Our Travel blog
Wednesday 13 July
After an eventually peaceful night we hit the A1 heading towards Thetford. We left in good time but soon encountered signs alerting us that it was closed further along our route. Thus we elected to swing left through Grantham, which I’m sure has nice areas but we didn’t see any. Our route took us in an arc from Grantham to Kings Lynn and then down to Thetford.
The Lincolnshire Fens really are rather special. Dull, monotonous, tedious, and endlessly flat in a strangely hypnotic way. Broad flat fields of pale greens and yellows sweep away from the road, with arrow straight dark green hedges little more than markers between the crops. Settlements of box like red brick houses sit alongside the roads at intervals, probably a legacy of manpower once required to manage the 4000 plus farms of the greater fenland area (Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and a tiny outcrop in Suffolk). 70% of this area is farmland, growing cereal crops, ornamental flowers and plants, vegetables and orchards, alongside some livestock. The area we passed through was almost entirely arable, with broad straight roads catering to articulated lorries constantly ferrying the yield and all manner of supplies back and forth.
The area was salt marsh until it was drained and managed by a clever use of drainage channels and sea defences. Driving across it you pass dead straight ditches that run uninterrupted for miles to a distant vanishing point. Occasional villages appeared on the horizon, a church tower poking through mature trees. The odd truck stop or roadside warehouse slid by as we trundled on until eventually Kings Lynn reared up, a welcome tangle of roundabouts, supermarkets and all the paraphernalia of an urban outpost, or what passes for urban out here. From there it was into more familiar Norfolk territory, flint cottages, meandering streams, irregular fields bordered by trees and colourful hedgerows.
Thetford Forest Centre is a tranquil place, secluded but benefiting from a café, bike and walking way-marked routes, ample picnicking areas and a Go-Ape high wire attraction. It was this that brought us here, not to take part but by kind invitation from friends to join them for a post adrenaline picnic. We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon, played games, and ate well.
At one point I had to hum a tune as a forfeit in a game and even the most musically accomplished failed to spot The Beatles Yesterday! Then again it’s not that much of a surprise; at primary school I had a singing part in the nativity play until I opened my mouth. The Virgin Mary fainted, paint peeled, insects fell stunned from the rafters and there were suspicious puddles forming around plimsolls. I was gently moved from a solo part as a wise man to the choir of shepherds and then less gently to a non-singing part, a tree I think.
The only drawback of the Forest Centre is the outrageous cost of parking. Oddly Alison and I have often disagreed on what constitutes a reasonable parking fee. As a Cambridgeite Alison has been brought up to accept anything under 3 figures for a day reasonable whereas I was raised by a father who would park in the next county if their car parks were 10p cheaper. Today we agreed that the prices were extortionate. I know the money goes to a good cause, helping to maintain the forest, but £11.50 for 5 hours seems rather steep. But no matter, we had a great time and headed north towards Swaffham and The Swan public house at Hilborough, which has a small field for tents and vans with hook up and facilities for a very reasonable £12 a night. Of course it would have been rude not to try the restaurant and beer. So we did and can report it was good. Not exceptional but reasonably priced, well prepared and served with élan by a young lady who appeared to be the entire front of house staff; barmaid, waitress, hotel receptionist and campsite attendant all in one cheerful person. The Swan was a real gem and if we are this way again on our travels it’ll warrant another visit.
Thursday 14 July
Back today to our old stomping ground in Sudbury, Suffolk, a few miles from our former home in Colchester and scene of several successful Soul Nights, where I pretend to be a DJ along with Alison’s father and a good friend from way back. We’re playing tomorrow so we’re staying at the small but very nice Willow Mere campsite in Little Cornard, in the Stour valley just outside Sudbury. There is great entertainment provided for us in the shape of the ducks that run around in a pack towards anyone who may have food. They are ungainly creatures when they run; necks stretched forwards, waddling from foot to foot, tails wagging and accompanied by muted quacks.
Having pitched up we took to the camping chairs and spent the afternoon doing as little as possible in the hazy sunshine. Eventually we stirred ourselves enough to get the bikes unhitched and explored nearby Cornard Country Park. It’s quite pleasant in a fields and woods kind of way but what really drew our attention was an obstacle course. Stretched out along the side of a meadow it consisted of a dozen wooden obstacles of no great difficulty but sufficient challenge to keep us amused for a while. Alison’s performance on the monkey bars was only surpassed by her squeals of victory in having conquered them. We cycled back with bits of our bodies, that are untroubled by the exercise that comes from walking and cycling, aching considerably.
Friday 15 July
We cycled into nearby Sudbury and did some shopping. Try as I might I really cannot make that sound any more exciting. It was perfectly pleasant and Sudbury has always been a place we’ve liked. We have good friends who live here, we’ve been to gigs and the town is comely, just the right size to retain a cluster of useful and interesting shops around a central market square and church and, most importantly of all, it is the home of our quarterly Soul Nights.
These started when I realised Alison’s father has a collection of original soul records from the 60’s that rival any collection I have ever seen. Another good friend has a similar collection that includes a lot of northern soul and I was building a collection based around the STAX record label but adding Motown, Atlantic and some northern stuff too. We held the first one, with borrowed decks, in a pub near where Alison and I lived in Colchester and after one more there we moved it to Sudbury where we get a regular crowd. And paid, which is a bonus.
We had a great night. It’s always a tense time beforehand, worrying about your choices, the crowd and in my case, what I’ll do wrong. On one occasion one deck developed a technical fault during my set and went completely dead. We scrabbled around for a bit checking wires and suchlike while I switched tracks to the one working deck, until the guy who set up the system and knows what he is doing returned to help. He checked everything we had and more, stood back and scratched his chin, wiggled a finger in his ear, approached me with an air of exasperation mixed with pity, the sort of look you reserve for a disobedient puppy, lent over me and switched the offending turntable back on. I’d somehow managed to switch it off and that was the one thing we hadn’t tried.
Suitably chastened by this experience my only schoolboy error tonight was starting Turnin’ My Heartbeat up by the M.V.P’s, a stomper of a song, at 33 rpm because I’d forgotten to change the speed. Quickly sorted and only I, and everyone else present, noticed.
Anyway we returned to Mavis in the early hours in a taxi we appeared to have stolen from the nice couple we were waiting with.
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