Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons

The Adventure

Arthur Ransome’s books reverberate with the stuff of truly great childhood adventure – encounters with old sea dogs and suspected pirates, mysterious places, dangerous exploits, camping, fishing, sailing and living wild and free of the watchful gaze of adults.

His books are famously set in the Lake District, but only five of Ransome’s twelve stories take place there. The Norfolk Broads and Suffolk feature heavily in the other books. Just off the A12, downriver from Ipswich, is a little sailing village where Ransome set his sailing adventures We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea and Secret Water. The Ransomes moved to Suffolk in 1936, and lived at nearby Broke Farm on the banks of the River Orwell. As he wrote, looking out of the window of his study, he could see Pin Mill harbour, where he moored his sailing boat, the Nancy Blackett, named after his formidable Amazon heroine.

In the books, John, Susan, Titty and Roger (the Swallows) stay at Alma Cottage, the pink cottage next to the Butt and Oyster pub.

The first Suffolk adventure, We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, is the story of an unintended voyage across the sea. The Swallows have promised their mother they will stay safely in the harbour, but their boat, the Goblin, loses anchor and drifts away in a fog, sending them far out to sea and all the way to Holland. A sailing race to Holland takes place every year from the sailing club at Pin Mill as a tribute to the book. In the second book, Secret Water, the Swallows are marooned on an island with a small boat and left to survey and chart the area of islands and marshes. These islands are south of Pin Mill at Hamford Water.

Our walk follows a footpath up the estuary of the River Orwell and loops back to the warmth of the pub and the chinking of the boats of Pin Mill. Watch the boats sailing up and down the river and look out for the occasional container ship heading upstream to the docks at Ipswich, just as Arthur Ransome used to do. When the tide is low, the river turns to mudflats and you can walk out on ‘the hard’, a kind of pavement in the mud heading out where the road ends. Watch for wading birds, such as snipe, lapwing and redshank (see our bird chart on page 151). As many as fifty thousand birds from as far away as the Arctic Circle spend winter here, feeding on snails and shrimps in the mud. The recently found and restored Nancy Blackett still sails these waters and is worth looking out for as you walk. The woods in the Cliff Plantation are filled with sycamore, ash, elm, hazel
and oak. The Butt and Oyster pub, featured in 
the books, is the start and finish of the walk.

Map Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 197

Distance 4.5 km / 2.8 miles for the first loop back to Pin Mill. Add a further 4.5 km / 2.8 miles if you walk all the way round and back through the Cliff Plantation.

Terrain Along the river estuary and up into some woods. It can be wet underfoot.

Walk the Walk


1 Turn left on to the lane from the car park, down to the harbour.

The Butt and Oyster is on your right. It may be worth popping in to reserve a table and to check when they are taking last orders for lunch. Turn left and walk along the front, straight on past Harry King and Sons Boat Repairs, towards the Pin Mill Sailing Club. Follow the lane as it bends round the cottages.

 2  Take the first turning on the right, at the double garages, on to a marked footpath. Follow this path in a straight line along the river’s edge. Drop down to explore whenever you want on small paths that cut through the hedgerow, returning to the main footpath to carry on. Keep going until you reach the Royal Harwich Yacht Club, about a mile later.

3  At the Yacht Club, walk straight on, around the front of the Club House, and follow the path to the tarmac road. Turn left and walk up the road.

4  Just after the Club car park, turn left on to a footpath into the woods. As the footpath opens up, take the left fork and carry straight on along the lightly wooded valley.

5  The path crosses a playing field, curling around the church and left to a crossroads in front of the church gate. Turn right and you will see two stiles in immediate succession along the fence. Take the first stile and cut through the fields in front of the imposing Ipswich School.

6  After the school, climb over another stile and follow the path to the left through the middle of an arable field and into the woods.

7 Follow the wide track through the woods, passing a pond on your right. Skirt a field and keep going on the track, now looking down at the river again on your left. Keep going straight on, on a smaller path into the open field, leaving the wide track bending away to the right.
8 This path rejoins the path you set off on. Retrace your steps back to Pin Mill, passing through a gate and eventually past the Sailing Club and into the village.

If you wish to extend the walk, you can follow the footpaths behind the village and back through the Cliff Plantation to the pub. a After rejoining the path, at point 8, walk straight on to the gate, towards Pin Mill. But after the gate, turn right, heading up the hill.

Keep going straight on until you come to a tarmac lane.
b Walk to the junction and turn left. After 200 m / 220 yards, turn left along a footpath that leads to the village. Pop out on the edge of the village and head straight on, towards the church.
c At the church, follow the lane left down the hill to a T-junction. Walk straight across, taking care of cars, and up a bridleway to Hill Farm.
 Walk straight on, past the farm, with the farm buildings on your left. The track is now on flat land with big skies, full of good puddles to splash through after rain. Cold and windy in winter, baking in summer. Follow it across the fields for 1.5 km / 1 mile, and then head left down past a small reservoir to the right. Go straight on all the way to the river.
e When you reach Clamp House, take the footpath to the left, into the Cliff Plantation. This is part of the Stour and Orwell walk. The woods are full of interesting trees to climb and enormous gnarled gorse bushes, tempting to hide in. Keep walking on a virtually straight path back to Pin Mill through the Cliff Plantation. If the tide is out, drop down to your right and take the lower path past some extraordinary ramshackle and rusty houseboats, perfect for old sea dogs, emerging in front of the Butt and Oyster. If the tide is high, stay on the upper path and follow the footpath out through the bungalows and down the steps to the lane. Turn right on the lane and walk down to the harbour.

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