It’s difficult to beat the revitalising, relaxing seaside views of the peaceful Suffolk coast. An abundance of fauna and flora have waited patiently for centuries to fill your senses with the sounds, sights and smells that are unique to this unspoilt corner of England. This short, easy walk starts at the picturesque seaside village of Walberswick. We then cross the River Blyth to the upmarket, understated resort of Southwold. This relaxing short hike will leave you feeling healthier, in spirit and well as in mind and body.
Walberswick - A Hidden Suffolk Gem
We begin in the pretty, unspoilt seaside village of Walberswick. Once a major port on the English North Sea, Walberswick has become a peaceful haven that is especially popular with artists and celebrities. Several Hollywood actors and famous authors have second homes here. Artists and photographers adore the unique light and the vast range of empty, large sky compositions available. Celebrities, such as Richard Curtis, Emma Freud, David Morrissey and Uma Thurman, come for the peacefulness, privacy and beauty.
The Village Green at Walberswick
The village is a pretty, quintessential English village with a village green, a couple of excellent pubs and a cafe. To the North, separated by the River Blyth, is the larger, but still very laid back, seaside town of Southwold, with its handsome refurbished pier, sandy beaches, busy promenade, fish and chip shops, a generous selection of pubs and boutique hotels, as well as a selection of quirky shops and boutiques. Southwold is also the original home to the Adnams brewery and hosts a very well stocked wine and beer store.
This pleasant, gentle coastal walk takes you from Walberswick to Southwold and back, taking in the majestic views of the river, reed beds and meres which are positively brimming with wildlife. It’s an easy hike along mostly level, well-worn paths. Some of the riverside paths can be a little muddy in wet weather, so bring sturdy boots just in case. Parts of the walk can also be done along the pebbles and sands along Southwold’s beach, but there are more solid beach paths available if you prefer. The walk can take anything from an hour to three hours, depending on whether you extend it along to Southwold Pier, or just spend time exploring the harbour and crossing back via the little ferry.
Walberswick & The River Blyth
There are two large car parks in Walberswick, one on the bend after the Anchor Inn and before the village green (there are also some public toilets here) and another by the small harbour after you’ve passed the green. Don’t park along the village’s narrow roads as this can be inconvenient to the local residents. After parking up, head North (with the sea to your right) towards the harbour and river, spending a little time watching the children excitedly fishing for crabs (“crabbing”) off the tide walls and foot bridges.
When you get to the river turn left and away from the sea and head along the river path. Take a look at the small row-boat ferry which has been operating here for generations. Optionally you can cross the river on the ferry to shorten the route, perhaps on your way back from Southwold (see below).
Follow the river path to the footbridge that spans the river but don’t cross just yet. Instead, continue along the river path to enjoy some great river views, to enjoy the almost perfect solitude and to watch huge flocks of migrating geese, egrets and the majestic and always surprisingly huge, herons. This is a great spot for a picnic or to just sit for a while and enjoy the tranquility and calming spirit of Mother Nature.
If you so desired you could extend your walk by continuing along the riverside as far as the A12 road at Blythbrough, then cross here to the other side and head back towards the coast on the opposite bank. This will add a couple of miles to your walk, but offers some wonderful views and opportunities for bird watching.
However, to continue our short walk, once you’ve spent time enjoying the heaths and their wildlife, turn around and head back the way you came, back to the footbridge, and cross the river here.
Southwold Harbour & Beach
After crossing the river over the footbridge, turn right back towards the sea, walking along Southwold harbour next to the river. There is a footpath behind the harbour side buildings that will bring you to the same destination (the car park by the Lifeboat Shed) but I prefer to take the potholed road throughs the small harbour. Here you can watch the ship repairmen at work, browse the contemporary designs in the reclaimed wooden furniture store or the fresh fish shops with their mouthwatering wares. One sign declares “if this fish was any fresher, it would still be swimming”, and apt testament to how delicious and fresh the produce is, right beside the boats that caught it.
