“This isn’t the right road,” my mum said from the backseat of my car.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, when we came it was right next to the sea. I can’t even see the sea.”
“Okay but how long ago was that?”
“Oh, 30, maybe 40 years.”
Right! The main trouble is my mum insists on sitting in the back of my car with Freya, leaving my dad, who can’t see, in the front and meaning I am both driver of unfamiliar, windy roads and navigator.
I was sure I saw a sign for Dunwich Heath but the fact we had been driving for a good few minutes and nothing heath like had appeared suggested I might have misread.
If nothing else, being a journalist has taught me the art of the u-turn but I am also fairly persistent and so I carried on for a bit longer and ‘hey presto’ great swathes of purple heather started to appear on either side of the road, followed by another sign that concluded I was indeed going the right way.
“Oh you know what, I was thinking of Blythburgh not Dunwich,” my mum said.
Insert dramatic eye roll.
What is it?
I’ve grown up with the story of a city lost to the sea where on certain nights it is said you can hear the haunting sound of the bells from a drowned church pealing from beneath the waves.
In Anglo-Saxon times, Dunwich was the capital city of the Kingdom of the East Angles – at one point thought to be big enough to rival 14thCentury London.
In 1286 a storm surge hit the coast, destroying buildings on the edge of the city. This was followed by further violent storms, which led to many of the buildings being swept away, including several churches. That decline continued over many years until now only a small village remains.
Research conducted in the area has mapped the seabed, showing the ruins. Its eerie tales have made it something of a tourist spot.
And the heath?
Just down the road from the village is Dunwich Heath, which is owned and managed by the National Trust. As we were (sort of) driving by on our way to Caister, I suggested we call in to break up the trip. I was so pleased I did.
From July to September, it is bursting with colour and popular with walkers, bird watchers, geochachers and tourists.
This precious habitat is home to all sorts of species of birds and insects, plus there’s a lovely tea room.
There were many things I loved about our trip, not least how friendly the volunteers were.
I mentioned my dad was registered blind and that I had a five year old along for the ride and they were so helpful. They suggested the Smugglers’ Trail, which is suitable for young and old alike, and turned out to be the perfect distance for everyone – with a fun hunt for clues along the way.
I’m very keen to go back and visit Dunwich village next time. Maybe I’ll be lucky and hear the bells…
For more info about the heath, please check out the website.