Richard, Elinor and I took a trip to Dunwich Heath at the end of August last year. We wanted to go somewhere different to our usual places but didn’t want to make a long journey.
The old coastguard cottages. The National Trust tearoom is situated in the end cottage. The other cottages are rented out as holiday homes.
The County of Suffolk has six topographical regions each with its own distinct landscape features. I live in High Suffolk with its boulder-clay soil but just a couple of miles to the East of us the soil changes and becomes sand and gravel. This gravelly area is called The Sandlings and Dunwich Heath (part of the Sandlings) is right on the coast. To quote the National Trust description of the area –
‘Dunwich Heath is where the Sandlings meets the sea. It is 87 hectares (215 acres) of heather, gorse, grassland, woodland and crumbling sandy cliffs, as well as a mile of shifting sand and shingle beach. The Sandlings landscape was created by early farmers thousands of years ago. The sandy, free-draining soils became dominated by heather as farmers cleared the trees and introduced sheep to graze the land.
Within the Sandlings, only at Dunwich does the heathland extend to the cliff top – a rare example of coastal lowland heath.’
The shingle beach and cliffs
Late summer and early autumn is the best time to visit heathland as that is the time the heather is in flower.
We parked the car and walked to the beach first, as the seaside is Elinor’s favourite place to be.
Heather, gorse and bracken by the side of the path. This heather is going to seed; I love the orange colour of the seed capsules.
We found Sea Kale (Crambe maritima) as usual, with Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria) and Gorse behind it
Heather on the shoreline
You can see here what the cliffs are made of – sand and gravel in layers. It is no wonder they are crumbling away.
The sands are known as ‘crags’. The southern sandling crags are the oldest – a shelly ‘Coralline Crag’ which was deposited in warm tropical conditions about 3.5 million years ago forms an island and is surrounded by a sea of ‘Red Crag’ which is also full of fossilised shells. The northern crag known as ‘Norwich Crag’ is younger and is less than 2 million years old. Dunwich Heath is part of the ‘Norwich Crag’.
I have found three Belemnite fossils in my garden. Perhaps some gravel containing these fossils was brought to the area when the house was built or perhaps the land where we live is the border between the clay soil and the sandy soil.
The little holes are probably Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) nestholes. The pipe sticking out at the top left of the picture is probably a land drain.
Dunwich has disappeared into the sea at a rate of about 400 metres in 400 years. Houses and other buildings are still lost regularly. I don’t know what the structure at the top left of the picture is, or was!
We could see the town of Southwold to the north.
There is a large expanse of grassland here.
Richard and I left Elinor on the beach and went for a walk.
There were plenty of flowers and grasses to see. Further away across the water meadows and marshes are the two nuclear energy plants at Sizewell.
Parasol fungus (Macrolepiota procera) about 2′ tall!
Honeysuckle – not native
Common Ragwort – Senecio jacobaea
White Campion – Silene latifolia
This is the sight we had come to see. The beautiful heath in flower.
Heather (Calluna vulgaris) also known as Ling.
Bell Heather(Erica cinerea) – (the larger flowers)
Dwarf Gorse (Ulex minor) There are plenty of Gorse (Ulex europaeus) bushes on the heath as well.
I heard and then saw a Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata) on the top of a Gorse bush, but he was too far away to photograph.
A plaque on the cliff-top
This next photograph really makes me laugh!
Look at Elinor’s expression! Goodness knows what I must have been wittering on about.
‘Oh wad some power the giftie gie us / To see oursel’s as others see us! / It wad frae monie a blunder free us, / And foolish notion.’ Robert Burns
A Border Force ship patrolling the coast. The modern coastguards.
A sea-watch shelter. Looking at the water can be interesting and calming in itself but often ships, boats and other craft can be seen as well as sea-birds and mammals such as dolphins and seals.
We ended our visit with a cake each and a drink of choice at the tea-room.
A dramatic sunset when we got home.
Thank-you for visiting!