If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the Suffolk Coast there’s so much on offer, there are beautiful beaches, stunning heathland, evergreen forests, fascinating history and reputation for some of the country’s best food and drink. There is however a less publicised spectacle to this quiet part of East Anglia… Unbelievable gravel riding!
Without the hills or mountains that can turn some gravel tracks into perilous death traps suitable only for brave pills and full-sus mountain bikes all of Suffolk’s trails are suitable for a carbon fork and drop bars.
Our off-road Suffolk adventure starts and finishes the famous Snape Maltings, a 19th century Barley Maltings turned modern concert venue on the river Ald. The route heads south and straight into Tunstall Forest, the first of 3 Forest areas in the days ride.
Tunstall boasts a MTB track known as the Viking Trail, the twists and turns are flowing and fun but suitable for the novice gravel rider and the forest is spectacular. The origins of the Viking Trail are a legacy of the motorcycle enduro events held in the forest over past decades and the name owes its origin to the rich Viking history in the area and the burial sites such as nearby Sutton Hoo that have been discovered.
A couple of fast but quiet lanes then take you to Rendlesham forest, the trail changes here from the pine needle and hard sand of Tunstall to more of a gritty sandstone, the going is fast and straight as you power through the replanted forest in its straight ordered rows. As you double back and head east you pull alongside the runway of RAF Woodbridge, but can you achieve takeoff velocity??
As you cut back east past the fields of pigs (watch out for escaped piglets on the trail!) and round the Butley river you head down to the village of Orford, as you make contact with the village look to your right and you cant miss tiny Orford Castle. Built between 1165 and 1173 by Henry II to consolidate royal power in the region the castle is beautifully preserved and commands views over Orford ness. Orford Ness was used by the Ministry of Defence and for various military developments and tests and in the early 1970s it was the site of a powerful radar station as part of the west’s Cold War defences against low-flying attacking aircraft and missiles.
Back north now and into Tunstall forest for part two of the Viking trail, the GPX file doesn’t follow the trail to the letter but follow your nose and enjoy the undulations and banked corners. The trail will throw you out onto the road just short of where you started at Snape Maltings and its time for a refill and a hot cup of coffee!
As you set out again from Snape and head north towards the coast the going under-tread changes again to a hard-packed mud and grass, watch you don’t slip! Passing Thorpeness Golf Club and down Lover’s Lane we enter the pièce de résistance of the ride, RSPB Minsmere and Dunwich Forest. Minsmere is Coastal nature reserve with woods and wetland that shelters an array of rare wading and sea birds and Dunwich is famous in cycling of course for the overnight Dunwich Dynamo where riders ride through the night from London to the tiny coastal village of Dunwich.
A thousand years ago wool-rich Dunwich was as big as London. Coastal erosion means the medieval metropolis is now half a mile offshore. On a quiet night it’s said you can hear the watery tolling of lost church bells. All you will see now are pristine marshlands and achingly beautiful coastal vistas. Just when you think you’ve made your last photo stop you reach another stunning view (that is unless its raining sideways liker the day we rode the route!). The gravel varies from polished beach stone to occasional deep sand to imported dark grey gravel on the Minsmere bridle path, something for every tyre width and tread.
As one of the longest rides in our gravel series nears its end we traverse some wheat and sugarbeet fields and some (very) minor roads back south towards Snape and the promise of a pint of local ale and a hot meal, a prize well earnt after a morning of hard graft.
We hope Suffolk will have left its mark on you and your day on the Coast will live long in the memory.
Book your place here on our Glorious Gravel: Suffolk ride.