It is a lovely July evening. The early sun is casting a warm glow over the countryside livening it with those golden colours that only evening can produce. The panorama is beautiful; the yellows and golds and reds lifting the spirit to higher and higher planes. As I am siting behind the wheel of my car you may wonder how I have the time to appreciate the subtle shades of yellow and gold; the red tinges to the edges of the fluffy clouds as they drift lazily across the azure sky. The answer is simple .... I am in a traffic jam behind an old Ford Escort whose exhaust matches the blue of the sky. The traffic jam is courtesy of the Highways Agency who have been making sandcastles in this stretch of the A19 for the past year. This weekend they have closed the Northbound carriageway. As a result multitudes of motorists are having an enforced detour through the undoubted delights of Stockton and other sundry parts of Tees-side. Why they chose this particular weekend to divert the traffic is a mystery - surely they could have waited another week. Why I am part of it is no mystery though - I am returning from the 5th leg of The Walk.
Yes, Brian and I, those two intrepid walkers from Wiltshire, have just completed the latest section of their walk around the coast of England. A week earlier I had set off from Tynemouth to meet Brian at his home in Guiseley. In the event his daughter and friend Andrea joined us. The two girls, having that ability common to all teenagers of smelling a lift at 500 paces, have persuaded us to drop them off in Leeds so they can do some shopping. After our slight detour through Leeds city centre we finally point the car firmly in the direction of Norwich, Cromer and ultimately Felixstowe.
We had an uneventful journey to Norwich. The roads were not too busy and we made steady progress. The only excitement came when Brian felt extra peckish at lunchtime and decided to have a fish dish from a well-known fast food emporium. Brian's comments on the quality and taste could be libellous if they were ever published, so I feel we should draw a McVeil over the organisation's name and Brian's McComments.
The train ride from Norwich to Cromer made a pleasant change. We were able to sit back and enjoy the Norfolk countryside with the rest of the
passengers in the three-quarters full train. The Bure Valley railway swings alongside our tracks at Wroxham. This tourist railway has its own terminus
adjacent to the 'proper' train station, and its car park has at least twice as many spaces as there are seats on our little train. To think 50 years or so
ago this would have been a busy country junction.
We arrive at Cromer just after 4.00pm and decide to walk for a couple of hours. A quick phone call to book some digs at Mundesley, about seven miles down the coast.
At Overstrand a garden full of sculptures grabs our attention. They depict a vast range of subjects and use every conceivable medium. We both particularly admired a tepee made from coiled rope.
Just past Overstrand we encounter the first obstacle of the week - the irrigation machine. It stands about 15 yards from the path, the long boom slowly rotating and spraying water on the thirsty crops and any stray walkers who want to go by. We watch its rotation and realise that if we are quick we can get past without getting soaked. In the best traditions of escaping POW's we wait our moment. Brian goes first and gets clear; with heart pounding and expecting to feel the hard spat of cold water, I follow after the next rotation. We make it, but it was a close run thing - the firm looking ground was a quagmire that threatened to pull our boots off! A little while later we took to the beach for the last stretch into Mundesley.
One of the problems with beach walking is that landmarks are usually out of sight and it is all too easy to lose one's position. This has happened in
previous years and it has happened now (and will no doubt happen again). Fortunately we met some people on the beach at an access ramp. We learn
we have reached Cliftonville, and Mundesley is the town we can see about a mile down the beach. On the off chance we ask them if they know where
our digs are. "Oh yes - up this ramp; turn right And they're next to the pub!" A chance encounter has saved us a two-mile detour. This first short walk
has been surprisingly tough. We are both grateful it is over. During the night I have a bad attack of cramp and the jitters. If I feel like this after seven
miles of relatively easy walking - how will I cope with the rest of the week?
