Hunstanton, Monday 15 May Day 16 455 miles
The North Norfolk Railway operates from Sheringham. I am sure your Uncle Ian will know all about this railway.
I am now in Hunstanton taking a few days rest in a B&B as my knees are suffering from the strain.
Today I went to see the local Sea-Life display which has fish and crustacea from around the coast of Britain. There was a tank about the size of your lounge with turbot and rays and small sharks swimming around in it. They also have seals which are very common in the Wash, the large shallow bay between here and Lincolnshire.
I retraced my route to Mistley to pick up the coastal road. My knee was not troubling me but I felt ill at ease and was not enjoying the run. I had lost the zest of yesterday, and the wind and lack of sun had a deadening effect on my spirits. At the first stop I put on my Goretex jacket to avoid the chilling of the wind, and then kept it on for the rest of the day.
At Shotley Gate I huddled out of the wind to consume a bacon roll and a cup of soup sold from a caravan. The brassy blonde who served me had a tight, white, see-through tee-shirt through which thrust opulent, unsupported breasts and nipples. Presumably she was expecting a hot, sunny day and large, bank holiday crowds. She could be in for a cold and lonely day!
The Stour and the Orwell meet here. Harwich across the Stour, and Felixstowe across the Orwell are both visible from Shotley. Studying the map to identify the landmarks I discovered that something had gone wrong with my itinerary. I was supposed to be having a short day of twenty miles to the youth hostel at Blaxhall but from the map it looked more like sixty-five miles around the coast. I wasn't in the mood for a long day and decided instead to take the easy way out and cut out the Felixstowe peninsula and go straight across from Ipswich to Woodbridge.
As I rode through the centre of Ipswich the sides of the road were crowded with people awaiting somebody famous or perhaps a bank holiday parade. I waved regally as I rode slowly by, but nobody seemed to find it amusing. They looked as fed up as me.
But Woodbridge cheered me up and I spent an hour looking round the town and the tide mill. The central square of the town is almost filled by the Dutch-gabled Shire Hall from where steep streets lead down to the harbour on the banks of the River Deben. The railway separating town from quayside saves it from being impossibly picturesque, and the quayside where the yachts lie on the low-tide mud can only be reached by taking the level crossing. At one end of the quay stands the bright-white, weather-boarded tide mill; for almost eight centuries this was an industrial site not a tourist destination.
There has been a corn mill on this site since 1170. The present building dates from 1793, and by the early 1950s this was the only working tide mill left in the country. Even when working it had been allowed to decay, but in 1968 the derelict hulk was bought by Mrs Jean Gardner to ensure its preservation. After much restoration, including a new waterwheel and a new roof, it was opened to the public in 1973.
Such mills work intermittently, rather than continuously, according to the times of the rising and falling of the tides. As the tide rises, the pressure of the incoming water opens sluice gates into a 7-acre mill pond, these gates automatically closing after the pond has filled and the tide started to recede. After the tide has fallen for some time and a sufficient head of water has developed in the mill pond, the miller opens another sluice into the mill race and the water drives round the eighteen foot diameter wooden mill wheel which in turn drives the millstones which grind the corn.
The mill would work for about two hours on either side of low tide, so that the miller's working day varied as the times of the tides changed throughout the month. The original mill pond is now a yachting marina and a much smaller pond has been created so that the mill can be shown working for a short time on most days throughout the summer. As luck would have it, the day of my visit was not a working day.
I pressed on through Wickham Market with declining energy and enthusiasm, stopping every thirty minutes for a short rest. My knee was very bad again, though I was still making surprisingly good time. The sun came out to cheer me up for the last fifteen minutes before arriving at the youth hostel at Blaxhall.
The hostel was almost empty. I showered and changed and washed my cycling clothes. Then I attended to my maps and diary and was gratified to find that I had come forty-five miles. The hostel provided an excellent meal of soup, fish chips and peas, apple crumble and custard, and several pints of tea. I felt suitably revived and optimistic, but I knew I would have to adopt a different strategy to take the pressure off my knee and survive the next few days until my fitness improved. I decided to stay another night and limit myself to a twenty-five mile day trip to take in some of the local sites, and then move on at a reduced rate until my knee settled down.
