4.2 Colours of Shingle 4.2 Outsider on the Edge 4.2: Inside Edges 4: Audience: Shifting Edges 5.3: Edgescapes 5: Presentation: Zemni 2021

Shingle Street BackNotes

Shingle Street is a small coastal hamlet in Suffolk, England, at the mouth of Orford Ness, situated between Orford and Bawdsey. Part of the coast is also known as Hollesley Bay.


A community of fishing families and river pilots for the River Ore was established in the early 19th Century.


The four Martello towers south of Shingle Street were built in 1808-1809. Coastguard cottages at the North end of the beach housed coastguards who worked as pilots, lifeboatmen and excise men to control the smuggling.

Several buildings were destroyed during World War II, including the Lifeboat Inn, the hamlet’s only pub.


The beach is a designated SSI because of its rare vegetated shingle, little terns, saline lagoons and geology.

A report from October 2004 suggests that Shingle Street is at risk from the sea and could disappear within 20 years if sea defences are not erected.

North Sea windfarms can be seen in the distance on a fine days.


Was an important place for tourism in 1930s.

But destroyed in World War II.

Now a desirable elite hideaway.

Shell line

Line fishing by kayak in the saline lagoons
Melancholy summer oboe and piano meandering across the shingle far from Shingle Street itself until the end. Then some of the back footpaths through fields and allotments.

Drone Photography
January walk. 2013. Sunny. Lots of warning sounds. Electronic music. Shows steep shingle banks. Kayaking. Some quite interesting angles. End is misty.

For copies of the local news magazine Village Voices see:




Martello Towers

Originally 103 towers were built between 1805 and 1812 to resist a potential invasion by Napoleon. 29 were built between Aldeburgh and St Osyth Stone between 1808 and 1812 to protect Essex and Suffolk, the rest having been built a few years earlier across the Kent and Sussex coasts.

The four Martello towers south of Shingle Street were built in 1808-1809. Coastguard cottages at the North end of the beach housed coastguards who worked as pilots, lifeboatmen and excise men to control the smuggling.

Many are now for sale at over 1 million pounds or holiday lets:
Shingle Street holiday let:
Bawdsey for sale :

World War II

Several buildings were destroyed during World War II, including the Lifeboat Inn, the hamlet’s only pub.

See also: Petroleum Warfare Department: Burning seas

After World War II many strange happenings were reported to have taken place at Shingle Street, including a failed German invasion.Since the civilian population had been evacuated in May 1940, there were no eyewitness reports, although official documents remained classified until questions in the House of Commons led to their early release in 1993. These papers disclosed no German landing. In fact rumours of a failed invasion on the South and East Coasts were commonplace in September 1940 and helped to boost morale. Author James Hayward has proposed that these rumours, which were widely reported in the American press, were a successful example of black propaganda with an aim of ensuring American co-operation and securing lend lease resources by showing that the United Kingdom was capable of successfully resisting the German Army.

Short amateur video about a boy finding a German army badge. But civilians had been evacuated….


The beach is a designated SSI because of its rare vegetated shingle, little terns, saline lagoons and geology.

Sea Kale

Crambe maritima (sea kale, sea cole, seakale, sea colewort or crambe) is a brassica, related to the cabbage. Local people heaped loose shingle around the naturally occurring root crowns in springtime, thus blanching the emerging shoots. By the early eighteenth century, it had become established as a garden vegetable. The shoots are served like asparagus: steamed, with either a béchamel sauce or melted butter, salt and pepper.

Sea pea

Lathyrus maritimus (sea pea, beach pea, circumpolar pea, sea vetchling). The species’ pods and seeds are larger than many of its relatives’, and they have been used in years of crop failure as human food. Non-toxic, cultivated stands are the result of careful cross-breeding, and the seeds of wild pea plants should not be eaten: unprocessed sea pea seeds are poisonous.

Yellow horned poppy

The Yellow horned-poppy is a coastal plant that grows on shingle beaches, cliffs and sand dunes. The golden-yellow flowers appear in June and are followed by the ‘horns’ – curling seedpods that can be up to 30cm long. When it is broken, the plant exudes a yellow sap which is poisonous. The seeds of the Yellow horned-poppy are often eaten by small birds, such as Twite and Snow bunting.



little terns

Shingle Street survey website

Shingle Street Survey 2016

Shingle Street Ecology Report 2018

Touching the Tide project

A report from October 2004 suggests that Shingle Street is at risk from the sea and could disappear within 20 years if sea defences are not erected.