Saturday dawned bright and fair. We followed the road into Mundesley before taking to the cliffs tops and eventually the beach. The clay cliffs are quite high - about 40 feet by our estimation. Walking on tall cliffs is always more interesting than the beach. The day progresses very pleasantly as we have a rare mixture of terrain - cliffs, beach, sea walls , promenades and green lanes en-route to Sea Paling via Walcott; Ostend; Happisburgh, Eccles on Sea and cups of tea. Yes, after an absence of three years the way side cafes have made a come back. We stop for tea at Walcott and Happisburgh. The cafe at Happisburgh is about 150 yards from the cliff top. The lane it stands on runs towards the cliff edge where it suddenly disappears - yet another victim of the coastal erosion that is endemic along this coast. We both ponder how long it will be before the cafe is renamed the Beach Cafe.
At Eccles on Sea we are introduced to the local fauna. Amongst the holiday chalets is a small pond. As soon as we are settled down for a well-earned rest we are surrounded by a score of inquisitive ducks. They soon leave us when they realise there will be no food! Massive dunes along this stretch of coast have replaced the cliffs and we follow a well-defined path through them as we make for Sea Paling. All the while we are keeping an eye out for a comfortable place to rest - not easy in the coarse grasses and thorny bushes of the dunes. Eventually we see a likely place and drop our packs to the ground and stretch out. More local fauna come and join us - hundreds of ants. Moving faster than we have all day we are off to another resting-place, and are visited by yet more ants! We eventually find an ant free zone.
Sea Paling is a small collection of houses; a pub; some shops and amusement arcades designed to service the needs of the day-trippers who take advantage of the superb beach. We have made good progress today and are reaping the benefits of Friday night's walk. Either Eccles or Sea Paling was the likely overnight stop if we had set out from Cromer on Saturday morning, #but B & B's are conspicuous by their absence in both places. Winterton on Sea is likely to be our resting-place. The beach will be our highway for the next hour or so. We are entertained by a hardy group of individuals engaging in some noisy water sports. They are well equipped with wind breaks & a barbecue; but somehow even with wet suits the North Sea looks awfully cold for this sort of thing.
Before leaving the beach just North of Warren Farm we pass a dead seal. This is the closest either of us has been to a seal and we are surprised by its bulk. During this stage of the walk Brian tells me his Mum & Dad had been in this part of Norfolk a few weeks earlier and had done some scouting about. They hadn't checked out Winterton but Hemsby, the next village, was a large place with a multitude of guesthouses. Indeed Brian had been sent a letter with all the details. Unfortunately the Royal Mail had had a bad hair day and the letter never arrived. I told Brian the Mail could have delivered it on a silver salver and it would not have made the slightest difference. We were stopping in Winterton because:
- it was nearer
- there would be B & B there
- I was not walking any further 'cos I was knackered.
Despite my assertions events were to prove me wrong. There was no room at the guesthouse or inn and stables were definitely off. The local B & B was very helpful and gave us a contact in Hemsby. So despite our tiredness we push on along the roads to Hemsby, a couple of miles distant. On arrival we take a quick shower and change before adjourning to the pub for dinner. For the second night in a row we order the same meal. For the first time in any of our walks we have to share a double bed. We are both too tired to care.
The day has been a good one. The weather has been kind, with a mixture of sun and cloud with temperatures only a little too high for walking. The
only time we had for concern was when we set out from Sea Paling . The sky to the North was as black as pitch and heading in our general direction.
Fortunately the storm passed us by to the North. Today has been a record-breaking day. We have covered 19 miles, further by far than any other day's
walking in the last 5 years.
The village of Hemsby, where the locals live and where we stayed, straddles the main road about a mile and a half from the sea. Holiday villages; cafes; amusement arcades - all the features of a typical British sea side town - flank the road from the village to the beach. The beach is hidden by vast sand dunes. Our path takes us through the dunes past yet more second homes and chalets. There are several hundred of them and not one is the same as another. It reminds me of a shantytown, but with their electricity and running water they must be palaces compared to the third world shantytowns. We continue through the dunes to California and then along the track-bed of the long defunct railway to Caister.
