East Anglia – Anglo Saxons and East is East

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Over time I calculate that I have visited forty-seven of the forty-eight traditional (ceremonial)  English Counties (often for pleasure but sometimes for work) but I am fairly certain that I have never visited the County of Suffolk and my travelling companion was rather astonished to hear this admission and saw it now as his personal responsibility to fill this glaring geographical gap in my UK travels.

We drove south almost as far as Essex and the plan was to start at Sutto Hoo and then work our way back north.

I don’t want to be accused of exaggeration but Sutton Hoo is perhaps the most important archeological site in the whole of England – an Anglo Saxon burial ship for King Rædwald of East Anglia who was in his day the most powerful chieftain/King in all of the South-East of England.

It is a great Indiana Jones/Howard Carter sort of story.  The initial excavation in 1939 was privately sponsored by the landowner Edith Pretty and carried out by a local freelance archeologist called Basil Brown and a couple of estate workers who could be spared for the task.  Unsurprisingly when the significance of the find became apparent national experts took over.

Sutton Hoo Face Mask

The most significant artefacts from the burial site are those found in the burial chamber in the centre of the ship, including a suite of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield and sword, a lyre, and many pieces of silver plate from Byzantium.

I was pleased to visit but I have to say that the story is a whole lot more interesting than the site.

There is a pleasant walk through the gentle Suffolk countryside to the site of the excavation but the reality is that there is very little to see except for seventeen burial mounds which look rather like giant mole hills.  This is a place that requires some considerable imagination to appreciate it and it really doesn’t take long to view.  The point I suppose is this, some places we visit to spend time and see things, a museum for example but some places we visit simply for the significance of the place and the Sutton Hoo burial mounds fall firmly into the latter category.

There is an interesting exhibition hall and interpretation centre but there are no original artefacts on display because these are all in the British Museum because although it was decreed that the treasure belonged to Edith Pretty she promptly presented it all to the nation which was at the time the largest gift made to the British Museum by a living donor.

Suton Hoo Guided Tour

It seemed somehow that we should be staying longer in such a significant place but two hours was quite enough and so just after midday we began the drive back towards Norfolk and Great Yarmouth.

More or less following the coast road we stopped first at the seaside town of Aldeburgh famous mostly for being the home of composer Benjamin Britten and which is a genteel sort of place where people of a certain age (my age, I confess) visit to walk along the pebble beach and pass judgment on the scallop sculpture which seems to be the most controversial thing about Aldeburgh (half the town love it, the other half hate it) and later find a tea shop for a cucumber sandwich and a slice of Victoria Sponge cake.

Aldeburgh Suffolk Beach Scallop Sculpture

I rather liked the sculpture but we didn’t stop for cake and moved on intsead to nearby Southwold.  Southwold is ridiculously picturesque and quintessentially English, a town of Tudor houses and thatched roofs, so English that it is high on the list of filming locations for English film and television.

The fictional Southwold Estate, seat of Earls of Southwold, is the country estate of the family of Lady Marjorie Bellamy in the drama Upstairs, Downstairs and the town and its vicinity has been used as the setting for numerous films and television programmes including Iris about the life of Iris Murdoch starring Dame Judy Dench,  Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway, Kavanagh QC starring John Thaw, East of Ipswich by Michael Palin, Little Britain with Matt Lucas and David Walliam, a 1969 version of David Copperfield and the BBC children’s series Grandpa in My Pocket.

Southwold Suffolk Beach Huts

There isn’t much else to say about Southwold except that George Orwell once lived there and so after only a short stop and a drive around the busy streets we continued our drive planning to stop next at the Suffolk port town of Lowestoft.

I didn’t find Lowestoft that thrilling I have to confess, it looked much like Grimsby to me where I live, a run-down sort of a place urgently in need of some investment and a make-over but there was one interesting place to visit while we here – Ness Point, the most easterly place in the British Isles.

For such a significant place I would have expected it to be something special, a bit like Four Corners in the USA but not a bit of it.  Rather like Sutton Hoo, I thought there should be more.  There is no visitor centre, no souvenir shop and it is difficult to find located as it is on the edge of an industrial estate and close to a sewage treatment works and a massive wind turbine called Goliath (it was once the biggest in England).  There is only a circular direction marker known as Euroscope, marking locations in other countries and how far away they are.  Rather like Sutton Hoo I just enjoyed being there.  I felt like an explorer about to set sail.

Goliath wind turbine Ness Point Lowestoft

I was reminded that a couple of years ago I was at the most Westerly point in the British Isles on the Dingle Peninsular in Southern Ireland where we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.

