Butley Ferry

Historical facts about the Butley Ferry

The Butley Ferry started as far as we know in the 16th Century making it one of the oldest ferries in Great Britain. Tudor England was at its height and it is not hard to imagine Henry V111’s Cardinal Wolsey, born in Ipswich, exploring the ‘sandlings’ as this part of coastal Suffolk has long been known. Perhaps Wolsey’s father, a local butcher, may have come across the ferry when buying cattle or pigs in the area. Of course in those pre industrial revolution days 85% of  the population lived on the land and the estates and small holdings would have provided employment for 100s of agricultural workers. Those looking for work and with produce to sell in the thriving and much larger village of Orford would have used the ferry to cross the Butley river and save themselves a 5 mile extra trudge.

In the years from then to the end of the 19th century, the ferry would have worked at least a 6 day week and was rowed by local people for probably not more than a farthing (a quarter of an old penny of which there were 240 in the pound). The ferrymen of the time would have worn the broad brimmed farm workers hat just like that worn by The Alde & Ore’s volunteer ferrymen today.

In the 20th Century the invention of the bicycle and the motor car  enabled new users  to emerge – the rambler, the cyclist and bird watcher plus of course the weekender who had been able to visit Suffolk from London Liverpool St since the building of the East Suffolk line in 1859.

It took time for the ferry to adjust to becoming a service  for local people at the weekend and visitors to the area, particularly those from the Netherlands and Germany arriving at Harwich. Thanks to the Alde & Ore and the preparedness of volunteer oarsmen it now provides  a memorable experience on summer weekends and bank holidays. While the ferry carried over 1,000 people in the summer of 2011 and around 500 bikes there is no way the service could run without our unpaid ferrymen being happy to continue to row across the river and being proud to continue this ancient service for a much more diverse community than those of over 400 years ago.



Having closed over the winter for its annual refit, the Butley Ferry opens for the 2019 season on Easter Saturday, 20th April. The ferry operates on weekends and Bank Holidays from 11am to 4pm, weather permitting until Sunday, 13th October 2019. Cost is £2.00 per passenger and £1.50 per bike, with children under 11 costing £1.50.

The ferry can also take reasonable sized parties mid week by arrangement and subject to availability of a ferryman. If you would like to discuss this, please contact the ferry by email at ferryman@butleyferry.org. Ideally, please give at least a week's notice.

You do not need to book your crossing, but if you want to check whether the ferry is operating during uncertain weather, the mobile number is 07913 672499 and the automated answer message will tell you if the ferry has had to be closed. This number will only be manned on the days that the ferry operates so if you need to make contact midweek, please use email (ferryman@butleyferry.org) rather than text messages which wouldn't be seen until the weekend.

There are a number of circular walks and cycle routes which include the ferry and allow you to experience to the full the unique landscape of the Alde and Ore Estuary. A leaflet with a free map is available at the ferry and from local outlets or can be downloaded here:


The Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty also publish a leaflet showing details of the four foot ferries of Suffolk, which is available in the garage, hotel and the pubs in Orford, which gives all the dates, times and costs of the four ferries. They connect the Stour & Orwell Walk and the Suffolk Coast Path from Harwich to Walberswick, and in taking these four ferries you can save over 75 miles of congested inland roads. (If you run any of these organisations and would like to have a supply of these leaflets, please telephone Catherine Smith on 01394 445217 and she will send/deliver some to you)

Please come and support the Butley Ferry. The money that it raises supports the work of the Alde and Ore Association. If you would like to become a volunteer ferryman, please contact us at ferryman@butleyferry.org.

The Butley Ferry is sponsored by the Alde & Ore Association