Walberswick is one of Suffolk’s hidden gems, tucked away across the River Blyth from the much higher profile Southwold. Until the early 20th century Walberswick was a trading port, but today it is one of Suffolk’s leading places to visit – for those in the know!
Things to do in Walberswick
The village was famous for its annual crabbing competition – The British Open Crabbing Championship, held every August. The person who caught the single heaviest crab within a period of 90 minutes was declared the winner. However the event was a victim of its own success and had to be stopped after 2011 as too many people were coming along and the village couldn’t cope with the influx of visitors. However there’s nothing to stop you trying your hand anytime.
The village has several tea rooms, restaurants, two pubs, an art gallery, original crafts and gift shops, and you can easily walk to Southwold Harbour over the River Blyth from here. There’s a small ferry (ie rowing boat) that will take you across the River for a small fee during the Summer months, or you can go over via the bridge. On Southwold Harbour you’ll find plenty of stalls selling freshly caught fish, and you can also admire the vessels that were used to catch your supper. A 10 minute walk along the sandy beach will take you into Southwold town and the Pier.
You can also walk from Walberswick in the opposite direction to Dunwich, through the delightful Walberswick Nature Reserve (pictured below) or along the beach if you prefer. On windy days the Nature Reserve is recommended for sure! From Dunwich you can walk along the beach to RSPB Minsmere and further on to Sizewell, Thorpeness and Aldeburgh.
Walberswick Nature Reserve is one of three National Nature Reserves managed by English Nature. The Reserve is one of the most diverse sites in the UK with internationally important and unique groupings of habitation in a small area. The Reserve is made up of some of the best remaining areas of Sandlings heathland, together with reed beds at Westwood Marshes (omne of the largest in the UK), grassland, woodlands, shingle, saline lagoos and mudflats and the salt marshes of the Blyth estuary, which is tidal.
Fortunately there is a well marked path through the reserve which enables you to see the Reserve at its best. You can walk from Dunwich to Walberswick (and vice versa!) Look out for the blue and yellow Suffolk Coast Path way-marker discs).
The area is still used for sourcing reed for thatch. This source of income helps to manage the water level in the reed bed for rare wildlife. The reserve is internationaly important for its enormous varitety of birdlife including March Harrier, Bearded Tit, Water Rail and Bittern. Unfortunately during the winter it’s not unknown for the sea to break through the shingle bank and flood the freshwater marshes, with potentially disastrous consequences for the wildlife that depends on the area. It may be impossible to protect these important coastal marshlands from the sea, and the search is already on for new sites to replace what may be lost.
A Brief History of Walberswick
The village and surrounding beach and marshland have long attracted residents drawn from the arts, film and media. In the 1890s and 1900s it became associated with Philip Wilson Steer and his circle of English Impressionists, and it was home to the noted Scottish artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh from 1914. He was a designer in the post impressionist movement and also one of the main representatives of Art Nouveau in the United Kingdom. Esther Freud, daughter of Lucian Freud a long term resident of Walberswick, also lives in the village and in 2014 published a book ‘Mr Mac and Me’. This is set in Walberswick and you can find her account of writing this novel about Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s connection to the area here – Esther Freud: ‘My house’s ghosts inspired my new book’.
The village is also the setting for Esther Freud’s other novel, The Sea House, thinly disguised as ‘Steerborough’ – presumably a coded reference, or in-joke, towards one-time resident, Philip Wilson Steer.
Considering its size, an inordinate number of British celebrities own holiday homes in the village! Sir Clement Freud lived here, and their daughter, Emma Freud and her husband Richard Curtis still do. Martin Bell & Geoffrey Palmer have homes here, while Paul Heiney and Libby Purves live nearby. For more information on Suffolk’s celebrities please see Famous Suffolk People