Weird Suffolk: Have you encountered the ghost on this Suffolk beach?

A warm but breezy day on Dunwich beach

The spirit of a sailor is said to haunt the beach at Dunwich. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown / Archant

Dunwich is a village steeped in history and mystery and much of Weird Suffolk’s time has been spent exploring the many ghosts that call it home. We told the tale of the strangely-shaped shadows that can be seen drifting at the old Leper Hospital in the village and the witch in league with the Devil.

And then, of course, there is a story that has fascinated Suffolk for centuries, that of the drowned town beneath the waves that turned medieval Dunwich into Britain’s Atlantis – some say the distant sound of church bells can be heard chiming from under the waves to this day.

The lost town of Dunwich lies far beneath the waves of the North Sea, 50 ft below the surface and up to a mile out from the beach along which visitors walk today. In its watery tomb lie eight churches, five houses of religious orders, two hospitals and three chapels, illustrating what an important centre Dunwich once was, with its bustling port and Royal charter.

It had grown rich thanks to its exports of wool and grain and imports of timber, fish and furs from the north, fine cloth from Holland and wine from France. Ships were built at Dunwich which then went on to trade with Europe, travelling to the icy waters of Iceland for cod.

In 1286, came the first of many devastating storms which swept away swathes of the town. Forty-two years later, fierce winds and waves destroyed priories and blocked Dunwich harbour, forcing trade further up the coast – 19 years after that, 400 houses, two churches, shops and windmills were swallowed by the sea: Dunwich’s reign as one of Britain’s principal towns had come to an end.

Today’s ghost is that of a young man said to be tied to the beach at Dunwich for eternity, searching for his sweetheart before he sets sail.

Brightly-dressed and smart, the sailor is said to be wearing a uniform that dates him to the Elizabethan era when sailors would often wear clothes that were in vivid shades of blue and red.

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Despite its fall from prominence, Dunwich remained for many years an important shipbuilding centre, and many important Tudor vessels were built there, perhaps one belonging to the wraith seen on the village’s beach.

Having walked along the beach, looking as if he is searching for someone, the ghost is then seen to board a spectral ship, much like that made famous by a local brewer.

Witnesses say that the ghost isn’t menacing, simply melancholy and walking with purpose – remember, when you walk on Dunwich beach, you walk with ghosts.

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