Our Travel blog
Sunday 23 October
I wrote about this area when we stayed very near Blythburgh back around 24 June, when we learnt about the untimely death of Joseph Kennedy in 1944 and about 'Black Shuck' the demonic dog. Pretty much everything else you could wish to know about the village is available on their website so I won’t trouble you with it here.
Nearby Bulcamp is best known now as the former site of the House of Industry (workhouse) that had two documented rebellions, first in 1765 with people trying to prevent its construction and then again in 1835 when the forced separation of husbands and wives and mothers from their children led to insurrection. Sadly, with the short sighted and inhuman way of pragmatic local authorities it became a residential care home where a generation who’d known and feared the building as a place of shame were to spend their remaining days ‘in the workhouse’. Much further back, around 653, Bulcamp was the site of a vicious battle where Anna, king of East Anglia was slain. East Anglia was then a small independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom roughly equivalent to today’s Norfolk and Suffolk area. Anna, a Christian, and his son Jurmin were killed by the army of the pagan king Penda of Mercia at the battle of Bulcamp.
There are lots of educated guesses, approximate dates and supposition in the retelling of Anglo Saxon tales because there are precious few written accounts that survived Saxon raiders and the dissolution of the monasteries. The present village of Blythburgh is rather reduced from the Domesday Book entry that showed that the place was taxed 3000 herring each year. Over the years it’s been home to a 12th Century Augustine priory and to a narrow gauge railway that joined Halesworth to Southwold. Operating between 1879 and 1929 this nearly 9 mile stretch of track reached its peak in 1900, carrying 10,000 passengers, 90,000 tons of minerals and 600 tons of general merchandise, according to the very active Southwold Railway Trust’s website. Back in Blythburgh the only remaining signs of the railway, apart from the course of the line, is the old coal shed near the 16th Century White Hart pub, which is a thriving Adnams pub and will no doubt enjoy our patronage soon.
What Blythburgh has oodles of is community spirit. From film nights, quiz nights and community markets to dog sitting and neighbourly errand running it abounds with the sort of gentle busyness that keeps communities like this alive. Once it was confirmed we’d be dog sitting offers came in for a place to park Mavis, relief dog sitting if we need time away and plenty of genial welcomes. I met two jovial ladies while out walking Whispa today. They were armed with a hefty pair of secateurs which they were using to keep the path clear. Or so they told me, but I’m watching the local news bulletins in case there’s been a daring jewel heist in the vicinity or someone discovers a dismembered body half buried in the marshes.
Monday 24 October
Our time here has so far been spent pottering about and catching up on chores. Today Alison’s son joined us for a few days and we spent a genial evening around the kitchen table, eating, drinking and generally making merry.
Tuesday 25 October
I was up bright and early. Well, early. Okay, not early. I got up around 8am and took Whispa out. Unlike me the morning was sharp and bright; the sun was burning off a gentle mist and flaring low through golden trees. Whispa dawdled and I tried calling her but somehow standing around on a cold morning in a field shouting out “Whispa!” at the top of my voice felt foolish so I lingered a while and drunk in the glorious daybreak. We wandered out to a public bird hide in the marshes and watched the treeline turn from yellow to gold to green as the watery horizon slowly appeared. Dragged back to reality by sirens on the A12 we tottered back to the welcoming aroma of fresh coffee.
The day went by with a visit to my mother, baking cheese straws, writing and general household chores. Alison and Dom took Whispa out in the evening for a wander around the marshes and out to the hide to watch the evening gather over the calm silvery waters. They returned thoughtful and chilly, shaking limbs and breathing into cupped hands to get blood flowing while the kettle boiled. Whispa settled on the sofa while we chomped away on a reviving chilli.
Wednesday 26 October Friday 28 October
The next morning’s constitutional took me and Whispa along a narrow bridleway and around the old village and church. Of particular note, to me if not Whispa, was the Priory. From the lane servicing it the property is divided into two parts, the main 17th-century building and the adjoining red brick Little Priory which sits on 14th Century foundations. Hidden from public view in the gardens are the remains of a 12th-century Augustinian Priory. It’s a fascinating place, with links to Anna and the battle of Bulcamp (see, you knew there was a reason I mentioned it earlier). Added interest in the Priory comes from it being the subject of a BBC Time Team investigation titled Skeletons in the Shed, broadcast in 2009, which you can view here: Time Team.
We left Blythburgh behind for the day as we had cause to travel to Colchester and load up with the furniture and fittings we are taking to Shallowford. With Dom’s help we emptied half of the storage unit, hauling out the shelving, sofa and various bits and bobs we wanted. We soon swung Mavis onto the A12 where I sat in a tiny space amongst the furniture and narrowly avoided decapitation from the shelving every time we went around a roundabout or tight right turn. The plan for tomorrow is to leave Whispa in Dom’s company and scoot off to Shallowford, unload the furniture and scoot back in a day, a round trip of 400 miles.
