Tuesday, 19 February 2013

iken see for miles

The day started inauspiciously enough with grey skies where there should have been blue and every pub in the area closed on Mondays.

It was Mrs Dave's birthday and because we'd been promised fine weather she had decided to go on a walk. After driving for ages around the Suffolk Triangle where whole villages disappear, we found the Crettingham Bell. The idea was to walk for a few hours and come back to a nice pub lunch and a pint. The fields around were water-logged and the roads seemed wet. We drove back to the previous village - still there - and the pub there was shut too. The guy I thought that was waiting for it to open seemed to work there - most of the pubs in this area are closed on Mondays, he explained.

Mrs Dave was beginning to get a bit fed up so we drove towards Orford. On a whim, we turned off and headed for Snape. When we got to the Maltings the car park was pretty full but the on-site pub The Plough and Sail was fairly empty. But open. By now it was gone midday and we decided to eat then. Excellent fish and chips and a decent pint of Adnams set us up for a wander around the Maltings. The various boutiques and galleries were expensive, of course, and a small bookshop had a display of books that looked like the contents of one of my bookshelves. The clothes were all too huntin'-shootin'-fishin' and impossibly expensive. After wandering around a huge "home and kitchen" area we realised that the clouds had gone and the sun had decided to bless us with its presence.

We booted up and started to wander down by the River Alde on what is known as the Sailor's Path but it was so unpleasantly muddy that we decided not to bother. We wandered over to see the Barbara Hepworth statue The Family of Man, then wandered down towards some trees. This lead on to a part of the Suffolk Coastal Path so we thought we'd try that. I'm planning to walk the whole path soon so it was worth having a wander down part of it.  A great tit charmed us with its melodious song until three booms from a crow-scarer interrupted it. Then we moved away from the wooded area.

This area of Suffolk seems timeless. All we could hear was the occasional honk of faraway geese and the piping of an oystercatcher disturbed from poking around in the soft, gooey mud. We stopped in the picnic area to read the sign explaining the area. This was Iken Cliff. The church sounded interesting so we headed off towards it. As we climbed gently out of the wooded part, a large white bird flew close overhead. It had the size and slow languorous elegance of a heron but the familiar egret shape - a great white egret, a bird that is becoming a more and more frequent visitor to Britain. In the distance we could see the spire of the church.

The timelessness and solitude of these flatlands are the landscape of a future novel for me. This really could be any time in the past, or the future really. But we're in the now. Out there in the distance beyond the twisted dead trees the various geese, swans and waders were continuing their seasonal, daily  routines unworried by us and our brief snatches of solitude. Talk of "Big Skies" is appropriate - Norfolk and Scotland are always mentioned but here in Suffolk, we too can be overwhelmed by vast vistas of watercolour skies. Once around the headland we found the church up a lane where pregnant sheep that looked more like pigs in fleeces ignored us. Signs everywhere made tourists feel slightly unwelcome - no dogs, don't lean your bikes on our delicate reed fences, don't go here, private, get lost, leave us alone - but we went in anyway. It's a lovely old church supposedly the site of Ikenho and a major part of the mysticism of East Anglia. St Botolph was an East Anglian monk who set out to evangelise the pagan hoards under direct instruction from St Felix the first Bishop of East Anglia. The church has been an important religious site for some 1350 years. Most people probably don't even know it's there.

We were pleasantly surprised to see one of those shaggy coated bulls with really huge long horns - a Highland Breed I assume but will probably soon be informed differently - in the field next door. We went in to the little half-thatched church. I was stopped short by the fact that ten young men were lost in the Great War from this village. Ten. The village is tiny and this fact alone brought it home to me about the devastation wreaked upon the land. It seems that nowhere was unaffected. On Sunday on the wireless there was an interview with a woman whose father had been killed in that War. It seems so long ago but there are still families that were affected by it. My grandfather fought in that War but I realise now that I didn't really know much about what he or my dad really experienced. And it's all too late now to discover much about those experiences. But ten young men killed from one tiny village seems overwhelming in its sheer cataclysmic effect.

We wandered back out into the late afternoon sun and headed back the way we came. Some geese had come in nearer to the reedbeds and were waddling about comically. The oystercatchers were still trilling and piping in their slightly nervous way. Ahead, several times, I saw the ghostly white elegant shape of the egret keeping out of our way but just on the periphery of our vision. One solitary neglected boat was the only evidence of any human attempt to make a living from the water. Two figures padding across the duckboards back towards the man-made elegance of the Maltings where Benjamin Britten had introduced high culture to this quiet corner of farmland and wetlands, we turned and looked out at what Nature had managed. Miles of low lying reeds and water, a landscape where bird life continued as though nothing had ever changed. Maybe the recent colonisation of the area by some European visitors, the egrets, was a suggestion that times have changed.

