Wenhaston: A wonderful walk beside the River Blyth
PUBLISHED: 15:00 11 August 2013
Richard Tyson visits north Suffolk and the old River Blyth Navigation
Getting there: Leave A12 just south of Blythburgh at signs “Wenhaston”. Bus No.520 hourly Halesworth-Southwold.
Start: Park at village hall, GR 426754
Map: O.S. Explorer 231
Distance: 5.2 miles
Refreshment: Star Inn, Wenhaston.
Walked: July 26, 2013
Cross the road from the village hall and go down the lane opposite passing the church (on returning do not miss a visit to the medieval Doom painting inside). After 200 yards the lane becomes a footpath and soon the route bears right between two fields and right again with a wooden fence now on the left. In 200 yards more go straight ahead past a cottage, cross the road in front then continue on the footpath opposite. Keep straight on at a wood (“Vicarage Grove”). and go straight on over another lane then on a field headland with extensive views. After 300 yards the path goes to the other side of the hedge then crosses an untidy pasture diagonally.
Continue through two gates and 40 yards beyond the second look carefully for a right turn through a “hedge tunnel” then follow the field headland to a signpost at the end and go downhill towards farm buildings. Raucous cries of peacocks greeted me here (you are requested not to collect the valuable feathers); now the route is on the golf course and is indicated by white posts; pass two greens and turn right alongside the hedge with a driveway over the hedge. In due course reach a road; turn left and right at once (signed to Holton). Go up and you will see the ruined St Margaret’s Chapel (private) in the farm on the right but keep on down towards the river, ignore the first path on the right, cross over a bridge then turn right towards a weir. This is the site of one of five locks on the River Blyth navigation.
A booklet from Halesworth Museum tells the story of how the river was made useable for cargo boats bringing coal to Halesworth and taking London-bound malt away. The Navigation opened in 1761 and closed in 1883 mainly because the opening of the railway through Halesworth in 1859 enabled goods to reach and leave the town directly. The 3-ft. gauge Southwold Railway (1879-1929) also ran near here but I was unable to locate the route at this point.
The route onward is on the right and passes the little hut (at GR406769) beside the weir then goes over several stiles through water meadows and a wood. There are some bridges but you are always close to the river. I was lucky to get a good view of a green woodpecker as it flew up into the trees with its distinctive call and dipping flight path. Invasive Himalayan Balsam lines the banks while farmers were busy haymaking on this hot July afternoon. I did not cross a semi-derelict metal bridge (not a public path) but pressed on to Blyford Bridge where the river drops a few feet over a weir. If you want to view the private site of Wenhaston Station, controversial subject of a current planning application for a railway museum, it is about 200 yards to the right.
Cross the road and pass through a metal gate almost opposite. The weir under the bridge replaced the lock gates. Now you have the river on the right and the country is more open with, perhaps, a smell of the sea – ahead an egret flew up into a tree. Note the old Bulcamp Union Workhouse and Blythburgh water tower. Keep along the bank for nearly three-quarters of a mile then pass between reeds and turn right over a typical hump-backed canal bridge with metal railings. Go straight ahead across the field then over two wooden bridges after which you go left through a gap in the hedge (if necessary, you may remove enough vegetation to pass through). Go through a farm gate towards a cottage; the lines of trees to the left marks the course of the Southwold Railway. The track goes sharp left then right and you reach a tarred lane, where the route is to the right past houses to the start. Now you may be able to visit the church and see the doom painting.