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.
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.