Our Travel blog
Friday 24 June - Sunday 3 July
Friday 24 June
Today we joined others for a friend’s annual camping trip. It was through our mutual friend that we met here 6 years ago. Truth be told we didn't really meet until 5 years ago as that first year I'd been off playing football and frisbee most of the time, and when I wasn't I was quaffing whisky. The following year though, a beautiful vision wafted towards me through the smoke of the BBQ as I was stabbing a sausage, and introduced herself as Alison. Following the weekend we exchanged many emails and arranged our first proper date to a Martyn Joseph concert in Cambridge. So we share a lot of affection for this annual trip.
Although some of the people we only see once a year it’s a reunion that has its own rituals and traditions. As soon as tents are pitched a communal area of gazebos is erected, with a kitchen at one end and a seating and socialising area at the other. A volley ball net is erected for our own version of the game - substituting a frisbee for the ball. It developed as a way to include all ages and abilities and is now a firm fixture, with cheerful arguments over rules that don't really exist and good humoured challenging of decisions to a non-existent referee policing these non-existent rules.
The campsite this year was a new one, with plenty of space and immaculately clean toilets and shower areas. Each cubicle had a little notice inside with various facts about the area, thus we learnt about 'Black Shuck' the demonic dog who left scorch marks on a door in nearby Blythburgh Church, that the site sits on an area where three parish boundaries meet and that in 1944 Joseph Kennedy, of the US Kennedy clan and older brother of JFK, died near here in a WW2 accident. He was piloting a BQ-8, a Liberator bomber packed with explosives, converted so it would crash by remote control into an enemy target, in this case the U-boat pens at Helioland in the North Sea. The intention was for Joseph and his co-pilot Lt Willy to parachute out of the plane after getting it airborne and 'pulling the pin' from the explosives on-board, from which point it would be flown by remote control from the escort plane. Two minutes after arming the explosives, well before Joseph and Willy were due to abandon it, the plane exploded over Blythburgh, causing damage and small fires around the area, some on the site we were now occupying.
Over the years we have stayed on many different campsites around the area. One year we tried a site where, on a rainy afternoon, one of our party discovered that the reason his electric hook up had shorted out was because it was delivered via two domestic extension cables, joined by plug and socket and wrapped in a Tesco carrier bag to keep the rain off. The 'pool' we'd been promised was essentially a covered paddling pool and the only place to avoid the particularly fierce insect life was in a radius of about 20 feet around the septic tank, where the smell made your earwax melt, wildlife died, dogs slunk about whimpering and naked flames flared uncontrollably. On the plus side we were pretty much left to our own devices and so we'd cook over an old cattle trough where the heat became so intense you could cook a burger by throwing it frisbee style to a companion on the other side of the flames. Anyone straying too close risked 3rd degree burns. Proper cooking over it was impossible. Meat would start to singe before you'd actually placed it on the grill, and once placed there you'd have a window of about 30 seconds before you’d stagger from the smoke, eyebrows missing, a soot stained face and streaming red raw eyes, holding a smouldering ember on a pair of metal tongs that were now so hot they were beginning to droop.
Evenings were spent passing round whisky and wine, often with a bottle of after sun or calamine lotion too for those suffering from the BBQ. More than once I've washed down a blackened sausage with a swig of calamine. Maybe it’s because of these experiences that tradition now dictates our Friday night communal meal is fish & chips. Sadly that’s where this year’s site cafe rather let us down, with lukewarm Pollock in dried out batter. But at least it was cheap and we made up for it by sitting around eating homemade cakes and drinking.
Saturday 25 June
Saturday morning found us up and about in various stages of alertness, from ridiculously perky to ‘sod off and leave me alone’. The morning was hot and sticky and after a communal breakfast we settled into daytime activities, walks to the local shop, dog walking, games and general lounging around in the sunshine. Typically the weather started to turn and the afternoon and evening grew steadily wetter, although we did manage to get the BBQ's going in a light drizzle in typically stoic English fashion. The evening was divided between card games in the caravan and football on the TV in Mavis with us all joining together in the caravan for a night cap. We felt quietly smug at this, as did the caravan owners as we had both been gently teased about being soft ‘glampers’ now.
