A Coastal Town’s Mystique

The old and the new sit easily side by side in this beautiful town on the east coast of England. Established as a borough in 1529, Aldeburgh was formerly a Roman settlement, then a small fishing village before prospering when the coastline opened up and brought trade and shipbuilding to the town. The North Sea connects across time, lapping now, as then, along the undulating shingle shoreline. 

Nature’s Art – Large piece of driftwood upon the beach.

I was here with my family for a quick break during school half-term and we were blessed with unexpectedly warm sunny days. It was heavenly and rejuvenating to enjoy this blissful weather, to feel so alive. 

Aldeburgh is famed for its music, literature and arts and it is the birthplace of the composer Benjamin Britten. He founded the famous Snape Maltings, ‘- a place of energy and inspiration, one of the world’s leading centres of music’ –  which is located nearby but we couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away from the sea views! 

No fears, there was more than enough to enjoy along this unique coastline. The hotel was a few steps from the beach, and it was fun to slip-slide along the shingles as we explored the area! From the waters edge we had a tantalising view of  the picturesque houses in all their various colours. Two-thirds are now holiday homes for private or rental use which must have an impact on the town as a whole.

The Mill Inn

‘The Mill Inn’ is a local pub dating back centuries and its dark beams and low ceiling provided an atmospheric setting for lunch. I sat back and imagined the shenanigans of the smugglers who frequented this establishment!

The Front of the historic Moot Hall

Opposite the pub is the striking and historic Moot Hall, which now stands proudly near the beach but at the time of being built would have been a mile from the coast. This wonderfully striking 16th-century building was the town hall and amazingly this is still its main purpose, as well as housing the town’s museum.

Set to one side is a stone seat, perfect for reclining and enjoying the view. My husband noticed the rusty sign above; the alcove was a place for people in the stocks to take a break before activities resumed! Luckily I could enjoy the long distance views in the knowledge that a calm and peaceful day lay ahead of me! 

Me enjoying a break in the sun on the stock stone seat.

The unusual clock on the building is actually a sundial and the motto translates as ‘I count only the sunny hours.’ Sounds ideal to me! 

Two incredible landmarks flag the most northerly and southerly points of Aldeburgh; one a magnificent historic relic from the Napoleonic era (1799-1815), the other very much of the modern world.

The Martello Tower marks the southern point of Aldeburgh beach and is one of 18 towers built along the Suffolk and Essex coastline to keep Napoleon out. This is not the first such tower I’ve encountered from visits to the coast and they are always an awesome sight, sitting by themselves, standing forty feet high with thick walls and wide roofs. I am sure they would have been an impressive sight to any potential invader.

The Martello Tower

In sharp contrast is the gleaming white dome just north of Aldeburgh.  The dome is a nuclear reactor – named Sizewell after the village nearby – and is one of 15 nuclear reactors in the UK.  I am in equal measure awed and unnerved whilst looking at the power station!

In between are the coastline and its treacherous waters. Here the sea harbours miles of sandbanks which are often swept by fierce gales which present a real danger to shipping and particularly so during the town’s heyday of its busy seaways in the 19th and 20th-centuries.

 Therefore it’s no surprise a lifeboat station has existed on the shore for over 150 years and its existence still plays a major part in the lives of the inhabitants. It was awe-inspiring to learn about the brave deeds of the men and women (all volunteers) of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). In the early years the wooden boats were powered by sail and oars and in 1899 one such rescue ship was overturned by a giant wave soon after being pushed out to sea. Tragically seven out of the eighteen crew died as they were fatally trapped beneath the hull. 

The aft of Aldeburgh’s Lifeboat ‘Freddie Cooper’

The modern-day lifeboat is an All-Weather Lifeboat (ALB) named  ‘Freddie Cooper’. This remarkable boat has been launched out to emergency situations seventeen times in the past two years whilst the inflatable lifeboat has been on thirteen missions. The courage required cannot be underestimated as the weather is often appalling and the crew face massive waves, reaching an incredible and daunting ten metres (thirty foot). Since its inception the lifeboat crews have saved the lives of nearly 700 people!

No travel post would be complete without a mention of the replenishments along the way and we treated ourselves to several  culinary delights throughout our break. As well as the pub, we enjoyed the first ice-cream of the year outside. Resting against the edge of a small wooden boat we enjoyed the delicious and rather large small scoop of maple and walnut ice-cream. The evening meal at the hotel was sublime; a delectable feast and we savoured every morsel. For dessert I could not resist the Crêpes suzettes with Grand Marnier, oranges and vanilla ice-cream

There are of course always gulls by the seaside and Aldeburgh was no exception; their evocative call creating a rush of happiness within me. I felt at home! At exactly the place I was meant to be!