On fine days North Sea windfarms can be seen in the distance: Greater Gabbard windfarm 23km NE and London Array Windfarms to the South.

Hollesley Bay Colony

Hollesley Bay began in 1887 as a colonial college training those intending to emigrate. The land was originally purchased by Joseph Fels, an American soap-manufacturing millionaire and friend of George Lansbury, the prominent Christian Socialist who was also a leading member of the Poplar Board of Guardians.

The prison had housed a labour colony for the London unemployed. The aim was to train unemployed people for work, with a view to helping them escape pauperism. Hollesley Bay was typical in that it mainly involved exposing its inmates to a period of work either on agricultural tasks or in the kitchens and other relatively unskilled activities. Hollesley Bay had the largest prison farm in the British prison system, along with the oldest established stud for the Suffolk Punch Horse in the world.

Hollesley Bay opened on this site as a Borstal in 1938.  From that year and until 2006, the prison managed a 1800 acre farm on which the care of both crops and livestock, delivered employment for the prisoners.

There was a short-lived strike among the inmates in May 1922, partly sparked by dissatisfaction over the inmates’ levels of pay. It was said to hold around 280 men in 1923, rising to 366 in the late 1920s, and falling to around 200 in 1934. London County Council decided to dispose of the site in 1938.

In 1938 the Prison Commission purchased the site for use as a Borstal and Detention centre. The Irish writer Brendan Behan, arrested for IRA activities in 1939, was sent there, and subsequently described his experiences in Borstal Boy. Jeffrey Archer was also sent there. A major expansion took place in 1982 with the opening of Warren Hill Prison a 285 place secure unit.

In 1983 Hollesley Bay became a Youth Custody Centre this replaced the borstal system. This in turn was replaced by Young Offenders Institution in 1988. In 2002, the old borstal site became mainly for the use of minimum security adult offenders. The prison has been repeatedly criticised for the apparently large number of escapes, which has led to the nickname Holiday Bay.

The prison today

Today the establishment is an outward looking modern institution which holds sentenced adult males from 18 years and upwards without limit. The farm has gone, and a focus on resettlement and reducing re-offending is at the heart of our agenda. The establishment has developed a strong reputation in successfully preparing life sentenced prisoners for their final release. There are more than a hundred prisoners working in the community on a daily basis, and many partnership agencies work alongside prison staff, to deliver a most effective open establishment. The regime is demanding of its participants. A calm ethos of mutual co-operation, with total delivery of the sentence plan, and a commitment to the working week, are the essentials to continued occupancy at Hollesley Bay, in full preparation for release back to the community

2018 HMP Report


Waking up to views of the sea – what could be better? The magical setting of Shingle Street provides a wonderful backdrop for this Victorian seaside cottage, situated in an unrivalled spot. Simply wonderful.

The Shingle Street Shell Line

In 2005 stonecutter Lida Cardozo Kindersley and her childhood friend Els Bottema started to arrange a line of shells on the beach, beginning as a way of coping with their shared experience of cancer treatment. After regular visits to add to the line by 2018 it stretched for more than 275m and was made up of 20,000 individual whelk shells. 

A short documentary film about the work, entitled ‘C Shells’, was released in 2017, followed by a book ‘The Shingle Street Shell Line’ by Bottema and Kindersley in 2018

In 2005 two childhood friends, Els and Lida, spent a week in Suffolk after each had been through a year of cancer. On their first long walk along the beach, they picked up some white shells and, sitting down to rest, arranged them around a plant. From that day on, every walk added more shells to a growing line, symbolic of their slow day by day, shell by shell recovery. Twice a year they spend a week repairing and relaying the line and find that many people have added to it. Frail and transitory, like us and those who come and wonder at it, the line is a signal of courage and survival.


Cloudburst at Shingle Street

Shingle Street was the inspiration of the Thomas Dolby song , from the album The Golden Age of Wireless.