Sunday 26 June
Sunday saw hurried packing of tents before the rain returned, a big communal breakfast, a last game of frisbee volleyball and many hugs and fond goodbyes. Left alone on the site for another night Alison and I walked to the local shop for provisions, did some laundry and rested with that strange feeling of empty joy one experiences after time with friends, a mixture of sadness at parting but happiness for having shared fun times with them.
Monday 27 June
We left the site nervously lest we were stuck in the mud after all the rain, but thankfully made it out and took advantage of their rather splendid motorhome service point. Its little touches like soap and a hand basin to clean up after emptying the toilet that makes a real difference.
Our next stop was to visit my mother in nearby Halesworth. She's in a care home that takes her dog too, a non-negotiable point for her. It’s rare to find such accommodation that will take dogs and today it was great to find her in good spirits after a few health setbacks of late.
We talked about family holidays and she reminded me of my father’s approach to holiday planning...get out all the maps, covering most of the British Isles and several places further afield, studying them on and off for a few days then triumphantly declaring that we were going to Norfolk again. Just like last year and the year before that. To be fair to him his map of Norfolk was probably the most recent in his collection. At least one, I think it was Winchester from memory, was pre-war. Some were probably older than he was. I still have in my possession his Suffolk 'road atlas' that shows elevations for cyclists or automobiles of limited power. As a consequence we'd sometimes find ourselves travelling on winding leafy roads with grass growing down the middle even though a duel carriageway had been built within sight sometime in the 30 years since his map had been published. More than once he had to reverse, grumbling, out of a farm track or exit a lay-by that had formally been the A11 and been bypassed aeons ago.
Whatever route we took it seemed to end up in Norfolk anyway. My mother’s theory of why we always went to Norfolk is that he had travelled far and wide in the Navy. The fact that he could get killed was a risk worth taking for seeing the world at someone else’s expense. Now he was on terra firma the accountant in him had clearly worked out that Norfolk was a) cheap and b) on one of the few maps in his possession without 'Here Be Dragons' in the legend. It came as a shock to me that place names West of Cambridge weren't in Latin.
Our destination after visiting was done was Forest Camping Site at Tangham in Rendlesham Forest, between Woodbridge and Orford. It’s a nice, basic, secluded site that I’ve visited many times in the past; with my children as they grew up and on other camping trips I organised, initially to mark my 40th birthday and then with roughly the same group of people until my 50th year. The forest was an ideal place for families to let children run free; indeed I’m not entirely sure we ever brought back the same number we started out with. Gradually the demands of growing families, precious time away from work, as well as dwindling numbers of children each year as we lost some to the feral tribes in the woods, took its toll on numbers so we called time on the organised trips.
Tangham and the surrounding Forest covers a large area of planted woodland around the former United States base USAF Woodbridge. It was planted by the Forestry Commission between 1922 and the late 1930's and the forestry industry continues to this day. It suffered a setback in 1987 when the great storm brought down over a million trees, two thirds of the forest. It has recovered with some TLC and is now recognised as a haven for birdlife, including the elusive kingfisher and is a special protection area for the nightjar and woodlark.
Sitting outside in the evening with the dying sun poking through the trees house-martens kept us amused, dive bombing insects and flitting over the open spaces, along with the ubiquitous crows and pigeons. A lone fieldfare stalked around under a tree, eyeing us watchfully, taking to the air with the slightest movement. There seems to be a plenitude of woodland creatures too, a gaunt fox, squirrels bounding skittishly around and rabbits, millions of them, from old grey ones to tiny babies; perfect replicas of their older kin. Alison squealed with delight when she first saw them and enquired, 'how can you squeeze so much cuteness into such a tiny bunny?'
