Although once again I live here in Suffolk, and have visited on and off for over 50 years, until last weekend I had never walked The Sailors’ Path. Growing up my family weren’t big walkers. Yes, we were repeat visitors to the Suffolk coast setting out from homes further inland and spending time at Shingle Street, Sizewell, Thorpeness, Aldeburgh and sometimes travelling further up the coast to visit Southwold.
However, although there was plenty of swimming and fishing, serious walking was not on the menu. My father enjoyed beach fishing and my mother the swimming, but the only lengthy walk I remember taking with them was a circuit of the bird reserve at Minsmere.
Naturally, as they weren’t walkers they didn’t know of The Sailors’ Path, an old smugglers’ footpath from Aldeburgh to Snape that partly follows the course of the River Alde.
Last week my sister’s family came to stay at Aldeburgh and my brother-in-law suggested we should take the walk. We started at the Snape Maltings end and followed the route through the reed beds of the River Alde admiring the views back towards the Maltings. Then the path took us passed the marshes where the tide was low enough to expose parts of the muddy river bed.
As we walked there was a gentle incline as the route skirted the heathland of Snape Warren before entering Black Heath Wood.
Eventually, on the other side of the wood the countryside again opened up with views across the marshes towards the River Alde.
Just when we thought we might be able to go down and walk along nearer to the water the path switched away and it wasn’t long before we had to walk alongside the busy road into Aldeburgh.
The formal route does in fact continue along on the footpath of the main road all the way into the town. However, after about 10 minutes of this experience (horrible and noisy) we passed a recently resurfaced side road heading down towards the river. It didn’t look like a public road, but at the same time it wasn’t graced with the ubiquitous ‘private property’ signs we’d seen posted at all the previous lanes leading down to the water.
As we were trying to decide if there was a public right of way (no signs indicating that either), a dog-walker came up from the direction of the river and explained how to join another footpath along the water’s edge. She instructed us on how to navigate a new-build housing development enclosed with multiple road gates and join the river footpath. Thankfully, it was a route along the top of the sea defences and well away from any roads.
It is hard to know precisely where The Sailors’ Path and gone. It may have been where the main road was built, but somehow I think as it was originally a route for smugglers it probably wove through the marshes. And, with the ever changing nature of marshland environments, the path had probably never been an entirely fixed route particularly in the distant past when used only by locals in the know.
Returning to our progress along the river wall, eventually we left the river path and followed another footpath across cow pastures towards the buildings of the seaside town. We strolled past some beautifully tended allotments and then turned into the bottom of Aldeburgh High Street just as the sun finally decided to make an appearance.