On Shingle Street
The summer’s sweet,
The stones are flat,
The pebbles neat
And there’s less rip
When tides are neap.
It’s fine to swim, or fine to try
But when the sea runs fast and high
And skies turn black and cormorants weep
Best watch your step on Shingle Street.

On Shingle Street
The shelving’s steep
With stones to skim
As if they’d feet
To hop and skip
Across the deep,
To pitter-pat and aquaplane,
Again again again again,
Not flip and flop, and splash and drop,
The opened trap, the hangman’s rope,
The cairns that mark where life gave out,
The muddy dark off Shingle Street.

From Shingle Street
To Bawdsey Bay
The sea-mews shriek
Above the spray,
The rolling seals
Are charcoal grey
As though burnt out or singed by grief.
Like ash-streaked mourners, half-possessed,
They duck and bob and stare to land
In hope that we might understand.
But nothing helps, we fail the test,
They hang and gaze without relief
Beyond the reach of Shingle Street.

For Shingle Street’s a single street,
A row of shacks in stone and wood,
The sea out front, the marsh out back,
Just one road in and one road out,
With no way north except the spit,
And no way south except on foot,
A cul-de-sac, a dead-end track,
A sandbanked strand to sink a fleet,
A bay, a bar, a strip, a trap,
A wrecking ground, that’s Shingle Street.

On Shingle Street
As sunset seeps
Across the marsh
The flocks of kale
Are grazing sheep,
A soft pink light
Sneaks up the beach
As if each stone were ringed with fire,
As if each pebble held the heat
Of past disasters, past defeats.
And in the dusk they tell a tale
Of burning boats and blistered flesh,
And you can’t help but watch and hear
And smell the oil and taste the fear
And feel your skin scorch in the heat:
You won’t sleep sound on Shingle Street.

On Shingle Street
The stones are neat
And warm as stoves
Beneath your feet
Like aga-lids
That store the heat.
But just an inch or two below
It’s sloppy-wet and cold as snow.
The lips are dry but not the mouth.
The tide’s come in though it’s still out,
The icy north’s migrated south.
The oven tops are just a cheat.
Beware the tricks of Shingle Street.

For Shingle Street’s a sneaky street,
That smiles and mangles, lures and wrecks,
Where water strips and wind dissects,
Where sea-kale bows its green-grey head
As waves wash up the new-made dead,
A bolt-hole built with ghost-white stones,
A charnel house for ancient bones,
A beach, a bitch, a crypt, a con,
A bight, a morgue, a scam, a tomb,
A sun-trap strand, a catacomb,
An angel with a nasty streak,
A seabird with a razor beak,
A double bluff, that’s Shingle Street.

From Shingle Street
To Orford Ness
The waves maraud,
The winds oppress,
The earth can’t help
But acquiesce
For this is east, and east means loss,
A lessening shore, receding ground
Where land runs out and nothing’s sound,
Just inches last year, this year feet –
Nothing lasts long on Shingle Street.

On Shingle Street
The grind goes on,
A churning bowl
Of sand and stone,
A watery mix that unbuilds homes,
Unearthing earth, unlaying land,
Tall waves that flash like silver spades,
And bulldozed buffs and quarried bays,
Not give-and-take but take-and-keep,
Just shingle left on Shingle Street.

For Shingle Street’s a sinking street,
The worn-out coast’s in slow retreat
With lopped-off bluffs and crumbling cliffs,
And empty air where churches stood,
And houses perched, and fields and woods,
And no known means to stop the rot.
A breakers’ yard of rusted hulls,
Where combers come and herring gulls,
A holding bay for washed-up trash,
A rest home for the obsolete,
A hole, a heap, a wreck, a wrack,
A nomad’s land, that’s Shingle Street.

On Shingle Street
The sea repeats
Its tired old tricks,
Its one-man show,
The drumrolled waves along the strand,
The bass-line thud and cymbal-clash
As stones are stoned and pebbles dashed.
Again again again again
The waves collapse, the flints resound,
The tide runs in and takes the ground,
The tide runs out, the ground slips back.
Variety is not the name
But that’s the point – the sea’s the same,
Unchanging grey, the one sure thing,
A flooded plain in plain disguise,
A level field that hides its rise
Through constant ebb and constant flow,
Unlike the earth, which shifts and shrinks,
Unlike ourselves, who have to go.

