinemas or dance halls, not even a gramophone, and us boys had to find material for amusement standing at the corner of the street. Most people have heard or read stories about ‘Will-o’-the-wisps’: we called them Hobby Lanterns. I expect very few people have seen one, and some may think no-one else has, but this story is absolutely true. At Sudbourne there are two fields known as Workhouse Field and Kiln Field and on certain nights one of these objects could be seen on these fields. They look like a dull red light, like a lantern with the glass smoky. It moved to and fro across the field, about walking pace, always in the same track above the ground: it never went near the hedge.

One night we went out to see if we could find what it was. When we went off the road on the field it vanished, so we spread out and walked across the field and back slowly, but we could see nothing. Then as we were going off the field it suddenly appeared again: then half of us stopped on the road and the others went to have another look; they could see nothing, but from the road it was visible all the time except at intervals of a few seconds it was invisible.

This is a very good report by what appears to be a calm and collected investigation of such a phenomenon. However, it is difficult to place the exact location of the incident as the fields referred to are not marked on any maps. One would expect that as one of the fields was known as Workhouse Field that it would be close to the workhouse. Sudbourne, like many historic towns and villages, had a workhouse which was a public institution for the destitute of a parish where board and lodging was offered in return for work. The workhouse system dated from medieval times and lasted through to the 19th century and records show that in 1777 the Sudbourne workhouse had 30 residents. In 1835 the Plomesgate Poor Law Union came into being which resulted in the construction of the Plomesgate Union workhouse in Wickham Market which served for all the constituent parishes within the Plomesgate Hundred. Presumably, this was the time the Sudbourne workhouse ceased to function. The next mention of the building comes from Sudbourne Baptist church who used the vacant property for their initial meetings starting on May 30th 1860, before they moved to a converted cottage in School Lane.

Some have insinuated the location is what is known as the Lantern Marshes, but this is on Orford Ness, across the river Ore and is not in Sudbourne parish. Such a location does not fit the evidence provided as it has no hedges or a road alongside it. The location could be anywhere around Sudbourne, with marshy areas, which are traditionally the haunt of such phenomenon, to the South and East as well as in Captains Wood, although examples of the phenomenon have been recorded on other land types such as the heathland and woodland areas which exist to the North and west of Sudbourne. It is something to think about if one takes the evening air for a wander around Captains Wood as the sun is setting. Maybe a hobby lantern will present itself.

Dead tre like a sculpture
Dead tre like a sculpture


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: 2018-12-08

2016-03-16 : Initial publication
2018-12-08 : General website updates


  1. This web page loses all credibility as soon as you start talking of the silly so-called Rendlesham 'incident' which was nothing more than an accident involving a US helicopter belonging to the 67th ARRS squadron carrying the old practice Apollo command module clipping the runway landing lights and the crew were forced to dump the Apollo CM into the forest.
    At sunrise, a full scale hush hush operation took place to retrieve the command module (which was only a replica for practice rescue missions don't forget)

    This was highly embarrassing for the USAF, but they allowed the 67th ARRS to cover up this incident with a silly UFO story which got out of hand.

    Please remember NO DOGS ARE ALLOWED in Captains Wood.

    1. Thank you for taking time to add a comment to this page.

      The feature in this walk is not specifically about the Rendlesham Forest 'incident' but about the earth lights, or will-o-the-wisps, that have been noted in the area. The mention of Rendlesham is merely bringing attention to the fact that these local phenomenon are often incorrectly associated with this incident.

      With regards to The Rendlesham Forest Incident, it is a complex web of claims and counterclaims with very little hard evidence about what actually occurred. I would gladly accept any documented evidence to account for the events but sadly there has been no official documentation released that offers such an answer. All we have are rumours, conflicting claims and various speculations and theories to account for the incident, the Apollo Command Module being one of them.

      Thank you for reading this and adding the note that dogs are not allowed in Captains Wood which should be noted by all who intend on visting this woodland.


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