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Discover why crabbing is just one of the many reasons to visit Walberswick, Suffolk.
Sunday morning at the Kissing Bridge in Walberswick and the crabbers were hard at work.
Young and old dangled weighted lines bearing bacon, crouching expectantly with their nets, waiting to scoop these scuttling crustaceans into plastic buckets half-filled with seawater.
However, these crabs are not for eating. The name of the game is to gently pop them back into the water to allow them to mature to full size.
Catching the eye of a father supervising his brood, he waved a greeting:
“It’s a great day out isn’t it? The kids love it and it’s free!”
Formerly the home of the British Open Crabbing Championship – the person catching the heaviest crab within 90 minutes is the winner! – Walberswick is a tranquil and unspoilt base from which to explore the Suffolk coast in the east of England. This secluded Georgian village, across the mouth of the River Blyth from the gentrified resort of Southwold, has attracted a host of celebrities to its streets lined with weatherboarded houses, including Richard Curtis and Paul Greengrass.
It’s easy to understand why. Picture a long sand and shingle beach backed by sweeping grassy sand dunes, understated traditional fishermen’s huts, a quintessential English village green and two great pubs and you’ll have the measure of the place.
The bottom line is that crabbing is not the only reason to visit Walberswick. Here are some other great things to do in Walberswick.
Reasons to visit Walberswick
To go crabbing in Walberswick
Despite the demise of the British Open Crabbing Championship – with the overwhelming influx of visitors the event became a victim of its own success – Walberswick remains one of the most popular places in England for crabbing expeditions.
Stop by the Parish Lantern shop in the village to pick up crabbing supplies.
To treat yourself to a cream tea
For me, an essential part of a UK staycation is indulging in at least one cream tea. The combination of a crumbly scone topped generously with strawberry jam and rich clotted cream is hard to beat.
Stop by The Tea Shed, a stone’s throw from Walberswick’s village green, for a cream tea. If the weather is kind to you, take advantage of the café’s pretty garden.
Alternatively, do as we did and pick up supplies at The Black Dog Deli and create your own cream tea in the comfort of your rented accommodation.
To visit one of Walberswick’s pub (or two)
A pub is an essential feature of most English villages and Walberswick is no exception. Better still, you have two pubs to choose from: The Bell and The Anchor. Purely in the interests of research, we tried both.
The historic Bell Inn is located close to the sand dunes. Like most pubs in this neck of the woods, it is part of the Adnams pub group and has a menu featuring local specialities. This traditional English pub has plenty of inside space and a large garden.
The Anchor is located along the main road towards St. Andrew’s Church. Also part of the Adnams group, they have an extensive wine list and source much of their food locally. There is a garden to the rear of the pub and a terrace at the front of the pub.
To take one of shortest ferry rides in the world to Southwold
To call the Walberswick Ferry ‘a ferry’ is pushing it a little. It’s less of a ferry, more of a two-minute journey by rowing boat to neighbouring Southwold. But this is part of its charm and one of the best reasons to visit Walberswick.
Operating between April and October, this family-run business stretching back five generations carries passengers across the River Blyth up to 100 times a day.
Alternatively, you can reach Southwold by walking along the riverbank and across the Bailey Bridge.
From the Southwold Harbour jetty for the Walberswick Ferry, it’s a 30-minute walk to Southwold Pier. And what a glorious walk this is, along a soft caramel-coloured sandy beach stretching as far as the eye can see, lined with candy-coloured beach huts, to the accompaniment of the rolling surf of the North Sea.
Keep an eye out for the witty names of these beach huts; Spunyards, All Mine, Quality Time and – my favourite – Mr Blue Sky.
Southwold Pier keeps to the right side of the tasteful – tacky divide.
Jutting out 623 feet into the North Sea, this traditional pier with wooden buildings was constructed in 1900 as a landing stage for steamships bringing visitors from London, Clacton and Great Yarmouth. Today it is home to souvenir shops, cafes, an amusement arcade and an innovative water clock and boasts sensational views of the town and coast.
Southwold is also home to many fine Georgian, Regency and Victorian buildings and to the magnificent Church of St Edmund.
Considered to be one of Suffolk’s finest churches, this vast 15th Century building is magnificent, from its soaring nave to its exquisite hand-painted altar screen. We were treated to a bell-ringing practice on our visit!
There’s a working lighthouse built in the late 19th Century to guide ships entering the River Blyth and to alert sailors to shingle banks along the coast. Although currently closed, in better times you can take a guided tour of Southwold Lighthouse for a small charge.