The ‘Visit Lowestoft’ web site proclaims that, No trip to Lowestoft is complete without a visit to Ness Point, the most easterly spot in the United Kingdom”  As far as I could see this is about the only reason to visit Lowestoft so with nothing to detain us longer we headed directly back now to Great Yarmouth and the Cherry Tree Holiday Home Park where we squandered the rest of the day in the unexpected evening sunshine.

I liked Suffolk but I have to say that I won’t be rushing back and this probably explains why it has taken me over sixty years to go there in the first place.

Ness Point Lowestoft Suffolk

East Anglia, Great Yarmouth and Not Many Holiday Memories

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The following morning the weather was surprisingly spectacular for mid May with a big burning sun in the sky and my plan was to see more of Norfolk and to stir up some dormant memories.

We started with the town of Great Yarmouth and I have to report that as we entered the town I didn’t even feel a twitch of nostalgia and I have concluded since that Great Yarmouth was probably not on my Dad’s holiday itinerary most likely because there were amusements and attractions and involved handing over cash.

My dad wasn’t mean it was just that he was careful with money and he wasn’t going to waste it in penny arcades when we could all visit a church for free.

I confess that I have inherited this from him and I too will go to great lengths to avoid such places, those that children are drawn to like bees to nectar but which I cannot wait to pass through as quickly as I possibly can. I especially dislike those pointless children’s rides that do nothing in particular and cost a disproportionate amount of money to the pleasure they seem to provide. I hate them outside supermarkets and in shopping malls and if I were Prime Minister the first thing that I would do is pass a law to make them illegal.

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We began the visit at the site of the old docks where there is a National Trust Museum called the Elizabethan House on what is now called the ‘Historic South Quay’ a name change that is representative of the lengths towns and cities will go to these days to make them sound more interesting and it seems to work because adding the description historic or quarter to a previously run-down area seems to successfully drag the visitors in.

Anyway, it was quite a good museum, quite small really with rooms restored to show how people lived in two important historic times – the Stuarts and the Victorians. It didn’t take long to walk around and I am glad that I didn’t have to pay to go in on account of the fact that my pal is a member of the National Trust and he sneaked me in using his wife’s membership card.

The best feature in the house was the conspiracy room where it is alleged that during the English Civil War the leaders of the Parliamentarians, including Oliver Cromwell himself, met one day and agreed on regicide and pre-determined the fate of King Charles I and there is even a copy of a signed document to prove it.

Across the road from the Museum was a fishing boat museum with free entry, my dad would have liked that and so did I so we made our way to the gang plank entry.

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This was the Lydia Eva the last working steam drifter that is seaworthy and working out of Great Yarmouth.  Now a tourist attraction, not a working boat.  A drifter was a fishing boat that steamed out to the fishing grounds and then turned off the diesel engine, lofted a sail and simply drifted through the a shoal of silver darlings and scooped them up. Simple. Eighty years ago it used to fish for herring in the North Sea but without modern day regulations and quotas and massive over-fishing the Lydia Eva and a fleet of similar boats the fishing industry in Great Yarmouth shot itself in both feet and within just a few years these efficient trawlers had landed so much herring, it is estimated at two million fish a year, that there was simply none left.

It is a similar story to the town where I live, the once great fishing port of Grimsby which was once recognised as the largest and busiest fishing port in the world. The wealth and population growth of the town was also based on the North Sea herring fishery but this collapsed in the middle of the twentieth century and so the ships diversified to distant water grounds fishing targeting instead for cod in the seas around Iceland.  The concessions that Britain made to Iceland as a result of the Cod Wars eventually put these fishing grounds off limit destroyed the fishing industry in the town.  To this day the people of Grimsby don’t particularly care for cod and have a preference for haddock which they consider to be a superior fish.

Large Cod

Consequently the docks are a rather sad and forlorn place now, abandoned and decrepit, as though everyone left the place one afternoon and left it in a time warp of crumbling buildings, pot holed roads, streets of empty houses, redundant warehouses and a giant ice making factory which is now a listed building that no one cares for as it is slowly demolished by the passing of time

It is a sad story and it is said that many men who survived perishing in a watery grave at sea came home without jobs and drowned instead in beer.

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Anyway, back to Great Yarmouth.  Today the Lydia Eva wasn’t at all busy so I was fortunate enough to enjoy a personal guided tour by an ex-fisherman and sailing enthusiast called Malcolm who escorted me around the ship and introduced me to every single rivet in the boat. It was a very fine vessel, sleek and elegant and with more curves than Marilyn Monroe. It was so good that although it was a free visit when I left I felt compelled to leave a contribution.

