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Down by the River at Woodbridge

A walk along the River Deben from a historic riverside town, with views of England's last working tide mill.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths River wall, riverside paths, town streets, some steps

Landscape Woodbridge and River Deben

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 197 Ipswich, Felixstowe & Harwich or 212 Woodbridge & Saxmundham

Start/finish TM 271485

Dog friendliness Riverside paths suitable for dogs

Parking The Avenue car park (free), Woodbridge

Public toilets On riverside near start of walk

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1 Leave the car park on The Avenue and cross the railway line to continue to the boatyard at the end of the lane. Turn right to walk along the river wall, passing the slipways of Deben Yacht Club. Continue along the river wall on an easy section of the walk, on a tarmac path with lovely views out over the meadows to your right, to enter the National Trust-owned land at Kyson Hill.

2 Turn left at a three-way junction to drop down to the beach and walk along the foreshore beneath a canopy of oak trees. (If the tide is high, you may have to turn right instead, picking up the route at Point 4.) Keep right at some wooden railings and follow this path round to Martlesham Creek, where you scramble up the embankment and follow a peaceful riverside path.

3 Turn right at the end of the creek and walk around a sewage works to Sandy Lane. Turn right beneath the brick-arched railway bridge and stay on this road as it climbs steadily for about 700yds (640m). At the top of a rise, turn right on to Broom Heath.

4 When the road bends round to the right, turn left past a gate leading to some Woodland Trust woods. (The short cut rejoins from the right here.) Stay on the path on the outside of the woods to return to Sandy Lane by a telephone box. Turn right here and right again when you get to the main road, then cross the road and climb the steps on the far side after 50yds (46m). Keep straight ahead to the end of this footpath and cross a road to reach Portland Crescent.

5 Keep straight ahead to drop down a hill and climb up the other side. Continue along Fen Walk, enclosed by black railings with graveyards to either side. Fork left at a junction of paths to drop down a grassy slope with views of the church tower up ahead. Keep straight ahead and climb the steps to Seckford Street.

6 Turn right and stay on this road to reach Market Hill. An alleyway on the right-hand side leads you to the churchyard. Turn left through the churchyard on to Church Street, emerging alongside the site of the old abbey, now a private school. Walk down Church Street and cross over The Thoroughfare, an attractive pedestrian shopping street, on your left-hand side. Continue walking along Quay Street and cross the station yard to take the footbridge over the railway line. Once over, turn left to visit the Tide Mill or right to return to the start of the walk.

Woodbridge is one of those places that would have appealed to the water rat in Wind in the Willows, who declared that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Situated at the head of the Deben estuary, at the point where the river is navigable to the sea, Woodbridge attracts a sailing crowd who hang around its cafés and yacht club in summer, enthusiastically comparing mast sizes and discussing wind speeds like the people of Newmarket discuss horses and form.

This short walk takes you out along the River Deben among the sailing boats, marshes and mudflats. Seagulls swoop for fish and boats bob on the quayside, enhancing the nautical feel. On the way back you have the opportunity for a closer look at Woodbridge. The town owes much to Thomas Seckford, a courtier and legal adviser to Elizabeth I, who left the proceeds of his Clerkenwell Estate to Woodbridge. This generous bequest has been used to fund everything from hospitals to schools and playing fields and the Seckford Foundation continues to be administered for the benefit of the people of Woodbridge today. Seckford is buried in St Mary's Church, close to the abbey and the Shire Hall which he built.

There is also the chance to visit the Tide Mill, whose elegant white weatherboarded façade dominates the quay. A mill has stood on this site since at least the 12th century, although the present building dates from 1793 and was England's last working tide mill when it finally stopped turning in 1957. The mill was sold at auction in 1968, restored and opened to the public, and you can once again see the giant waterwheel turning at low tide. The old mill pond is now a marina, but a smaller pond has been dug to collect the water at high tide and release it when the tide has gone out. The times of the display, obviously, vary with the tides but the wheel usually turns for an hour or so each day in summer, and if the tide is low enough you can see the channel created by the mill race as it flows back into the sea.

Even if you struggle to understand the technology, this is still a fascinating example of Industrial Revolution machinery, kept alive by a team of dedicated volunteers. There are good views over the harbour and river from the upper floors.

Where to eat and drink

The Bull and the King's Head are historic coaching inns on Market Hill that serve lunches and snacks. Along The Thoroughfare, look for the No 1 Tea Shop, a pretty tea room above a shop, and the Woodbridge Fine Food Company, which sells pork pies, roast salmon and lobster sandwiches at tables on the street. The Tide Mill Tea Room, in the old granary by the quay, serves tea, coffee, cakes and baguettes in arty, offbeat surroundings.

While you're there

The Suffolk Horse Museum, in the Shire Hall on Market Hill, tells the story of the Suffolk Punch. This rare breed of working horse dates from 1768 but the breed almost died out before being rescued from extinction in the 1960s. The nearby Woodbridge Museum has displays on local history and archaeology.

What to look for

Market Hill is the historic centre of Woodbridge and it is surrounded by medieval buildings and interesting shops. Look for the parish pump. It was erected in 1876 and has separate troughs designed to provide drinking water for horses and dogs.

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