From Gunhill Cliff, the location of the town’s defences, there are sweeping views of the coastline and a row of six impressive 17th Century cannons pointing out to sea.
Finally, you won’t be able to travel far in Suffolk without tripping over an Adnams pub.
This family-run operation has brewed beer in Southwold since 1872 – try their Ghost Ship beer! – and now distil a range of award-winning spirits.
If you’re not able to join one of their brewery or distillery tours, make sure to stop by their store on Victoria Street for all things Adnams related.
To pick up dinner supplies at Southwold Harbour
In the early 20th Century, Southwold Harbour was used by over 100 working boats and housed a fish market and processing unit. Today, it serves a handful of fishing boats and pleasure craft.
Southwold Harbour is also home to a selection of stalls selling freshly caught fish. Twice we picked up the sweetest of scallops, the size of a small child’s fist, for searing on the Aga.
Watch out for flood level markers showing the water level in the flood in 1953, lasting reminders of the vulnerability of coastal communities such as this.
To take a walk through Suffolk Coast National Nature Reserve
Marshes characterise the landscape of Suffolk and form part of the Suffolk Coast National Nature Reserve. Set out from Walberswick towards Dunwich through the Walberswick Nature Reserve.
The Walberswick section of the Suffolk Coast National Nature Reserve covers nearly 3,000 acres and comprises an astonishing range of habitats including vast reed beds, grassland, woodlands, shingle, saline lagoons, mudflats and the salt marshes of the Blyth estuary. It is home to deer, otters and a wide range of bird species, including March Harrier, Bearded Tit, Water Rail and Bittern.
To navigate your way through the reserve, follow the blue and yellow Suffolk Coast Path way-markers.
Download a Walberswick to Dunwich route map here.
To visit St Andrew’s Walberswick
St. Andrew’s Church, Walberswick is striking because the current church, the fourth to be built in the town, is dwarfed by the adjacent ruins of the previous church.
These remarkable ruins tell the dramatic story of a turning point in English history.
43 years after St. Andrew’s was built in 1490, the Catholic church was driven from England by Henry VIII, marking the start of the English Reformation. Subject to the congregational, Anglican worship of the newly formed Church of England, parishioner numbers dwindled and there were not enough churchgoers to sustain such a large building.
By the end of the 17th Century, the pragmatic parishioners sought permission to tear down the old church and build a smaller one in the ruins. Permission was granted on the condition that the tower be retained as a landmark for ships at sea.
The new church, built in 1696, matches the old church’s drama with charm.
There are memorials to fishermen lost at sea and a mosaic formed from medieval coloured glass rescued from the ruins. The pulpit and the altar screen are other survivors from the 15th Century church.
To take a Blyth River Trip
For a different perspective of Walberswick take to the water.
The owners of the Walberswick Ferry run boat trips during in the spring and summer on the River Blyth through Walberswick Nature Reserve.
Alternatively, Coastal Voyager operates a two-hour River Blyth cruise and a 30-minute high-speed boat trip out to sea. They can be found on the Southwold side of the River Blyth.
How to get to Walberswick
Public transportation options are limited.
By car: The best way to get to Walberswick is to drive. From London, the journey time is around 2 ½ hours.
By train: Take a train from London Liverpool Street Station to Darsham, with a change of train at Ipswich. The journey time is from 2 hours. Make sure to book your train ticket in advance for the best price.
From Darsham, take a taxi 7 miles to Walberswick. Expect to pay £20 – 25 for this fare.
Where to stay in Walberswick
Because of the length and relative complexity of the journey, I don’t recommend Walberswick as a day trip from London. Accommodation options in Walberswick are mostly rental properties.
As a party of six, we stayed at Admiral House, a stone’s throw from The Anchor pub. This five-bedroom, five-bathroom property is highly recommended.
For smaller groups or for solo travellers, here are a few other properties that are worth considering:
The Anchor – offers double and twin rooms and the main building and chalets in the garden.
As Walberswick is small, the choice of places to lay your head is limited and you may wish to consider staying in Southwold:
The Swan Hotel – the priciest place in town has garnered great reviews and you’d do well to get a more central location.
Reasons to visit Walberswick: Final thoughts
Walberswick is special and an ideal place to decompress for a few days or more. I believe that the key to this is its relative isolation.
As Suffolk has no coast road, its towns and villages are isolated from each other, located at the ends of narrow lanes radiating from the A12. This allows them to take on, and to retain, their individual personalities.
In an increasingly homogenous world, surely this is one of the very best reasons to visit Walberswick? That and the crabbing of course.
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