Ipswich to Shotley
Some days the wheels fall off. Your feet ache and it spreads to your calves which set off the hips and the old back ache kicks in. For a while the others in the group could occasionally be glimpsed, forging ahead, then I was alone. Then I missed the footpath sign, the one buried in nettles, and went round in circles. Yesterday was like that. For some painful minutes it looked like I would become the Captain Oates of Orwell Country Park on the outskirts of Ipswich which, on the scale of heroic failure, didn’t seem very high. John was lagging behind too, struggling with an ankle problem when I caught up with him. At least we had each others company, though it was mainly silent.
On the banks of the River Orwell we got directions from a couple who spoke a little broken English and made it to the finish. Today we got up and John decided that he had to visit a chemists and get medical advice. Fortunately there was a place en route through Ipswich’s suburbs and he set off early, hobbling like a man who had spent too many hours riding an exceptionally wide Shire horse, promising to wait outside for our arrival. It would prove to be the last we would ever see of him.
The quayside in Ipswich is an impressive location. The old derelict warehouses have been converted into smart apartments; university buildings stand where sacks of grain used to be swung onto sailing barges. While Ali is organising flags and meeting the day’s walkers, a passer-by asks me what we are doing. He is soon pointing out where swift nest boxes are located on some new buildings and the peregrine falcon nest on top of another. “But they’re not there now.” Nor are the swifts in evidence.
We wind through the Ipswich waterfront and reach the chemists. No John. We call. He’s been sent to Casualty. Long distance walking is not for everyone. He was a good guy, like Captain Oates in some ways. I’ll miss him.
Eventually we reach fields and talk to Oliver Paul whose family farm the land on this side of the River Orwell, the Shotley peninsula. Many of their acres are intensively farmed for potatoes, onions and carrots, but some has been turned over to regenerative agriculture, with mixed results. “Dormice seem to be suffering a decline,” he tells me, “But nightingales are doing well.” We walk on through his woods, but do not hear nightingales.
We wander down through woods and bracken to the riverbank. Several big trees here are dead: some are ash, but there are oaks too, killed by repeated salty floods, a harbinger of rising sea levels. Despite this the landscape is utterly gorgeous in the sunshine. At Pin Mill we reach a paradise of old wooden boats and sturdy country architecture. Anthony Cullen who has a photographic studio here shows me a set of prints from pictures taken by Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons. Although usually associated with the Lake District, Ransome moved here in 1938 and ordered a traditional sailing boat, Selina King, to be built. The photos catalogue that process in fascinating detail. In several pictures, Ransome’s wife, Evgenia, stares resolutely away from the camera. Perhaps she didn’t approve of the boat, she was certainly critical of Ransome’s writing – just the kind of spur any writer needs – but perhaps she had learned to be cautious about public exposure; after all, she had been private secretary to Leon Trotsky at the time of the Russian Revolution. Anthony plans to put these historic, and beautiful, photographs on permanent display in his studio which was once Ransome’s sail loft.
On the final stage of the walk we are joined by Ian Peters, a keen local ornithologist who has been ringing birds in these marsh meadows for over 50 years. Sadly it has been mostly about decline. “We never see spotted flycatchers now,” he says as we push through head-high hogweed on the bankside path. “Last year the Ringed Plovers produced one chick. I can’t imagine it survived.” Ringed plover chicks are no bigger than a large bumble bee when they hatch and easily snaffled up by a dog. “It’s so sad,” he says, “Even on those extendable leads, they can do damage. I haven’t seen any Ringed Plovers this year.”
We stand together on the path and scan the foreshore with binoculars. One crow steps through the mud. Across the estuary, the hum of Felixstowe container port is audible. This is Britain’s busiest port and the place where the super ship Evergiven was bound before she got stuck in the Suez Canal. Ian points out that the buildings associated with the port have been given the names, Avocet and Dunlin House, presumably to commemorate the birds we don’t see today.
At the end of the day, I am typing this blog in my campervan when a familiar figure appears. He is shuffling along, head down with grim determination. It’s John, the rare bird that we had presumed extinct, back from A&E. He has had his ankle problem treated and is fine. He has walked the 12 miles behind us, determined to carry on. In fact, with all that shuffling around Ipswich General, he has covered 17 miles today and is technically ahead. Annoyingly, this means that I am, once again, the weakest link.
Beach of Dreams Blog
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Route: Walk 9
Gallery of the Miles
See all the mapped miles on the Beach of Dreams Storymap, find a selection below.
It was a very blustery day last week when I walked again along the shore from Pin Mill. I was particularly struck by this brooding, leaden sky and the ‘danger’ it foretold of rain and cold to come. It seemed like a strong portent and mirrored the anxiety within me: the pandemic has caused such a deep-seated unease within us all and the sky appeared to mirror that disquiet. Looking again at the view, my spirits lifted as I concentrated on the strength of the light on the opposite shore and on the buds reaching forward from the oak tree. The rain didn’t come.
I love the strength and width of this river. I have so many memories of watching my husband sail up and down with one of our children as I entertained the youngest from the shore. He was always so incredibly delighted to spot our dinghy so my lasting memory of this stretch of water, and the footpath alongside it, is his palpable excitement and energy.
Footprints in the mud are a literal indicator of the passage of humans. Again, I see a duality beyond the contrast of the green grass and brown mud that I find interesting. On the one hand, people are walking to take exercise and enjoy the views - as I was. The different prints reflect our individuality since no two are completely alike. The roundels, incompletely formed, are striking and pose questions about the uneven tread of the person who walked ahead. We can’t follow the clues suggested by the prints, but they excite the imagination. On the other hand, the footprints made me think about wider questions to do with the negative impact we are having on the planet. The grass is tenacious but beaten down, squashed and distorted: as it tries to push up, another step, my own, beats it back down.
by Kate Charlton-Jones
The Strand, following the Orwell foreshore between Wherstead and Freston, is named with reverence. It has seen much change over the centuries in heritage and modernity, rural and urban, farmland and navigation. Its setting is framed by the iconic Orwell Bridge which is much more than just a lump of concrete infrastructure.
Our family has farmed along the Strand for generations and before that operated a fleet of east coast barges trading from the port of Ipswich. We have also seen much change and more recently we established the Suffolk Food Hall to provide enjoyable access to the wonderful products of our region. Farming practices have responded to such opportunities too, and we are delighted to see traditional extensive systems becoming more applicable again. In particular, we have grassed over intensive arable fields and reverted to grazing Red Poll cattle on paddocks along the Strand.
The epochal bridge divides the hustle of the port from an awe-inspiring vista down the River Orwell. It is a gateway to the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB and we are privileged that more of our farm has been included in a boundary extension to this national landscape designation. Whilst the bridge is striking within the landscape, many marvel at its beauty. A sleek piece of engineering, giving rise to questions around how and when.
Another contribution to our community is by answering such questions, through the Suffolk Food Hall team, with infographic boards, recreational access to the Strand and extolling the best practices of land management. Agri-environment schemes we run along the Strand, up Freston Brook and in the connected ancient woodlands, all benefit the wildlife in this foreshore-farmland niche. Despite the pressures of change, this mile brings a smile, and our Strand is a unique thread on the east coast.
By Suffolk Food Hall