News, Sandlings 2021

Sandlings with John Macrae, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Sandlings 1 – Southwold to Dunwich March 2021

We’ve started the Sandlings footpath. In part inspired by reading Robert Macfarlan’s book the Old Ways, which describes some of the old footpaths he finds and walks. In part finding the start of the walk the day of my first Pfizer vaccination, unexpectedly walking the dogs north end of Southwold. I saw the notice Sandlings way from here to Ipswich.

Our first Sandlings walk was on a dull and cold day, and we kept a good pace for 3 hours easy going. Starting along the popular Southwold promenade, up the estuary, passed all the wooden boats out of water resting up, over the Bailey bridge. I deviated for the Sandlings route as we had already walked the 5 ways part the previous walk, so we cut down, through the reeds. Walked right passed Sara’s home, which made me miss her, and also feel guilty that I had not been in contact. Lockdown has limited my horizons.

We rocked up at Dunwich as the church bells struck 2, and found a bench in the leper church, among the snow drops and violets, and stone from Cean, hundreds of years old. Begun in 1200 it continued as a hospital until 1600. We enjoyed our excellent sandwiches and tangerine prepared and packed by Gill, before making our way to the sea and our taxi, Michael, to collect and transport us back. The sun came out as we left.

Sandlings 2 Dunwich to Sizewell

Still to write up

Sandlings 3 Sizewell to Snape – April 20th 2021

It was 3 weeks since we last walked – the move from Magnolia to East Lodge distracted. We’d both missed the walking and resumed with pleasure on a glorious perfect walking day with pure blue sky and fresh north wind on our backs. Crossing the estuary at Sizewell the walk turned inland

Starting at Sizewell, John resumed is reminiscing of touring nuclear power stations. His first degree and PhD was in Radiation chemistry, and science was the reason he got into the FO. He’d failed his medical due to research into organic Iosides? At the time the FO were actively recruiting scientists – he was a rare bread there. They had a department called the Atomic Energy and Disarmament department – yes, effectively two different sectors under one roof. Vienna conference?, International UN. At the time the British with the US were the only two nuclear powers, with bi-lateral agreement. Appointed to the FO AE department, his main remit was to promote UK nuclear reactors, which used gas cooling technology. The rest of Europe, however, used water cooled, and in the end the gas cooled was a dead end – although he did help sell one to the Italians and Japanese. For his work he toured nuclear power stations from Dounreay to Sellafield. It was the 3 pin plug story, and hubris.

Throughout the walk we came across the conflict between new technology and landscape. First up was the modest signage for Greater Gabbard a 504MW windfarm off the coat here. Completed in 2012 with Siemans turbines it is now owned by SSE Renewables The extension, called Galloper, adding a further 504 MW, was completed in 2018. I gather researching this later that a solar powered robot scarecrow successfully reduces dangerous levels of bird ‘guano’ on the offshore substation – the robots are are dressed as offshore workers to frighten birds away! Not long after seeing these … we see the first campaign notice Save Our Sandings – a natural SOS. Scottish Power Renewables has plans to build two new windfarms and as a first stage they need to industrialise a large area of sandlings for a complex of at least 3 substations – covering 30 acres with buildings at a height of 21 metres and the similar acreage for a lorry park etc. We learn more a bit later on the walk.

This landscape is unknown to me, as its the first time on this Sandlings walk, and I enjoy the finding. With the trees still bare, but blackthorn flowering along with coconut scented gorse, it is clear to see it in such nakedenss. Above us skylarks.

A notice to the Wardens Trust – which I had recently come across as sponsors of Wonderful Beasts creative zoom.

In the middle of fields a huge grey modern architecture barn building is being constructed. From the builder we gather it’s just a home for 2 people.

On such sandy soil, no rain for 3 weeks, the sprinkers are on and the covering for frost protection begins, making the field look like water from a distance. Underneath potatoes.

We lunched under the protection of Great Wood – sitting on a bank with the sun on our faces, as we ate delicious brown bread cucumber and sardine sandwiches prepared by Gill.

John is good at asking direct questions and the first is asked of a woman walker – what are the flags in this field. ‘I’m afraid to say the outline for the substation planed by Scottish Power. They could have a perfectly good substation at Sizewell were there is already plenty of infrastructure, but Scottish power do not get on with EDF and vice versa, so they’ve come in land to this glorious landscape and will blot it.’

A little further on, nearer Snape, a bird watcher with a huge lens on his back, invited by John, tells us of Woodlarks to view and that all of nature is 2 weeks behind last year, such sharp frosts we’ve been having.

The last part of the walk to Snape marshes was a picture post card. With tide low, the mud flats full of feeding birds – a Godwit or two, a flying oyster catcher.

