In between Blythburgh and the Suffolk coast, saltmarshes and mudflats create an eerie undefined landscape that’s not quite sea or land. Rare birdlife thrives here, and perhaps the Black Shuck does, too. The most vivid reports of this hellhound, said to roam the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, were recorded in 1577 after it ravaged the congregation of Blythburgh church.
You’ll feel safe in Southwold: an elegant town centre and rows of bright, traditional beach huts epitomise Edwardian summer holiday. It hasn’t changed much since Arthur Conan Doyle visited and began The Hound of the Baskervilles, said to be inspired by the Black Shuck. Further south the coast becomes wild, windswept and desolate; surely another favourite haunt of the mythical beast. Once a prosperous city, Dunwich has been battered repeatedly by centuries of storms and is now a ghostly, half-drowned village.
Get the Coast Link bus to drop you at Blythburgh church. One of Suffolk’s grandest medieval churches, it’s known as the ‘cathedral of the marshes’. You can easily imagine a monstrous Black Shuck roaming the desolate expanse of mudflats and saltmarshes behind it. To admire the eerie landscape more closely, walk downhill from the church and take a path just beyond the White Hart Inn. Bear right into Walberswick National Nature Reserve, as a panorama of vast marshy landscape spreads to your left. The reserve is internationally important for birdlife. The path shortly leads into the mixed woodland of vividly-named Deadman’s Covert. Keep left at a fork and continue to a road.
Turn left along the road. You may hear eerie barking but fear not: it’s the kennels of Eastwoodlodge Farm. Take the second bridleway on your left. It cuts an obvious straight line through the fern and purple heather of Walberswick Common. At a track T-junction, turn left. You may see railway track under the path – the Southwold railway ran here before it was abandoned in 1929.
After 3.5 miles, you’ll cross Bailey Bridge. Turn right to enter lively Southwold Harbour. Just before the harbour exit, turn left along the Suffolk Coast Path and follow it to Southwold. Explore the historic town centre then head east to the beach. Track right, past rows of traditional beach huts and through sand dunes to return to Southwold Harbour. A rowing boat ‘ferry’ has carried passengers across the river mouth here since the 13th century, and still does.
Once you’ve landed on the other side, walk to the beach and turn right. The sea appears much more ferocious here than in Southwold, and the beach much more desolate: keep a wary eye out for the Black Shuck. Also look for pretty yellow-horned poppies, which thrive here. When you reach ghostly Dunwich, walk uphill to the Ship Inn, a former Smuggler’s haunt that’s now a picturesque traveller’s rest stop. Before your bus, spend some time in the museum next door learning about Dunwich’s demise.
Good, mainly flat paths and sections of sandy beach.
How to get there
by public transport: The nearest train station is Darsham, on the line between Ipswich and Lowestoft. Coast Link, a demand-responsive bus service, can transport you between Darsham train station, Blythburgh and Dunwich at times that suit you. Phone before noon the day before to book.
Get fresh fish and chips or a fish sandwich at Southwold Harbour or wander into town for a sit down lunch. Alternatively, delay your bus pick-up and enjoy a meal in the Ship Inn at Dunwich at the end.
The Ship Inn, Dunwich, IP17 3DT
Explorer Map 231.
Grid ref: TM 455 755
Dunwich Museum, Dunwich, open daily April to September, 11.30-16.30. Free entry, donations welcome.
Visit Suffolk Coast
Suffolk coastal tourism information
East of England