At Caister we take to the beach past the holiday camps. I try to identify the one Kath and I stayed at when the girls were very young. Whilst it must be this one I don't recognise any of the features. The beach has a nasty slope and we are grateful when we reach the North end of Great Yarmouth and can adjourn to the prom. Eventually we reach the tourist information office and set about trying to find accommodation for the night. We are looking for somewhere between Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Unfortunately their area doesn't extend much further than Gorlestone, just across the river. It is looking more and more likely that we shall have to walk to Lowestoft to find accommodation - something we were hoping to avoid as that means another long day of 17/18 miles. Still what is a little uncertainty to intrepid walkers like us, and who knows, we may strike lucky and find some digs en-route. We have another disappointment - the ferry doesn't run any more. This is no great hardship as there is a bridge near the town centre but we could have avoided a rather dull walk past the dockside warehouses. During our conversations the staff recall a short lady asking similar questions on behalf of her son who was going on a walking holiday ........
The next ten minutes involves us in some of the hardest walking we have ever done. To reach the bridge over the Yare we have to go down the main shopping street and it is packed. We find it impossible to build a decent rhythm, and people continually buffet us. Eventually we reach the end and collapse into a cafe for a more than welcome cuppa. After a brief stop we set off again, over the bridge, past the warehouses and into Gorlestone. The day has become very warm now, possibly the warmest yet this year. As luck would have it we come upon a pub just as we are due one of our scheduled breaks. As we enter the local wit says "The tents are out the back".
We leave Gorlestone via the prom on what has become a glorious summer's day. We indulge in an ice cream as it seems the right thing to do. Imagine the scene O Gentle Reader. Two friends strolling down the prom, nibbling delicately at their ices; exchanging gentle banter; the sun casting clear shadows before them and the gentle breeze caressing their rugged handsome features. But stay! - something is missing from this scene- what can it be? Oh yes - the ruddy great packs on their straining backs.
We leave Gorlestone by swinging inland and follow a path through the golf course. Our path is always several hundred yards from the sea as we make towards Hopton, a collection of Holiday Camps and the services to support them; past a derelict church and back to the coast at League Hole. We rest next to a collection of modern buildings with an institutional air, but what sort of institution we know not.
From here we follow the cliff path to Corton. We see many beautiful flowers and again wonder what they are. We must find room for a small book on flowers next time. Corton is the last village before Lowestoft and we have not seen any B & B's yet. We adjourn to the pub for our routine break. The local (t)wit informs us that there are no mountains here. Another asks if we are the couple they passed at Hopton. We gently chide them for not offering to carry our packs for us. What d'ye mean, they didn't know we were coming here - they should have!
We have a pleasant 15 minutes or so and get advice on the location of accommodation between here and Lowestoft - there is none. The nearest places are in Lowestoft, and at the South end at that. It is just before 6.00pm when we set off along the road into Lowestoft. Fortunately there is a footpath all the way which reduces the stress levels dramatically. We would have preferred the coast but the possibility of accommodation forces us onto the road. As predicted we have to go to the South side of Lowestoft for digs as we pass only one, rather expensive looking, hotel on our progress through town. At about 7.30 we settle down to a fish & chip supper at the end of the pier before booking in to one of the many guesthouses across the road. We are very tired, today has been another big hit. We have covered over 37 miles in two days.
Our digs are comfortable, and the bath is superb. It is big enough to float a battleship and I can stretch out my six-foot frame to soak away the aches of the day. My reveries are shattered by the realisation that Brian will want to do the same, so I had better get a move on!
Lowestoft marks the start of the Suffolk Coast & Heath Path - another of the long distance walks that have sprung up over the last few years. We have
a path guide and it will prove invaluable over the next few days. The path follows the beaches for much of its length , with diversions that must be
taken at high tide. We could have three of these diversions to take, but the tides will be in our favour throughout the walk.