3.2 Choosing Texts: Cornwall Knowns and Unknowns 3: Text and Image: Woman Lost 5.2.1 Lake Reflections 5.2.2 Tales from the Edge 5.3: Edgescapes 5: Presentation: Zemni 2021 In Process

Charcoal Drawing

I really like the dark moody tone of charcoal. In the past I have used a range of techniques. Using willow/vine, compressed and condensed charcoal on different types of paper. I do have to be careful though using charcoal as I have a lot of problems with the dust.

One way of overcoming this is to use pencil and then charcoal pencil.

Inspiration for improving technique

Pencil and charcoal pencil for hyperrealism


4.2 Colours of Shingle 4.2 Outsider on the Edge 4.2: Inside Edges 4: Audience: Shifting Edges 5.3: Edgescapes 5: Presentation: Zemni 2021 East Anglia Fine Art Inspiration Location

Emma Green

Shingle Street


4: Audience: Shifting Edges 5.2.2 Tales from the Edge 5.3: Edgescapes 5: Presentation: Zemni 2021 In Process

Maggi Hambling

Maggi Hambling website

Edge paintings

The Wave Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition 2010

Walls of Water: The Monotypes, Marlborough Gallery 2014-2015

Google images

Hambling, M. 2009. You Are the Sea, Great Britain, Lux Books.
Hambling, M. 2010. The Aldeburgh Scallop, Suffolk, Full Circle Editions.
Hambling, M. 2010. The Sea, Salford Quays, Lowry Press.

Maggi Hambling is a British painter, sculptor and printmaker. Born in Suffolk, she has a particular link with Aldeburgh through her Waves paintings and prints – evocative of the ways the North Sea has ravaged the coast. Her recent work has had a much more political stance, for example in War and Requiem, and also in Edge the exhibition that was showing in Aldeburgh Peter Peers Gallery at the beginning of my visit for Project 4.2 ‘Aldeburgh Diary’.

Wave paintings

The North Sea, often like a raging beast, is eating away and changing the shoreline forever. As I get older, I identify with the shifting shingle, as time, like the sea, enforces an inevitable erosion. But this raging beast is as demanding as a lover and I am still seduced and challenged. (2010 The Sea p18)

“As the waves of the North Sea voraciously consume our coast, these new paintings respond to the energy of their action as they break. This sea, the widest of mouths, roaring or laughing, is always seductive. Life and death mysteriously co-exist in the timeless rhythm of the waves.” Maggi Hambling, 2010 Wave website Fitzwilliam Museum

I am the shifting shingle, you approach with stealth, then the dark rooms of your curves, I am tossed, lost, displaced, with greedy lovers’ tongues and lips, you suck in and in again. we rise together, we rise together, then float safe on liquid breasts until the dance begins again and you thrust deep and my resistance is low, dissolve, dissolve. no defence against your relentless advance. I am but a ghost of the shore, disappeared in you. (2009 You Are the Sea text)


This exhibition is more political than much of her earlier work on the sea, dealing with the refugee crisis, battle for Aleppo and global warming.

It is called Edge because I feel we are ‘on the edge’. There is a fragility to our existence – both ours and the planet and these works attempt to address that and strike up a dialogue with whoever is looking at them.

The Edge paintings are large, with characteristic dramatic swirls of texture, that then on further looking show fine detail – people, remains of buildings and boats caught up in the chaos. The global warming paintings have a lot of gold, echoing renaissance paintings – but gold is now a reference to greed.

See: article by Andrew Clarke: Maggi Hambling creates new show about life on the edge

The Scallop

Hambling also designed the controversial Scallop sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh that references the life and work of Benjamin Britten whose opera Peter Grimes was based on Aldeburgh. Part of the controversy comes from continuing homophobia of protesters.

The words read:

I hear those voices that will not be drowned

This first video below begins with very atmospheric photography of the Scallop and sea and sky in Aldeburgh to Benjamin Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes opera – then unfortunately it descends into farce.

This second video has film of Maggi Hambling sketching to the Storm section from Peter Grimes opera.

