(Continued from previous)
Like Swinburne, I am feeling the benefit of the sedative effect of the Suffolk coastal emptiness, for readers will remember the mental strain I suffered through the loss of my car keys, and my overtaxed nerves rendered me prostrate and unfit for general society for several minutes. Fortunately I was rescued by Ebb Tide and Florence who, after some calculation and weighing up of likelihoods (‘’where did you last see them?’’) drove us back to the pub at Eastbridge where we had stopped for lunch, and where my car keys, having fallen from my back pocket onto a newly landscaped flowerbed, had been found and handed in at the bar.
The landlord, despite the pub being closed, didn’t seem to mind being disturbed; and cheerfully disappeared inside, quickly returning with the keys.
Such epochal life crises make it all the more easy to take smaller problems, such as closed footpaths, in one’s stride (bad pun? Ed.), which is just as well, for, emerging from Dunwich Forest onto the graceful expanse of water reed stretching toward Walberswick that is Westwood marsh, we encounter a closed footpath. Two tractors are at work mowing the verge of the sea wall along which the footpath passes. One of them approaches us and we ask the driver if we can just slip through. ‘’Can’t do that’’ he says, ‘’You’ll get fined by the Department of the Evironment, and they’re working up there’’, indicating vaguely down the path.
We are thus forced to take to the beach and the dreaded shingle, although, the tide being low, there is compacted sand along which to travel the last mile or so to Walberswick. It is with some animus however that we notice walkers and cyclists travelling along the path from which we have been excluded, the other way, south from Walberswick, apparently carefree and unfined.
We are not the sort to harbour discontent however, and arriving at Walberswick, the beach is crowded with post-bank holiday excursionists; there are children crabbing, and there is a queue at the ice cream van. There is also queue for the Southwold ferry, and a couple tell us that the previous Monday, the beach was so busy that they couldn’t get into the car park. The ferry is skilfully navigated by the boatman, dealing with a rushing inward current, and wearing a t-shirt inscribed ‘’I caught crabs at Walberswick’’. As we near the front of the queue and the boat approaches, a woman calls me from further back ‘’ask him if he takes wheelchairs – folded up’’. I do and he does. The ferry has an interestingly democratic pricing structure, although it does appear that some animals are more equal than others.
We all know that we live in an age of ever-increasing centralisation of the polity, despite the empty rhetoric of ‘rolling back the state’ and there is distressing evidence that the town of Southwold holds elected public office in poor esteem. The evidence is all around; the town hall is modest, in poor repair, and surely, the shooting of politicians, at least at local level, cannot be acceptable in a modern democracy?
I find a website that alarmingly, tells me that Southwold has no water treatment plant. How does it process its affluent? But this turns out to be Southwold, Ontario.
By contrast, the local brewery is freshly painted and polished. Gleamingly spick and span and we pause to sample some of its wares in a pub that sits in the shadow of the famous lighthouse.
Passing the small pier (623 feet of fun!), proudly bearing a beach café catering quite radically, in view of the esteem with which the council is held, for those with a gluten aversion, indicating, perhaps, the hint of a sliver of local tolerance, a pier that also boasts Hunkin’s amusement arcade and water clock, we leave Southwold town.
Through a field with some impressive looking rams in it, to Reydon , Here the Suffolk coastal path has cut inland, and the walk takes on something of a suburban quality – bungalows and neat gardens – although a congenial atmosphere is established by the presence of the almshouses in Covert Road, and the tablets on the walls engraved with precepts that that speak of a more generously compassionate spirit than that evidenced by its southerly neighbour.
As we approach the Reydon Smear, there are signs posted appearing warning of flood ahead. The weather has been dry for about two months and we incline to scoff at this deciding not to take the lengthy detour the posters advise. Through a well-appointed horse farm, past paddocks along a little-used track generously endowed with stinging nettles, and, fortunately dock leaves, for I am wearing shorts, and get stung several times. We are then pitched onto a lethal road of the sort we have encountered before – the B1127 between Wrentham and Southwold, avoid if you possibly can – fast moving traffic, blind bends and no verge, and we have to walk along it for about half a mile. I wave acknowledgement to approaching cars that slow down and move out to avoid us. ‘’I didn’t know you knew so many people up here’’ cracks Master F. It is with some relief that we that we dive off the road into Easton Broad, where the path takes us through an area named on the map ‘Rough Walks’. The footpath is under-used and is obscured by the head-high water reed that covers the whole broad, extending seaward .
The ground beneath us dissolves into wetland proper, and the path turns to duckboard over water and becomes more precarious for we have to part the reeds in order to see the line of the boards, treading carefully to avoid stepping off the edge. The path takes us around the broad and gradually becomes overhung with trees that border the marsh, eventually disappearing under water. Ebb Tide and Secret Informant bravely act as pathfinders plunging ahead into the unknown, but the undergrowth is too thick, and the duckboards unstable, sinking into the water. Reluctantly and with heavy hearts we concede defeat, and head back the way we have come, not looking forward to the prospect of a further encounter with the B1127. Back along the duckboard, through the head-high reed, and, just as we approach the road, there is a rustling ahead of us, and a man emerges from the reed, ‘’You can’t get through there’’, I start to inform him, then, noting that he is carrying a clipboard and has a laminated identity tag around his neck, I change tack..
‘’Do you know this path?’’
‘’I should do, I work for Suffolk Footpaths and Rights of Way Department’’.