We, the Textiliste and I, visit Suffolk regularly. The walks, the nature, the great food, the space to relax… mostly, if I’m honest it’s because there aren’t many chores here, not until we clean up on leaving – no gardening, cleaning, DIY, post and paperwork… Just time, which goes by a much slower clock. Maybe gravity pulls less because we’ve moved up the lines of latitude a bit? I always look at a map and think of north as ‘up’ so by that logic we must be further from the centre and thus gravity’s pull must be weaker). Well, it works for me.
And when we visit, we walk. The Dog insists and the countryside is pretty enticing. That said there is, hereabouts, something of a blot on the horizon, literally and metaphorically, in the shape of that egregious puff ball and its Castle Doom neighbour, Sizewell Nuclear Power Station’s A and B Reactors.
I have to admit to an ambivalent relationship with nuclear power. With the idea of nuclear power – happily I have had no actually relationship with it despite what the size of my earlobes might suggest. We do need power to run the world we live in and we will probably need more. We have done enough spending our family jewels to bankrupt the fuel reserves of future generations and I’m with Prince Charles when it comes to having Shootin’ Putin as my fuel vendor. But I can see how the long term problem of spent fuel rods is hardly any better than filling the air with CO and CO2 when it comes to burdening my great grandchildren. We’ve corrupted dear old Auntie Gaia enough and I doubt it is stopping anytime soon. And now there are active discussions for a Sizewell C – it makes me shudder to thing about it – but I’m also intrigued by the shape they will choose for the main reactor building? Another spheroid? Too Phallic. A pyramid? Not a cube, surely? What about something dodecahedral? I’ve always like that word.
So I set off for this walk, worrying vaguely about should I vote Green and buy a solar panel for the kitchen window to charge all my I-gadgets? Frankly all this middle-aged, middle-class, metropolitan, muddled thinking gets no one anywhere and does me little to no credit.
The trouble is, really, that I’m not sure I actually see these building as monsters; as excrescences on the beautiful coast. Should I admit I like their bleakness and incongruity or go with the received wisdom and rail against something so ugly dumped on such a lovely piece of England? You see I like buildings. I enjoy the quirky and the downright absurd. I like the way London’s skyline has changed since I moved there in 1981 and went to work in Paternoster Square (the buildings being chiefly memorable for the way the windows fell out onto the netball court below and for one of Charlie Windsor’s comments on modern architecture You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe. When it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble).
We have probably overdone the ‘iconic’ though. I like the Gherkin and the Glass Testicle. The Shard has a nice shape, but is stupidly out of proportion and the Walkie-Talkie is a neat use of space, but too lumpy. I will rejoice when they build the Helter-Skelter, though – that will be a bonza building, possums.
I don’t mind brutalism in its place (underground perhaps?); the much derided National Theatre serves its purpose as concrete coffins are wont to do, especially at night. As WS Gilbert had it (in a somewhat different context) She may very well pass for forty-three, in the dusk, with a light behind her.
It is all about scale, sympathy and a dash of surprise (this week’s theme). Sizewell’s scale is what hurts the eye, not it’s shape or indeed purpose. It is a surprise if you come on it and are not expecting it (a bit like when I first saw the Angel of the North and nearly skittled the Saab the wrong way up the A1 – I know it’s not a building but the principle holds good).
So we set off, bending our minds to higher things (the Textiliste practicing her pop-choir songs and me ruminating on a plot conundrum in my current book) and headed south.
The walk starts with Sizewell at our backs and the Suffolk Coastal path in front of us. We soon turned west until we caught up with the old railway that ran from Aldeburgh to Saxmundham and which is now closed south of Sizewell. Closed railways are walkers’ god-sends. It’s a bugger the trains have gone – damn Dr. Beeching and his ilk – but the routes they take through otherwise inaccessible country (and towns) are marvellous. If you are interested in railway journeys (I am) and haven’t done so, catch up with Michael Portillo’s railway journey’s around both Britain and Europe following ancient editions of Bradshaw’s eponymous guides – quite marvellous pieces of TV and still on the i-player last time I looked. You don’t even have to like Portillo to enjoy these. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00xgqxy/episodes/guide.
You follow the ancient concrete and wooden posts, through heath and wood and fields until the Meare appears on your left. The Meare is a large man made body of water (there are a fair few about Suffolk) which is popular with boaters and swans alike. The path to the north of the water is now the route as it winds past a golf course (Mark Twain had it, didn’t he? ‘A good walk spoiled’ (well, he may well not have said it, in fact, but that’s often my feeling when I come on these manicured acres)).
As soon as the course itself ends we have our next, lovely surprise. The House in the Clouds. Apparently this awesome structure was originally a water tower and is now a holiday home. I loved the sign, advertising its wares.
The cheeky imagination of the designer to hide an otherwise ugly tower is a piece of genius. That today’s planners would have such foresight and tolerance. And to add to my frisson of excitement, just around the corner and waiting for us with a coy come-hitherness was a windmill.
And what is this wondrous place, you cry? Thorpeness, Peeps. In all its other-worldly splendour. It feels a little like a piece of New England dropped onto the East Coast, what with all the weatherboard and on a sunny day I found it splendid (though it has been voted in the list of the worst places to live in Britain). Apparently, Thorpeness was the fantasy idea of a barmy Scottish barrister cum railway oligarch called Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie (he couldn’t be anything other than Scots, could he?). He wanted a holiday village for his friends and this place is it, incorporating Jacobean and Tudor revival styles into the chalets. Mix rich and barking and this is what you get.
After a decent baked potato/cheese/beans combo – the beans, oddly were served as a side order and not melting the cheese – at the café, we set off back to the car.
To digress briefly, I have given some thought to some macabre things in my time but two stand out:
(a) what would be my final meal were I to find myself on death row; and
(b) what three songs would I want at my funeral?
I will leave (b) for another time but re (a) it would be (I) baked camembert with crusty French bread (II) the aforesaid BP/C/B combo with a mixed salad and a pot of tea and (III) a crème Brule (though recently I have been leaning towards a rhubarb and apple crumble and custard).
The walk back is predominantly along the Sandlings Walk (http://www.ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php?path_name=Sandlings+Walk) which follows the heathlands that once covered East Anglia and Suffolk in particular. It is a joy to dip into and if you find yourself up our way then try a section. You’ll need one of those old fangled map thingies that seem to be going out of fashion (did I really read that the Ordnance Survey will, in future, only print maps on demand? Are they mad? One of life’s true pleasures is a visit to Standfords shop n Long Acre to browse the maps and guidebooks (http://www.stanfords.co.uk). You certainly cannot rely on your Google Maps because the mobile coverage is WOEFUL.
And with a bit of a wiggle you return to the beach and the Suffolk Coastal path and the car. The tearoom at Sizewell is nice enough (the staff are friendly) but the looming brooding gigantic neighbour rather curdles the milk. To counter such thoughts we watched the kittiwakes who have colonised the offshore rigs that were used when Sizewell’s power stations were build. These seabirds are content enough with their lot, making the best of things and not fretting too much about the future. Probably a suitable metaphor for me and nuclear power.