We’re walking in the air – You never walk alone, part three

Oh, it was GLORIOUS!

The Lawyer, the Dog and me...

The Lawyer, the Dog and me…

After some discussion and because of timings and logistics, we decided that for the third and final leg of the Suffolk 60 we would travel south-north, back from the end to Chillesford.

across the river towards Felixstowe

across the river towards Felixstowe

You see, the Suffolk Coastal path ends at Bawdsey, by the passenger ferry to Felixstowe ferry (see pic) and that means a crossing to the Felixstowe side and another two and a half miles to the station and a sweaty train ride to Ipswich and… You get the idea.  Whereas the Textiliste was prepared to drop us off in Bawdsey and pick us up, once again, in Chillesford. Neither the Lawyer nor I were prepared to demur and Dog was bought off with chicken.

Groynes ahead

Groynes ahead

At the bottom corner of rural Suffolk, north of the River Deben, it is truly isolated. Across the river, Felixstowe (while still in Suffolk) is a busy port and the surrounding land is domesticated and sanitised. But this side, it is a little bit of time lost.

out to sea

out to sea

The path clung to the shoreline as we set off north, light of step given the lovely weather. Even the prospect of tromping through shingle didn’t put us off – well, not for a few hundred yards. Even though it was a couple of miles along the beach the sense of being alone was the perfect antidote to groaning calves. Out at sea the real world chugged up and down – ferry boats and tanker ships, small yachts and skiffs and speedboats. But here, one eccentric old boy pulling up sea cabbage apart, we saw no one. Above us, on the cliff we saw a peek or two of Bawdsey Manor. There was a gulag like fence and lighting too – later we passed a Young Offenders’ Institution so maybe they were linked. But down to the beach it was the ancient groynes  and the remains of military defences long since abandoned.

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Martello tower, now a home

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and another tower

Martello towers were built along the coast from Suffolk to Sussex to defend against the expected Napoleonic invasion. These towers are three metres thick and housed a garrison of up to 30 men who would repel any invaders. So substantial were they that they still stand and several have been converted into homes. The lack of windows is made up by the natural light that floods in glass roofs.

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a watch tower from WW2

Alongside the remnants of our last war with the French stand the remnants of our last war with the Germans. The combination of shingle beaches and flat land behind was seen, in 1939, as the perfect place to invade. All along the coast there are small gun emplacements and concrete blocks – tank traps – between bigger emplacements and watch towers. Still these buildings and blocks remain, testimony to a battle long since over but whose scars, physical and emotional pop up from time to time in unexpected places. Just this week we have seen a  series of events to remember – not commemorate – the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1. Today we can stand back and see it as just a war, possibly necessary in some historians eyes but, nonetheless, involving the most egregious loss of life. Given anyone still alive from that point would have been a baby the personal memories of it have faded and it is easier to analyse. It is not so easy, with survivors of the second world war very much alive, to be so sanguine in our analysis of its causes and, especially effects.

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the story of the gun emplacement

It is easy, however, to imagine the fear, the exhilaration, the boredom of the men (it would have been men) manning these facilities. Partly they were the first line against any invader (though that possibility, while not remote in 39/40, must have seemed far enough off to be put to the back of their minds)  but mostly they were the first people to be aware of the next air raid. Searchlights would scan the sky as the drone of prop planes filled the night air. They knew, if they could bring down even one plane, lives would be saved. Did it become ‘just a job’? A matter of routine? Or was it always emotion filled, disappointment and worse filing their hearts if they failed to down the enemy? Is it any wonder that, often, the survivors say the war was the best time of their lives as well as the worst? That mix of excitement and horror making then seem ‘alive’ in ways that pushing a pen or digging a field never could? Only now that I see conflicts around the world and read about and listen to the participants do I begin to understand the young people (no longer the exclusive preserve of men) involved and wonder at their enthusiasm for the fight, whatever it may be. Only now does Dickens – ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times’ – make any sense.

Sea Campion near Shingle Street

Sea Campion near Shingle Street

Further along we arrived at Shingle Street, the first habitation after Bawdsey. It is just a line of houses and chalets, barely defendable against the rising sea water. Living here, in the winter, must be tough even if, today it seemed a fair enough compromise between the beautiful raw isolation of the summer and the threat of inundation of the winter. A sign told us that the much loved pub had been blown up during WW2. This ‘explanation’ comes from a  Guardian article in 2009:

..while Shingle Street itself has been the subject of fevered speculation ever since it was evacuated in 1940. Conspiracies include rumours of a German landing and a shoreline littered with burning bodies, schemes to protect the coastline with an impenetrable barrage of flames and the testing of experimental chemical bombs. Four dead German airmen were certainly washed up on the beach, and weapons testing did result in the Lifeboat Inn being blown up. As for the rest, the conspiracy theories rumble on..

Creepy eh? As is so often the case in these tucked away spots, secrets lurk, corners are there to be filled with lies and duplicities. A perfect setting for the writer in me!

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The start of Orfordness; it runs miles north like this

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cows!

Once again the path skirted the shingle; for a while it looked like it would be a tiresome tromp but soon enough the path moved a hundred yards inland onto the sea wall – really just a mound of mud – and allowed us to make a good pace, past the Young Offenders’  Prison and on until we drew alongside the start of Orfordness. I have posted on this weird and wonderful spot before. If you can get yourself to Suffolk, go there. If you write GO THERE. It is unique in both its history and its current topography and natural history.

