On manoeuvres

What you see isn’t always what you get in Rendlesham Forest.

Freddie on the trail 2

Deep in the trees

With a little imagination this bike ride can almost take you to another world. It is set within Rendlesham Forest, near Woodbridge, the scene of what many think is the most significant UFO incident to occur in the UK.

For two nights over Christmas 1980 airmen from the local US airbase claimed to have had close encounters of a most spooky kind. They were initially drawn to a strange glow from lights in the trees outside the East Gate. As they got closer to a clearing they reported seeing a conical object, the size of a car, floating on beams of light just 12 inches off the ground. It appeared to be metallic with black markings on the side. They tried to approach the object – but it suddenly rose in a flash of light and disappeared. The following night they returned to witness a pillar of yellowish mist which seemed to transform itself into a huge eye with a dark centre and a craft with pulsating lights which morphed into a giant pyramid shape. After a chase the craft shot skywards never to be seen again.

The author and nephew Freddie Issitt take a break

The author and nephew Freddie Issitt take a break

Even on a gentle summer’s day in the company of my nine-year-old nephew, Freddie, the Forest had an eerie, other wordly air about it. The trees deaden any sound. Our wheels on the soft carpet of the forest tracks made barely a noise. All we could hear was crickets – until the roar of engines came into earshot. What could it be? As we cycled further beside the runway the noise got louder. Then, momentarily, through the fence we spotted motorbikes roaring up and down at a race gathering. For Freddie, eager to see the action, noise was more appealing than peace.

From the cycle track the runway appears otherwise to be disused, waist-high weeds growing through gaps in the surface. In the distance, though, we could see a control tower and a hanger with large military letters above the entrance spelling out ‘667 SOMS’. Around another corner we spotted a strange wall through the fence. It’s actually an old bullet catcher from a 25-metre firing range used by the Americans when they were in residence.

Bullet catcher wall at Woodbridge Airfield

Bullet catcher wall at Woodbridge Airfield

We only came across one other group of cyclists on our little adventure. It passed us as we were eating our sandwiches much to Freddie’s chagrin. “Do you think if we set off now we’ll catch up with them?” he asked, determined not to be beaten to the finish. Sandwiches gobbled up and a quick sprint later we were back in pole position.

We cycled the longer of two off-road waymarked routes which measures 10 miles. A shorter, six mile route is also available and can be halved by following the white waymarkers. A further option is for some of your group to walk around the UFO Trail (see Points of Interest, below) while the cyclists explore the tracks.

Points of interest

Lights at Woodbridge Airfield

Lights at Woodbridge Airfield

Woodbridge Airfield
While its role has diminished in recent times the Airfield is still in use – by the Army Air Corps for low-level helicopter training. A new barracks for 700 soldiers from the engineer regiment was constructed only last year.

The airfield was originally built during the Second World War primarily for emergency landings which explains why its runway is five times the normal width and 1¾ miles long with additional overshoots at each end. About a third of the 4,200 emergency landings at Woodbridge were caused by bad weather. In fogbound conditions, the sides of the runway were turned into walls of flame. Petrol was pumped along a system of pipes and its vapours were lit from a series of burner. The heat produced lifted the fog – but at the cost of 100,000 gallons of fuel per hour.

The US Air Force took over the airfield in 1952 and stayed for 40 years throughout the Cold War. An Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron was based at Woodbridge from 1969 using Hercules aircraft to rescue air crew in the North Atlantic as well as working with the US special forces behind enemy lines and providing rescue cover for space missions.

Rendlesham Forest UFO Trail
If you still have the energy after the bike ride, you could visit some of the locations where strange things were seen by the US airmen in 1980 by following this new three-mile circular walk through the Forest. The UFOs didn’t leave any trail of their own so a vivid imagination is necessary but its pleasant walk with an unusual theme. A map and leaflet is available for a small charge from the car park.

Fir conesBirds and mushrooms
Lying in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Forest is also a Site of Special Scientic Interest for two key bird species, the nightjar and the woodlark. If you ride the route in early autumn also look out for some weird and wonderful mushrooms. Planted in 1922, two-thirds of the Forest was felled by the Great Storm of 1987.

Play area
Located next to the car park, the large adventure play area includes a tube ride and obstacle course. You will also come across a giant wooden bird sculpture among the trees.

Eating

In the summer refreshments are available next to the car park and there are picnic tables too. There are lots of good pubs nearby for a pre- or post-ride meal.

The Froize Inn at Chillesford (01394 450282), north-east of the Forest on the B1084, does a good carvery (with plenty of alternatives such as curry) and has a large garden.

The Butley Orford Oysterage at Orford (01394 450277) specialises in sausages, fish and other products smoked at its own smokehouse at nearby Butley Creek. If the restaurant is fully booked (which is often is) you can buy food to take away from the little shop next door. Orford is a lovely village to explore. The castle is a keep only so ideal for a short visit if that’s all you have time for after the ride.

The Plough and Sail at Snape Maltings (01728 688413) serves child-size portions of adult meals as well as sensational desserts. Don’t miss the strawberry meringues! Afterwards you can explore the Maltings, a collection of granaries and malthouses nestling beside the River Alde which house craft, antique and home shops. There’s also a fun footpath through the waist-high reeds.

Fact file

The route around Rendlesham Forest is well waymarked

The route around Rendlesham Forest is well waymarked

Suitability: all ages. The shortest cycle trail is a mere three miles and there are no hills.
Bike: Any.
Bike hire: Available from a hut in the car park during spring and summer excluding Mondays. It’s best to book in advance as sometimes the trailer with the bikes does not come to the site in poor weather. Tel: 07706 479965.
Refreshments: Hot drinks, ice creams, biscuits and other simple fare available from cycle hire hut.
Terrain: Forest tracks – soft enough to cushion falls from novice cyclists.
When to do it: All year round. The trees provides great shelter from any wind.
Where to park: Car park (charge) signed off the B1084 from Woodbridge to Orford.
Map: No need to buy one. The map in the leaflet available from the cabin in car park is perfectly adequate and the route is well waymarked anyway.
More information: Rendlesham Forest Centre, 01394 450164.

Freddie on the trail 4

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