Black-headed Gull – winter plumage
Black-headed Gull – Summer Plumage

Beaches are a haven of discarded objects, and the nautical theme from the array of boats around us continued as we came across this huge anchor resting on the shingle; the red and golden hues of its rusty exterior blended in perfectly with the coloured pebbles.

Thank you very much for joining me on this brief tour of my visit to Aldeburgh and I hope you found it enticing and enthralling; as you can tell I was, and am, thoroughly smitten with the town and outstanding coast! I will be back!  

Season of Mists *

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As Autumn steadily sweeps across us, the temperatures dipping further down with each day, nature’s exhibition of its colourful canvases growing ever more spectacular, we slowly ready ourselves for the winter. 

Winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves are made ready.  The radiators clatter to the sensation of heat coursing through the pipes for the first time in months. 

So off to Sweden I head for a few days to help prepare the summer houses for oncoming winter, when ice can reach a metre or two below the ground, when snow can pile metres high up against the walls. Minus twenty (centigrade) is not unusual. This is the final sorting before the dark days descend, radiators will be left on and this year to ensure there is no repetition of last Easter’s indoor flood following burst pipes, a heated lead has been placed in the water pipes between the houses to stop them freezing. Fingers crossed. 

I can’t wait to see the bountiful beauty the trees will offer – although even as we left in August the birch leaves were already tinged ochre and cracking at the tips. The ocean adorns itself with a wintry gown, the light flickering across the silver shimmery sea, the crispness of the air snapping at my lungs. 

This is my last escapade abroad this year; I will catch up with you all on my return until then I wish you a lovely final few days in October, a fun Halloween if celebrating and for those participating in NaNoWriMo best of luck! May stamina, perseverance and snacks carry you through until the end of 50,000 words. 

‘There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall this vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.’

Robert Henri (1865-1929), American artist & teacher

* From ‘Ode to Autumn’ by John Keats

GHOST CRABS ET AL

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‘Hey folks! Have you got the photo yet? I’m getting pretty bored with this posing lark!’

I noticed the  perfect round holes first. 

What lived in these burrows visible across the beach? Soon after I began to catch glimpses of the elusive crustaceans as they scuttled across the sand and as if leaping, disappeared into their holes.  Impossibly so,  I felt as the crabs were far broader than its habitat. Intrigued I wondered about their appearance, colouring. Not the usual dark brown crabs from the North Sea coast, that much I could see. 

Then one morning one of the mysterious ghost crabs obligingly paused by its burrow and looked up. Its expression was priceless; slightly disarming, slightly grumpy. It stayed still. Waiting patiently as camera phone was found, put on correct setting, sun glasses removed in order to see the screen. Ready at last! The black piercing eyes were unmoving, its shell pale and almost translucent. In contrast the legs shone with gentle light golden hues, furry-like at the tips. The two claws were of uneven size; a characteristic of the ghost crabs – so named for its pale complexion and chameleon ability to blend in with its environment and the shading of the body adjusts according to the time of day.

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The first morning I was mesmerised by a flock of large birds swooping and gliding across the ocean. Five clearly visible although other days up to eighteen would fly across the water close to shore. Suddenly one dived into the ocean before quickly reappearing. What were these majestic birds? Soon I had my answer. Pelicans! I was in utter awe; before I had only seen Pelicans in zoos. It was a joy and privilege to view them on a daily basis in the wild.  Often during meal times three pelicans would pass within two metres of our balcony, their heads and wings clearly visible. An awesome overwhelming sight and we sat in silence savouring the experience.

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One particularly elegant and regal bird was a constant visitor on the shores, purposefully striding along the waters edge, its crisp white plumage gleaming in the sunlight. Always keeping its distance from each other, the little egret, a type of heron, occasionally bopped its black beak into the wet sand before moving on with its striking yellow feet. Time stood still as I watched the egret; sheer peace and harmony. The only time it seemed bothered was as the wind increased following the hurricane and then it tucked its head snuggly against the body, seeking lee within itself.