Gill was there to meet us, sitting on a bench in the sun by the barges. While we searched for a cuppa, John stuck gold. Remembering an exhibition here of his cousin, John Skelton, he went into the shop Lettering Arts Trust to ask if the work, a figurative sculpture, was still here. Here he encountered Harriet Frazer who was one of his cousins pupils and was as overjoyed as we were to find this unexpected connection. Photographs exchanged.

The Lettering Arts Trust was founded in 1988 by Harriet Frazer MBE as ‘Memorials by Artists’. This was in response to Harriet’s need to find someone to make a unique memorial for her step-daughter Sophie, who died suddenly at the age of 26.

Here is how John described his relation to Harriet:
I did indeed say that I was a first cousin of John Skelton whom I remember striding down the beach  at Sea Palling when I was 6 shouting ‘War’s been declared’! My mother was a Skelton, borne in Thorpe, Norwich.  I never saw much of my Skelton grand-parents as my parents were in India until the end of the second world when they retired and bought a house in Moffat near Dumfries.  As I then went to school at Fettes in Edinburgh for 5 years, Norfolk no longer figured in my life, apart from spending a week sailing on the Broads one Easter while at Oxford.’

At one point John asked me what were the memorable walks in my life. My first back to back walk, coast to coast, 14 days walking and breathing Alfred Wainwright, falling in love with Bob. The 2nd image came to mind was walking with Kali in the Tatra mountains among the carpets of wild flowers. The 3rd walk resonated with John for it was a GR route, somewhere near the Col de Vence, in which I came across a random restaurant in an abandoned village which served me the most delicious Daube for lunch.

For John, the walk was from his childhood, in Kashmire, crops up on most of our walks, and I do not tire of hearing it. He describes how as 12 year od school boys in Shrinigar they were taken 4 hours by boat up Dal Lake from where they disembarked and walked back taking 3-4 days, up a few mountains on the way. Kashmir is where his strongest memories begin.

We’d walked for 5 hours, our longest walk yet. Getting lost twice no doubt lengthened the walk, but otherwise we found a good pace.

An interruption walk in Lowestoft

In search of a phone repair, we find a hat for a quid, Alexander blossoming, a campaign to keep the record office in Lowestoft. We eat lunch on a WW2 defense. Sharp wind but warm sun. Ice cream too.

Sandlings 4 Snape to Almost Melton

At the end of the day, I gather John said to Gill, I think this day was my limit. I collapsed, got up then went to bed. It was definitely my limit – I am not the 6 hour walker I used to be. It was a modest 15K, and 5 hours walking on sandy flat, but it did me in!

With bring sun above we had a cool north wind behind us, as we set off from Snape. The car park was full of BBC and men in high vis. What’s on? I asked. I’m not allowed to say, said the man with a smile in his eyes. The sun was hot out of the wind, the way was a mix of shade from woodland trees and open sand filled fields, mostly with asparagus, and all being watered. The route zig zagged so map reading had to be attentive.

We walked through two main woodlands, Tunstall and Rendlesham, both forestry commission. I almost had a life in Tunstall – I almost bought a house in it once. At one point we came across a magnificent unexpected beech woodland, but mostly it was forestry commission mono culture pine, with oak/birch/ash boarders. It was the time that oak leaves were emerging, as were the fruits of pine that would become the cone.

As we started walking John told me he’d visited the memory doctors, who’d asked him lots of questions and finally told him – Yes you have Alzheimers.
How do you feel about it? I asked
Just the same, he laughed. I’m 88 after all. It would be tragic if I was 30 and told this.
You’ve just got to grasp each day to it’s fullest then, I said.
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

In between we walked on sand asparagus fields, just asking to be picked.

Do you know the time between sleep and awake, that timeless time? The other day I dreamed we were walking in Kashmir, climbing up the mountains there.

One of our best picnics, on a handy tomb stone, but without shade, and the sun and tiredness tempted us to lay down beside and we both fell asleep.

Through Rendlesham wood, via some old Ash hedgerow coppice and a beautifully twisting small leafed lime. Skirted the edge of Bentwaters, home to a huge timber businesses.

Finally through gorse edged woodland, and out to the Melton road. Staverton Thicks was just up the road, but we were too tired, and collapsed at the side of the road, so delighted to see a Honda arrive, Michael, to pick us up.

That night we ate asparagus, and slept like the dead.

Sandlings interruption – Southwold to Frostenden

The weather was pants so we decided to walk locally, continuing north of where the Sandlings starts at Southwold pier, following the Suffolk Coastal path, which went inland here. We ended up a couple of hours later, at Frostenden just in time to see the last of the blue bells.