Their gait appears awkward, half hop, half lunge forward. When they spy us approaching they sit up, ears turned towards us and inscrutable soft brown eyes, unmoving, but always watchful. If we come too near they casually hop away, white tails flicking defiantly, but when startled or if we get between them and the safety of the hedge they break into a run, sleek to the ground, darting and changing course by acute 45 degree angles in case we're a predator on the hunt. The baby ones seem tamer and nonchalantly hop off as we approach but seldom seem to startle. Occasionally they take flight, stop for a moment to graze then continue; a pit stop amidst their fleeing. Some graze laying down, stretched out, back legs splayed behind them, body to one side and belly part exposed to the sun; doleful eyes ever watchful and ears erect even in this apparently sanguine state.
Apart from seeming to house 50% of the world’s rabbit population Rendlesham forest is also well known as the site of supposed UFO sightings in 1980. There is even a UFO trail you can follow to see...well trees. It is not like they left anything behind except, allegedly, a few broken trees and a higher than expected radiation level. Maybe the credence given to the story, in some quarters at least, comes from the witnesses being serving USAF personnel who reported strange lights in the sky and took the radiation level readings. Whatever it was there does appear to have been something odd, but not necessarily extra-terrestrial; of course all this took place during the cold war, when service personnel were on high alert. Or high on something anyway.
Reports also talk of a downed Russian ‘Cosmos’ satellite, which was covered up for obvious reasons; and in 2003 an ex-security policeman alleged that he and a colleague made the whole thing up using car headlights and a loudspeaker. Whatever the truth the area still gets regular visits by UFO spotters and conspiracy theorists who publish outlandish claims, as they are wont to do. Books on the subject talk of 'cover ups', conspiracies and secrets. We noticed that at least one of the trail noticeboards has a graffiti addition stating that ‘The UFO trail is a lie – do your own research here…’ and directed people to a website. I didn’t write it down so I’ve no idea what’s on it but I suspect it isn’t an impartial evaluation of the known facts.
When you consider that whatever occurred did so during a time of tension between East and West, took place on the doorstep of a military base, was witnessed by serving military personnel operating under orders and there was no tangible evidence, it's hardly surprising that information wasn't forthcoming and rumours started.
Monday evening we spent readying ourselves for a return to bicycling the next day. Overnight there were low flights by aircraft and what sounded like engines running on the runway. Part of Woodbridge airfield is used for Army Air Corps training so I image it was linked to that - it went on well after midnight. Annoying though it was it reminded me of growing up around here and watching the American planes overhead. The loud Phantom with its oddly down turned rear wings, the mighty Hercules dragged up through the sky by four whining propeller engines, the stubby silver A-10 Tankbuster with its cannon poking through the nose, the Jolly Green Giant twin rotor helicopter and my favourite, the sleek F-16 Falcon. I loved planes of all sorts growing up so to catch a glimpse of them in flight, as well as some elusive spy planes carrying huge satellite dishes on their backs was a treat.
Tuesday 28 June
We had picked up the bikes from storage while we were in Colchester so today we saddled up and headed off to nearby Orford. We both love Orford and have made a few visits to it with friends, with a borrowed dog and I came here often as a child on school visits or just cycling over with friends because the castle was free then and there was a pub nearby with a particularly relaxed attitude to licensing laws, especially those relating to age.
It was hard going as we were both unfamiliar with the bikes but we can happily report we managed to cycle the whole way there, and only walked up the ironically named 'Short Walk' out of Butley on the way back, and that because we'd stopped for a drink at the foot of the hill.
Our first stop was Orford Quay, from where you can see, and nowadays visit, Orford Ness. The Ness is a spit of pebbly beach that separates the river from the sea until it finally reaches Shingle Street. I was going to say which river but this being Suffolk at some point The Alde become The Ore and it’s not worth upsetting people by getting the dividing point wrong. The spit of Orford Ness is created by longshaw drift (see, occasionally I did pay attention at school) and was a place of great mystery and intrigue when I was growing up as it was most definitely out of bounds to civilians. The most notable feature then was an enormous shell shaped array of radio masts and the oddly shaped bunkers on the island. The history of the island is fascinating but as we have a visit booked for Saturday I’ll pick up his history then.
