Walking the Suffolk Coast 2(i)

18th April 2013.

Master F. is resplendent in brand new trekking shoes, coloured tastefully in blue and orange suede: he hasn’t worn them in though, and I fear he might get blisters. If he should fall head-first into the bank of a muddy creek and sink up to his torso, he would be easily visible from a distance and might, quite possibly, be rescued, although the Suffolk mud, as we head up the Orwell estuary is of a different quality to its Essex counterpart, having more of a sandy quality, making it firmer and less yielding. We undertake a scientific experiment to demonstrate this by walking across it. The evidence is reproduced below, and you would be unwise to try this on the Essex coast.

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Driving along the narrow lanes and across the wooded undulations of Shotley peninsular you are lulled into a sense of remoteness, and it is a shock, emerging onto the Orwell banks, to be shaken out of this by the encounter with Felixstowe, sitting on the opposite side of the river in all its globalised glory, even though you had known it was there, all along.

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Until the early 20th century, a significant trade in these parts was hay, which was sent by barge to London to feed the legions of horses that transported the capital pre-automobile. The reciprocal trade was, predictably, horse manure, which was transported in the opposite direction to fertilise the field. Today, the Felixstowe super-port totally overshadows the traces of discarded jetties that lie all along the banks of the Orwell.There are towering gantries for the building and dismantling of the mountains of containers which contour the harbourside and the ships. All presumably packed with consumables, which, once consumed, are sent back to China in the form of a load of shit, to be recycled again and returned again in the form of more consumables. I wonder if something like the second law of thermodynamics applies to these products. They start fairly sophisticated, say TVs, e-tablets or all singing/dancing phones, then gradually become dissipated, until they end up as toxic plastic toys that fall out of Christmas crackers.

But what a glum note to introduce at the start of what proves to be a walk of some delight. It was here, at Shotley Gate, just after the war, that Marsh Samphire’s parents met – he coming out of the merchant navy and working as an instructor at H.M.S. Ganges, and she a WREN – so the village has a special place in my heart.

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Their is a brisk wind blowing from the west, rattling the riggings of the yachts on the Shotley Gate marina. There is an interesting lock, a Martello tower with what appears to be a water tank on top, a marooned buoy advertising the marina bar and we miss the footpath through the marina and have to straddle a gate to get out of it, leaving in our wake, as we are prone to do, some form of ‘No Admittance’ sign, and then we are onto sea wall, dry underfoot, and under the watchful eye of Felixstowe mega container port, and I can’t help noticing that the eyes of Felixstowe follow you round the coast.

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There is a stone block in the ground bearing the inscription ‘IPA’. I think this must be a memorial to the beer of the same name – perhaps the now-defunct Suffolk brewer Tolly Cobbold had a brewery on the site – but the other side of the stone has ‘HHB’ carved into it, so it must be some kind of minature crowstone marking a division between the authority of Harwich and Ipswich ports or harbours. Anyone know about this?

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There is a haze of green beginning to appear on the trees, for there has been, if not quite warmth, less cold in the air. Everything is late however, and as we pass into Pin Mill wood, the bluebells look several weeks from showing. Boats in various degrees of repair and disrepair can be seen through the branches, lying on the low-tide mud. We walk past the houseboats and emerge at the Butt and Oyster pub. I recall sometime in the 1980s Willie Rushton doing a tv advert for Tolly Cobbold outside this building, and since then it has become extremely popular, and not surprisingly, because it has a spectacular location – at high tide, the water laps its walls – and is very atmospheric. Probably hard to get a seat here on a summer weekend. It being the approximate half way stage on our walk, and there being seats available, we pause for refreshment.

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Late news: The Essex Coast is excited to discover a new website devoted to the life and work of John Alec Baker, author of The Peregrine. Try it here.