As we set off along the prom we indulge in one of our little rituals - "where do we sleep tonight". The logical places are Southwold - too close - and Aldeburgh - too far. Coupled with this I am starting to get paranoid about doing our laundry. My concern is that if we don't do it today there will be no opportunity until we reach Felixstowe. (In retrospect Brain must have thought I was a laundrette junky eager for a fix. I remember going on and on about it). In the event we adopt the very positive attitude that has served us well throughout our walks - we'll see what the day brings.
After the prom it's onto the beach as far as Kessingland. As we walk through the village we get the impression that the street plan has not changed since the Middle Ages. Many of the narrow lanes are unmade and narrow, although many of the buildings appear quite modern. During Norman times the village was a major fishing centre. Sadly we could see little evidence of it.
Our journey onto Southwold alternates between the beach and the low clay cliffs. We see plenty of evidence of coastal erosion. At one stage we pass the edge of a wood that has fallen victim to the sea. The gaunt roots and branches strewn on the beach make it look like some macabre graveyard. Around lunchtime the weather closes in and we only just make the bird hide at Benacre Broad before the first rain storm of the week arrives. We watch the rain forming constantly changing patterns in the broad as we munch our lunch in the comparatively snug hide.
On the approach to Southwold we are on the cliffs again. The land gradually rises and we cross a road truncated by the sea to form a 30-foot drop to the beach below. Unfortunately we shouldn't be here; we should be on the beach , but we don't know this yet. The footpath peters out about half a mile from the North end of the sea wall/promenade at Southwold. We walk inland around a field towards some houses. Here we meet an elderly man who takes great delight in telling us there is no direct access to Southwold., now less than a quarter of a mile away. He offers all assistance short of actual help and advises us the right of way is on the beach. We follow his directions away from Southwold for several hundred yards before I blow my top. "This is foolish" I rant. We stop and rest while I continue to bubble and boil like some witches cauldron. I go exploring to see if we can avoid the 3-mile detour our less than helpful old man has suggested.
The OS map indicates a path directly into Southwold. My investigations suggest it is still there. I get Brian and my pack and we try the clearly defined path in the grass, only to find it blocked by a fence (just as the old man had said, which didn't improve my temper). As we retrace our steps our old man is coming towards us. I am in no mood to be civil, but Brian quite rightly tells me to be careful. After a much more pleasant exchange the old man explains that there is path from the front of his house down to the sea wall/prom. The end of the sea wall/prom however is not a right of way and has a fence across it, but we should be able to drop down to the beach and so gain access to the town. We follow his directions, reach the prom and fence. We see several clearly defined paths in the fields leading from whence we came into the town , all blocked by fences. A really weird situation as the paths look as though they have been recently used and the fences are new. Welcome to Southwold!
The town is a pleasant old fashioned sort of a place and despite the travails of the last hour we both like it. We find a laundrette so I am able to get my fix! We decide there will be time to go on to the next village - Walberswick - just a mile or so away via the ferry. We phone ahead and book some digs. Unfortunately we miss the last ferry waiting for our washing so have a three-mile diversion via the footbridge by the golf course. Southwold is quite a centre for weekend sailors and there are many small sailing boats tied up along the riverbank. We eventually arrive in Walberswick and after a few minutes aimless milling around the village green looking for our digs we are rescued by our landlady.
We have to pay more than normal - £20 each, but it was the only place available. There are compensations however, the room is more like a mini-suite
with a small lounge area, shortbread biscuits, en-suite facilities with the bed in an alcove off to the right. Yes it is A bed - a double again. We adjourn to
the local pub for some super soup and sandwiches and the most delicious beer - Adnams. We both express concern that the end of walk celebration
will not match the fodder we have had during the walk.