2.2 Shutterscapes 2: Landscapes of Place 3.3 Developing content: Love and other Islands 4.2 Colours of Shingle 4.2 Outsider on the Edge 4: Audience: Shifting Edges 5.3: Edgescapes 5: Presentation: Zemni 2021 Inspiration

‘Late’ Photography

!!To be updated from Landscape Photography

In his 2003 essay, David Campany comments that:

“One might easily surmise that photography has of late inherited a major role as undertaker, summariser or accountant. It turns up late, wanders through the places where things have happened totting up the effects of the world’s activity.” (‘Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problem of “Late Photography”’ (in Campany (ed.), 2007)
This ‘aftermath’ approach dates back to the war photographers of the American Civil War and the Crimean War (1853–56), because of technological limitations of the time. Because of the large plate cameras and slow emulsions, it was not possible to photograph actual combat. Their images focused instead on portraits of soldiers, camp scenes and the aftermath of battles and skirmishes. Their images could not yet be reproduced en masse in the illustrated press, but some of these photographs were used as the basis for woodcut engravings for publications such as The Illustrated London News and Harper’s Weekly.

Although technology today makes it possible – though still difficult –  to capture the heat of war and atrocities, this is not necessarily the most effective way of portraying the horrors of violence.
Examples of photographers using the ‘late’ approach in contemporary landscape include:

  • Joel Meyerowitz’s Aftermath images of Ground Zero in New York
  • Richard Misrach ‘s images of the American Desert show the aftermath of human activity but in a beautified distilled large format.
  • Sophie Ristelhueber ‘s aerial images of the Afghan conflict show the scars left on the landscape
  • Paul Seawright Hidden cold ‘objective’ images of battle sites and minefields in Afghanistan
  • Willie Doherty made very evocative images of the left detritus from conflicts during the Troubles and in the present day.

Other photographers have focused on the precursors – the tension in anticipation of violence.  “not the ‘theatre of war’ but its rehearsal studio” (Campany, 2008, p.46). :

  • An-My Lê’s (to do) series 29 Palms (2004) documents US marine training manoeuvres at a range used to prepare soldiers ahead of deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin in Chicago (2005) (to do) examine an Israeli military training ground
  • Paul Shambroom’s project Security (2003−07) studied the simulated training sites that are used by the US emergency services and Department of Homeland Security, nicknamed ‘Disaster City’ and ‘Terror Town’.
  • Sarah Pickering in UK has photographed training grounds for the fire and police service. Her images contain no people, aiming to seem like a film set ready for the action.

See Post on Landscape Photography blog: 3.3: ‘Late Photography’

2.1: Bridge 2: Landscapes of Place 4: Audience: Shifting Edges 5.3: Edgescapes 5: Presentation: Zemni 2021 In Process

Daido Moriyama

4: Audience: Shifting Edges 5.1 Wish You Were Here 5.3: Edgescapes 5: Presentation: Zemni 2021 In Process

Alex Katz

Alex Katz website


Images Google

You Tube videos

Painting and printmaking

(from Wikipedia)

Katz’s paintings are defined by their flatness of colour and form, their economy of line, and their cool but seductive emotional detachment. A key source of inspiration is the woodcuts produced by Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Katz developed a technique of painting on cut panels, first of wood, then aluminum, calling them “cutouts”. In the early 1960s, influenced by films, television, and billboard advertising, Katz began painting large-scale paintings, often with dramatically cropped faces.  These works would occupy space like sculptures, but their physicality is compressed into planes, as with paintings. In later works, the cutouts are attached to wide, U-shaped aluminum stands, with a flickering, cinematic presence enhanced by warm spotlights. Most are close-ups, showing either front-and-back views of the same figure’s head or figures who regard each other from opposite edges of the stand.

After 1964, Katz increasingly portrayed groups of figures. He would continue painting these complex groups into the 1970s, portraying the social world of painters, poets, critics, and other colleagues that surrounded him. He began designing sets and costumes for choreographer Paul Taylor in the early 1960s, and he has painted many images of dancers throughout the years. One Flight Up (1968) consists of more than 30 portraits of some of the leading lights of New York’s intelligentsia during the late 1960s, such as the poet John Ashbery, the art critic Irving Sandler and the curator Henry Geldzahler, who championed Andy Warhol. Each portrait is painted using oils on both sides of a sliver of aluminium that has then been cut into the shape of the subject’s head and shoulders. The silhouettes are arranged predominantly in four long rows on a plain metal table.

