Dunwich Heath

254 Reviews

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4/5

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Things to do

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Date of travel

November, 2016

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It could have been the opening scene of “Macbeth.” The Met Office had given the storm Angus a Scottish name and its forecast from earlier in the week proved as untrustworthy as the infamous thane. Fair to foul indeed, but we had arranged with friends to go walking or stay indoors and gossip so either epithet would serve.

As we arrived at their house there was a lull in the rain. A cup of coffee was offered, with the decision to follow. As we drank the sky seemed a little less severe so it was decided: Dunwich Heath drains reasonably well; we would walk there. A quarter of an hour by car had us parking near the National Trust centre. It could be no worse, though colder, than the day we’d arrived there in summer sunshire and before we could get back from the beach we were soaked. This time at least we were dressed for any reasonable eventuality.

The paths are fairly level, between heather and the occasional gorse, heading inland towards the Minsmere RSPB reserve. A good place for stonechats and Dartford warblers, our friends advised. True: we had seen some the year before. First it was a kestrel, though, using the wind in lieu of thermals. Then, briefly, there was a stonechat. We were just in time to catch a glimpse as it flew off.

Our route was a very approximate quadrangle, turning away from the reserve and climbing slightly to north-east. Much more colour in the trees and bracken than the Macbeth scene might offer, I thought. The light was melodramatic, though. The dark time of year creates its own version of brightness as shadow is formed by light.

The path crosses the road into the Trust reserve then approaches the cliffs. No need to go as far as the warnings about the edge: it was easy to imagine them crumbling after as much rain as had fallen and the buffeting of Angus, though its worst had been further south. A few other walkers passed, all making the most of what we knew could only be an interval between the downpours. A family from Germany asked if I would take their photograph. They cheerfully gathered on the path while I struggled with a camera phone: the result would certainly not be entered into the Brexit Photographers’ Competition unless there should be a booby prize. They were duly grateful for the attempt, however, and we parted without comment on next year’s negotiations.

The coastguard houses that the National Trust maintains for refreshments and holiday accommodation as well as its offices here showed up white against the grey sea where not even the breakers were as bright. The horizon was indistinguishable almost. To the south the huge golf ball of Sizewell reminded that its successor is still subject to debate.

There’s no knowing how long the walk had taken, because we had not wanted to bare enough flesh to make a watch available, although I guess about an hour. On the way there had been toadstools, gorse in bloom, the last autumn leaves on the trees and, just before our walk ended, a slow worm on the path. It looked dead but was only torpid. Someone picked it up and gave it cover in the bracken, where it wriggled a bit and settled down.

With our own comfort in mind we returned to the car just as rain began again. It had been, if not the ideal, at least an invigorating way of working up an appetite, with plenty to see despite unpromising beginnings.

John.Pelling

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