Another Sunday and another sunny day in Suffolk. This time we parked up in Thorpeness (home to the House in the Clouds which I referred to last time – an excuse for a neat pic!). Thorpeness strikes me as might a rather smart Butlins. Its clapperboard style chalet bungalows and houses, it’s boating pool, its long gritty beach and freezing North Sea water all scream 1950s fun at me. There was even a pony and trap to take visitors on a circumnavigation of the small town. The atmosphere has probably been listed as being of special historic interest.
The grand thing, though, is, once out of the little town, you can join the Sandlings Walk [embed]http://www.ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php?path_name=Sandlings+Walk[/embed] I mentioned this last time; the walk cuts all the way up through Suffolk and follows the ancient heathlands. From Thorpeness we followed the edge of the Meare (the boating pool) west for half a mile, then another half south on the old railway, dodging some crusty old cyclists – I’m a great believer in live and let live in nearly everything but I draw the line at the combination of ancient buttocks (of either sex) and lycra.
From this point we turned west again along the heath. The sun was out, the trees were in full fresh leaf and the Textiliste was practicing her repertoire for her Pop-choir concert and competing with the chaffinches and dunnocks and wheatears. The paths were dusty, despite the rain on Saturday and the humidity high. But the walking was flat and easy nonetheless.
We followed the Sandlings for about two miles inland before we branched off near a radio mast. I’m ambivalent about these meccano structures. They serve a useful purpose, they are excellent as visible way marks, like pylons and wind farms. But, boy, are they ugly.
Leaving the way to turn south East the path cut across a large field of wheat. And my first emotion was BLOODY FARMERS. We hikers should have a symbiotic relationship with farmers but when they don’t restore footpaths across their land they DRIVE ME NUTS. Partly my fault because I didn’t bring a compass to be sure I was heading in the right direction. So we did the decent thing; we skirted the field boundaries, accompanied by ‘Living on a Prayer’ from the Textiliste, until we came to the gate on the far side and looked back; a vague line could be picked out, back towards the mast. I had half a mind to stomp back across the wheat and carve out the path but lunch was calling me.
Leaving the field we entered the welcome coolness of an orchard – all dappled sun and susurrating breezes. After maybe twenty minutes, still south-east we emerged on a golf course, very manicured and very empty. Odd for a warm Sunday in June. Aldeburgh golfers were bending the knee or lifting the elbow, I suppose, rather than thrashing about with their mashie nibblicks.
Another mast drew us forward, until we emerged about a mile from Aldeburgh and tromped the pavements into the town.
Aldeburgh was made famous by Benjamin Brittain and Peter Pears and their festival takes place over the two weeks in June; we were a week early which was probably no bad thing, having wanted a quick lunch. The sandwich/pate was fine but overshadowed rather by Ives (http://www.ivesices.co.uk/) and their 30 flavours of ice cream. Delicious. The white chocolate was one of the best I’ve tasted and I’ve tried a few.
Replete, we walked the promenade and chanced upon Morris men (people?) dancing their curious dances and beating their poles. The first group were clad traditionally in white with straw hats, ribbons and bells. The second, in purple and black and with blacked up faces, were altogether more sinister. Sinister, is perhaps strong – uncomfortable is better. The black face – the black and white minstrels and their racists overtones have permeated a lot of thinking. Reading up on the blacked up faces, it is clear that they have a long, but somewhat chequered history. Records back in the 16th century refer to blackened faces, sometimes as a disguise (an act was passed banning the disguising), sometimes as a reference to Moorish characters – even the name ‘Morris’ might be a corruption of Moorish. But the re-invigoration of the dancing in the 19th Century and the black-faced traditions might also trace their roots to the American Minstrel shows that were becoming increasingly popular back then. It is difficult, watching these figures from the past with the Metropolitan Liberal mind-set that a lot of us London dwellers posses, not to feel a touch squirmy.
So we finished our cones and followed the north-south coastline back to Thorpeness. We passed large poppy fields – one assumes for the seed, not the opiates – and sea plants before the welcome sight of the House in the Clouds and the car. Six miles, perhaps, and well worth it.