Thursday, 28 May 2009

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible...

It's been a long time...

Nearly two months since the last entry here. So what's been going on?


That just about covers it, I think. After a week or two, I reach the point where the prospect of having to recap on everything that has happened becomes too much to think about. So I put it off. So the gap gets bigger and there's more to write about. So I put it off. So the gap gets bigger... You see where this is getting me? On top of all that, I really don't like writing about bad stuff, and we've had a couple of little niggly problems with the trailer. They're all sorted (or in the process of being sorted) now, but at the time it's all just a bit of a downer. Not worth writing about, especially when I'm not in the mood to write.

Anyroadup, here's a quick re-cap, because there are actually a couple of people out there who have emailed me asking for an update! I'm chuffed to bits to find that there are other humans who actually read what I put here, rather than just look at the pictures, or who arrive by accident while they're googling Airstream stuff.

We were in Norfolk last time I posted (if you can possibly ignore the Airstream meet in March). Having been before, and finding it all a bit flat and dull, I wasn't expecting much. It turned out to be a real revelation! There are parts of Norfolk that are staggeringly beautiful. The sky goes on forever - we saw some fantastic sunsets there. The people were thoroughly nice, though they have a fairly relaxed and open relationship with the English Language. The accent is something like West Country, but with a bit less Pirate, and town names can be pronounced however you fancy - for instance Hunstanton becomes Hunston, Hautbois becomes Hobbis, Cley is pronounced Cly (rhymes with eye) and (my personal favourite) Happisburgh has somehow morphed into Hazeborough.

Norwich, home of Colemans Mustard and Deliah Smith was a real surprise too! We've visited many, many towns on our travels and almost every one of them never needs to be visited again. Norwich seems to have got things just about right. There are plenty of narrow, cobbled streets with small, independent retailers. There is a splendid covered market in the centre of town

while the larger "malls" are kept at a respectable distance from the centre, or simply out of sight - they have built a new shopping centre right next to the castle, but have skillfully hidden most of it underground! Norwich Castle is a cracker.

The outside has been restored several times, but it remains a magnificent sight. In typically English fashion, it was used as a prison for 700 years before the Victorians turned it into a museum. And an excellent on it is too!

If you arrive an hour before closing, you can "pop in for a pound." I know of no other museum where you can be walking through a contemporary art gallery, nip down a short flight of stairs and be face-to-face with a stuffed armadillo, turn a corner and be in the Twinnings Nantional Tea Pot Collection, go through a door and be alone in a room with an Egyptian mummy or take a side corridor and (while we were there) see an exhibition of Moore and Hepworth sculptures. Brilliant stuff.

Norwich Cathedral sits in the part of town imaginatively called "Tombland" and its spire, despite being the second tallest in the country, narrowly misses out on being the highest point in Norfolk.

Go to Norwich. Go on.

We spent a few nights on a lovely little site on the Broads. We sat by the river in the grounds of a boat-yard.

Across the water was a patch of boggy field which a pair of barn owls used as a hunting ground. A heron spent most of the day just standing around, waiting. We just sat around, watching.

We seem to have been, inadvertently, carrying out a Grand Tour of British Piers. Most of them have ranged from "a bit rubbish" (in a kiss-me-quick-hat kind of way) to simply "hulking wrecks". Southwold is a notable exception.

The pier is privately owned, and the owners have pumped a couple of million quid into making it presentable. And a very nice job they have done too. There is a busy restaurant (where plenty of locals go for a coffee - always a good sign), a couple of little gift shops selling some local stuff, and the excellent (though closed the day we were there) Under The Pier Show - a slightly bonkers collection of hand-made amusement machines. Southwold also has some very fetching beach huts, a lighthouse and, of course, a brewery. 'Nuff said.

A couple of miles from the little fishing/tourist town of Aldeburgh lies the completely bonkers village of Thorpeness. At first glance it looks like any other well-preserved Tudor village, but the entire lot was built in the early 20th century as a private fantasy village by one Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, Scottish Barrister and obvious nutter. The village needed a water supply, but he didn't like the look of the water tower, so he had it disguised as a house, albeit an odd one.

The House In The Clouds (as it is now known) was converted to accommodation once mains water arrived, and can be hired as a holiday home. The water tower needed water pumping into it, so our man Ogilvie had a wind pump built, didn't like it, so bought the local corn mill and had it moved the two miles to its current site to do the job instead. Daft as a brush, but his legacy is still quite remarkable, in a peculiar kind of way. Ogilvie died in 1972 (on his own golf course at Thorpeness), and much of the village had to be sold off to pay Death Duties. I'm sure there's a moral in there somewhere.

Grimes Graves isn't the Dickensian cemetery that it sounds like. It is a neolithic quarry. Even by modern standards it is extraordinarily impressive. There are nearly a hundred acres of pock-marked land, looking like a grassy moonscape. (If you look carefully, you can see Tracey and a sheep, not talking to each other.)