We had almost finished with Great Yarmouth now and had an appointment in the nearby city of Norwich but there was an hour or so to spare so we found a pub called ‘Allen’s Bar’ which was run not by Allen but by a man called Gareth who just happened to originate from a town quite close to the birthplace of my Welsh pal so we spent an easy hour down memory lane before moving on.

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East Anglia – Norfolk and Suffolk

East Anglia, Holiday Memories

A year ago my pal introduced me to the experience of modern caravanning.

I took quite a lot of persuading.  I stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I have consistently maintained that I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no pleasure in it whatsoever.

To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a ten-year-old child but I remember thinking that I never really wanted to do it ever again.  Caravans as I remember them simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem in England, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time.  So they were either pizza oven hot in the day or Arctic freezer cold at night.

I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation because it had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.

A year ago my pal took me to a caravan park in Borth in Mid-Wales and I agreed to go with him because I remembered going there on family holidays fifty years ago when I was about ten years old.

I was delighted to discover that this place was indeed a part of my never-to-be-forgotten childhood and somewhere that I had spent a week or two with my family.

As I get older I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me.  In Wales, in Borth they took us to the seaside for a holiday in a tiny caravan and I can only imagine that they hated it, it must, after all, have been mind-numbingly boring, spending endless hours in a biscuit tin with only the popping of the gas lamp and the smell of calor gas for evening entertainment, especially when it was raining.

This year he persuaded me to go again, not to Borth in Wales this time but to East Anglia and to Norfolk where I also remembered going on family holidays fifty years ago.

We set off early on a Monday morning and after stopping for breakfast in Kings Lynn made our way directly to the North Sea Coast of Norfolk and the small seaside village of Walcott-on-Sea.

The memories returned as soon as we arrived.  They stuck to me like Velcro, so sticky that I had to brush them away like cobwebs from my face.

Seaview Crescent 1

We found it straight away – Seaview Crescent – it was a crescent sure enough and every year that we went there were a few cottages missing as they had fallen over the cliff into the sea during the winter storms.  Luckily ours, which was owned by a man called Mr Bean (he was an old man and dad used to call him Mr Has-Been – well, he thought it was funny) was furthest away from the cliff edge so each year before we left mum and dad could always book a week there the following year with some degree of confidence that it would still be there and they wouldn’t lose their deposit.

I liked it there, we slept on blue blow up li-lo beds in the sun room as the wind whistled around the gables at night, there was a big open green space which was safe so long as you didn’t go near the edge and fall over the cliff, where we played football and cricket and flew cheap plastic kites that raced against the clouds in the North Sea wind.

An interesting fact about Walcott is that this is the only place in Norfolk where the road runs adjacent to the sea and it is possible to stop the car and look out over the sea defenses that were put in place after the great flood of 1953 that washed half of the village away and out to sea.  They are not especially attractive it has to be said, a great sweeping landscape of Soviet style concrete but the North Sea can be harsh so the defences have to be strong!

I remembered this place immediately and after we had stopped for a while we carried on to the nearby village of Happisburgh (pronounced locally as Haysborough).

My sister Lindsay had challenged me to find a flint and cob built church where we had had our picture taken in about 1965 or thereabouts and I wasn’t confident about this because there are over three hundred churches in Norfolk but like Indiana Jones or Howard Carter I found it straight away and some more memories washed over me like North Sea surf in a storm.

It had been a good day so far and it got even better when we arrived at Cherry Tree Holiday Park just a couple of miles or so outside of Great Yarmouth because we had been allocated a Gold Star Superior holiday home and after we had moved in and settled down we congratulated each other on our extreme good fortune and enjoyed a first evening in the late sunshine in Norfolk.

Entrance Tickets – The Sculptured Rocks near Saint Malo

Les rochers sculptés

The entrance ticket is just about as exciting as the attraction!

On a trip to Northern France we visited the delightful medieval town of Dinan and clutching a fist full of property details followed the road back to the coast and St Malo.  We were behind schedule so the sensible thing to do now was to go directly to Mont St Michel but Kim was intrigued by a visitor attraction marked on the map called the sculptured rocks so sensing another unexpected delight we left the main highway and set out on the coast road.

Let me now give you a piece of advice – unless you are really determined to see rock carvings do not take an unnecessary detour to Les rochers sculptés!  We were expecting a stack of rocks standing in the sea pounded by waves into interesting formations but the site is a small area of stonemason carvings in the side of the granite cliff.

Rock Sculptures St Malo

These sculptures were carved just over a hundred years ago by a hermit priest, Abbé Fouré, who had suffered a stroke and lost his ability to hear and speak and the story goes that he began these sculptures as a means of alternative communication. I am not trying to underestimate the value of the work here you understand, what I am saying that it is a tedious detour and unless you want to go round twice which is highly unlikely I have to say the visit is going to be over in about twenty minutes or so.

