The unexpected delights of a circuit around a controversial nuclear plant.
Distance 6.8 miles (10.9km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Footpaths, coast path, short stretches of road, 6 stiles
Landscape Sizewell power station and its surroundings
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 212 Woodbridge & Saxmundham
Start/finish TM 474628
Dog friendliness Be aware of wildlife and nesting birds on beach
Parking Sizewell Beach free car park
Public toilets Sizewell Beach
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1 Walk up the road away from the beach or cross the meadow behind the car park and cross a stile to reach the Vulcan Arms. Continue along the road past the entrance to the power stations. Turn right after 400yds (366m) on to the track at Sandy Lane and stay on this track for 300yds (274m).
2 Turn left just before a cottage and follow this path beneath the power lines and alongside a small wood on the left. Cross a stile beside a gate and continue across the open meadow with views of Sizewell B to your right. A path on the right leads into the Sizewell Belts nature reserve (no dogs). Keep straight ahead on a wide bridle path. When the path swings left, turn right and immediately left beside Reckham Lodge. The path crosses heathland and heads half-left across a meadow to reach a road.
3 Turn right and walk carefully uphill along the road. When the road bends left, keep straight ahead on a gravel track, passing an old laboratory and the car park for the permissive walks. Stay on this track between hedges for ¾ mile (1.2km) until it bends left at a derelict cottage to meet a road. Turn right to walk into Eastbridge.
4 After passing Eastbridge Farm on the left, look for a footpath on the right, signposted 'Minsmere Sluice'. After 50yds (46m) the path swings sharp right then turns left beside a hedge and continues alongside a field. Pass through a belt of trees and stay on this narrow footpath across the fields with views over the Minsmere Level to your left. Pass through two gates to cross to the far side of a ditch and continue on a grassy lane. The path eventually swings left to run alongside the New Cut, with views of the Minsmere Nature Reserve to your left and the strange sight of Sizewell B juxtaposed behind a ruined chapel to your right.
5 Turn right at Minsmere Sluice to return to Sizewell along a wide grass track or scramble up to the top of the cliffs. Turn right just beyond the power stations to return to the car park.
How many times have you thought of taking a walk around a nuclear power station? The idea seemed strange to me at first. After all, I come from that generation of students whose windows were plastered with stickers proclaiming 'Nuclear power? No thanks.' Yet this walk in the shadow of Sizewell B has become one of my favourites in Suffolk. It has wetland, woodland, heathland, farmland and a section of unspoilt coast, with the surreal sight of the white dome of the power station as an ever-present backdrop.
Sizewell B is probably the most controversial building in Suffolk. The first gas-cooled reactor, Sizewell A, opened in 1966 but it was the appearance of the 'golf ball' at Sizewell B that prompted a wave of protests and one of Britain's longest public enquiries. This is the only pressurised water reactor in Britain and it began operating in 1995 when memories of nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were still fresh. The hemispherical dome is 148ft (45m) in diameter and 213ft (65m) tall, protected by concrete walls designed to withstand a nuclear accident or an earthquake.
The land around the power stations, owned by British Energy, is managed as a nature reserve in conjunction with Suffolk Wildlife Trust, and there is a network of waymarked walks that you can follow across woodland and grazing marshes. Orchids grow in the meadows in early summer, bluebells appear in the woods in spring and dragonflies and damselflies buzz around the marshes. Some of the few pairs of black redstart in Britain have even started to nest on the power station buildings.
An alternative walk takes you to Thorpeness, a fairy-tale village created by Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie after he purchased the Sizewell Estate in 1910 and transformed the sleepy fishing hamlet of Thorpe into an enjoyable holiday resort. The chief attraction is The Meare, an artificial boating lake with islands and play houses themed around the story of Peter Pan. Ogilvie wanted to create a slice of 'Merrie England' for people to indulge their holiday fantasies - there is a golf course, a country club, mock-Tudor houses and numerous architectural follies of which the best known is the delightful House in the Clouds. This cleverly designed water tower, built to supply the water pump across the road, was disguised as a timber-framed house and has become the dominant feature of the Thorpeness skyline, appearing, from a distance, to be lodged in the trees. It is now a charming holiday home.
The Sizewell T beach café is open from Wednesday to Sunday throughout the year and makes a good place for a pot of tea or a plate of fish and chips. A wider range of food and drink is available at the Vulcan Arms pub, near the start of the walk. There is also the Eel's Foot, a pleasant pub with a large garden and a good menu of home-cooked food, situated just off the walk in the village of Eastbridge.
Kittiwakes are a species of seagull with white heads, grey wings and black legs. They usually breed further north but a colony of some 200 breeding pairs has been established since 1996 on the offshore rigs near Sizewell A.
Take time to explore the network of trails which have been set up on the land around the power stations in an effort to convince the public that nuclear energy is eco-friendly. There are two sets of walks, the Kenton Hills woodlands (dogs on leads) and the Sizewell Belts nature trails (no dogs). You can pick up free maps at the car park near Point 3 on the main walk.