Channel Crossings - The Suffolk Coast Ferries
The Suffolk Coast is well known for being a place for walkers and cyclists. Gorgeous heather, dramatic coastal views, pretty villages, and golden fields await the explorer, along with rivers, streams and tributaries.
They undoubtedly add to the character of the region, but while some are traversable by bridge, or even a long stride, others such as the Alde require a long diversion to the nearest road bridge. At least it would, were it not for the Suffolk ferries.
Every year these unsung heroes of The Suffolk Coast enable hundreds of walkers and cyclists to explore the region, and it’s estimated that by taking the four ferries you save over 75 miles of travel on the inland roads.
The River Blyth finishes its long journey to the sea by widening into a sixty metre channel in between Southwold and Walberswick. To cross it by road bridge requires a nine mile diversion, but thanks to a small rowing boat, people, bicycles and dogs can reach the other side in about two minutes for a nominal fee of 90p per person. The crossing was made by rowing boat until 1885 when a floating bridge chain ferry was started, initially hand-cranked before being replaced by a steam ferry.
Improvements to the harbour in 1942 made operation of the steam ferry too difficult, so the rowing boat made its return to service and thus it has been ever since. The service is run from April to the end of October by a small group of rowers, including Dani Church, the fifth generation of her family to do so.
Butley Ferry is rowed by volunteers across Butley Creek between Orford and Butley. It’s an optional (but very enjoyable) link on the Suffolk Coast Path, and Regional Cycle Route 41. Operating on weekends and Bank Holidays between Easter and October, it’s said to be the smallest ferry in Europe, so small that it can’t even take tandems!
Further south the River Deben separates Bawdsey and Felixstowe Ferry, a small fishing hamlet named for the service that has transported people across the water for centuries. The Bawdsey Ferry also runs from Easter until October and again is an optional part of the Suffolk Coast Path and Regional Cycle Route 41. Unlike its northern counterparts, the Bawdsey Ferry is a powered vessel, and also acts as a water taxi, taking boat owners to their yachts moored further out.
At the southernmost point of Suffolk the Stour and the Orwell meet, acting as the boundary between Harwich in Essex and Shotley and Felixstowe in Suffolk. Shuttling between these three towns is the Harwich harbour ferry. The bright yellow boat carries a maximum of twelve passengers and makes its journeys amongst the towering passenger and container ships between Easter and the end of September.
Photo by Bob Jones