Aldeburgh to Orford

Day Four

In a thin drizzle we arrive for the start of Day 4 next to the Jacobean Moot Hall on Aldeburgh seafront. Communal walking is not as easy as doing it on your own: you need a start time and a meeting place and a route that will be adhered to. Having the patience to fulfil such criteria does not come readily to everyone, plus there’s a certain amount of small talk to be negotiated. The benefits, however, are quickly apparent.

We head inland, taking what is known as the Sailor’s Path towards the Snape Maltings where Benjamin Britten brought the Aldeburgh festival in 1967. David has met us en route and suggests a diversion that leads past a magnificent oak tree across a heathy hill (in Suffolk, I am discovering, anything that rises more than a few feet above the surrounding land is classed a hill – God knows what a mountain would be, more than head height probably). He talks about the mushrooms he finds here and Dan, another local forager, adds his knowledge. Steeped in classical music and concert promotion, the pandemic has released Dan into new worlds that he had not previously encountered. He worked in the asparagus fields with a Lithuanian crew called the International Crazies who could harvest the green spears at a frenetic pace, earning enough money in three months to survive a year. He went out gleaning in the arable fields, scrumping pumpkin and peas. He learned how to identify the delectable rarity, St George’s Mushroom, and how to turn damsons into wine. “After ten years in one job,” he says, “The change was good.”

In walking together, sliding in and out of conversations, strangers briefly in step, we learn things about each other that, in other situations, might take decades of friendship to be revealed. And there is a kind of catharsis in that, plus insight about your own life. Alison tells me about becoming a Quaker, a community where disagreement is expressed by the simple mantra, “That doesn’t speak to me,” and unwanted social engagements can be avoided with the carefully crafted, “I am prevented”. I find myself talking about childhood experiences and evaluating them in a way I have not done before. All the time, Alison is behind me on the path. We don’t share eye contact. Isn’t that how therapists work?

Having walked for several hours we are almost back where we started, except separated from Aldeburgh by the River Alde. Amid the long grass and reed beds we find a black leather sofa, a bit splattered with guano, but otherwise ready to be snoozed upon. I lie down. An oystercatcher clacks, a Marsh Harrier quarters the ground: how do they stay up while flying so slowly? I wonder if they are looking down at me with a similar question: how does he stay upright while walking so slowly? This 16 miles feels long.

Now we take the long and winding green footpath along the bund by the river. Colin tells me about communal rambling in the 1960s when thousands of young people would take cheap rail journeys to beauty spots, and set off walking. It was a chance to make friends and sometimes find love. “It got quite riotous in the long grass,” he says, with a twinkly grin. On a return journey to London Waterloo in 1965, a group gathered around a bottle of Drambuie in the guard’s van and the Vanguards walking Club was founded. He is still a member. More than half a century later he is still knocking out a thousand miles a year, repeating one much-loved 40-mile route across the South Downs 36 times – and that’s 40 miles in a day. “At my best, I did it in under eight hours.”

On what is a cool and cloudy day, twilight comes early and a barn owl rises from the path ahead, then floats effortlessly past me on silent wings.

Kevin Rushby

 

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Route: Walk 4

 

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