We receive a 4 star breakfast as our landlady wants to ensure we have the best possible start to the day. Before we can get started we have to buy provisions for the day. Walberswick is a charming little place, probably less than 100 houses, but it is spread out. The village shop is 800yards from the place we want to start walking.
Rather than follow the coast we decide to take a path from the centre of the village towards an old windmill where we will rejoin the coast path. The path we take leads out across some marshes. At one point we have to choose one of several paths and we end up on the wrong one! Our selection leads us uphill through Hoist Covert. We don't mind this sort of lost - it's quite pleasant as it gives us an opportunity to see a little more of our surroundings. We can see the lie of the land and quickly spot a path that leads to the windmill. The view over the marsh to the coast is superb and was well worth the uphill climb. The path crosses the marsh by means of a boardwalk. The tall reeds and marsh grasses restrict our view from the boardwalk. The boardwalk is narrow calling for great concentration in finding a proper footfall. There are passing places where the boards widen out which is fortunate as we meet another walker. Our passing manoeuvre still called for great care and some fancy footwork as our packs made us twice as wide as normal.
Our path continues on the dikes for a while before swinging inland through Dunwich Forest. It has been very hot in the sun all morning so our passage of the woods brought cooling relief. Our detour inland is quite short and we are soon back at the coast in Dunwich village. The village is small but has an incredibly busy fish & chip restaurant cum cafe. We are due a stop, so once more to the tea pot dear friends. We are fortunate to find somewhere to sit as half the tables are reserved and nearly all of the remainder are occupied. Just before we leave a coach party arrive for their lunch..
The next hour or so sees us walking through woods and farmland as the path swings inland once more. We cross Dunwich Heath as we head back to the coast and in the distance we see the giant golf ball that is Sizewell nuclear power station. The land slopes gently down from the heath to the cliffs, which in turn gradually recede to dunes and dikes. Sizewell is getting closer and closer. As we approach the sheer bulk of the buildings becomes more and more apparent. There are two power stations here - the golf ball and the giant cuboid of the older Magnox reactor.
We go on to the beach to pass the power stations as the dikes appear to be fenced off. Walking on the beach of shingle and soft sand is extremely hard work, even more so as the heat from earlier in the day has sapped our strength more than we realise. Once we get past the power station we look back along the dikes, which have widened out considerably, more like landscaped grass covered dunes. To our frustration we see a path right past the power station - we could have had a pleasant walk on grass instead of the 40 minutes slog on the beach.
We stop for a much needed rest and have a somewhat circular debate as the correct route to take. We cannot decide what to do! In the end we both decide to have something to eat, which has a remarkable effect as in ten minutes all our doubts and confusion have fled. I guess our blood sugar levels must have fallen too low for comfort and rational thought.
We trundle along the coast to Thorpeness as the weather starts to close in. As we approach the village our bodies start to send out distress signals again - more tannin & caffeine urgently needed! We find a cafe on the main road and soon put this emergency to bed. (The frequency of cafes this year makes us realise how much they were missed in the last two years). There is a brief shower as we leave the cafe, but it clears almost as soon as we put our water-proofs on.
Aldeburgh, our destination for today is a short distance away now and we make steady progress along the road. The sea is about 150 yards to our left. Our digs are at 50 Victoria Road. Victoria Road runs inland from the sea front, No 1 has a wonderful sea view. No 10 is about 50 yards from the beach and so is ideally suited for holidaymakers. We think we have struck lucky - digs close to the town centre and the coast. Thirty minutes and a mile or so later we arrive at No 50!
Our landlord, a genial giant of a man in his mid-thirties, meets us. From the pictures on the walls and the books in the bookcases he is involved with the local lifeboat and has been a soldier - possibly a marine. He certainly served in the Falklands. He knows exactly what we want as he prepares a huge pot of tea while we get settled in our room.
