Why the beautiful river Deben is the perfect setting for a staycation


As more of us holiday at home this summer, Tanya Mercer has been out enjoying the river Deben and discovering what makes it such a special place.

Tanya Mercer has been discovering what makes the Deben so special Credit: ITV Anglia

The Deben river winds through the heart of Suffolk, growing in strength and stories, until it reaches the sea at Felixstowe Ferry. 

The Ferry is one of my favourite haunts – a small community that’s hardly changed in years.

A place where fishermen and boatbuilders toil among sun-seekers and crabbers – each one enjoying the beauty of the estuary. 

The Deben estuary at Felixstowe Ferry Credit: John Ranson

John White is 80-years-old and has lived in the hamlet all his life. He’s been the harbour master for 45 years. 

The river is wonderful in any of its moods. Whether it’s a lovely calm morning or evening or whether it’s blowing a gale. It’s spectacular then at times. We have amazing sunsets

John White, Harbourmaster, Felixstowe Ferry

“It’s a lovely hamlet and community,” he said.  “I’ve worked with the boatyard, fishing,harbourmaster. Boats and the river are my life. Where else would you rather be?”

John White has lived and worked on the river all his life Credit: ITV News Anglia

There’s been a crossing across the estuary to Bawdsey beach for centuries and throughout the summer the little ferry continues to carry pedestrians and cyclists between the two.

A ferry has been crossing here for centuries and still operates today Credit: ITV News Anglia

And the mixture of bustle and peace is a place for contemplation and inspiration.  Ian McManus is a professional artist.  He loves the area and says he’s spoilt by the light, the beauty and the rawness of the scenery. 

“East Anglia is known for its big skies,” he explained.  “There are subjects everywhere you go. I can face this way and paint and then just turn around and there’s another subject. If you can’t be inspired here, you should give up!”

This part of Suffolk has been inspiring artists for generations Credit: ITV News Anglia

Further up the river lies the tiny community of Ramsholt.  What it lacks in stature it makes up for in spirit - with its popular pub, fabulous views and beautiful walks.

Ramsholt attracts thousands of visitors every year Credit: ITV News Anglia

George – like his father before him - has been the harbourmaster here for 40 years.  All of his 90 years have been spent with the river.  He spends everyday by the water.

“It’s much busier now. When father started as the harbourmaster in 1960, and I was his assistant, we only had about half a dozen boats then.  Over the years they’ve crept up and it has become more popular,” he said. 

I love the scenery and the birds here. This river is my life really.  If I wasn’t doing this I would probably be six feet under.

George Collins, Harbourmaster, Ramsholt
90-year-old George Collins is still the harbourmaster - like his father before him Credit: ITV News Anglia

A few miles upriver lies Woodbridge - the jewel in the Deben’s crown. 

Full of medieval architecture, cafes and shops – it’s a draw for locals and visitors alike.

On the shoreline is the town’s tide mill. It’s one of only two still operating in the UK producing stone-ground flour in the traditional way. Dan Tarrant-Willis is the head miller. 

There has been a tidemill on this site for more than 850 years Credit: ITV News Anglia

“A mill has been on this site for 850 years,” Dan explained.  “This one was built in 1793.  The mill would have been very important because it’s where everyone would have brought their grain.  Barges would have queued up the river and it would have been part of a trading route.”

Rob and Sandra have lived on their Suffolk barge for six years Credit: ITV News Anglia

Opposite the burial mounds of Anglo Saxon kings at Sutton Hoo, Rob and Sandra have moored their Suffolk barge.  They’ve lived here on the water for six years and say they have the best back garden in the world. 

“It’s been a joy just to be out in nature” Rob said. “The water becomes a connecting link to the world and all its rhythms.  The tide will change, the seasons will change, the wind will change and there’s always a little bit of adventure. I just love it.”

The barge offers the 'best backgarden in the world' Credit: ITV News Anglia

Sandra agrees.  “The bird life is amazing”, she said. “We have avocets, curlews, godwits, swans, geese, all sorts. It’s just wonderful. If we want to go on holiday we just take the boat down to Felixstowe Ferry, drop the anchor and we’re on holiday. Who needs the Mediterranean when you’ve got this.”   

And who could disagree?  This is a place of simple pleasures: as impressive in its expanse as it is enchanting in its beauty.

"Who needs the Mediterranean?" The Deben offers something for everyone Credit: ITV News Anglia