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Partly hidden under the bottom wooden stair down to the beach, the turtle’s head stretched beyond the step. Oh no! It should have returned hours earlier back to the sea but then I saw its injury, a large chunk of shell lying by its side, no doubt attacked by the seagulls during the night. My heart went out to the poor animal. After our walk it was still on the beach, but heading in the right direction. Later it had disappeared, hopefully after making its own way to the sea!

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Geckos galore! That is the only way to describe the paths around the condo building by the car park as geckos of all sizes crowded the paths. I had to keenly observe the path I walked along, particularly as the baby ones were only a cute centimetre long!

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The sunlight sparkled from this alien orb on the sand; hypnotic in its strange beauty. Was it alive? The answer I found out was no as this was the the ‘jelly’ remains of a jellyfish. Called the mesoglea, this is the last part to decompose when a jellyfish dies, usually after being torn apart by fish, turtles or rough weather. It doesn’t sting but not knowing that at the time I wasn’t taking a chance!

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Butterfly clams were a delight of tiny proportions. Visible briefly as the waves washed over the sand, the butterfly clams use the water to move around on the beach before quickly burrowing themselves again. This recurrent movement is known as the “dance of the coquina”.  Although it was difficult and rare to catch sight of the clams themselves, their shells were scattered across the beach and the child within me eagerly collected a handful of the 15-25 mm empty shells.

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Image from Google

Finally, a mystery! These little birds were a common sight on the beach, pecking away at the sand along the water’s edge. They were among our favourite animals in Florida, so cute and particularly endearing as with each oncoming wave they would dash quickly away up the beach, their little legs stepping so fast. Despite numerous conversations with other walkers along the stretch of coast we became no wiser as to what these birds were actually called. Can anyone help?  Below are my first attempt to upload my own videos from Vimeo – fingers crossed they work!

I hope you have enjoyed the visit to the animal kingdom from New Smyrna Beach; my next post will visit the bricks and mortar of the towns in the area.

Unless specified all photos copyright © Annika Perry

BALCONY WITH A VIEW

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For sixteen days my soul is lulled into a state of soporific bliss as I wander the unspoilt beach on the East Coast of Florida.  New Smyrna Beach stretches for thirteen unspoilt miles to the North and South of our condo residence these last weeks.

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Now, newly returned from the States and as I wait for my mind and spirit to catch up with my body, I would like to share some of the amazing and moving  photographs of the landscape, wildlife and towns. To do them justice I will write three consecutive posts – one on each topic. 

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From my mother’s and my first midnight arrival the sound of the ocean is bewitching. Not the gentle roll of waves I am used to from smaller beaches in the Mediterranean or even in the UK. Rather an unfathomable rolling roar as one crash upon the next reverberates along the coastline. Initially frightening, then quickly hypnotic and calming.

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Daylight ushers in a view of almost surreal beauty; unimaginable to our tired eyes. Stretching ahead is the widest of horizons; ocean meeting sky in a perfect horizontal line. The beach fades in the distance to our left and right, absorbed by the gentle sea mist. 

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The magic of the ocean becomes all pervasive and I know its sounds, sights and scents will inhabit my soul in the months and years ahead. I am at one with this mighty force; finding transcendental tranquility with the new-found union with nature. 

Each day solitary joggers pass in front of us as we sit on the balcony. The odd cyclists too make an early communion with the beach.

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Walkers too share its delight. Observing, we soon join them for long contemplative strolls. Ahead is a woman deep into her yoga, seemingly oblivious to the scatterings of folk around her. Sheer beauty and simplicity and surely how all yoga should be practiced. 

Many mealtimes are shared on the balcony and from here we note the quiet piercing rise of the sun – later I feel its blistering heat.

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A heat that the first few days is more a wall of hotness and humidity but  quickly we adjust to this new phenomena. We watch the placid roll of waves turn to an unruly fierceness as first the tropical storm and later Hurricane Hermine approaches.

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As the waves power their way to the shore mounds of seaweed are deposited high up on the beach. If this is just the edge of the hurricane I am glad not to witness its full ferocity. 

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On every visit to the beach I’m mesmerised by the various sensations underfoot. At first my soles sink in the soft near white sand until they resemble zombie feet! Then there is the harder darker wet sand which sends a jolt of pain on each step into the ankle as this feels harder than concrete. Then finally the tantalising breathtaking walk in the surf, a satisfying sinking feeling with each step, a small footprint indent left behind immediately filled and eradicated by the next wave.

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Around us, close to us is an abundance of wildlife – turtles, pelicans, dolphins, egrets, geckos to name a few. More of these in my next post…

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All photos ©Annika Perry