Basically, a bunch of our neolithic predecessors (about 20) got together in the early Spring and dug a hole. A big hole. Some of the larger holes are about 40 feet deep and nearly as wide. 2000 tonnes of earth would be shifted in around five months, just to get at the best flint nuggets hidden down there. They would knock off in the Autumn, take the Winter off and come back the next Spring and dig another hole. They did this for over a thousand years (though probably not the same 20 guys - I'm sure that job satisfaction would be wearing a bit thin by then and most of them would have found a different job). One of the shafts has been excavated, and you can don a hard hat and descend a ladder into the gloom to have a look.

We spent a few days near Bury St. Edmonds, a town in transition. There are some lovely old bits rubbing shoulders with some really quite cool new developments. The problem seems to be that most of the larger retailers are leaving their premises in the "old town" and shifting their wares into the new bit. Add to this the spate of high-street closures and you get a town that doesn't quite work. Still, it has a brewery, so it isn't all bad. It also possesses the nations smallest pub. There is room for a small table, a window seat and about four people standing. Naturally, we had to try it.

As you might expect, there wasn't room to swing a cat, but to make up for it, there is a mummified one perching in the rafters. It was found when a section of false wall was removed. The shocking thing isn't that a cat was walled in alive (apparently a common thing in days of yore), but that somebody thought that walling off a bit of a room this size was a good idea!

This is a part of the ruins of the old abbey. It was near this spot, on the 20th of November, 1214, that a bunch of barons got together and decided to slap a restraining order on King John. And so, with the writing of the Magna Carta, was democracy born. Or something like that.

I spent a happy afternoon snapping away, and I hope you'll indulge me if I post a few of my favourites here...

If Sir John Betjeman had ever visited Lowestoft, he may have re-written his famous ode to Slough. "Come, friendly waves, and wash away Lowestoft" he might have begun, though it doesn't scan very well and he may have had trouble finding a rhyme. But the sentiment would be there. Lowestoft sits on the Eastern-most point on the British mainland, though I don't think it would be much of a disservice to the nation if the coast decided to move westward a little, leaving Lowestoft underwater.

Flippancy aside, the sea is a real and constant danger here. Sizewell nuclear power station dominates the horizon for much of the Suffolk coast. I'm not a fan of nuclear power - it strikes me as a bit dim to carry on producing waste that is so thoroughly toxic (and will remain so for another ten thousand years) when we have no idea what to do with the stuff we've already got. On the other hand, the Norfolk and Suffolk coastline is undergoing a constant and determined assault by the encroaching sea.

The Environment Agency is doing all it can where it can, often leaving the shore looking like something from the Normandy Landings, but if the sea level were to rise by anything more than a smidgen, it would be a losing battle. It wouldn't take much - a particularly bad storm combined with a particularly high tide when the wind is blowing from a particular direction. Thousands of acres of land would be lost. So there is a tangible feeling that the people of Suffolk look to Sizewell not just as the largest employer in the area, but also as a real and positive contribution to low-carbon electricity.

This is Dunwich. Or rather, it was. Dunwich was once one of the largest ports on the East coast. A few big storms and some tidal erosion, and the coastline in now a mile further inland from where it was. Dunwich was home to 3000 people, eight churches, three chapels and two hospitals. All gone. It didn't happen overnight, but you get the idea. The East Anglian Coast isn't the place to invest in property. Though, to look on the bright side, you may end up with some rather exclusive onshore fishing rights!

We had six weeks to explore Norfolk and Suffolk. Not nearly enough. If I were you, I'd go and have a look soon, before it disappears.

Last Chance To See...

There will be more very soon.......Stay tuned........



Anonymous said...

Extremely interesting and inspiring images as ever. I often wonder what goes on outside caravan sites.

I'm still sure you could sell this as a monthly column in a Sunday Supp, but then it might no longer be as much fun and it's possible the creativity will waver if it HAS to be done. Not that I speak from experience...

Looking forward to the rest of it!

THIS'N'THAT said...

Thanks for sharing some of your journey. I've enjoyed the 'virtual trip'!! Above all I would love to have an Airstream ..even just a little Bambi one and then I could take This'n'That on the road .. much more interesting than a High Street shop .. even if it is in Totnes. Try to take in Totnes on your travels .. Fridays are best (great market)! X

bullybones said...

Great stuff. Who could have guessed East Anglia had so much to wash away. I might go there myself if I ever get through my flattism phase. By the way, if you want to see a museum containing a teapot, several original RW Tunnicliffe watercolours of British birds, and an Egyptian mummy (easily confused with the curator), look no further then West Park Museum, Macclesfield. And it's free, even with an hour to go...

Pete said...


We we've actually visited Totnes twice on the journey! We love it! It's high on our list of places to go back to (and, believe me, it isn't a long list).

We'll be in touch next time we're in the area.

Travel well,