Instead we went to Orford Castle. Today just the keep is still standing, prominent amongst earthworks marking former walls. It is though a fine example of a keep, with well-preserved rooms built into the walls where you can feel the history surround you. Alison opted for the recorded guide but I just wandered, partly in awe of the castle-makers skills and partly re-living past visits; the place where Simon G sprayed everyone with Coke because he'd just cycled 7 bone-shaking miles with it; the spot where Chris K used the 'pee hole' in the castle Chamberlain’s former quarters; the steps we'd sit on around the Great Hall making up stories about girls and discussing what we'd do if we’d lived in medieval times, which as far as we were concerned largely consisted of sex and torture; the balsa wood glider we tried to launch from the roof, which nose-dived into bushes, never to be seen again and from that same roof trying to see into the mysterious Orford Ness and wondering what went on behind its closed doors. Probably sex and torture we concluded.
The castle itself was built between 1165 and 1173 by Henry II for the sum of £1,413. The polygonal shaped keep is the only part left standing. It's a prominent landmark on the low lying Suffolk coast, looming over the town of Orford and its quay, whose pattern of streets are little changed since the castle was built. The castle is embedded in the local scenery in other ways too, as most of the outer walls have been spirited away to be reused in local buildings. The Keep sports some interesting graffiti, carvings of names and dates into the stone. The oldest I found dated from 1628 and included an intricate geometric carving.
The one big difference from my school day visits is that English Heritage have converted the area immediately inside the entrance, formally an oubliette I recall, into the ticket office and gift shop. I can understand selling postcards and toy swords but why does every heritage centre, stately home, castle and museum insist on becoming a delicatessen too? I've never wandered around a castle, peered closely at paintings, enjoyed the displays of torture implements, read the stories about castle life and thought, "I know, what I require to polish off this visit to the 12th Century is an overpriced jar of raspberry conserve and box of fudge with a faded postcard glued to it." Nevertheless we did purchase some rather splendid ginger curd, largely because it was less than half price, and left for a picnic in the grounds before heading back on a route that included a little off road jaunt, which we enjoyed from the waist up. Everything below, legs, buttocks etc. bumped along protesting with new and interesting types of pain and promised much sufferance later, and did not disappoint.
Wednesday 29 June
Although we weren't fully recovered from the cycling yesterday we decided to try again and visit Woodbridge. We gingerly set off; slowly lowering numb posteriors onto saddles made of solid concrete and trundled along roads that are familiar to me from living in the area for many years. Somehow since I left in 1982 Woodbridge has risen and is now perched on top of a mountain, or so it seemed to someone who tends to struggle to make it over a speed hump without pausing for breath halfway.
As we trudged ever on, our distinct cycling styles became apparent. Alison has something of the Victorian lady in her approach. She sits erect upon the saddle, elegantly deported and maintaining a steady pace. I attack hills, legs spinning like the roadrunner cartoon character while travelling at the speed of a caterpillar towing a steamroller, until I crest the hill and collapse wheezing onto the handlebars.
Meanwhile Alison will glide up at the same stately pace, summit, and gracefully slow to a halt. Time stands still until gravity takes back control and she gently topples sideways into a hedge. When she has recovered there will be a bout of prolonged swearing. Even then this takes on a lady like cadence. Rather than solid earthy swear words she'll string together lots of lesser curses, in the manner of a German compound verb.
My progress is also hampered by the bikes unfamiliar 18 speed gears. Most of these seem to be made for sweaty folk in Lycra shorts to cruise up and down the Pyrenees. To keep me on my toes the colour coding for up and down gear changes is reversed on each handlebar. Thus I'll often change from a steady cruising gear to a much harder one just as I reach the foot of a hill. Frantically pushing levers I hit every gear between 2nd and 17th in one angry grinding crunch and settle for midway again until finally something appropriate for the Alpine region of Suffolk clicks into place.