The rivers that have helped create this isolated spit, the Ore and its tributaries the Alde, the Iken and the Butley, flow out to sea near here. Our route took us along the Butley until we reached the passenger ferry to the Ness itself and then inland to Butley. It was nice to have a change of scenery The threatened rain started then stopped. We saw yet more crops and pigs and the oddest selection of farm vehicles. At one point we scrumped some plums – oh god, were they good? The final stretch of road was closed for sea defence works but the workmen let us past. ‘Oi Roight!’

And before we knew it we were at our finish, a mite early, and had time to massage our feet before the Textiliste turned up with water and crisps.

App says 27,000. My feet couldn’t give a stuff; we’d finished!

And here are some other pics:

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Avocets – the reason we have the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Minsmere and a lot of similar bodies protecting our natural history and heritage.

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see the interesting fretwork at the top; I wonder what that was all about?

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This is what happens if you leave a groyne in sea water – men, you have been warned!

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Yep, he didn’t need a bacon roll today

 

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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16 Responses to We’re walking in the air – You never walk alone, part three

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    Thanks Geoff. Most informative and enjoyable .. Could feel the wind and the sea. Regards Thom.

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  2. Dina says:

    We enjoyed the lovely, long walk with you, Geoff! What a beautiful landscape!

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    • TanGental says:

      It was a perfect day for enjoying East Anglian, D. You would have loved it. Your post on Cley reminds of when my dad and I walked the Peddars way and the North Norfolk Coastal path. Lovely weather then as well.

      Like

  3. Archaeologist says:

    And I would like to add something about the strange stories of Shingle Street. This has been adapted from something I wrote a few years back.

    During the 1930s a government scientist, Donald Banks, had witnessed a shipping disaster when an oil tanker caught fire. He had been impressed by the sight of burning fuel oil spreading across the sea. He realised that if it was possible to spread oil on the sea in advance of an invading force, then set it on fire, it would prove an impenetrable defence. So was formed the idea of the Flame Barrage, which was developed at Studland [in Dorset]. Large storage tanks were built, pipes led down to the beach, an oil mixture was created and all was ready.

    The first trials in December were a disaster, in front of Alexander and Montgomery – nothing happened. The mixture was too thin, it broke up on the surface and wouldn’t light. However a month later it worked spectacularly, lit at night it made a mockery of the blackout in Poole and Bournemouth, Air Raid Patrol Wardens claimed that they could read a newspaper by the glare. Field Marshall Alexander returned a couple of weeks later, this time it worked too well and the observers had to flee as the flames set the heathland on fire. By now the scientists were less certain that the weapon was of any use, they realised that the barrage could only work in sheltered waters, so the decision was made to let the Germans know about the Flame Barrage!

    The Germans at all levels had a great respect for British inventiveness so the idea that the British had discovered a way of, ‘setting the sea on fire’, was very believable. Rumours spread amongst the German troops gathering for the invasion, helped by some of the propaganda broadcasts from England. These purported to be German broadcasts to the troops. One contained helpful advice for the invading troops.

    The English, as you know, are notoriously bad at languages, and so it will be best, meine Herren Engellandfahrer, if you learn a few useful English phrases before the invasion.
    Now just repeat after me: Das Boot sinkt. The boat is sinking; the boat is sinking.
    Das Wasser ist kalt. The water is cold. Sehr kalt, very cold.
    Now, I will give you a verb that should come in useful. Again please repeat after me, Ich brenne, I burn. Du brennst, you burn. Er brennt, he burns. Wir brennen, we burn. Ihr brennt, you are burning.
    And if I may be allowed to suggest a phrase: Der SS Sturmfiihrer brennt auch ganz schon, The SS Captain is also burning quite nicely, the SS Captain is also burning quite nicely!

    This had the desired result, after the war it was found that the rumour had been widespread amongst the troops waiting to cross the channel, and had had a very negative (or positive from the British point of view) on morale. On this side of the channel there were rumours, which the authorities wouldn’t deny, that large numbers of burnt bodies had been washed up on a beach somewhere, or picked up by a naval vessel, whilst the only German bodies recovered were from aircraft that had been shot down or small naval vessels that had sunk, many people believed (indeed some still believe) that the Germans had tried to invade only to be beaten back by a Flame Barrage.

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    • TanGental says:

      Thanks. Excellent addition. If only you blogged….

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      • Archaeologist says:

        No thanks, at the moment I am more than content to just be stimulated by your writings. After all you know how my mind works, for example from your post on cabbages I could have drifted off to the invention of the cocktail, anaesthesia and it relation to Victorian high altitude exploration and the real life Professor Calculus, oh and bottled beer and the Spanish Inquisition – no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

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      • TanGental says:

        Right. That’s a challenge. I must hear about prof calculus but save it to reply to a post.

        Like

  4. willowdot21 says:

    wonderful , wonderful have enjoyed the trek!…. Love the dog!

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  5. Charli Mills says:

    Dog is handsome; bacon rolls do him good! What a journey through land, sea and history. The fretwork in your photo–does that read “prisoner of war”? What a walk!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Yes that’s what it reads. No explanation why the watch tower has that built in. Maybe it was built with POW labour? We like to think we treated our POWs in a more civilised fashion than the Germans but I doubt it was a lot different.

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  6. restlessjo says:

    It’s not a bit of the world I could fall in love with, Geoff, but you’ve imparted some interesting history to it. (All that sea of flames bit from your Archaeologist friend is a bit ghoulish for my tastes) I’d probably be happier hopping the ferry to Felixstowe. Many thanks for sharing your walk and your thoughts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Farms of Cacela | restlessjo

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