One foot ahead of the other. It doesn’t necessarily matter at what speed. You just need to keep moving forwards.
The Suffolk Coast Path, which stretches from Lowestoft in the north of the county to Felixstowe in the south, is one of the lesser known long distance walking routes in England. From Friday to Sunday however, it was my sole focus. For a short time my one objective in life was to get to the end of the path, a much more significant challenge than I had originally thought, not least that the path seemed to disappear (or had fallen over the cliff) on several occasions. I could leave day-to-day worries behind and replace them with the more present visceral experience of pushing my body to its limits. It was a lesson in dealing with constant pain (back, shoulder, foot and leg) as well as pulling a team together.
We were able to appreciate the subtleties of changing landscape as we moved through it slowly. I discovered that ‘old Suffolk’ lives on: in the accent, in ancient paths and in ‘proper’ pubs. It was a joy and something I will never forget.
People walk these paths for different reasons. Mine was partly to prove to myself that I was capable of getting through such a journey. It was also an opportunity to spend time with my good mates Jono and Maxim, who I see all too rarely for reasons of work and distance, and also to discover more of the county that I spent my schooldays in: Suffolk. It certainly didn’t disappoint.
In every journey it is likely that you will hit a wall. However you are never quite sure when it might construct itself. For me it arrived about eight miles north of Southwold, surprisingly relatively early in our journey. I was in great pain all over my body at this point and wondered why we had decided to start this crazy adventure in the first place?! I required regular stops. Thankfully though, I got through it and once we had arrived at the pub in Southwold I knew that I could and would finish the distance.
This wasn’t the case sadly for my walking companions, Maxim and Jono, who sadly both had to leave me, at Snape (on day 2) and Shingle Street (on day 3) respectively, for different reasons.
My favourite stretch of coastline was certainly between Walberswick and Sizewell. The vast forest of Dunwich was beautifully peaceful, and the walk on Friday evening across the marshes as if I was walking in my own dreamscape. The light shimmered on the water as a heron floated through the evening sky.
I slept soundly on the first night, other than being woken by a bizarre call, that was perhaps a fox, perhaps a deer, perhaps a bird. It was difficult to make out. Either way, whatever it was was determined to be heard, and after a while a similar sounding creature responded. The joys of sleeping outdoors.
The final few miles across Felixstowe were difficult. I was walking alone by this point, and although I knew that the end was near, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was dehydrated and not enjoying the copious amounts of concrete beneath my feet. Felixstowe marks the point where London’s influence becomes clear, similar to my own home county of Essex. Kiss me quick amusement arcades adorn the seafront and hundreds of weekenders were enjoying the sunshine. It was immensely different to my previous stretches of the journey. At Bawdsey I had left the Suffolk that I had come to know and love and arrived in the seemingly foreign land of Felixstowe. The change was no longer subtle, as it had been through the middle of the walk, but stark and brash. The vast increase in population triggered a different attitude. I trudged through thinking about the bizarre nature of it all. It’s not necessarily bad, but different, and that is something that this walk was very successful at doing, putting the different ‘identities’ of Suffolk together, yet apart.
Walking is a good activity for thinking. The two correlate with each other in a perfect circle and help bring clarity to situations. Walking gives you time to think, and so you do. It aids reflection. It offers hope and gives grounding to a basis of confidence, especially when completing an epic walk.
This was the Suffolk Coast Path for me. We met some wonderful people along the way and I want to thank everybody who gave us directions, let us charge phones or fill up water, cooked for us, offered a friendly smile, chat or words of encouragement. I will always remember this experience. Painful, unique, glorious, inspiring, grounding.