By this time I'll have careered off the road and over the pavement, scattering startled pedestrians, burst through a hedge and out the other side pursued by an angry squirrel, to re-join the road with a birds nest on the handlebars and corn poking from the wheels. At this point I search frantically for Alison lest I'd joined a different road altogether, and eventually find her chatting amiably to a stranger 2 miles further on, to whom she’ll patiently explain that "it's okay, my husband’s experimenting with bicycle camouflage" before promising to exchange Christmas cards, thanking them for the invite to their daughter’s wedding and with a cheerful "Hup" heads off leaving me bright red and slumped across the frame. I eventually emerge from a tangle of swearing, mangled gears and undergrowth to follow and thus we eventually made our way into Woodbridge.
Woodbridge is a charming town on the River Deben, boasting a High Street heavy on twee tea shops and designer outfitters, a working tide mill and a quaint cinema of the single screen type now to be found only in such places where they are lovingly preserved. We shopped a bit, had lunch and returned via a different route to take in some fun off road tracks, which were fine downhill but less fun heading upwards on sandy paths. Our bodies again promised retribution and thus our evening was spent creaking and groaning every time we moved.
Thursday 30 June
Southwold is a place of contrasts. It was a thriving fishing harbour and populated by salty seagoing types who worked ridiculously long and gruelling hours in one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Nowadays most of the tiny terraced fishermen’s cottages are deluxe holiday homes for the type of people who buy 4X4’s to drop their children at school and whose closest affinity to the sea is to wear expensive nautical themed clothes and wellingtons with dolphin patterns on. It’s the east coast’s most middle class resort, famed for its pier, lighthouse and Adnams brewery. Speaking as one who remembers Adnams being delivered on horse drawn drays, their designer shop, full of cheese making kits, oils, unction’s and expensive knick-knacks is slightly depressing. That said they’re a successful company and if that means marketing your beer to people who think they need an Adnams drip mat and a copper fondue set then so be it.
The town itself has some wonderful nooks and crannies, stunning views and charming shops, and joy-upon-joy had a record fair where Alison deposited me in the company of the surly proprietor while she joined her friend for some serious shopping in Southwold’s array of shops.
Having spent my pocket money I wandered a bit and sat on the breezy sea front listening to a family on the adjacent bench munch and moan their way through fish and chips. The youngest girl, I’ll call her Chomper, would alternate between taking a bite and wiping the grease down her trousers. Father, let’s call him Mr. Slurpy, chastised her for this between every bite, with no apparent effect until Mrs. Slurpy intervened and handed her a moist towelette, prompting the other daughter, who I christened Fangs, to demand one too, spraying the pavement with half-digested fish in the process. Clearly Fangs thought this was favouritism towards Chomper and such behaviour must be challenged immediately without recourse to chewing and swallowing. I wanted to ask them if they always have to eat outside because they dine so noisily and behave in such an uncouth manner but I remembered Alison’s lecture on not upsetting people so I sauntered off.
After I’d found some grass to wipe the half-digested fish I’d stepped in off my shoe I found Alison with her friend, her friend’s mother and her beau in the Swan Hotel where we ate shortbread biscuits and drank tea. It was all very civilised and we masticated quietly and wiped the corners of our mouths with starched white napkins as one should in Southwold.
News and gossip exchanged we walked back to our parking spot in Walberswick, which sits on the other side of the river, across from Southwold harbour and until comparatively recently Southwold’s poorer cousin. It seems quite gentrified now and with easy access to Southwold via the ferry or old railway bridge it is well suited for a quiet holiday.
I stayed here once as a child with my family, joined by an aunt, uncle and cousin, but my only recollection is of sliding down the banister and hurting my knee. I was a bored near-teenager at the time and much as I try that’s all I can recall of the house. I know we walked over the railway bridge to Southwold, the smell of gorse still transports me back to those walks. I played on the cannons on Gun Hill and we took brisk walks along the front; brisk walks being a form of free family entertainment to my father, although his definition of entertainment was at the opposite end of the scale to mine. We’d wander onto the pier, my aunt wrapped up in about 17 layers against the chill easterly wind, so much colder here than her native Pinner. If the wind caught her right her ‘windcheater’ would inflate like a balloon and she’d squeal through polished ruby lips in mock horror, arms flapping down her sides as she sought to restrain it before she was borne aloft on the breeze and set down in the North Sea, or worse still, in Belgium.
