Dunwich – ‘town’ and heath

A easy circular walk on flat ground and particularly pretty when the heather is in flower, in late August or early September. This walk started at the Coastguard Cottages on Dunwich Heath and included Dunwich and the ruins of the Greyfriars Priory.

c.5 miles; 2.5 hours

Walk around Dunwich

OS Maps 231 & 212



The Church of St James was built in 1830 but remodeled in the 1880s, and is now the only remaining church in Dunwich. Inside, the pew ends are all beautifully carved, including one with the Freemasons’ symbol.

The Church of St James, Dunwich

The Church of St James, Dunwich, a view from the Roman Road outside the town

The Leper Hospital was built outside the walls of the town and consisted of a Chapel and a Hall. Leprosy started in Britain in the 11C and in 1175 legislation ruled that those suffering from the disease must be isolated. It is thought a Leper Hospital existed in Dunwich from as early as 1189. The ruined Chapel is the only remaining Mediaeval structure left in Dunwich, and it too is in danger of collapsing.

All Saints Church was the last Mediaeval Church to disappear into the sea, between 1904-19 but before then this last remaining buttress was moved to the churchyard of St James Church.

The buttress from All Saints Churc

The buttress from All Saints Churc

Dunwich was the capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles, a prosperous port town the size of London. But between 1240 and 1450 fiercely destructive storms and storm surges hit the coast, sweeping villages into the sea, causing the river to silt up, and destroying sea defences. The progress of the coastal erosion is well known, and nowadays little remains. Some say it is haunted. This site is crammed with facts, including the reconstruction below.



Reconstruction of Dunwich

Reconstruction of Dunwich

Greyfriars Priory was established before 1277 and actually moved further inland c.1290 to escape the sea. The Priory was closed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538.

Dunwich Abbey

Greyfriars Priory, Dunwich – the ruins of the refectory building and the gateway

Priory wall on side furthest from the sea

Priory wall on side furthest from the sea

In the middle of Greyfriars Woods is this curious little bridge. It is a Victorian construction and the Dunwich Museum reports it ‘…was built to link the grounds of the Victorian Barne Mansion to the wood and to the ruins of Greyfriars. I understand that the family used this bridge, and two more to the east, which have already gone over the cliff, to take pony carts, tea trollies, etc for picnics in the ruins. I believe one of the bridges had a small train track!..’. The footpath under the bridge is Middlegate Street, a Mediaeval road into Dunwich (see the mapped reconstruction of the town on the Dunwich Museum site).

Victorian bridge in Greyfriars Woods, crossing Middlegate Street

Victorian bridge in Greyfriars Woods, crossing Middlegate Street


Greyfriars Woods

Sea mist rolling in

Sea mist rolling in over the heath

 And finally back to the Coastguard Cottages for a Cream Tea – well, why not?


You may be interested in
Dunwich Village Website
The Dunwich Museum
The history of Dunwich
Walks in Norfolk and Suffolk
The Leper Hospital, Dunwich
The erosion of the land
The collapse of the land around Dunwich
The disappearance of All Saints Church, Dunwich
Another account of a walk in this area, and other walks along the coast of Suffolk and Essex





2 thoughts on “Dunwich – ‘town’ and heath

  1. Pingback: Walking the Suffolk Coast 7(ii) | The Essex Coast

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