Portraits Google

After his Whitney exhibition in 1974, Katz focused on landscapes stating “I wanted to make an environmental landscape, where you were IN it.”

Landscapes Google

In the late 1980s, Katz took on a new subject in his work: fashion models in designer clothing, including Kate Moss and Christy Turlington. “I’ve always been interested in fashion because it’s ephemeral,” he said.


In 1965, Katz also embarked on a prolific career in printmaking. Katz would go on to produce many editions in lithography, etching, silkscreen, woodcut and linoleum cut, producing over 400 print editions in his lifetime.

Website Print Archive

Linocuts Google

Screenprints Google

2.2 Shutterscapes 2: Landscapes of Place 4.2 Colours of Shingle 4: Audience: Shifting Edges 5.3: Edgescapes 5: Presentation: Zemni 2021 In Process

Inspiration: Martin Parr

2: Landscapes of Place 4.2 Colours of Shingle 4: Audience: Shifting Edges 5.3: Edgescapes 6: JourneyasBeginning In Process

Technique: DxO Effects

Overall work flow

Monochrome: Silver FX

Colour Photography


Color FX

4: Audience: Shifting Edges 5.3: Edgescapes In Process

Benacre and Covehithe: backrgound notes

Man in a Beach interviews


Benacre is a village and civil parish in the East Suffolk district of the English county of Suffolk. The village is located about 5 34 miles (9 km) south of Lowestoft and 1 12 miles (2 km) north-east of Wrentham, between the main A12road and the North Sea coast. Neighbouring villages include Kessingland and Covehithe with the town of Southwold 5 miles (8 km) to the south.

The village is dispersed around Benacre Hall, the estate of the Gooch family. It had a population of around 70 in mid-2008.[1] The population declined dramatically during the 20th century from 216 at the 1901 census.[2] The area of the parish extends from the Hundred River in the north to Benacre Broad in the south.

At the Domesday survey the village’s name is given as Benagra within the Hundred of Blythling.[3] It formed part of the holdings of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, as it had before the conquest, with one freeman recorded as living in the manor.[4]

The village has few basic services. The former parish church of St Michael is now privately owned by the Gooch family.[5] It is medieval in origin and a Grade II* listed building, although extensively rebuilt following a fire in the 18th century.[5] The church of St Andrew in Covehithe now acts as the parish church for Benacre.[6]

Benacre Broad forms part of the Benacre National Nature Reserve, an important reserve for over 100 bird species including the marsh harrierlittle ternand bittern.[7] The shingle beach also forms an important habitat and the coastal area of the parish is part of the Pakefield to Easton Barents Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Benacre Broad is an isolated coastal lagoon on the North Sea coast of the English county of Suffolk. It is located in the parish of Benacre around 12 mile (0.80 km) north of the village of Covehithe. It is about 2 miles (3.2 km) east of Wrentham, 4 12 miles (7.2 km) north of Southwold and 6 14 miles (10 km) south of Lowestoft.

The broad is part of Benacre National Nature Reserve, a reserve managed by Natural England.[1] It forms part of the area of the Pakefield to Easton Bavents Site of Special Scientific Interest and the Benacre and Easton Barents Lagoons Special Area of Conservation.[2]

The main broad area has traditionally been made up of a number of smaller bodies of water and in 1996 a number of small pools were created to combat the impact of coastal erosion and increasing water salinity on habitats.[3] At a 1997 survey, had an area of 5 hectares (12 acres).[3][4] At the end of November 2011 a high tidal surge broke through the narrow beach separating the Broad from the sea, inundating the area and increasing the salinity markedly. A survey in February 2012 found that the area of the broad had increased to 43 hectares (110 acres) and that the salinity of the water had increased to 22 parts per thousand. The water depth had also increased, although some separate pools within the lagoon area had remained as fresh water.[3]

