Covehithe

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If you’re looking for an out-of-the-way place by the sea, there aren’t many better places throughout the whole of the UK than Covehithe.

There really is nothing here save for crumbling cliffs, a sandy beach, (already sounds perfect!) and the ruins of a once magnificent church. But there is something else – a feeling, an echo of the past, the cry of a way of life drowning beneath the waves.

This piece – written by Hobo Trudi – tells of some of her happiest childhood memories in Covehithe.

We hope that this page inspires you to visit before it finally disappears into the North Sea.

Covehithe beach

Getting to Covehithe in a motorhome

If you journey up the Suffolk Coast, heading north along the A12, past the busy resorts of Southwold and Walberswick, you’ll find a forgotten and remote part of the county.

Covehithe – another Suffolk village disappearing into the sea – makes for the perfect destination if you’re looking for somewhere quiet and secluded.

We took Cree, our van, along the tiny roads from Wrentham to Covehithe, just as we started to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown. 

But let’s begin with a word of warning if you, too, are visiting in a large camper or motorhome…

On these single lane roads there’s a chance you’ll meet the odd car coming toward you which, thankfully, will be happy to pull over into a passing place.

However, farm machinery may take a little more creative thinking to get around. This is arable land, after all, and tractors, 4x4s and even combine harvesters seem to be the vehicles of choice.

And the dark, damp woodland trees which punctuate the route can drop a little low.

Beware of low hanging tree branches – especially after rain when the weight drops them even lower. It’s something to bear in mind when on these types of roads. Indeed, on one previous visit to Covehithe, Gav had to clear a large ivy-covered branch which had fallen into the road. 

As well as being narrow, the roads into Covehithe are also prone to deep puddles coming in off the marshes – possibly hiding potholes. It’s another hazard to be wary of, unless you’re fond of changing your springs regularly!

However, don’t let these friendly warnings put you off – Covehithe is a very special place!

Parking at Covehithe

Once you arrive, you’ll notice there is no car park at Covehithe, other than a grass verge – just wide enough for the average motorhome.

We visited in July 2020, just as lockdown was easing. There were more cars than usual. With the bigger attractions at Gt Yarmouth and Lowestoft still closed, people were looking for something simpler, something closer to nature.

Maybe lockdown reminded us that we don’t need to be constantly entertained. Sometimes we need to press the pause or stop button and return to our essential natures? Covehithe will do this for you.

Once parked, walk down the lane where you’ll find a footpath about 20 yards before the church, off to the right. It will take you along a sandy path and through peaty reed beds and bracken before leading you neatly to a point where the cliff levels off and you can join the beach.

However, before heading to the beach you must see the extraordinary church! This is where your phone camera will start to become extra busy…

Covehithe Church of St. Andrews

Covehithe church – built from the body of its mother

Look closely and you’ll see two churches in one…

The magnificence of the larger church of St. Andrew lays in ruins. The cold exo-skeletal remains of a display of wealth – designed to impress even God – shows the transience of mankind.

However, the sweet little 1672 church, protected in its mother’s belly, is still alive and used to this day. Nestled at the foot of her huge tower, it is almost insignificant amongst the bared remains of the former building, erected in the 14th century during Covehithe’s heyday.

Indeed, the wealth of Covehithe rivalled Lowestoft at the time. Known then as Nordhals (now North Hales) the quay was probably used by Romans and Anglo-Saxons. Later, its name changed to mark the hithe or quay that the De Cove family used. 

But like so much of the Suffolk Coast, the settlement fell victim to erosion. The Hundred River silted up to barely a stream. With the population dwindling, the church building was too big for those left to maintain, so it was pulled down, save for the tower.

The stone was then used to make something less ostentatious but more manageable, affordable…and more pious.  

Memories linger whilst the coastline crumbles

The stark beauty of the silhouetted stone window frames and shattered walls, and the North Sea winds ripping through the open arches, always leaves me with a feeling of mourning.

All trace of the church, both mother and child, will be gone in a century. Gone beneath the waves along with the rest of this small hamlet.

Covehithe church

My maternal grandparents lived at Benacre, just a mile or so up the coast. Some extended family members owned one of the remaining houses opposite Covehithe church. I descend from this area! It is buried deep in me despite being brought up inland.

As a child I remember being able to walk much further along the road past the church than you can today. The road my little feet trod swallowed by the hungry sea.