If you do want to go and see them then I would do it soon because after one hundred years they are seriously eroded by the sea and the rain and it can’t help a great deal that visitors are allowed to climb all over them.

After the disappointing visit I was impatient to get to Mont St Michel but stuck on the coast road progress was infuriatingly slow as we passed through several towns and villages all with inconveniently snail like speed limits.  Out in the Gulf of St Malo we could see the abbey on the island but it seemed to take a frustrating age to get there as the road snaked around the coast and every few miles or so we came across a tractor or a school bus which slowed us down even more.

Several times I cursed the decision to go and visit Les rochers sculptés.

Les rochers sculptés St Malo France

Postcards From Italy

leaning-tower-of-pisaflorence-firenzeVesuvius Naples ItalyLecce Puglia Italy Santa CroceITALY EPCOTVesuvius the crater

Travels in Spain, Boat Trips

In 1977 I had a two week holiday in Benidorm on the east coast of Spain. I’d like to tell you that I had a really good time, but I can’t because I didn’t enjoy it that much.

About two miles out in the bay between Levante and Poniente beaches was the little island of Isla Benidorm, a triangular shaped wedge of inhospitable rock, a mountain top I guess,  with a regular bright red ferry boat called the Bahia de Benidorm running across the short stretch for just a few pesetas each way.

Forty years ago I failed to fully understand the opportunities of travel and with limited imagination at my disposal there was so little to do that we made the trip twice and really once would have been quite enough.

It was advertised as ‘Peacock Island’ but I don’t recall seeing any on either visit and all we found there were a few scraggy chickens trying to get by in a very hostile landscape without any vegetation or water.  Fortunately there was a bar on the island with really good views back towards the mainland so at least there was somewhere to sit and have a drink while we waited for the ferry to return.

Forty years on Isla Benidorm is an uninhabited bird sanctuary and diving centre for those interested in marine life and today we were going to visit another off-shore island which is a bird sanctuary and diving centre, the islet of Tabarca about six miles from the port town of Santa Pola which fortunately sounded a lot more promising than Isla Benidorm because it has a census population of about seventy whereas Isla Benidorm has none.

We just about made boat departure time, which was a good thing because the next one wasn’t for about two hours or so (in high season they run a lot more regularly) and after purchasing our tickets we made our way to the top deck and selected seats in the sun ready for the short thirty minute crossing and after being invited to view the marine life through the glass bottom in the boat (really not worth it) we arrived in the small port and disembarked.

Before 1700, the island was known as Illa de Sant Pau or ‘Saint Paul’s Island’  on the basis that this is where Saint Paul was washed up about two thousand years ago. He must have got around a bit because he seems to have been washed up in quite a lot of places in quite a short space of time which begins to make him look very unlucky and me sceptical about the whole thing.

Personally, if I was inclined to believe any of it then I would come down on the side of the story of St Paul’s Island in Malta. The Acts of the Apostles tell the story of how Paul was shipwrecked on an island (somewhere) while on his way to Rome to face charges. You can call me a coward if you like but I wouldn’t have been going back to Rome to face charges that might result in crucifixion or beheading and I would have been inclined to stay on the island wherever it was but to be fair you don’t get to become a Saint by hiding in a cave!

Drogarati Caves, Kefalonia in 2000…

Anyway, with or without Saint Paul, Tabarca turned out to be a whole lot interesting than Isla Benidorm.

In the eighteenth century it was used as a convenient base for Berber pirates from North Africa who regularly raided the mainland coast so in 1760, to put a stop to it, Charles III of Spain ordered the fortification and repopulation of the Spanish island.

A group of Genoese sailors who had been shipwrecked near the coast of Tunisia, mostly coming from the islet of Tabark, were rescued and considered convenient settlers and the islet was renamed Nova Tabarca. The Genoese were moved to the island together with a Spanish garrison.

The King ordered a fortified town and as a consequence of Royal Decree walls, bulwarks, warehouses and barracks were built. The garrison was removed in 1850 and the buildings began to deteriorate and collapse through lack of maintenance but the Genoese stayed put and now a hundred and fifty years later it is a tourist destination and a thriving fishing community.

We maybe could have done with another hour on the island but if we missed the next ferry back we would be there for another four  which was too long so we made our way back to the small fishing port of the island and boarded the boat back to Santa Pola where we had previously found a nice pavement restaurant with a vey reasonably price Menu Del Dia and we simply sat and let the afternoon slip through our fingers.

Later we sat on the terrace and drank wine and ate pizza and just wasted the rest of the evening away as well!

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More cave stories:

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Cueva El Guerro, Castilla y Leon, Spain

Altamira Caves Santillana del Mar

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