As we proceed to empty the pot he explains the house rules - none. We discuss where we could get an evening meal, but he can recommend nothing
locally. "The pub over the road is OK if you leave your brains in the bucket at the door". We try the pub anyway and our landlord's description is about
right. Fortunately they are not serving food so we return the mile or so to the town centre for cash; provisions for the morrow and fish & chips. We
even get back to he digs in time for the World Cup semi-final. There was no problem getting into the digs as the front door is never locked. At first we
think this is asking for trouble, but who messes with a guy the size of our landlord. He is a man of many parts: there is a commendation from the
local Chief Constable hanging on the wall, and at breakfast we find out that he was out during the night launching the inshore lifeboat.
Wednesday dawns bright and sunny. Today we have to detour inland to the lowest bridging point on the River Alde at Snape, home of the famous Maltings. Our host informs us that once there was a ferry over the river at Aleburgh, but it stopped running many years ago. We take the main road out of town and soon pick up the Coast & Heath Path, which by-passes Aldeburgh to the North. We walk through woods and farmland, again a pleasant change from the seascapes of the previous days. We stop for tea at Snape Maltings and try to garner information on where to stay this night. Do we head for Orford where we have contact phone numbers or do we head for Hollesley where we have none. Orford also requires that the Butley Ferry runs. The guide states that booking is essential , but does not give the phone number .......
We are particularly unsuccessful in news gathering and head off to Chilliesford where it will be make your mind up time. Our path takes us through wet lands and fields towards Iken Heath. We meet bird watchers and volunteers repairing the boardwalks through the wet lands. We pass two young ladies pushing wheel barrows full of supplies. One of the barrows tipped over as we passed and the language was any thing but lady-like.
After a mile or so we leave the low land next to the river and climb a gentle hill past a farm towards Tunstall Forest. The day has turned into a gorgeous summer's day with a golden sun beating down from a blue sky with fluffy white clouds drifting lazily by. One of the crops we pass is a field of beautifully manicured grass. Every twenty yards there are signs requesting folks to keep of as it is a high value crop.
Chilliesford is a small place with a pub, which just happens to be open as we are due a break. (I know this is about the third time in two days but we don't plan it this way, honest). About twenty minutes later, after assistance from the locals and several orange squashes and phone calls we have decided our route. Hollesley is out and Orford is in. We have confirmed the ferry runs and made a provisional booking for the morning. We have also booked into some digs for the night. Unfortunately because of a crackly phone line we don't know exactly where they are but we "can't miss them, they are near Orford
Our path leads us across country to Sudbourne Hall. The hall has been demolished and new homes built. Some things do not change however as we gaze on the timeless images of cricket on the green. The vision conjured images of the quintessential English scene - a hot, lazy Summer's day, the sound of leather on willow, 13 white clad gladiators watched by a small crowd who occasionally applaud their better efforts. The only thing missing was the pub doling out a cooling glass of beer. Taking everything into account it was a good job there was no pub as we would have stopped till close of play. As it is we press on towards Orford and eventually join the main (and only road) into Orford. We keep a weather eye open for our digs that "we can't miss" and which "are near Orford".
We pass several B&B's but none are ours. We continue on our way until we are no longer "near Orford" but right in the centre having been through to the far side to the quay and back to the castle with not a sight of our digs. The area around the quay is now given over to tourists and weekend sailors, but there's evidence of a more industrial past. We decide to cut our losses; cancel the first lot of digs and book into some digs in Orford. Later we find out that the original lot were in Sudbourne, a village two miles to the North. Why we weren't told that in the first place will remain one of life's smaller (and more boring) mysteries.
Our choice of digs sees us settled with an elderly couple. They are very pleasant and we spend an interesting hour or so chatting before bathing, changing and seeking our supper. They grow big baths in this part of the world. For the second time I have the luxury of using a bath big enough for a battleship.
