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!  

SOLVITUR AMBULANDO – IT IS SOLVED BY WALKING

IMG_0853

My brain is ensnared. My eyes dart to the bright sunlight and soon my toes tap the floor restlessly, itching to move. Now my body is begging for the the outside, the fresh air, the sun.

Inwardly I simultaneously groan and cheer. The battle is over – work can wait, it’s time for a walk!

Do you ever suffer from the same turmoil? Do you need a walking break now and then? If so, put down your pens, push your keyboards aside and join me as I stride out on a local walk – I’d love your company.

Luckily this is a walk from my doorstep and after a quick stroll past the pretty gardens of the neighbouring houses, I cross the main road. Soon the peace of the countryside surrounds me.

Deftly (I wish!) climbing over the wooden stile, I avoid a rotten board. My sudden squeal of pain surprises even myself as nettles spike my bare legs and I stamp about in a ridiculous fashion as if this would soothe the stinging.

Golden Shades of Wheat field

Golden Shades of Wheat field

(Please click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Ahead stretches a vast wheat field. A lush sea of colour, from burnished bronze to light yellow to green of fresh new growth languidly rustle in the breeze. The myriad of golden shades sway back and forth in great swathes, the soft shimmering ripples creating soft music as the full ears of corn move together.

Runway Streaks

Runway Streaks

In one place two light green parallel lines of wheat stretch far into the distance, as if lighting a runway for planes above. Where did they come from? The mystery buzzes around my mind as I try to spot the crop circles which usually appear as if by magic amongst the golden mass. No such wonder today. They’re always fascinating. Nature’s art. Or is it a small alien landing craft? I smile to myself at my mind’s musings.

In front of me looms my marker; a lone oak tree perfectly outlined against the golden field and the sheer blue sky. On a warm day as today the fully grown tree offers welcome cooling shade.

Lone Oak Tree

Lone Oak Tree

Years ago, when my son was young it was a fun obstacle as we chased each other round and round the thick trunk. At first, when I could easily have caught him, I’d ‘stumble’ and let his tiny hands grab my legs. Then when he was older I ran for all my worth until dizziness overtook me. I’d stumble and after letting me think I’m winning my son would catch me, save me. Life’s full circle.

Dry Earth Cracks

Dry Earth Cracks

A right turn in the path and as I traverse the bone dry ground, carefully stepping between the deep cracks I glimpse the church ahead. Standing alone in its dignity and history. The Medieval and later Tudor addition creating a beautiful serene building. I approach it through the lych gate, the church to my right, the cemetery to my left. Built in 1435, the church is much as it was, with the original Nave, East Window and main heavy wooden double doors all intact.

The lych gate was built in 1919 and was originally the place where corpses lay before being brought into the church, hence the engraving above of  ‘Mors Annua Vitae’ – ‘Death is the gateway to life’.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Please click on photos to enlarge and to see them in a slideshow.)

I wander around the cemetery, deep in thought, seeking solace for my own losses. Stopping I read an inscription or two. There lies William Beck ‘Gamekeeper to Basil Sparrow Esq’, the gravestone put up by the latter in January 1860 to his ‘courageous and faithful servant who died from wounds caused by the accidental discharge of his gun…’

As I stop at a grave here and there I’ll say out the name out aloud, hoping to honour the person, hoping to revive meaning behind the utterance.

Village cemetery

Village cemetery

Writing is never far from me and I scan the names for inspiration for stories or perhaps to find a name to fit in a piece of fiction writing. This was the case with my winning short story, where my main female character’s name was discovered at a cemetery. (By the way, that particular story will soon be featured on my blog.)

I pause at one particular grave. For a baby girl who fleetingly visited this earth for a day. She was born healthy and strong but died seventeen hours later from cot death. I knew her mother well as our sons were best friends and the tragedy shook us all.

So I continue my walk, thoughts drifting on life and death, as always the two intermingled, inevitable.

Walks and thoughts.  As I stride across another field I lose my conscious self as an internal discussion rages in my head, this is distilled into peaceful reflections and new ideas swirl into being. As if in a transcendental meditation I wander on and in a shock I discover myself far from my last conscious position. The inner concentration of brain storming so powerful the ‘real’ world takes second place to the inner world. With my brain cleansed, with ideas stored safely for my return, I continue feeling clearer, lighter, brighter. My feelings echo Bill Bryson’s words on walking ‘…you exist in a kind of mobile Zen mode, your brain like a balloon tethered with string, accompanying but not actually part of the body below…’

To my left now is the regal Elizabethan hall with its stunning Georgian front. Now a country home hosting grand weddings it formerly saw Elizabeth I and her retinue as its regular visitors. Built in 1544 with major reconstructions in 1691 and 1715 its features include a spectacular central courtyard.

Georgian Front to the Hall

Georgian Front to the Hall

Tudor Back to Hall (formerly the front)

Tudor Back to Hall (formerly the front)

I remember the lovely afternoon one Sunday when it opened for visitors and it felt a wonder to be served scones and tea in such special surroundings. One Christmas the local primary school children walked up to the hall and enjoyed lunch in the ornate wooden banqueting hall. Overawed the pupils were silenced – for a moment. Imagine, eating in the former residence of King Louis VXII and his wife and their 350 courtiers!

Hall Courtyard

Hall Courtyard

By now sweltering from the heat I welcome the shade from the avenue of trees heading back to the village centre. The wind sweeps along the straight and gently caresses my tired legs. Treading on the road I am still astonished at its surface, the one originally laid by American troops during World War Two, as it led to the local airfield. It must have endured so much heavy traffic in those few years alone but is still going strong.

It was many years before the USA Airforce left the area I’m reminded as I halt by the memorial plaque of an American pilot killed as his plane crashed into the village playing field in 1963. As the F100 Super Saber jet developed an engine fault Col Wendell Kelly heroically chose to stay with the plane to ensure it avoided the local school. When certain the plane would crash away from civilians he did eject, but too late to save his own life. Recently a 50th commemoration service in his honour was held in the village and it was lovely that his daughter and other family members from America could attend.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The very same playing field in use today by children and adults, for football matches, cricket matches, fetes. For years I watched my son and his friends charge across the sun-scorched grass, heading full pelt towards the playground. More sedately I walk towards the shop, the field quiet and empty as I recall the yelps of joy as the children were let out of class.

I’m here now. At the local shop, which is run by a team of dedicated volunteers. Time for a break. What will you have? Tea? Coffee? Ice-cream? Yes, I’ll take one of those thank you. Let’s sit out on the table. Yes, just that one there, the one with the red geranium precariously standing on it.

Village pavillion with local shop tucked next to it

Village pavillion with local shop tucked next to it

Now silence, peace. Time to be thankful. Time to reflect.  Tired my legs ache for a rest. Refreshed my fingers itch to write. Alert my brain is brimming with new ideas and plans. I’m off home and back to my writing.

The final stretch of the walk takes me through the dappled shade of the Nature Reserve. Once a gravel quarry it has been developed since the 1960s into a local area of beauty with three large lakes and rich woodland. A bench beckons by the  water’s edge but determined I go on my way, greeting the ducks who are paddling near by. I’ll be back later with some bread later, I promise them. At last I spy the house located only a few metres from the Nature Reserve and again marvel at the ideal location.

One of the lakes at the Nature Reserve

One of the lakes at the Nature Reserve

Felled tree in Nature Reserve

Felled tree in Nature Reserve

Well, the walk is over and I want to thank you for joining me. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.

‘Solvitur and ambulando – it is solved by walking.’

By St. Augustine