Suffolk’s best walks: Melton to Sutton Hoo via The Sandlings
- Credit: Lindsay Want
Lindsay Want treads the Sandlings and Sutton Hoo on a circular walk from Melton near Woodbridge
Here's an expedition for intrepid explorers of all ages, a journey to the upstream end of the Deben estuary at Melton, where legends tell of a wooden ship hauled high above the river, made into a great underground vault and filled with the rich trappings of a mighty warrior king.
Beyond Wilford Bridge, steep steps lead down to a boardwalk through a jungle of tall reeds and towering bamboos. The natural world whispers to itself around your ears and somewhere deep in the thick of it all, a tiny warbler fills what space remains with a huge sound like extreme radio interference.
Further on, Common Lane wends its way quietly up to a different natural oasis, the wet-meadows and deciduous woodland of Bromeswell Green Nature Reserve.
An info board whets the appetite for kingfishers, and in early summer, not only does the majestic marshy meadowland hang out all its bright yellow iris flags in welcome, but willow warblers pour forth their cascading song in torrents.
In the heat of summer, the green oasis is a haven of dappled shade, with the flash of a white throat or the red cap of a great spotted woodpecker. Creamy-flowered corydalis, a Suffolk gem, twists its tendrils to scramble across the thirsty brambles and just along the lane, wild hops droop fragrant heads where hedgerows thicken, before sun-baked brick walls lead the way to the village church and some unexpected royal remembrances.
Dedicated to East Anglia's martyred King Edmund, with a good solid flint tower dating from around the 1450s and a stunning Norman arch, Bromeswell's parish church looks local enough.
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But beady-eyed explorers will soon spot the curious pyramid perched on its top-knot. Perhaps it's there to point to the church's most prized treasure which lies beneath.
Although regrettably not on public view for obvious reasons, St Edmund's Mechlin Bell is a rare work of Flemish art dating from 1530. Beautifully decorated, it depicts, among other Bible stories, the Flight to Egypt.
The church's nave roof angels are also a precious find, a couple of them carved by Reverend Darling in the 1920s.
The others, curiously enough, are made of fibre-glass. The wooden ones were supposed to have graced the church in nearby Rendlesham, but it seems the carpenter-vicar made economies of scale and somehow they didn't quite fit there.
Back on the path, there's heath, woodland and a lush fern tunnel en route to Bromeswell's half-timbered houses and its fishing lakes. The quiet lanes give way to a brief burst of busy traffic at the Bentwaters road.
Cross with care, then explore the bizarre 360 degree shelter with no apparent bus-stop. Behind it, there's an even more unexpected discovery, a simple stone cross of wartime remembrance. Hardly a spot for quiet reflection, but definitely a poignant reminder that war left no part of our beloved county untouched.
Onwards and gently upwards, the ever-sandier Sandlings path across the golf course leads towards what is intriguingly marked on the map as the Lion's Den.
Keep your wits about you and your eye on the ball as you boldly stride the fairway paths paved with rich purple heather and splashed with the gold of gorse bushes, blanketed in their heavy shroud of exotic coconut scent.
There's no telling whether man or beast be at home in the Lion's Den, lurking behind the thick greenery. With its false, painted windows, the building seems strangely abandoned.
The final climb along a vegetated 'dune' path to reach the Deben Valley's top spot may only be very gentle, but you might wish you'd signed up to a camel for company, as the sand seemingly tries to swallow your boots.
Then suddenly there's an oasis of bright green turf fields, alongside hundreds of free-range pigs basking in the sunshine, and then you happen upon Sutton Hoo and its famous ship burial.
The public footpath loops round to reveal delightful Deben views. If time allows, it's well worth parting with the entrance fee to go off the public footpath to enjoy the whole National Trust site.
You can swing round by the burial mounds, wander the new woodland Riverside Walk, and learn more about its fascinating history and mystery.
A place both revered and feared by our ancestors at times, Sutton Hoo is not only believed to be the ship burial site of a Wuffinga king and his warriors, but also a sandy, no-man's land that witnessed ruthless executions.
Back on the farm tracks, the sand underfoot is shallower than before and even though you can't feel its temperature through your boots, its history somehow sends a chill down the spine. An ancient lost ark, of sorts.