The landscape that St Botolph had built his church on, where ten young men had grown up in those halcyon Pre-Lapsarian days but would never return to remains the same. The almost silence broken only by the occasional plaintive cry of solitary waders and the boom, not of crow-scarers, but of a bittern stand as a testament to those moments of contemplation and peace that is available to us still if we're prepared to go out and seek it.


eeyorn said...

Very nice. Happy birthday to Mrs Dave.

St Botolph obviously had quite a large parish, as my adoptive home town, Colchester, has a fine church and slightly less elegant roundabout named after him.

Dave Leeke said...

And a car park. We used to park there in the days before we discovered to multistory one at the other end of town. I quite like Colchester - I've been to some cracking gigs at the Arts Theatre. In fact, Martin Simpson is on at the end of March.

eeyorn said...

Yes, I've been to some cracking gigs at the Arts Centre too. Colchester Folk Club is based there and generally get some of the best musicians on tour. Also worth checking out the Headgate theatre. My mate James Hibbens, who plays in the band 'Pavlov's Cat' puts on a monthly gig there called 'Acousticity' which features artists a bit too way-out for the folk club. Highly recommended.

Mike C. said...


I love East Anglia, though I know Norfolk much better. You've reminded me that one of the things I love about it is the ease with which one can get hopelessly lost. Ah, the arguments over the map in the car, with the kids sitting glumly in the back!

A tip: you're getting some great photos out of your phone (?), but have you heard of the "rule of thirds"? It's a compositional aid that always delivers the goods.


Dave Leeke said...


I have heard of 'Acousticity' - we had a similar acoustic only gig regularly at the Union bar at Stevenage College - Rob and Bruce were regulars there. We also had such semi-famous acts as Mike Absalom who appeared on Whistle Test.


Thanks for that - I have heard of the rule of thirds and am occasionally aware of it. I thought the tree picture was two thirds ground as, after your comments about how boring sky can appear in photos, I thought I'd better try something different. Shouldn't the tree be slightly off-centre too? See, I do try to take note.

Zouk Delors said...

What happened to the lyrical preface this week?


"The Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal are mine to see on clear days
You thought that I would need a crystal ball to see right through the haze" (Townshend)

have served?

... which reminds me of the old joke:

"I work for a ferry company in Dover."
"Sea France?"
"Yes, but only on a clear day".

Dave Leeke said...

Good point, Zouk. I hadn't really thought about it. Having just looked back over a few recent posts, I have been putting lyrical prefaces more often than not.

Food for thought - am I becoming stylised? Or is it just an affectation?

I think I should have chosen the first verse from RT's "Amongst the Gorse, Amongst the Grey" as it seems strangely relevant to my thoughts about the young men who must have played there but never to return after the Great War. Also, both Mrs D and I noticed that the gorse bushes were blooming - seemingly a little early.

Zouk Delors said...

Only just noticed this reply as I forgot to link.

I think it's good style - especially if it's consistent. I'm glad to see you've reverted to the habit in your latest. It would be a nice touch to give a full reference for those of us who don't have quite such an encyclopaedic knowledge of song lyrics.

I'm afraid I don't know Among the Gorse, Among the Grey but I've now read the lyrics, which are excellent, though I hope your birthday walk among the gorse was less trying than the experience of the song's protagonist.

Martyn Cornell said...

Curse you, Leeke, I've just been diverted off to see what I could find about the 10 casualties of Iken ... the Commonwealth Graves Commission website turns up only seven names with "Iken Suffolk" as a category, but shows they all died at different times and in different places, and only two were in the Suffolk Regiment, so this was no "Accrington Pals"-style disaster. However, three of the Iken dead were brothers, the Buttons, all killed in Picardy/West Flanders, all over a period of 10 months.

We're going to get wall-to-wall First World War from next year: I hope they concentrate on gthe human impact of stories like that.

Dave Leeke said...


You're welcome but I don't really have an encyclopaedic memory, just hundreds of cds with lyrics printed in them!


I'm rather pleased you were diverted from looking up all that beer stuff. Thanks for looking that stuff up - you're right of course about next year. I had noticed about the Button brothers - such devastation.