Our stay coincides with the one day of the week when the mobile chip shop visits. This has been eagerly awaited by our hosts with almost Pavlovian
anticipation. Our exploration for supper turns up nothing better so once more we tuck into Britain's best in the early evening sun whilst gazing at the
castle and village green. We arrive back at our digs in time for another brief chat, this time about war time service in Lancasters before watching the
second World Cup semi-final.
We wake up on Thursday morning feeling refreshed and ready to challenge the World. After another great breakfast we phone the ferry man to confirm our booking. He asks us to put back the time from 10.00 to 10.30. As it's his boat we agree, but we are a little apprehensive as we have another ferry to catch to get to Felixstowe later that day. We decide to use the paths over the fields rather than follow the Orford Ness shoreline. The path we follow gives us a good, if slightly distant, view of the Ness about half a mile to our left. The Ness is a long tongue of shingle and marsh that stretches for 10 miles or so from Aldeburgh. The River Alde is forced to swing South and run parallel to the coast before escaping the clutches of the Ness a couple of miles South of Orford. The Ness has grown in length over the centuries and has a secret past. Scattered along its length are several low pagoda like structures that were erected during the fifties as part of Britain's nuclear arms programme. In the village centre, as well as displays describing the Ness, we read others describing the Orford Mer-man who was washed up on the coast during the Middle Ages. The locals kept him in the castle and fed him on raw fish between the torture sessions. He didn't understand the locals and never said a word. After a while the locals became bored with such a one-sided conversation and let him go.
We are early for our appointment with the ferry man and have a twenty five minute wait. The river bank has a small landing stage on our side and one opposite, and a few boats are tied up waiting for their next excursions. The area has a rather lonely air with no buildings near-by. We pass the time idly speculating about where the ferry man is, which is his boat, will he come by boat etc etc. Eventually he arrives by push bike and after pulling some oars from the undergrowth sculls over to collect us. We are his first customers of the day and he only has two more fares that day. We wonder how he makes it pay at a fare of £1.50, and the answer is "not very well" after the licence and insurance. We sense that money is not his main motivator, but whatever his reasons we are grateful he is there.
Our path takes us along the dikes towards Shingle Street and eventually onto low cliffs before taking to the beach just North of Bawdsey. We pass several Martello Towers in this section. Built during the Napoleonic Wars as watch towers and defence against invasion. some still show signs of the changes made in the forties to repel another foreign dictator. Most were semi-derelict but the one at Shingle Street has been converted into a home. Shingle Street is most aptly named. It is little more than a row of houses built virtually on the beach with the Martello Tower and a few bungalows behind.
We make steady progress towards Bawdsey and the second ferry of the day. It soon becomes apparent that barring some disaster we will have plenty of time. We have a mixture of dikes, low cliffs and beach before we approach Bawdsey Manor. This used to be a top secret radar establishment during the war but is now a foreign language study centre and its grounds are preventing us from having a comfortable cliff top walk to the ferry. We have a choice - take the road or use the beach. We had a brief discussion and picked the beach for the last two/three miles. This proves to be a bit of a mistake. The beach shelves quite steeply and is shingle for the most part. Walking is hard work. We can feel every stone through our boots, Brian suffers particularly badly. After about a mile we see some steps leading up to the cliff top. We explore to find it is a private access to the beach from the Manor and the gate is locked. Unfortunately there is no path along the perimeter fence so it's back to the beach. The last 400 yards are not too bad as we can walk along a low concrete wall at the foot of the cliffs. Felixstowe has been getting ever closer, but not quickly enough when suddenly the low cliffs disappear and the land swings sharp right at the mouth of the River Debden.
There are dozens of small craft at anchor in the estuary. The ferry man confirms our fears that the river, despite its obvious attractions and use by visitors, can be dangerous. As we crossed the water appeared to be running down hill at about 20mph.
