Master F.’s feet are blister-free; ‘’Like time’’ he proclaims unassumingly, ‘’I am a great healer’’ our medical team declare him fit and clear of performance-enhancing substances and we set off into the Orwell Park to search for the pot of gold that lies at the end of the Orwell Bridge.
After a couple of hours without success, we give up, and carry on under the bridge towards Felixstowe, into the ‘’ intricate mosaic of shingle beaches, crumbling cliffs, marshes, estuaries, heathland, forests and farmland’’ (Countryside Commission 1993) that make up this estuary.
The local shoreline management plan highlights the ‘’international environmental importance (of the estuary), comprising extensive mudflats, low cliffs, saltmarsh and small areas of vegetated shingle on the lower reaches. The estuaries provide habitats for an important assemblage of wetland birds and internationally important numbers of wintering and passage wildfowl and waders. The site also holds several nationally scarce plants and British Red Data Book invertebrates.’’
The sandy river bank seems to be eroding both from the land and from the action of the river
I’ll resist attempting to describe the wooded appeal and attractive, undulating, riverbank paths of the Orwell Country Park, well used by dog walkers and small child walkers(Small? Walkers or children?? Ed.); however, I am excited to learn that there is a code of conduct in operation along the river aimed at bait diggers . Bait Diggers are micro-entrepreneurs who dig bait which they then use to catch fish, and the code includes a map which illustrates where bait may be dug between October and April, and which identifies critical areas for birds and worms. Also, fascinatingly, it enjoins bait-diggers to ‘leave enough worms in the mud to recolonise the area’. How can you possibly know?
Of course, you can’t, and one of the interesting things about this area is that it is an intricate mosaic of various scales of human social and economic activity and environmental forces. The people, as well as bait digging, dog walking, or walking unencumbered, are playing golf, cycling, sailing and fishing not to mention running or using passenger ferries, operating leisure marinas, managing up-market schools, farming, exporting grain, and playing various roles in the operation of global-scale container ports.
The birds are competing with the bait diggers for food, avoiding dogs and walkers and presumably sailors and schoolchildren, along with container vessels heading to and from Shanghai and Rotterdam(and I imagine these are complex ecosystems in their own right). The land is both eroding and sinking, and the sea water is rising. The salt marsh, caught between sea wall and rising water, is eroding. Help. Who’s in charge?
We talk to a dog walker who informs us that you can’t walk all the way to Felixstowe along the river at high tide, and he is proved correct because we have to cut inland shortly before Orwell Park school. Up the edge of a field, through a farmyard which has an impressive array of ruined cars, along a green lane where a muntjac disappears ahead of us, alongside the extensive redbrick wall which encloses the school. It is lovely, shaded walking, although we are devastated, upon reaching the road, to look back and find that, once again, we have transgressed, for the path is apparently not a right of way.
Having rounded Orwell Park we are faced with a dilemma, for at Levington, there is a pub. Normally, we foreswear alcohol mid-walk because of its performance diminishing properties – especially on a hot day – but this pub looks particularly inviting, and who knows when we will pass this way again? It would be wrong not to, even though we appear not to conform to the pub’s dress code. Master F. is disapproving and sticks to soft drinks, whereas Ebb Tide and myself capitulate to the lure of bitter on gravity.
The final coastal stretch of the walk is nature reserve; Levington Lagoon and Trimley Marsh, with Felixstowe port ahead. Trimley Marsh and Felixstowe are the most susceptible areas to flood on this coast, and in 2008, it was estimated that, without renovation, the sea defences would be past their effectiveness by 2019. Trimley Marsh was created in the 1990s when FelixstowePort was expanded over Fagbury Mudflats, to provide marshland habitat for wildfowl. Not that much around at the moment; a few oystercatchers, a hawk hovers over the seawall. I couldn’t find any information about what was happening in the way of coastal management here, but clearly, the sea wall had been breached at one point to ease flood pressure and create a wetland lagoon.
Trimley Marsh directly abuts Felixstowe port itself, largest, or busiest container port in Britain, – check out the statistics on ‘FelixstowePort’ , Wikipedia. The volume of container traffic is measured in ‘TFEs’. This stands for ‘twenty foot equivalents’, because containers are apparently either 20 or 40 feet long.
and here is a good blog link;
The port forces us inland again, and we head across fields to Trimley Station. Trimley itself is, well, …trim. Neat villas nestle coyly behind clipped evergreen hedges; reasonable bungalows contemplate unshaggy lawns and cleanly block-paved driveways. It is home-from-school time, and children in school uniforms are trickling home in ones and twos, sadly, seriously and non-anarchically. A train is due in six minutes, and that will take us back to Derby Road. The weather being hot for the first time this year, we are disinclined to rush for it. On the other hand, Trimley does not look like the sort of place that would offer any kind of public amenity to the weary traveller who has an hour to wait for the next train. Fortunately, as we are dragging ourselves up the steps of the footbridge that crosses the rail tracks, the single-carriage train is approaching the station and we are onto the platform and on board almost, Ebb Tide observes, without breaking step.