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Between Two Rivers

Views of Harwich and Felixstowe from a lonely spit between the Stour and Orwell estuaries.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 262ft (80m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field and riverside paths, country lanes, 2 stiles

Landscape Farmland between Stour and Orwell estuaries

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 197 Ipswich, Felixstowe & Harwich

Start/finish TM 246335

Dog friendliness On lead on farmland, off lead on riverside path

Parking Opposite Bristol Arms at Shotley Gate

Public toilets None on route

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Start at the Bristol Arms, looking across to Harwich, and head left along the waterfront to Shotley Marina. Pass to the right of the HMS Ganges Museum (open on summer weekends) and keep right to walk across the lock gates to Shotley Point. A path follows the headland around the marina basin, with good views of Felixstowe Docks. Turn right to continue along the flood bank between marshes and mudflats. After 1 mile (1.6km) the path passes some old oyster beds and swings left beside the salt marshes at Crane's Hill Creek.

2 Halfway around the creek, where you see a 'Suffolk Coast and Heaths Path' sign pointing ahead, descend the bank to your left and pass through a gate to join a meadow-edge path. Cross a stile and bear left along a track to climb past vineyards to St Mary's Church.

3 Walk straight ahead past the church on a tarmac lane leading to Shotley Hall, then turn left on to a cross-field path opposite the drive. Follow this path diagonally across the field and bear right at the far corner, following the line of telegraph poles towards a road where you turn left.

4 After 50yds (46m), turn right along a lane, signposted 'Erwarton Walk'. At the end of this lane, turn right, passing the red-brick Tudor gatehouse of Erwarton Hall. Stay on this quiet country road as it bends towards Erwarton village. Just after a right-hand bend, turn left beside the churchyard on to a wide track. Pass to the right of a cottage and turn left along a field-edge path with fine views over the River Stour.

5 The riverside footpath, shown on maps, has been seriously eroded so you need to turn left at the end of the field. Climb the hill, pass a reservoir and turn right through a belt of trees, then cross a stile and go half-right across the fields with the cranes of Felixstowe visible up ahead. When you reach a gap in the hedge just before some houses, turn right and then left at a telegraph pole to reach Shotley Cottage.

6 Keep straight ahead on a wide track and turn right along the road to Shotley Gate. Turn left at the post office along Caledonia Road for a close-up look at the mast of HMS Ganges. Turn right along School Lane to return to the main road. The Bristol Arms is just down the hill to your left.

The rows of silent headstones in the sloping cemetery of St Mary's Church tell the story of HMS Ganges. Between 1905 and 1976, more than 150,000 recruits passed through the doors of this naval training establishment at Shotley. When they arrived, they were little more than boys, and some of them never came out. Among the graves of submariners killed in action and German prisoners of war are those of numerous boys aged from 15 to 17 who died before they ever got the chance to serve their country.

A newer churchyard across the way contains the graves of those killed in World War Two. Here are commanders, petty officers, ordinary seamen and 'a sailor of the 1939-45 war known unto God', the different ranks, named and unnamed, brought together in death. Here, too, are 16 crew members of HMS Worcester, who lost their lives in February 1942. And, from a later generation, a 19-year-old seaman who drowned in Nova Scotia in 1968.

The first HMS Ganges was built in 1782, a gift to the Royal Navy from the East India Company. A second ship of the same name was manufactured at the Bombay shipyards and eventually became a boys' training ship, arriving at Shotley in 1899. The ship left but HMS Ganges remained, as the name of a new shore-based training centre. Discipline was legendary. Edward, Prince of Wales, said in the 1930s that it made the French Foreign Legion seem like a Sunday school. This was a regime of cold showers and rations of bread and cheese, a system designed to take boys and turn them into men.

HMS Ganges will soon be developed for housing, though the 142ft (43m) tall mast that stands in the parade ground will remain as a memorial to its past. At one time it was the custom for naval cadets to shin up the mast during training. In 1918, to celebrate the end of World War One, the entire school of boys climbed the mast, resulting in several accidents.

Shotley is situated on a lonely peninsula where the rivers Stour and Orwell meet as they flow into the sea. To one side is the ferry port at Harwich, to the other Felixstowe Docks. The area has historical associations with Anne Boleyn (1501-36), the second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I, and whose uncle was the owner of Erwarton Hall. Before her execution, she is said to have requested that her heart be buried at Erwarton. There is no evidence that it happened, but in 1836 a lead casket in the shape of a heart was found in a wall of the church. It is now buried beneath the organ.

While you're there

Pin Mill, near the village of Chelmondiston, is a popular sailing centre with Thames barges moored on the quayside by the 17th-century Butt and Oyster pub. The National Trust owns a stretch of woodland here overlooking the Orwell Estuary, and a circular walk of 1½ miles (2.4km) leads on to the cliff and back along the foreshore.

What to look for

The Shotley Marshes beside the River Orwell are home to a number of wading birds. Among those to look out for are redshank (speckled brown body, red beak and bright red legs), lapwing (black and white with a pointed crest) and snipe (with its distinctive long, straight bill). In spring you may also spot nesting coots, moorhens and tufted ducks.

Where to eat and drink

The Bristol Arms at Shotley Gate specialises in fresh fish, including skate wing and rock eel as well as the usual cod and haddock with chips. If you want to break your walk, a good alternative is the Queen's Head at Erwarton, a traditional country pub not far from the route of the walk.

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