Eastbridge is a
small settlement just to the north of Leiston, actually
in the parish of Theberton. The hamlet is tiny and off
the beaten track, but is well known for two reasons.
Firstly, it is the nearest settlement to the RSPB reserve
at Minsmere. Secondly, it has a good pub called the Eels
Foot. If you head south of the pub you reach a footpath
marked to Minsmere Sluice about fifty metres along the
road. This is a beautiful walk, especially on a summer
day, although not undemanding. Part of the walk crosses a
field which was high with maize on the sunny August day I
made the journey, and it was a bit like being in France.
For a good part of the walk, you amble beside the
Minsmere river, dappled and sparkly under the trees. I
saw a marsh harrier off to the north, dipping and rolling
over the banks. The landscape was rich and green, but
wild, increasingly untouched as I headed east towards the
sea. And then, up ahead, was a first sight of the ruin.
It stands on a knoll in the fields, about a mile and a
half along the path from the Eels Foot, the white dome of
Sizewell B nuclear reactor about a mile to the south of
it. The ruin is about ten metres long, perhaps four wide.
The north and south walls stand fairly tall, broken down
where the windows were. The west wall has gone. The east
wall on the other hand appears to have a concrete block
built into it. As you get closer, this resolves itself
into a WWII pillbox - that is to say, a machine gun
emplacement. The age of the chapel is suggested by the
surviving core around an opening in the shape of what
must have been a Norman doorway.
The little chapel was, in fact, part of the church of a
Premonstratensian community, an order who would later
move to Leiston and build a grand Abbey there in the 14th
Century. They probably left this site because it was so
vulnerable to the sea. We know they went to Leiston in
1382, exactly 200 years after the community first formed,
in which case this building must date from the end of the
12th Century. However, it is possible that it continued
in some sort of use after the community left, perhpas as
a retreat house. It was repaired and elaborated, perhaps
in the early 15th Century, but must have gone into a
decline soon after.
There are no signs telling you to keep out, but the site
is surrounded a barbed wire fence and a ditch that is
about a metre and a half deep. The county council website
warns you that there is no access to the site, but I
found it was possible to walk to the chapel. Entering the
machine gun emplacement I found that somewhat surreally
the gun slot facing south lines up exactly on the dome of
the Sizewell nuclear reactor.
If you carry on eastwards after visiting the ruin you
come after half a mile to Minsmere beach, a wild spot
with no vehicle access. Even in the height of summer,
with the crowded beach at Walberswick visible a mile or
so to the north, I was almost alone on it. The four mile
round trip is worth it for this alone, never mind the
ruin of the chapel as well.