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From Sunny Southwold and its Pier

Around this old-fashioned holiday resort on an island surrounded by river, creek and sea.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Riverside paths, seaside promenade, town streets, 2 stiles

Landscape Southwold and its surroundings - river, marshes, coast

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 231 Southwold & Bungay

Start/finish TM 511766

Dog friendliness Most of walk suitable for dogs off leads

Parking Beach car park (pay-and-display) or free in nearby streets

Public toilets Beside pier, near beach and car park at Southwold Harbour

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1 Leave the pier and turn left along the seafront, either following the promenade past the beach huts and climbing some steps or walking along the clifftop path with views over the beach. After passing St James' Green, where a pair of cannon stand either side of a mast, continue along the clifftop path to Gun Hill, where six more cannon, captured at the Battle of Culloden near Inverness in 1746, can be seen facing out to sea.

2 From Gun Hill, head inland alongside the large South Green, then turn left along Queen's Road to the junction with Gardner Road. Cross this road and look for the Ferry Path footpath, that follows a stream beside the marshes as it heads towards the river. Alternatively, stay on the clifftop path and walk across the dunes until you reach the mouth of the River Blyth.

3 Turn right and walk beside the river, passing the Walberswick ferry, a group of fishing huts where fresh fish is sold, and the Harbour Inn. After about ¾ mile (1.2km) you reach an iron bridge on the site of the old Southwold-to-Halesworth railway line.

4 Keep straight ahead at the bridge, crossing a stile and following the path round to the right alongside Buss Creek to make a complete circuit of the island. There are good views across the common to Southwold, dominated by the lighthouse and the tower of St Edmund's Church. Horses and cattle can often be seen grazing on the marshes. Keep straight ahead at a four-finger signpost and stay on the raised path to reach a white-painted bridge.

5 Climb up to the road and cross the bridge, then continue on the path beside Buss Creek with views of beach huts in the distance. The path skirts a boating lake on its way down to the sea. Turn right and walk across the car park to return to the pier.

The arrival of the first steamboats for more than 70 years marked a return to the glory days for Southwold Pier in the summer of 2002. The pier was originally built in 1899, when Southwold was a flourishing Victorian holiday resort. Mixed bathing had just been introduced on the beach, on condition that men and women were kept at least 20yds (18m) apart and changed in separate 'bathing machines' into costumes which covered their bodies from neck to knees. The Belle steamer brought holidaymakers on its daily voyage from London and the pier was a hive of activity as porters unloaded their cases and carried them to their lodgings.

The T-end, where the boats docked, was swept away in a storm in 1934. During World War Two, the pier was split in two as a precaution against a German invasion. By the time Chris and Helen Iredale bought the pier in 1987, storms and neglect had reduced it to a rotting hulk. Years later, the couple have realised their dream of rebuilding and reopening the pier, so that visitors can once again stroll along the boardwalk with the sea spray in their faces and watch the boats unloading their passengers at a new landing stage.

An exhibition on the pier tells the history of the seaside holiday, complete with saucy postcards, kitsch teapots, palm readers, end-of-the-pier shows, high-diving 'professors' and old-style arcade machines - such as the 'kiss-meter' where you can find out whether you are flirtatious, amorous, frigid or sexy. A separate pavilion contains modern machines by local inventor Tim Hunkin, who also designed the ingenious water clock, with chimes and special effects every half-hour. You can eat ice cream or fish and chips, drink a pint of the local beer, play pool in the amusement arcade or watch the fishermen while taking in the sea air. Especially in summer, the pier provides a focus for good old-fashioned fun.

Southwold, situated on an island between the River Blyth and the sea, is one of those genteel, low-key seaside resorts where, in spite of the pier, everything is done in good taste. Make no mistake, this is a popular spot but it has none of the brashness of kiss-me-quick Felixstowe or Lowestoft. The character of Southwold seems to be summed up by the rows of brightly-coloured beach huts on the seafront promenade - some of which have been sold for the price of a three-bedroom cottage elsewhere - and the peaceful greens with their Georgian and Edwardian houses. Adnams brewery dominates the town and it is no surprise to discover that the beer is still delivered to pubs on horse-drawn drays. Southwold is that sort of place.

What to look for

It's worth a visit to the cathedral-like St Edmund's Church, whose 100ft (30m) flint tower stands guard over the town. The greatest treasure here is the 15th-century rood screen which spans the width of the church, a riot of colour as vivid as when it was painted, with angels in glory and a set of panels depicting the twelve apostles.

While you're there

The Southwold Sailors' Reading Room on East Cliff was opened in 1864 in memory of Captain Rayley, a naval officer at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar. Although it still retains its original purpose as a library and meeting place, it is now a small museum containing model boats, figureheads and portraits of local sailors and fishermen. Near by, on Gun Hill, a former coastguard look-out houses the tiny Lifeboat Museum, open on summer afternoons, with exhibits on the history of the Southwold lifeboats. Among the items to look for is a hand-operated foghorn, similar in appearance to a set of bellows.

Where to eat and drink

There are numerous cafés and restaurants in Southwold, many of them specialising in fresh local fish. Sutherland House, on the High Street, serves fresh fish and game in the setting of an Elizabethan merchant's house, used by the Duke of York (later James II), Lord High Admiral of England, as his headquarters during the Battle of Sole Bay, when the British and Dutch fleets clashed off Southwold in 1672. Among the pubs serving Adnams beer are the Sole Bay Inn, a Victorian pub opposite the brewery on East Green, and the Red Lion on South Green. Another good choice is the Harbour Inn, beside the river at the halfway point of the walk.

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