That evening I downed a solitary pint at The Ship where, at 8.38 pm, the assembled company stood in silence to observe VE day. I thought again of Henry growing up in the camps. I was too young to go to war, too young to see National Service, and am suspicious of nationalism. But I was moved by the quiet simplicity with which the locals remembered their release from war. They told me that the celebrations would be much larger on VJ Day as most of the East Anglian regiments fought in the Far East.
As I walked back to the hostel a beacon was lit, and fireworks flared up into a red sunset. Seeing the undulating horizon silhouetted against the red sky, I suddenly realised that the previous week's Essex flatlands had been replaced by the more usual rolling English countryside. For some reason this prompted another belated realisation; despite my other pains, my bottom had been quite comfortable all day. Perhaps the day had not been all bad, after all.
After breakfast I set out on my twenty-five-mile tour of Snape Maltings, Iken, Orford Castle, Buttley Pottery, Rendlesham, and Campsea Ashe. I opened-out my bumbag into a rucsac and filled it with a selection of tools, water bottle, waterproofs, fleece jacket, camera, and packed lunch. My knee was still very painful, so I cycled slowly and steadily, spending more of the day eating, drinking, and sightseeing than pedalling. I raised the saddle another half inch.
The name of Snape Maltings conjures up the image of the concert hall which is now home to the Aldeburgh Festival, but it was originally a series of industrial buildings for the malting of Suffolk barley. From these Victorian red brick granaries and malthouses the malt was shipped on hundred-ton sailing barges to the breweries of London and Norwich. The cultural work of the concert hall, music school, and the painting, craft and decorative arts courses is supported by a veritable cornucopia of heritage hypermarketing. There's a house and garden shop, a craft shop, a countrywear shop, a gallery selling prints and paintings, a book and toy shop, a music shop and a Christmas shop; the Granary Tea Shop, The Plough and Sail pub, and the River Bar licensed restaurant; river trips, a display of 200 cases of stuffed birds, and accommodation to rent. I stayed for coffee and cake, bought a few postcards, then headed for the marshes.
The Maltings sit on the bank of the River Alde at the point at which the river suddenly opens out into a meandering inland lake searching for an outlet to the sea. Finding its path blocked at Aldeburgh on the coast, it turns abruptly south for another ten miles, past Orford where its name changes to the Ore, channelled to the sea by the spreading shingle spit of Orford Ness. The Alde was half-full of salt sea water, but at low tide the river would become a trickle of fresh water in a wide expanse of mud and marsh. I looked across the islands and embankments of reed to the Iken flats and the church of St Botolph illuminated by a sudden flood of light from the brooding sky. Ducks and waders fossicked about in the stillness. Overall there was a darkness about the day but still the clarity which draws the painter. One of the postcards I had bought was of just this scene painted by Jennifer Toombs.
I cycled down the other side of the Alde through Iken to Orford and its magnificent castle dominating the quiet village. When Henry II came to the throne he owned no castles in Suffolk so promptly confiscated several belonging to his uppity nobles and then commenced Orford Castle in 1165 to emphasise his control of the area. We are usually told that its two claims to fame are the unusual three-towered shape and the fact that it is the earliest castle for which the financial records of its building survive. All well and good, but for me the most exciting feature was the excellent toilet block built on the back of the west tower housing four garderobes on three floors which drain down and evacuate through four openings at ground level. I'm surprised the guide book doesn't refer to this advanced structure; it would surely gladden the heart of any self-respecting municipal engineer.
From the top of the castle there
is an excellent view over the town and the quay to the all embracing
arm of Orford Ness. The growth of this shingle bank and the silting
of the river lead to the demise of the harbour and of the castle's
military importance but the imperial aspirations remained into
this century. Long closed by the Ministry of Defence, the Ness
was home to a Royal Flying Corps experimental station in World
War I, Watson-Watt's radar experiments in the 1930s, firing trials
during World War II, the transmission masts of the BBC World Service,
and the long, low structures of what are ominously described as
atomic weapons testing pagodas. I would have liked to have
explored the area further but the National Trust, which has acquired
the area and made it safe for public access, was not due to open
the site until later in the year. From the quay boat trips can
be taken to Havergate Island, an RSPB sanctuary and home to a
breeding colony of the avocet, much prized symbol of the RSPB.