Winter walking holidays are just the ticket for blowing away the cobwebs after the excesses of Christmas, and the beginning of the year is also a spectacular time to see the rolling Suffolk countryside (while not actually having to tackle any particularly challenging hills on your hikes, because Suffolk is relatively flat!).
We’ve drawn together a selection of our favourite Suffolk spots to explore on your winter walking holiday, from quaint villages to coastal paths, and from gentle strolls to more challenging hikes.
Rendlesham Forest is steeped in mystery, since it was where one of the UK’s most famous UFO sightings took place, back in the 1980s (if you’d like to find out more, pop into the forest centre for a leaflet while you’re there). There’s a few clearly signed trails to choose from, starting at just 0.7 miles of easy-access firm surface path, to a three-mile loop through conifer plantation, heathland and wetland – very atmospheric on a frosty or misty morning.
While you’re in the area, pop to Orford to visit the Castle , maybe pick up a bite to eat at Pump Street Bakery, or even take a trip on the Lady Florence River Cruise Restaurant to combine sightseeing with a delicious meal. Alternatively, explore nearby Woodbridge, or visit Sutton Hoo to find out more about the Anglo Saxon ship burial discovered there.
The Valley Trail offers two gentle options – one slightly more adventurous than the other – that are both 3.5 miles in length. The wide compacted path that follows part of the Great Eastern Railway is easy access, and passes though picturesque grazing meadows (said to be the oldest continuously grazed pastures in East Anglia), while the riverside path takes you along grassy paths and over little bridges, along the banks of the Stour.
As these trails start from the car park at the Kingfisher Leisure Centre, you’ll be ideally placed to explore Sudbury after your leg-stretch. The town is well-known for its silk industry heritage (there are still thriving silk mills operating in Sudbury to this day – you can pick up some beautiful fabrics and gifts at Stephen Walters’ Mill Shop). It’s also famous for being the birthplace of painter Thomas Gainsborough; a visit to the museum located in the house where he was born is a must (though sadly it’s closed for refurbishment during winter 2021/22). Our tip for lunch is the café-bar Station Road – found unsurprisingly on Station Road, on the corner with Hamilton Road.
West Stow Country Park is a popular family destination for its recreated Anglo Saxon Village, but the walking in the area makes it worth the trip even if you don’t plan to immerse yourself in history. Three marked trails take in river, lake, meadow, heathland and woodland, with a one-mile easy access route and two longer jaunts on bumpier ground, which are 1.5 miles and 2 miles respectively.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s about a 20-minute drive to Bury St Edmunds and its raft of cafes and restaurants (we’ve heard tell that Francela and Maison Bleue, amongst others, are well worth a visit). History buffs will be fascinated by the Medieval streets and Georgian squares, not to mention Suffolk’s only cathedral and the Abbey ruins, as well as Britain’s last remaining Regency theatre.
Alton Water is sometimes billed as Suffolk’s largest lake, but technically it’s a reservoir built in the late 1980s. It’s a haven for wildlife, which is reflected in the fact you’ll find a number of birding hides around the eight-mile waterside circuit. The most accessible section is the 1.5 miles near the visitor centre (which boasts a café) and watersports centre, but the whole route is relatively easy-going, and perfect for a good long leg-stretch.
It’s only a short hop over to Jimmy’s Farm for a spot of retail therapy and maybe a bite to eat (or why not purchase some of their famous sausages to cook back at your Lodge?). Alternatively, Suffolk Food Hall is just ten minutes away from the main Alton Water car park – it boasts a café, restaurant and fine foods shop (plus a garden centre, cookery school, interiors shop, and more).
The Sailor’s Path is a route walked by seafarers for hundreds of years, stretching the six miles between Snape Maltings and Aldeburgh, taking in reedbeds and marshland. It crosses Snape Marshes, where otters have been spotted, while birdlife to keep an eye out for includes nightjars, woodlark and yellowhammers. If you don’t fancy making it a return hike, you can always catch the bus back!
When you arrive in Aldeburgh, fish and chips on the beach is a great idea – perhaps followed by a piece of cake from the Two Magpies Bakery. Alternatively, the Regatta Restaurant is the place to go for an elegant seafood feast.
The Stour and Orwell Walk is a 40-mile route which begins in Cattawade (just a 20-minute drive from your Lodge) and finishes in Felixstowe, by the coast. It may be a long trek – for hardcore walkers only, or for those who tackle it in chunks – but the terrain isn’t difficult and the banks of the two rivers offer stunning scenery (and one or two lovely pubs along the way, such as The Butt and Oyster at Pin Mill, and The Ship at Levington).
The Stour Valley Path also features tiny Cattawade at one end – but ventures in the opposite direction, back towards Stoke-by-Nayland and on to Long Melford, Clare and eventually all the way to Newmarket. At 60 miles in total, this is one either for ultra marathon athletes, or those who wish to walk the distance over a number of days – the published Stour Valley Path guides break the route up into ten sections, ranging between 4.5 miles and 8.5 miles, noting points of interest along the way.