Sea Suffolk Swims

Dunwich, April 2020

Beaten back by the North Sea at Dunwich, we headed instead for Blythburgh, to discover there wasn’t enough water. We’re going to have to get better at planning…

What a glorious Saturday morning. Not a cloud in sight, and only a fresh breeze at home 25 miles inland. Things were a bit different at the coast at Dunwich – another of Roger Deakin’s Waterlog swims, where he listened out for the church bells that allegedly still ring beneath the waves (most of Dunwich, a then major Anglo-Saxon port, was lost in storm surges in 1287). Things seemed OK in the beach car park, but scaling the shingle bank revealed a full on assault of freezing cold easterly wind and sea foam. The sea looked and sounded absolutely furious.

The part of you that’s looked forward to this all week, and has just spent an hour in the car to get there, is convinced it will be fine. There were optimistic statements like “I think the wind’s dropping” and “That bit over there looks calm”, but not really with any conviction from either of us. The truth was it just looked plain dangerous.

Dunwich beach

Just at the point we’d agreed to head back, a young couple came down the shingle in just their costumes and a thin towel like this was Bondi Beach. After a good five minutes setting an iPhone up in the stones so they could film it (nothing is real until it’s posted on social media), the towels were off and they were heading for the surf. The horrible realisation came to us that if these two almost naked waifs disappeared into the sea for a swim, we would have no choice but to do the same. A couple of metres into the water, the first breaking wave hit them with enough force to send them scrambling back out. Nodding with approval and congratulating ourselves on the right decision, we headed off to crack open our flasks, with no small measure of relief.

Blythburgh Water

Plan A was stuffed, but any open water inland was sure to be calmer. We headed a few miles north to the Walberswick road, to scope out Blythburgh Water – the expanse of marsh and mudflats along the River Blyth and overlooked by Blythburgh church – the ‘Cathedral of the Marshes’ – where the Black Shuck gatecrashed a service in 1577.

Gorse and reed beds, Blythburgh
Gorse and reed beds, Blythburgh

The walk to the marshes led us first through the shady woodland of Deadman’s Covert (“Very Blair Witch” said Matt) then into classic marshland with coconut-scented gorse lining the path and reed beds on either side. We took a track to the right that takes you through the mudflats to the bank of the Blyth River. It all looked beautiful, the clear blue sky reflecting off the water seemed to promise endless swimming possibilities. The only problem was there seemed to be only a few inches of actual water.

According to the Tides Near Me app, it was now high tide at nearby Southwold, but clearly it takes time for all that water to squeeze through the channel at Southwold Harbour and fill up the marshes. Everywhere we looked it was thick, greasy mud with the rotten remains of posts jutting out here and there. The Blyth itself looked navigable, but there was so much mud between it and us that we realised today wasn’t going to be our day.

Two goes at a swim and neither successful. The only one who got remotely wet was Mrs B, whose wellies were breached three times, and finally ended up sat in the surf while hunting for sea glass.

Looks like water, right? 90% mud

If like Roger Deakin you’ve got your own moat to dive into when the urge to swim takes you, then you’re fine. If there’s a decent amount of travel involved though, it pays to do some preparation and not leave things to chance. Lesson learned.

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