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Benjamin Britten's Aldeburgh

A walk in the footsteps of Britain's best-known 20th-century composer.

Distance 5.7 miles (9.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths River and sea wall, meadows, old railway track, 6 stiles

Landscape Town, river, marshes and beach

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 212 Woodbridge & Saxmundham

Start/finish TM 463555

Dog friendliness Off lead on river wall, on lead on permissive path - not allowed on beach between May and September

Parking Slaughden Quay free car park

Public toilets Slaughden Quay, Fort Green, Moot Hall

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1 Start at Slaughden Quay, once a thriving port, now a yacht club. Walk back briefly in the direction of Aldeburgh and turn left along the river wall on the north bank of the River Alde. There are good views to your left of the Martello tower that marks the northern end of Orford Ness. Stay on the river wall for 2 miles (3.2km) as the river swings right towards Aldeburgh.

2 When the river bends left at a stile, go down the wooden staircase to your right and keep straight ahead across a meadow with a water tower visible ahead. Go through a gate and bear half-left across the next meadow to cross a footbridge. Follow the waymarks, bearing half-right, then keep straight ahead across the next field to come to another footbridge. After crossing a third footbridge, the path runs alongside allotments and goes through a gate to reach a lane.

3 Turn left by a brick wall and cross the recreation ground. Continue past the fire station to reach a road. Turn right for 75yds (69m) then go left on a signposted footpath almost opposite the hospital entrance. Follow this path through a housing estate, cross a road and keep straight ahead with a caravan site on the right.

4 When you see a stile on the right, leading to a track across the caravan park, turn left and immediately right on a permissive path that follows the trackbed of an old railway. Stay on this path for ½ mile (800m) as it climbs steadily between farmland to the left and woodland and marshes to the right. Turn right at a junction of paths and cross a stile to reach the open meadows. Stay on this path, crossing the North Warren nature reserve with views of Sizewell power station to your left.

5 Cross the road and turn right along a concrete path that runs parallel to the beach. As you approach Aldeburgh, you pass fishermen's huts and fishing boats that have been pulled up on to the shingle. Pass the timber-framed Moot Hall and continue along Crag Path past a model yacht pond, a new lifeboat station and a pair of 19th-century look-out towers. Stay on this esplanade between the houses and the beach with views of the Martello tower up ahead. At the end of Crag Path, bear right across a car park and walk around the old mill to return to Slaughden Quay.

Aldeburgh is one of those places that has been put on the map by one man. In medieval times this was a busy port with fishing and shipbuilding industries, but in a story which has been repeated up and down the Suffolk coast, its harbour silted up and it went into decline as the River Alde was diverted southwards by the shingle bank of Orford Ness. Today, Aldeburgh is buzzing once again and the cafés on the seafront are full of excited chatter as visitors come in their thousands to pay homage to the town's most famous resident, Benjamin Britten.

Britten (1913-76) was the leading British composer of the 20th century and the man who introduced many people to classical music through works like The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra and his opera for children, Noye's Fludde. Born in Lowestoft, the son of a local dentist, he grew up with the sound of the sea and began composing at the age of five. During World War Two he moved to the United States as a conscientious objector, and it was here that he first read the work of George Crabbe (1754-1832), an Aldeburgh poet. Crabbe's father was a salt-master and two of his brothers had been lost at sea.

It was through Crabbe that Britten rediscovered his Suffolk roots. He returned to Snape to write Peter Grimes, an opera based on Crabbe's poems about the gritty lives of Aldeburgh fishermen. If ever a piece of music had a sense of place, this is it. You hear the waves breaking on the shingle beach, the seagulls swooping over the coast, the wind coming in on the tide. The leading role was created for Britten's lifelong partner and collaborator, the operatic tenor Peter Pears.

Benjamin Britten's most lasting contribution to Aldeburgh was the foundation of the Aldeburgh Festival, which he achieved together with Pears and the librettist Eric Crozier in 1948. A number of Britten's best-known works were first performed at the festival, including Noye's Fludde, Curlew River and A Midsummer Night's Dream. At first the concerts took place in local churches and the Jubilee Hall, but eventually a larger venue was needed. In 1967, the festival was moved to a new concert hall at Snape Maltings, a 19th-century granary outside Aldeburgh that now hosts musical events throughout the year and not just during the main festival in June. Britten and Pears continued to live in Aldeburgh, initially in a seafront house on Crabbe Street and later in a large farmhouse on the edge of town. They are buried side by side in the churchyard of the parish church of St Peter and St Paul.

While you're there

The Moot Hall, in a 16th-century building on the seafront, doubles as the council chamber and a small local museum, open on summer afternoons with exhibitions on history, fishing and the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Snape. You should also pay a visit to Snape Maltings, 5 miles (8km) from Aldeburgh, with its concert hall, craft shops, tea rooms, pub and boat trips on the River Alde in summer.

What to look for

A plaque on the front of Beach House at 4 Crabbe Street confirms that this is where Benjamin Britten lived from 1947 to 1957. It's worth the walk along the shingle for a close look at the Martello tower, the largest and northernmost of the chain of defensive towers built around the coast in the early 19th century (PWalk 23). The tower is now available to let as a holiday home.

Where to eat and drink

There are numerous options along the High Street. The Aldeburgh Food Hall is a deli that offers gourmet sandwiches and home-made cakes to take away or eat at tables on the street. Aldeburgh Fish and Chip Shop is known for its lengthy queues. The Mill Inn is a 17th-century pub on the seafront offering home-cooked food and Adnams ales.

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