In some ways it’s sad that I recall so little. For all I tease him now he’s gone my father worked hard to provide family holidays, and thanks to his careful budgeting and willingness to brave out of season east coast weather we got a couple of holidays in each year. I was fortunate in so many ways but, as is often the way of teenagers, monumentally ungrateful for what I now treasure.
Friday 1 July
We took advantage of being close to Ray’s mother to call in and see her again. Today marked the centenary of the start of the battle of the Somme and the commemoration service from the site was on TV when we called in. It sparked some conversation during which we discovered that my great grandfather was wounded at The Somme. Apparently he walked with a limp ever after. Evidently this wasn’t enough to stop him but he was eventually invalided out of the army after being gassed.
We listened to many stories from my mother about her relatives. We learnt that her maternal grandmother was ‘a bit of a girl’ who had seven children in total and many dalliances, allegedly including with her own step sons. She married the person my mother knew as her grandfather, replete with three children already in tow, including my own grandmother. Her new husband also happened to be the brother of her ex. My mother recalls going off to stay with ‘Uncle Harry’ then after a rueful silence added…’there were so many uncle Harry’s’.
Her paternal grandparents were from Old Harlow. She was a hardworking woman and he had the greatest job title ever; he was a Peacock Feather Curler. Apparently curling feathers for hats was an occupation that suited him as he was prone to epileptic seizures.
We heard about a female relative called ‘Old Dollops’ who had ‘great big hands, with knuckles like walnuts’ but was awfully kind. We heard tales of people with names that place them in history, of Albert, George, Hilda, Grace, Elsie and of Alice who took my mum out shopping, always calling afterwards into a Lyons corner house for tea and cake.
A morning of cheerful reminiscing done we left for a quick cup of tea with old friends in Saxmundham and wound our way back to Tangham in good time to greet friends from Colchester who, with their young daughters, were unwise enough to agree to camp next door to us for the weekend.
Saturday 2 July
So, after a thoroughly pleasant evening with our new neighbours we awoke to a cloudy but dry day and opted for a visit to Orford. They drove and we chose to cycle and rendezvous with them at the castle before a slightly hurried lunch to enable us to catch the ferry to Orford Ness Island.
Incidentally it’s not an island, it’s a spit of land but is known locally as The Island. The spit starts at Slaughden, which sits to the south of Aldeburgh. It’s not much more than home to a Martello Tower and the yacht club now but was once a thriving shipbuilding port before falling victim to the coastal erosion that the east coast is known for. To the North of Aldeburgh was the city of Dunwich, which was the size of medieval London and is now little more than a single street, testament to the power of the North Sea.
As I said before, the island was a place of great mystery to me growing up and although I have visited once before with my then young children and a friend, I was eager to see it again and armed myself with the excellent book Most Secret, The Hidden History of Orford Ness by Paddy Heazell. Our trip this time was extra special because we took an escorted trailer ride around the island on a tour that the driver/guide was at pains to point out absolutely was not a guided tour despite the fact that he provided us with an astonishing amount of fascinating information about the site.
Orford Ness has been variously a test centre for very early aircraft, home to a lighthouse, a weapons and armaments research and testing station, was instrumental in the development of radar, housed the experimental Cobra Mist radar station (a vast shell shaped array of aerials that bewitched us as children) and umpteen other functions, many clandestine and secretive. It now houses a radio transmitter for the BBC World Service and is a National Nature Reserve; home to rare plants and rarer still vegetated shingle ridges, migrating birds, saltmarsh’s and provides grazing land for rare breed sheep.
When the National Trust took over the running of the island they tested for radioactivity levels and in one particular location got some alarming readings and immediately sent for specialists. They arrived suitably suited up in full radiation proof protective clothing and, having placed a cordon around the area, got to work and found…discarded instruments from WW1 planes. Their dials were still faintly radioactive from the radium that made them luminous.