A great place to stop for a coffee or maybe lunch, is either the Harbour Cafe, Mrs T’s Fish & Chips or the Sole Bay Fish Company. Set in nothing more than rope strewn wooden shacks, these wonderful eating establishments haver a rustic, shabby-chic feel.
Once refreshed, continue walking along the harbour road, past the Lifeboat shed and then across the harbour carpark. Cross the heath and walk through the dunes and you’ll come out onto the beach.
Now head northwards (to your left as you look out to sea) along the beach for about 10 minutes until you reach the paved promenade of Southwold, which starts just after the often very busy beachside cafe.
If you still find walking on pebbles and sand difficult, you can either walk right next to the gently lapping waves (where the wet sand is firmer under foot) or head back beyond the dunes where there are more sturdy, well-worn footpaths.
Southwold & Its Promenade
After passing the beach cafe, you can either continue walking on along the beach, as far as you wish and as far as the pier, or you can head onto the paved promenade.
The promenade is set on two levels and at peak times is full of families taking a stroll and enjoying the revitalising sea air. There are some public toilets just up above the promenade and a further facility is available just beyond the pier.
Southwold pier has recently been renovated by the Suffolk entrepreneurs who also own the excellent Salt House and Angel Hotels in Ipswich and Bury-St-Edmunds respectively. It’s been sensitively updated, with white washed wooden buildings, a quirky water-powered mechanical click tower and an antique amusement arcade (20p to get an electric shock or take a mechanical dog for a walk). On the pier are also cafes, gift shops and a fish and chip restaurant, as well as a more modern amusement arcade.
You can now head back towards the river, following the same route along the seafront but in reverse. Alternatively you could head up into the town to explore a little more. There’s a small high street lined with a mix of famous brand stores and small independent shops. The town is the home to the Adnams brewery and brewery tours and tasting events are available, pre-booking is advised, as well as a very well stocked wine and beer store.
You’ll have probably also noticed that the town is dominated by the tall, white lighthouse than looks out across Sole Bay. The lighthouse was apparently positioned so far inland to protect it from coastal erosion and the worst of the weather and waves that the Suffolk coast can occasionally muster.
The Walberswick Ferry
When you arrive back at the riverside, locate the ferry crossing and if the small ferry boat is on the other bank and isn’t about to cross, give them a polite wave to let them know you’re there.
A ferry has operated here for over 785 years (since 1236). For a while the rowing boat was replaced with a chain ferry and was used to transport carts, cars, cattle and even elephants! Since the 1940’s it has operated in its original for of a rowing boat. For more information please visit the Walberswick Ferry website. The ferry company also offer river trips if you want to spend a little more time admiring the countryside views Suffolk has to offer.
After alighting the ferry and before returning to your car, I recommend you spend some time exploring the sand dunes behind the beach, or maybe relaxing by the sea, dipping your aching feet in the cold salty waters or, for the brave, taking a swim.
I really hope you enjoy this walk and, please let me know if you have any additional suggestions or recommendations.
Places to Eat, Drink or Sleep
There are a couple of great pubs in the village, including the very popular dinner venue of The Anchor and The Bell Inn. Reservations are recommended (a must at peak times), as these pubs can get very popular. There is also a cafe – The Parish Lantern Tea Rooms – on the village green.
Both pubs also offer accommodation if you want to spend longer to explore and soak in this wonderful location and there are numerous cottages for rent via the Airbnb or the local cottage companies such as Best of Suffolk, or Suffolk Secrets.
You are spoiled for choice for places to eat and drink in Southwold. For lunch, one of the cafes at the harbour or the fantastic fish restaurant are recommended. The There is also an excellent fish and chip shop here.
In the town there are several pubs, a pizza parlour and more cafes. The Two Magpies Bakery is especially delicious for cakes, coffee and artisan breads, and the Southwold pier also offers cafes and fish and chips options.
Southwold also offers a large number of options for places to stay, including cottages and apartments on the websites mentioned previously. If you want a hotel or pub stay, then I can personally recommend the ones I’ve stayed in, including The Swan and The Crown. Alternatively try the more quirky Sail Loft.