I can look beyond the sand across the waves and still see my grandfather walking on the road we both knew.

“Why don’t they stop it?” I asked him all those years ago. He explained that if Covehithe’s cliffs did not fall, then Lowestoft would lose its sandy beach.

But it wasn’t just Lowestoft’s beach under threat. Southwold would be vulnerable to erosion if defences were erected. In effect, Covehithe became a tactical loss.

Welcome to the harsh reality of a world driven by money!

Sopwith Camels and Flying Circuses

In one final attempt for notoriety, Covehithe had an airfield during WW1. The Sopwith Camel often flew from the base before it closed in 1919 and returned to agricultural use.

In the 1970s Monty Python filmed some Flying Circus footage here and someone attempted to conceal a murder by floating the body out to sea on a lilo. Separate events – although the latter would have made a great Python sketch!

On this cloudy, cool July day we carried on along the road past the church and Anchor House, formerly the only pub. This is the road I would have taken so many years ago, now a damp, bramble-covered path which ends suddenly. A stark warning sign stops you falling to your death.

There is a cliff top path – with recent land slips along its length – and it is possible in places to scramble down but to do so is irresponsible and will certainly speed up the coastal erosion.

The glacial sand cliffs lose 17 feet of land per year, and are unconsolidated; scrambling down away from the prescribed route can hasten the demise of another section…and possibly kill you at the same time!

The cliff eventually lowers over the course of a mile or so – eventually meeting beach level at Benacre Broad. But we wanted to walk along the sand, so, we retraced our steps back past the church and took the sign-posted footpath toward the beach.

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Covehithe beach

Covehithe beach is a place you do not forget.

When not sandwiched between the sea and the cliffs, the beach gives way inland to broads, beloved of many small coastal birds and their larger predators.

As we passed Benacre Broad, a moderately sized brackish lake, a warden was patrolling, asking for people to keep moving. The watching people were disturbing Little Terns. Happy to comply, we understood the distress too much human interference can cause. We feel it ourselves!

The chance to find amber brings some human visitors but mainly it is the draw of the destructive beauty of the sea that lures you back.    

With the striped layers of the crumbling cliffs, the little Sandmartin nesting holes and the ever-changing shape of the shoreline, it’s as if God is playing sandcastles, each storm re-moulding Suffolk’s coastal boundary.

Then you will see the trees, not on the cliff top but fallen onto the beach years ago.

Ghosts of trees, bleached and sand blasted into smooth shapes that would challenge the deftest of sculptors to reproduce. Partially buried, they emerge from the sand as unworldly spectres, reaching up to the living for redemption.

Less spookily, they have accommodating trunks and branches which provide dry seated comfort for weary walkers.

the beach at Covehithe, Suffolk

Covehithe, named in the UK’s best-kept secret beaches. I kind of want it to stay that way!

A pocketful of memories

When we turned to walk back, we had pockets rattling with hag stones and sea glass – and hearts brimming with memories.

I suddenly recalled a childhood visit to Covehithe where I found three one-pound notes (remember those?) blowing along the beach. My parents, keen to show me right from wrong, took the money to the nearest police station.

A few weeks later, my grandad was alarmed when a burly policeman knocked at the door asking if he knew of a Trudi Sturgeon. Fearing the worst, he said he did…upon which the pound notes were handed over as unclaimed.

How times have changed! The Covehithe coastline is a sure sign of that.

Visiting this beach makes my heart ache for those I have lost over my life. Also for Suffolk, disappearing piece by piece. I have heard the dialect diluted, the way of life polluted…and watched as Suffolk itself becomes smaller year on year.

A timely reminder to get out into life before it is too late!

Our ebook MEETING GOD IN A MOTORHOME narrates our road trips to seven of the UK’s most sacred places with our motorhome as pilgrimage companion. Give your van life journeys more meaning!


We hope you’ve enjoyed reading Trudi’s personal account of Covehithe.

Have you visited yourself? Let us know your thoughts below or contact us here direct.

Remember, if you’re heading east and want to get away from it all take a look at the other places we recommend you visit in Suffolk

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2 thoughts on “Covehithe

  1. Linda Wonnacott says:

    Thank you for this .
    I will have to visit this wonderful looking beach.
    It looks similar to my favourite North Norfolk beach at Trimingham, but on a smaller scale

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