Beauty spot’s vital D-Day secrets revealed in new tourism project

The Coastguard Cottages at Dunwich Heath and beach - a new £20,000 project is uncovering the beauty

The Coastguard Cottages at Dunwich Heath and beach - a new £20,000 project is uncovering the beauty spot's fascinating history Picture: CHRIS LACEY/NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES - Credit: Archant

The vital role played by a much-loved Suffolk coastal beauty spot in the D-Day landings is to be revealed as part of a new project to highlight the history of the area.

Sunrise over Dunwich Heath and beach Picture: RICHARD SCOTT/NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES

Sunrise over Dunwich Heath and beach Picture: RICHARD SCOTT/NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES - Credit: ©National Trust Images/Richard S

The £20,000 project, called Turbulence to Tranquillity, will see the National Trust develop new experiences, events, guides and trails that tell the fascinating story of Dunwich Heath.

Three years of research by volunteer Richard Symes has uncovered tales of illegal brandy and tobacco smuggling on the beach in the 1700s, unearthed more about the lives of the coastguard families who lived in the cottages on the cliff in the 19th century and found how First World War trawlermen cleared mines to keep a vital supply route open, whilst years later the heath would become a militarised zone and one of the most heavily defended parts of Suffolk during the Second World War.

It was also here at Dunwich that one of the most significant military exercises to prepare for the D-Day landings took place. Named Operation Kruschen, the exercise was designed to test ways that German defences could be breached to allow successful landings by Allied troops into occupied Europe.

The operation took place over several months in 1943 and saw a complete mock German defensive position constructed, including trenches and minefields as well as barbed wire, pillboxes, weapon-pits and anti-tank measures - a defence system known as a 'hedgehog' in reference to the extent of the defences being like a hedgehog rolled up into a ball.

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Mr Symes, who did 300 hours of research, said: "Some years ago whilst having tea in the Coastguard Cottages tea room I wondered who had lived there.

"I have since spent time researching the last 300 years of Dunwich Heath and have discovered who those people were and what they witnessed.

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"I have discovered the smuggling, artists, shipwrecks, the world's most advanced electronics, tank battles, love, heartbreak and defiance against the government.

The Heath has been dug up, cut down, shot over, built on, tided up and much adored.

I have been astounded by the extraordinary events this place has witnessed."

The project has won the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which has awarded a £10,000 grant to enable it to go ahead. The remainder of the funds will come from the support of National Trust members and donors, whilst a private donor has given £5,000.

Work is now underway to develop the new experiences at Dunwich Heath, with guided walks, new walking trails for adults and families, visual story-telling and new displays all in the plans. A new map to guide visitors around the site will also be produced in conjunction with neighbouring RSPB Minsmere and Dunwich Museum.

Nick Collinson, general manager for the National Trust in East Suffolk, said: "Dunwich Heath is rightly well known for its beautiful landscape together with diverse and fascinating wildlife populations. But whilst the history here is no secret, our research has also found that many people are not aware of what has happened in the past and that there is a real appetite to find out more.

"People have been incredibly proud of hear of the role Dunwich played in preparing for the D-Day landings and so we're really pleased to be able to develop new and exciting ways to tell these stories and more, thanks to support from National Lottery players."

Work on the project is now underway and the new experiences are expected to be unveiled in summer 2020.

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