Which is exactly what we did, swapping driving duties half way there and back and spending far too long on the A14 than is good for the human soul - which is precisely any time over 20 seconds. It really is an interminably dull drive. It runs for 127 mind numbing miles from the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk, passed Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket, Cambridge, Huntington then a bleak wilderness marked ‘here be dragons’ on the map before skirting Kettering, passing the site of The Battle of Nasby and finally, if you’re still conscious, you’ll end up at the Catthorpe Interchange junction of the M1 and M6 motorways close to Rugby where a world of delights awaits you. The route is synonymous with traffic congestion, thundering lorries and accidents. Travelling on it today some of the tedium was relieved by the vibrant autumnal colours of the trees along the roadside, although on the A14 that’s like saying watching magnolia paint dry is slightly better than watching white paint dry. It was a reminder though that we can at least now take notice of the splendour of the trees and the colours of nature. I passed this way, and on many other roads more gifted in scenery while commuting or driving for work and although I noticed the backdrop in a casual way my head was always busy with other matters. Now though free from any stresses that we aren’t imposing upon ourselves, and selling and buying property does involve a smidgen of tension, we are free to appreciate the views and absorb the magnificence of Mother Nature in her full splendour.
Talking of splendour the jewel in the dismal crown of the A14 is The Orwell Bridge, although even then it shares it with its close friend the A12 which joins it for the crossing. And what a bridge it is; 1,287 metres of graceful sweeping concrete ferrying up to 60,000 vehicles over the wide River Orwell. Built near the remains of a Roman causeway, where the wide stretch of the tidal Orwell carries river traffic to the Port of Ipswich, the central span of the bridge is high enough to let ships pass underneath but retains its elegant flowing profile as it rises and curves across the river, a deliberate effect to give the most sympathetic relationship to the surrounding terrain. In fact, it is so at home in the natural world that in 2012 a pair of peregrine falcons took up residence and became the first peregrines to breed in the wild in Suffolk for about 200 years.
The bridge cost in the region of £24million to build; work started in the autumn of 1979 and it opened for traffic in December 1982, just in time for my father to ferry me home from college for the Christmas holiday. We were bitterly disappointed that the barriers wisely prevent motorists in ordinary cars, and you couldn’t get more ordinary than my father’s Mazda, from seeing the views. Fortunately in Mavis we can take in the vistas from our elevated position; the broad Orwell estuary to the East, speckled with tiny sailing boats laying between graceful wooded banks with the cranes of Felixstowe port poking out from the trees on the horizon, and to the west the shimmering glass and steel of Ipswich dockside developments and the busy port, grubby, chaotic and rust coloured like ports everywhere.
We returned to Blythburgh and crossed the bridge in darkness, making Ipswich on our left sparkle and appear vibrant and alive in a way it really doesn’t in the grim reality of daylight. Dom and Whispa had enjoyed a relaxing day without us and explored a bit of the old railway line on a longer than planned walk. The only blot on the day was Alison twisting her back while lifting, causing her much discomfort.
Alison’s back injury is responding to rest and medication but is still sore so on Friday Dom and I locked her up with her mother in the family kitchen in Cambridge while we helped her father move furniture out of their lounge and study ready for the carpet fitters. Dom and I are getting quite good at this moving malarkey now and had everything done in time to release our captives who we discovered had spent their incarceration productively by baking potatoes for lunch. Fed and watered we dropped Dom in Cambridge to meet up with friends before heading back to college, hurriedly exchanging fond farewell’s while I pretended not to be parked on double yellow lines. We drove back down the horrendous A14 which was as bleak and boring as ever. I once mentioned it to a friend who reminded me that the sugar refinery at Bury St Edmunds relieves the tedium. This is kind of true, although it does give you a sense of how tedious the route is when a lump of industrial steel belching out the steamy aroma of burnt confectionery becomes a significant landmark.
Incidentally in the spirit of research I looked up the sugar refinery and need to correct an earlier entry I made in Rattlesden where I mentioned it was operated by Tate & Lyle. I was wrong, which frankly I am rather disappointed no one spotted. It is, as of course you all know my dear and well informed readers, operated by British Sugar. I’ll finish here with a wonderful nugget from their visitors guide to the Bury St Edmunds refinery where amongst the usual advice to wear safety clothing and keep to the visitors areas it states “Red Button – don’t push”. If anything reads like an invitation to push a button to see what will happen that does. It’s probably as well I haven’t applied to go on a visit. I would but of course I’d have to use the A14 to get there.
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