The pure sea breeze ruffles your hair and kisses your cheeks turning them into a deep crimson. Every breath you take, cleanses your lungs and invigorates your soul with healthy, salty oxygen. You’re slowly lulled into a state of tranquility by the gentle hiss of the waves as they tease the shingle on the beach back and forth like a rhythmic massage. As you glance upwards to the wide open Suffolk sky, the cotton candy clouds part and a glowing ray of spring sunshine gently caresses your face and warms your heart. And, if only for a moment, the whole world is as it should be.
This relaxing and easy 7 mile walk, along one of the most delightful beaches in Suffolk, will invigorate your soul and evaporate life’s little troubles. It will take you on the mostly well-worn paths that run alongside one of the rarest beach habitats in the world, where sea kale and sea glass vie for position amongst the shingle and pebbles. Take this leisurely stroll with the sounds of the sea in your ears and the fresh ocean air in your lungs from the seaside resort of Aldeburgh, via Thorpeness onto Sizewell. At most times of the year you will find you have the large expanse of beach and the undulating waves of the sea pretty much to yourself.
You can start the walk either at Aldeburgh or Sizewell. There is a large pay and display carpark at Sizewell beach as well as a convenient beach cafe and public toilets. Aldeburgh has plenty of parking but can get bust at peak times. There are maximum stays for the free on-street parking, except for the small row of parking bays adjacent to the fish stalls.
You can shorten the walk, from either start point, by returning the way you came once you get to Thorpeness. The leg from Sizewell to Thorpeness and back is about 4 miles. The walk from Thorpeness to Aldeburgh is then another 1 and a half miles. Allow a little extra time if you decide to have a walk around and explore Thorpeness or Aldeburgh.
Sizewell to Thorpeness
Assuming you’re starting the walk at Sizewell, then park in the Sizewell Beach car park noting that charges apply seven days a week including public holidays. The cost, however, is reasonable at £1 for 2 hours or £2 for up to 4 hours. Parking is free for the first 30 minutes though you will still need a ticket and enter your car licence plate number to avoid a penalty fine.
There’s a café next to the car park where you can enjoy a sizzling bacon sandwich and a mug of piping hot tea before setting out, or reward yourself with a calorie refuel at the end of your walk if you’re doing the return trip or walking the route the other way round.
Talking of energy, don’t miss out on the chance to walk as close to the overwhelming hulk of the Sizewell Nuclear Power plant, which is beside the beach just north of the car park. Don’t wander beyond the boundary markers though, unless you want to be surprised by the rapidly deployed armed patrol guards!
Sizewell’s Rare and Unusual Beach Habitat
After marvelling at the power plant, turn around and head south down the beach past the small beached fishing boats, which are evidence of the small but still active fishing fleet. Sizewell beach is a rare and unusual shingle habitat where wild plants, flowers and animals thrive. There are beaches like this in only two other countries worldwide, including one in Australia.
Head south with the North Sea to your left, along the beach. If the tide is out, there is firm sand at the water’s edge making it easier to walk on, otherwise, if you don’t enjoy walking on shingle, head to the coastal path at the top of the beach.
The coastal path becomes slightly elevated after half a mile, providing an excellent view of the beach and the sea from the top of the cliffs that have formed due to erosion.
Sizewell Hall & Campsite
To your right, inland, you’ll pass Sizewell Hall and pass under the tunnel beneath the patio of the large house that is the Warden’s Trust. The Trust was formed in 1991 as a place where children and adults with disabilities can experience learning and recreational activities. Sizewell Hall is a Christian Conference centre, established in the grand ancestral holiday home of the Ogilvie family. Next to Sizewell Hall is a campsite providing tent pitches and chalet holiday accommodation, many with unobscured views of the beach and sea.
Continue walking along the cliff path, which will eventually bring you back down onto the beach.
Cliff Erosion- Path Diversion
After a short ramble over the shingle and as you approach Thorpeness, signs will guide you to the path above the beach. There is a small stretch of cliffs that have become unstable due to storm damage, so take the inland path for 200 metres or so until you come to the first set of houses that marks your arrival in Thorpeness. You can then either head back onto the beach to continue walking, or head into the village to take a look around.
Thorpeness – An Unusual Edwardian Beach Resort
The photogenic seaside village of Thorpeness is famous for its “House in the Clouds” holiday rental and pretty boating lake and cafes. Stuart Ogilvie bought the hamlet in the early 1900s and transformed the architecture into a fascinating mock Tudor holiday village on a grand scale. I was reliably informed that across England there are only two other villages that came into being pure as seaside resorts. Spend some time wandering around this unusual place, admiring the strange but mainly aesthetically pleasing architecture and picturesque boating lake (the Mere). Also, look across the Mere to view the rather bizarre “House in the Clouds” holiday home.
After enjoying a coffee or ice cream by the mere, head back to the beach and continue heading south towards Aldeburgh which will soon be visible in the near distance, admiring the beach houses that are often reminiscent of homes along the Newfoundland or New England coasts of North America.
At this point, you can turn around and head back to Sizewell, but if you have both the time and energy, carry on to Aldeburgh and a bag of the freshest fish and chips you’re ever likely to eat.
Thorpeness to Aldeburgh
As you pass the last large holiday home on the edge of Thorpness, follow the beaten path in land slightly (this eventually turns into a tarmac path beside a car park. Across the road from here is the RSPB North Warren reserve where you can view ducks, swans and geese nesting in the marches in winter, or breeding bitterns, marsh harriers, woodlarks and nightingales in the spring.
Continue following the path into Aldeburgh, stopping momentarily to admire “the Scallop”, a 4m tall steel sculpture created by the Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling, commissioned in honour of local poet and composer Benjamin Britten.tAs you reach the town of Aldeburgh, you’ll pass a ramshackle collection of fishermen’s huts, some selling an excellent array of the freshest fish you can buy, including smoked herring, lobster and shellfish. You can also admire the fishing boats, winched up onto the shingle shore by huge winches and chains, just yards from the fish stalls.
As you continue into Aldeburgh you pass the ancient Moot Hall and the small toy boating lake. The Moot Hall is a 1500’s timber-framed Grade I listed building used for town council meetings for over 400 years. Don’t stop at just admiring the Moot Hall though, wander around the town and you may see some of the other 64 historic, listed buildings and monuments on offer.
The town has a vibrant high street that runs parallel to the shore, where you’ll find an array of cafes, pubs and restaurants including the famous chippy, which often wins prizes for its fresh from the sea fried cod and haddock. There are two chip shops, the Golden Galleon (which also has seating options) and, in my view the best but busiest, which is at the south end of the high street. Be prepared to queue during the spring and summer seasons, it’s definitely worth the wait.
After the Martello Tower you’ll come to a gate which marks the boundary of a protected stretch of the coast. You can’t go any further so either head back to your car the way you came or take one of the ancient Sailor’s paths across the Alde estuary towards Snape Maltings (see my other post on this walk).
In this part of Suffolk you’re spoilt for choice on places to stay. Aldeburgh has a number of hotels, most with sea view rooms. There are hundreds of holiday homes (the town is known locally as Little London due to the number of Londoners who own second homes here, which is also reflected in the house prices where a modest terraced home can cost three times the amount it would if it were just five miles further inland). If you’re doing the return walk, then Sizewell Hall camping site offers low-cost tent pitches and some great cabins with sea views.
For dinner, you’re again spoilt for choice in Aldeburgh. If the fish and chips don’t fill you up for the day (don’t skip these as you’ll struggle to get a better version of the English traditional dish anywhere else) then there are some great restaurants in Aldeburgh, including the excellent Lighthouse.
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