Benacre National Nature Reserve is a national nature reserve in the English county of Suffolk. It is located on the North Sea coast in the parishes of BenacreCovehitheReydon and South Cove. It lies between the towns of Lowestoft and Southwold and covers 393 hectares (970 acres).[1]

Benacre NNR consists of areas of open water lagoons and reed beds along the Suffolk coast including Benacre BroadCovehithe Broad and Easton Broad and extending as far south as Reydon. The reserve features extensive reedbedswoodland and heathland, as well as pits created by gravel extraction. There are over 100 species of breeding birds, including marsh harrierbearded reedlingwater rail, and occasionally bittern. The flora includes seakalesea holly, and yellow-horned poppy.[1] Reed is farmed commercially for the thatching industry, whilst enabling the bearded reedling to find a habitat.

The coastline has eroded rapidly over time and the reserve is threatened by both erosion and sea level rise.[2] Some of the ongoing work at the reserve is stopping the encroaching sea by digging new lagoons and establishing more sea defences, and replacing the woodland lost to the sea.


Covehithe is a hamlet and civil parish in the East Suffolk district of the English county of Suffolk. It lies on the North Sea coast around 4 miles (6.4 km) north of Southwold and 7 miles (11 km) south of Lowestoft. Neighbouring settlements include BenacreSouth Cove and Frostenden.

The coastline in the Covehithe area suffers from the highest rate of erosion in the UK,[1] and the settlement has suffered significant loss of land and buildings in the past. It is located within the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB.



A possible section of Roman road has been discovered in the parish which, along with pottery finds and a possible Roman enclosure, suggests that the area was inhabited in the Roman period.[2] Anglo-Saxon remains, including a possible cemetery and evidence of sunken feature buildings, have been found in the area around St Andrew’s church and suggest habitation from the post Roman period.[2] A number of mid to late Saxon finds, including an 8th or 9th century dugout canoe found at the coast, support this theory.[2]

At the Domesday survey of 1086 the village is named as Nordhalla or Nordhals[3] and is recorded as being a medium-sized settlement with 13 households of freemen or smallholders.[4] The land was held by William son of Reginald from William of Warenne although other tenants in chief included the King and Roger Bigot.[4]

In the Middle Ages Covehithe prospered as a small town and during the reign of Edward I was granted a fair on the feast day of St Andrew. It takes its modern name from the de Cove family who held land there at that time, and the fact that it had a hithe, or quay, for loading and unloading small vessels.[5] By the 17th century however it had fallen victim, like nearby Dunwich, to coastal erosion. The large church of St Andrew, which had been built on the back of its wealth, was largely pulled down, although its tall tower remains, and a smaller church was erected amongst the ruins in 1672.[6]There is archaeological evidence of the linen industry having been carried out at Covehithe until the 18th century.[2]

The church of St Andrew at Covehithe

In 1910 Peter Ditchfield wrote:[7]

At Covehithe, on the Suffolk coast, there has been the greatest loss of land. In 1887 sixty feet was claimed by the sea, and in ten years (1878–87) the loss was at the rate of over eighteen feet a year. In 1895 another heavy loss occurred between Southwold and Covehithe and a new cove formed.— Peter DitchfieldVanishing England

Erosion caused the coastline at Covehithe to retreat more than 500 metres between the 1830s and 2001, according to contemporary Ordnance Survey maps. This can be seen most obviously on the sand cliffs above the beach where the road running from the church simply falls away down onto the beach. The only recorded pub in the village, the Anchor public house, had closed by 1882 although the building remains in use as a house.[8][9]

During World War I Covehithe airfield, a night-landing ground, was operated from 1915 to 1919 by the Royal Naval Air Service as a satellite station for RNS Great Yarmouth. The airfield, covering 33 hectares (82 acres) and equipped with searchlights and paraffin lights for night landing, was used for anti-Zeppelin patrols by the Number 73 Wing.[10] In 1918 the station was transferred to 273 Squadron of No. 4 Group RAF which flew DH9DH4 and Sopwith Camel aircraft from the site.[10] The Covehithe airfield was closed in 1919, its land returned to agricultural use.[10][11][12]

During World War II the coastline at Covehithe formed part of the defence line against possible German invasion. A series of pill boxes and other defences were in place, although most of these have since been lost to coastal erosion.[2] A Chain Home Extra Low radar station was established at Covehithe in 1942 by the Royal Air Force.[13]


