Shotley - a Suffolk estuary walk
The Suffolk coast is sliced by a series of large estuaries, the main towns a largely at narrow crossing point miles from the coast and the main south-north road, the A12, further inland. So a coast road isn't possible and each broad finger of land between the estuaries seems to have its own character. The Shotley peninsula is between the estuaries of the River Orwell and River Stour, a area of undulating farmland, small secret valleys and hidden villages. Today it is quiet and off the beaten track.
detail of Philips Suffolk Map 1895
A walk from Shotley Gate, along the Orwell and Stour estuaries
Sunday 30 December 2018
via Shotley and Erwarton (6.8 miles)
Weather: mild, 9˚C, still and misty
Park at Shotley Gate near the Bristol Arms pub.
(please click on the photos to enlarge them)
From Shotley Gate you can see across the merged Orwell and Stour estuaries to the ferry port of Harwich to the south and the vast cranes of the international container-ship port of Felixstowe to the north.
We walked past the marina and along the path beside the Orwell estuary heading inland. Skeins of small dark Brent Geese flew in over the water and landed where the low-tide water meets the mud, we could hear their purring calls.
We continued walking along the high bank which protects the farmland from the sea, passing old oyster beds markd by dark wooden stakes in the mud.
It's here we descended the steep grassy bank and continued our route heading inland. In a short distance we were ascending a steep path beside vineyards! and the coast and shipping ports seemed a world away.
At the top of the ridge and a good way outside Shotley village is St Mary's church. We didn't go inside but took a short break standing by the gates to the war cemetery opposite, from this high point you can once again see the Orwell estuary as a backdrop to the resting place of dozens of sailors who lost their lives in WWII, some were unidentified, it's a poignant spot.
A short distance past the church we turned left off the road and walked uphill alongside ploughed fields. Looking back you can just see the squat shap of St Mary's church on the top of the distant ridge. We'd now reached Shotley village and the main road down to Shotley gate, where we had lunch at The Rose pub.
After lunch we headed towards Erwarton Hall, the footpath descending between dark hedgrows and passing gigantic twisted Sweet Chestnut trees, we wondered how old they could be.
Across a hummocky meadow, home to a couple of horses, we could see Erwarton Hall which was once the home of Anne Boleyn's uncle (the original turdor house has been altered and rebuilt but it occupies the same place).
The footpath across the fields emerges onto a narrow lane where we turned left and before we got a glimpse of the Stour estuary St Mary's church Erwarton came into view, a large and 15th century stone building patched up with 19th century brickwork after it was struck by lightning.
Inside there are tombs of medieval knights and ladies; here is Sir Bartholomew Bacon, his head resting on a flamboyant helmet topped with his heraldic crest - a horse's head. In the background is the church organ, underneath this in the vault of the Cornwallis family is buried what maybe the heart of Anne Boleyn. She is said to have expressed a wish for her heart to be buried at Erwarton (is there a record of this?) and when the church was being repaired after the lightning strike, a heart-shaped lead casket was found! It was reburied in the vault under the Lady Chapel where the organ was later installed. It's a good story and there are reports of Anne Boleyn's body being removed from the Tower of London and secretly taken to Norfolk ... maybe her heart came to Suffolk.
Other things worth looking at while in Erwarton church are the font, with rather beautiful Tudor roses and well coiffured angel; and wonderful lions and a smiling dog around the base.
And the stained glass windows are well worth a look. They date from just after WWI and were made by Powell and Sons, who were continuing to make windows the style of Edward Burne Jones who was one of their designers in the 19th century. Apt for the time of year this window is a nativity scene, I love the little angel band.
After leaving the church we walked across fields gently sloping to the water of Erwarton Bay, a wide curved shallow bay along the Stour estuary. The tide is out so there is a wide area of mud and you can see sand bars in the channel. Wading birds - Oyster catchers, Redshank and Curlew - were feeding on the mudflats, we could hear their evocative whistling calls.
On the far side of the Stour estuary is the Harwich cross-channel car ferry terminal.
Thankfully the coast path from here back to Shotley Gate has been well repaired, so it's easy walking on the sea-wall above the mudflats and below the wooded slopes. In the photo below you can just see in the misty distance, the vast cranes of Felixstowe Sea Port on the left, the spire of Felixstowe church in the centre distance and to the right the crane at the Port of Harwich.