On the river wall once again by Wilford Bridge, waders process along the steps of dune-like mudflats on the shoreline below, leaving their trails behind them.
Like so many traces of the past, they will soon be smoothed away by time and the tide. If only the River Deben could talk . . .
A painful memory
At St Edmunds Church in Bromeswell local clergy are remembered through the colourful stained-glass windows, which are dedicated to a long line of members of the King family who loyally served the parish.
You'll find some of them buried in the churchyard, along with Richard Leverett and his wife, Elizabeth. Track down their tombstone you'll find their epitaph is a bit of a tantalising riddle.
"A long affliction did I bear, Physicians where (sic) in vain Till Christ did please & give me ease And free me from my pain."
But who is speaking and what was the pain? Was it the illness . . . or the wife?
Ordnance Survey maps are available from all good booksellers and outdoor stores or visit our online shop www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/al
1) Alight at Melton Railway Station. Turn right. Go over level crossing, along pavemented road to a footpath with kissing gate (right - waymarked East Suffolk Line walk). This leads parallel to railway line and station (right), by a pool to steps for the river wall.
Alternatively, take footpath near information board by exit in Melton Riverside Car Park. Go over wooden footbridge. Turn left to join footpath to river wall.
2) Turn left along river wall path to Wilford Bridge.
3) At road (A1152) turn right to cross the river, then a short way before roundabout, cross road with care to waymarked footpath (also signed Sandlings Way).
4) Across a tarmacked driveway, path leads down steep steps to boardwalk across reedbed. This emerges at Common Lane. (NB. If boardwalk impassable due to high tides, use roadside path - left at roundabout - to Common Lane.)
5) Turn left. Continue down lane past Bromeswell Green Nature Reserve (right) to village and T-junction on a rise. Turn right. Turn left into Church Lane.
6) At St Edmund's church, go through graveyard, following grassy path towards far diagonal corner. Path veers right to gate by tree with owl box. Through gate onto path, turn right. (If path eludes you, take track past church to footpath (right) along edge of graveyard - then you'll spot the gate and owl box!) Path goes via trees and heath.
Ignore first footpath (right), following East Suffolk Line waymarkers to branch right just before the Eyke Road. This leads through a small wood to emerge at School Lane. Turn left, passing Village Hall to reach road (A1152).
7) Cross with care. Walk left along verge. Just before road junction take restricted byway on right (marked Sandlings Way) down track lined with pines towards Woodbridge golf course. At heathland, go straight ahead through gate, following waymarked route across golf course - keeping aware of golf activity.
Just before white-painted Lion Den's building, path diverges from Sandlings Walk - keep straight ahead (Lion's Den on left), taking grassy path between gorse bushes to reach a more defined, sandy track through golf course to road (B1083).
8) Cross road. Continue on footpath directly opposite, between pine trees and turf fields, past stables (right). When another tracks joins at the right, carry on straight ahead to National Trust's Sutton Hoo.
9) You arrive by the burial mounds. Go straight ahead on public footpath (mounds left) for a pleasant loop down towards the Deben, then up to the visitor centre. Go right, then just past the old stable block (left) take path left between trees to leave Sutton Hoo site through gate, on waymarked footpath onto a farm drive (10).
When straight drive bears left, go straight ahead, edging small wood to B1083 road (11). Turn left on pavement, past vehicle entrance to Sutton Hoo. Continue past roundabout to Wilford Bridge and regain river wall, retracing steps to station/ Melton Riverside car park.
This station walk is waymarked through the East Suffolk Line Walks initiative and was originally devised by Suffolk rambler guru, Roger Wolfe.
Built in 1859, the Ipswich to Lowestoft mainline celebrates its 160th anniversary this year. Check out eastsuffolklinewalks.co.uk for latest information, including free forthcoming guided station to station walks.
Distance/time: 5.5 miles/9 kms, 3 hours
Start/parking: Melton Railway Station/Melton Riverside car park IP12 2PA
Access: Exposed river path by mudflats. Cobbles, pavements, steps, gates. Waymarked East Suffolk Line/Sandlings Walk
Big map: OS Explorer 212
Need to know: Route goes through National Trust Sutton Hoo on public footpaths. Entry fee payable to visit other parts of the site
Ts & Ps: Wilford Bridge pub, NT Sutton Hoo (fee)