We have a long rest in the cafe before moving into Felixstowe. We pass the golf course and follow the prom for about a mile before dropping down to sea level to follow the coast road to the centre of the resort. The main town is hidden from view at the top of the tall cliffs. The only tedious feature has been the absence of any B & B's so far. Enquiries at the Tourist Information Office are not very productive, but they do introduce us to the Suffolk minute. The tourist office staff suggest a place which is "only 10 minutes away" - we passed it at least 20 minutes earlier. Our visit is not a total waste of time as we are told there are a number of B & B's not on their books just down the prom. We decide to find our own digs and within 10 minutes we are settled into some comfortable digs just off the sea front. We have finished our walk and it is only Thursday - we are a day early!
Brian and I have a problem. What do we do on Friday? Normally we would carry on walking, but to where? We know there is a ferry to Harwich, but it is an infrequent service ill-timed for our purposes with no ferry between 9.00am and 10.00am. If we are to walk for another day it would be at least 16 miles onto the next logical stop point of Frinton or possibly Clacton. In truth we are both tired and not that keen to press on. We decide to give the joys of Clacton a miss for this year.
Our host for the night and the next is undoubtedly a character. For those gentle readers who are old enough he is as outspoken as Alf Garrnett and
he looks like Del Boys Uncle Albert. He is great fun in small doses. His wife evokes memories of Else Garnett. This man could talk for England - he
would be World Champion. Over the next 36 hours we will be regaled with a selection of anecdotes and opinions to last a lifetime. From the exploits
of his father in law at Woolwich Arsenal to the iniquities of the local Tourist Office; from the scenic delights of Essex (North of the A12 - beautiful;
South - Hell's Arsehole); the local population's sense of time and distance - we had already met Suffolk minutes, their miles are apparently just as
flexible. We get this and a host of other topics explained in spades and with no little humour. One good thing that our host did do was recommend
a pub around the corner for an evening meal. During the meal we mention it was recommended by our host. By the look in their eyes we could tell
they knew him.
One thing we have already noticed is the amount of marine traffic. In addition to the early evening ferry from Holland there has been a steady stream of shipping to & from Felixstowe and its sister port across the river - Harwich. The next morning we see yet more evidence as we walk the mile or so to Landguard Fort for the ferry to Harwich. The fort is yet another relic from the Napoleonic Wars and now houses a museum. From the ferry we get a good view of the twenty or so ships loading and unloading containers on the Felixstowe shore. We cannot see the container berths on the Harwich side - they are some 3 miles away up the River Stour at Parkestone Quay. The ferry is a peculiar rectangle of a craft with a small cabin at what would be the blunt end if it didn't have a blunt end at each end. A small group of us board for the 10 minute crossing to Harwich.
Brian and I spend a pleasant 4 hours or so strolling through Harwich to Dovercourt, the larger residential & resort area. We spot a couple of likely looking guest houses to start next year's walk from. We have lunch in a friendly pub before catching the ferry back to Felixstowe. Five or six boats have departed while we were away and have been replaced by others.
We spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Felixstowe. It is quite a bustling town. The port area and funfair is built on a low lying area of land that
stretches for a mile or more from the river to end abruptly at the foot of the cliff where the main part of the town sits overlooking the beach. The
land then slopes gently down to the golf course at the North end of the town and the ferry to Bawdsey. We keep an eye out for somewhere to have
our end-of-walk-meal, but find nowhere better than last night's pub. We have been very subdued today, much quieter than when we are walking. Our
meal also lacked the edge of previous years - perhaps we should have celebrated last night whilst the glow of achievement was still on us.
Saturday dawned reasonably bright and we pack our packs for the last time before setting out for the station. The train is a pay train, but no-one comes to collect our fare. On arrival at Ipswich we find out that the trains are running late due to problems at the London end of the line. We have the chance of cutting our scheduled 50 minute wait and arriving a little earlier in Norwich. As it turns out is only a little earlier as the trains are running 45 minutes late. The car is still in the car park when we get there and it starts first time. It must have enjoyed its holiday as well.