We had a jolly time exploring the area; our guide was informative and interesting, knew the site inside out and was keen to keep us all amused. The trailer ride was essential for us so that the young children were easily transported around the big site and kept entertained for what would otherwise have been a long walk for them.
The flat landscape provided the perfect big sky experience, with only the red and white candy striped lighthouse standing stark against a restless bronze sea and powder blue sky, with billowing foamy white clouds. Turning around to face inland, Orford castle and church flanked the town, mostly hidden by trees except along the quayside with the black fishermen’s huts on shallow stilts and small boats bobbing about at anchor on the river. Above, leaden clouds gradually moved in from left to right, rain like a fine net draped across the horizon as they made their way to Orford while we stood watching still in sunshine.
The wind was up and the scenes over the mainland weren’t encouraging but we made it across on the small ferry in comfort and so parted with our friends for our separate journeys back to the campsite. Cycling out of Orford the wind became fresher and buffeted us from all directions. Nevertheless we made good progress until around halfway back a few heavy spots of rain warned us of trouble to come. Within seconds of the first few spots the deluge started, small hailstones ricocheted off our helmets, rain fell so hard it bounced up to have a second go and the road became shiny and slick with running water. Alison was leading and forged ahead gallantly while I kept my eyes firmly fixed on her rear wheel. As swiftly as the rain started it stopped. The road steamed where the sun hit it, the water that coursed along the gutters slowed to a trickle and we saw a rainbow, a bright arc against the dull watery sky.
We wound up the hill out of Butley through puddles and patches where it seemed that no rain had fallen at all, and down to the site where the advance party had kindly prepared tea in anticipation of our soggy arrival. Cleaned up and dried off we had a BBQ and an evening of chatting and generally putting the world to rights. For all our travelling and meeting new and interesting people, for all the sights, sounds and smells of our adventures, for every new place visited, for every festival worked, sometimes the simplest pleasures are a pot of tea and good friends for company.
Sunday 3 July
We spent the morning in the company of our friends, the girls taking to the woods for a ramble and the men off to Woodbridge for provisions. After lunch and fond farewells we were left to our own devices and decided to try the 6 mile off road course through the woods on our bikes.
It was a glorious ride out. It took a while to acclimatise to bumpy tracks, Alison started singing…”you shake my nerves and you rattle my brain…” and I joined in with a heartfelt “Great balls of fire…”
Our confidence grew as the bikes were shaken up. Neither of them have suspension so when I started taking sections seriously and finding the small jumps and hillocks that make downhill on a mountain bike so much fun Alison reminded me that the bikes are not only borrowed, but in fact borrowed from a vicar so if damaged thunderbolts may be forthcoming and I should take care. Which I did. Honest!
We passed through shaded glades and woodlands of sweet smelling pine; through deep sand traps and boggy puddles, along hard packed mud tracks cut into the grass, down steep drops, up winding paths picking our way around tree roots and along pebbly tracks. We passed families with tiny children on tiny bikes, were overtaken by serious mountain bikers on a mission and slalomed around dogs off their lead. We were whipped by ferns, briars caught on our sleeves, low branches pinged off our helmets and mud splashed our legs. And we enjoyed every second.
We paused at 5 miles to check the route and my pedal slammed into my knee. Alison remarked that only I could ride furiously for 5 miles off road and injury myself reading a signpost.
We returned mostly intact and grinning to sit in the sunshine. The site that was heaving over the weekend was now reduced to a few lonely tents and a couple of caravans. We sat and read, drank tea and plotted the next chapter of our adventure. The evening took on a melancholy note as we learned that a good friend who has been ill for some time is having a tough time; a reminder of the world outside our bubble and the harsh realities of life. It made us pause for thought, thinking of him and his family and the fact that you never know what’s around the corner. It strengthened our resolve to forge our own path while we are able and we drank a toast to him before retiring to bed.
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