Eroded road running from the church

The coastal cliffs at Covehithe are formed of glacial sands and other deposits. Loose and unconsolidated, they erode rapidly, currently at around 4.5 metres a year,[14]although Environment Agency studies found that 75 metres (246 ft) had been lost between 1992 and 2006 at a rate of 5.3 metres (17 ft) a year.[15] The main part of the settlement at Covehithe, around 250 metres from the current shoreline, is expected to be lost to erosion by 2110, possibly even by 2040.[14][16][17] Any future attempts to protect Covehithe are thought to be unsustainable, and would likely increase erosion rates at the larger settlement of Southwold to the south.[14][17]

To the north of Covehithe, Benacre Broad is an area of open water lagoons and reed beds with a shingle beach and alder carr woodland.[18] These form important habitats for bird species such as marsh harriersbearded reedling and water railBitterns have been recorded in the area.[19] Along with Covehithe Broad and Easton Broad to the south this forms Benacre National Nature Reserve and falls within the Pakefield to Easton Bavents Site of Special Scientific Interest.[19][20]

Present day[edit]

Modern Covehithe has a population of around 20.[21] The parish of Covehithe has been combined for ecclesiastical purpose with that of neighbouring Benacre.[22] The area is largely used for agriculture and has formed part of the Benacre Estate since 1742 and owned by the Gooch family since 1746.[17][23]

P. D. James mystery, Death in Holy Orders, was set in Covehithe and a television episode was filmed at the church ruins,[24]and in 1999–2000 an adaptation of David Copperfield filmed a boat beach scene on the beach nearby.[21] It has also featured in W. G. Sebald‘s The Rings of Saturn, a record of a journey on foot through coastal East Anglia.[25] The Monty Python sketch “The First Man to Jump the Channel” was partly filmed at Covehithe beach.[21]

Covehithe beach sits on a somewhat forgotten stretch of the Suffolk coast. The beach is set at the end of a lane which runs across fields before abruptly stopping at the cliff edge. The pace at which the coast is eroding here is rapid – something confirmed by a quick look at Google maps, where the lane continues into the sea.

The beach at Covehithe is a peaceful stretch of sand backed by the crumbling golden cliffs. To the south is Benacre Broad, a brackish lagoon and conservation area.

Along the beach are the smooth, blanched sculpture-like tree trunks of trees that once lined the cliff top. A reminder of the constant march of the North Sea. 

If you travel a little way back up the lane towards Covehithe you will come across the dramatic ruins of the medieval St Andrews Church. This once impressive church became too expensive for the parish to maintain and was eventually cannibalised to build a much smaller church within the shell.

It’s five years since I last walked here and that’s long enough to notice the latest dramatic leap the shoreline has taken backwards. It is as if someone has popped a balloon or crisp packet next to the shoreline when it has not been expecting it. What I thought impossible has happened: Covehithe looks even more post-apocalyptic than it did half a decade ago. The remains of a clifftop copse I walked through, on the way to Benacre Broad, in 2012, are now scattered on the beach, the salt-blasted roots of its trees being shaped by the tide more each day into something an elaborately branded enterprise might give a sculptor down the coast in Southwold or Aldeburgh a handsome cheque to produce. The stretch of beach beside the broad itself – which was already becoming a salty lagoon on my last visit – is now unnegotiable unless the tide is right out, freshwater and saltwater having finally become an irreversible cocktail. “Can we get across that?” I ask Isabelle, an old East Anglian walking companion I’ve been reunited with today, assessing the churning sandbanked natural well where sea meets broad. “Yeah!” But we can’t. We don’t even try. We’d be up to our waists in no time. Bad things can happen here, despite the soft lull of the land. This was the place where Charles Halfacree, an Essex factory worker, made a failed attempt to float the body of his sister’s ex-husband out to sea on a lilo, in one of the weirder East Anglian murder cases of the last two decades. The church – actually a church within a church, most, but not all, of the original structure having been knocked down by Cromwellians in the 17th Century – has its own personal interior breeze, which still whistles inexplicably around the pews on the calmest of days.