John began with the story of his thumbs. Oh how the past catches up with us, and reminds us of small moments that now become exaggerate, warped with time. While he was at Seikh Bag, Kashmir (everything begins and ends in Kashmir), one of the motley teachers had done some chip carving, and John enrolled for the course. His hand slipped, the sharp chisel cut the swing bridge between the thumb and forefinger, the tendon cut clean through. It mended of course, but he could never bend that thumb, which today is straight and long. The other thumb happened later, when 15. He was never keen on football, and a catch landed on top of the right hand thumb, which from that moment on stopped growing.

In that time between wake and sleep I dream I am back in Kashmir climbing up those thousand foot mountains.

Dressed in waterproofs, in fact over dressed, we set off on well trod paths and lanes with plenty of fellow walkers passing by. Passing through Reydon we came to a quaint place called ‘The Rest’, with moral inscriptions which caught our attention. Be kind to whoever passes your way as you will not pass this way again. etc. ‘Its for us’ I exclaim to John, seeing the sign, For the Aged.

‘It’s for us!’ I exclaim to John, seeing the sign, ‘For the Aged’. John talks on this walk, as he did last week, of his present need to close up his home in the south of France. As he describes it, it feels like exercising the thought in the fresh air is part of getting used to this idea. Leaving France, settling here in Suffolk with Gill.
I’ve finally given up the idea of ever driving a car again. A small prang in Gills car leading to too much trouble and stress with insurance, and the difficulty of driving back on the left.
Such is the process, I think, the letting go, relinquishing of little physical freedoms. But his mind can soar up to the clouds on the mountains in Kashmir, I think.

The Rest – Covert Road, Grade 2 listed Alms Houses opened in 1908. The benefactor was Andrew Matthews, a successful art dealer. Originally build for 8 people, who had to be residents of Southwold – lived there more than 20 years, to have limited income and be over 65 years and good physical health mental well being. When built they had no running water, electricity or gas and no WC. The first male resident was John Page, a marshman.

A little further on, a garden dedicated to an intricate model railway track

We passed where Michael and Tamsyn had their holiday home, Hill Top, and just up the road, where my friends Mark and Charlotte lived for years, and many a pleasant evening spent there. Cutting through a sandy field, we recognised the delicate hair growth of Asparagus, scrumped a few, turned right down Smear Lane (what does Smear mean? asked John. Here’s the answer

Reydon was recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Rienduna’ which means the ‘hill … Rissemire’ at about the same time, and the name Rissemere now survives as Smear Marshes in Reydon.

Turning the corner to walk parallel to Alder Carr and Smear Marshes, we came across magnificent boundary oaks, mostly pollarded years ago. One twisted left then right, one fallen, one with rugged rivers of bark. The fallen one a perfect climbing tree, complete with rope swing.

The blue bells began here, along what must have been an old lane. They came in carpets in Frostenden Wood. However coming up to the road we saw what Naomi had warned me about – they have ridden roughshod over the blue bells, to fell the trees. A dozen great ash, sycamore and oak lay beside the roadside awaiting collection, the machine which grabbed and moved them parked further in to the wood. However, I did see an usual fallen sycamore stump with growth I recalled from last year.

Frostendon wood 2020, lockdown year, and 3 weeks earlier with blue bells in full bloom

At Fettes, I learnt to become a proficient reeler. I was particularly fond of the Hamilton House, in which you would first court then finally change your partner for another.

Rain came, just as Michael rocked up and saved our day again.

Sandlings 5 Woodbridge to Staverton Thicks

Summer suddenly arrived. Out of the blue, after May’s north east wind and much needed rain, jumpers and vests off.
‘Shorts today’, I jested with John, knowing he had no shorts nor inclination to wear them with a long held embarrassment of knock knees.

We took the train – hooray- from Halesworth station, masked up, to Woodbridge. I asked John about his memorable train journey’s – of course it was from his Indian/Kashmir days

It was from Peshawar to Bombay. We were living in Peshawar – I had not returned to school in Srinagar as we were told of a possible boat to get us home and were on standby. I remember I learnt to touch time in this time! The train journey must have been 2-3 days, and for part of it I travelled with the engine driver up front. Enormous fun for a child. Imagine returning to England and a pedestrian life after that!

Disembarking at Woodbridge station, I had not appreciated how close Mary Ann’s Art Safari was to the station, and once again, impressed with such a magnificent location, the harbour masters office. The way was well signed, running parallel to the train line. We were easily distracted by a morning icecream on board the Swedish Navy boat. At Melton we crossed the bridge, down onto a recently made board walk over marshes, and into a delightful country lane that loops around the quaint undisturbed village of Bromeswell, with all the medieval tradesmens cottages now done up with tended gardens. The church looked interesting along with a very substantial rectory. It is a designated ‘Quiet Lane’ and a delight to find and avoid busy road between Melton and the footpath across the Heathland to Rendlesham Forest.

Over the golf course, to a paddock of horses, and a field of pigs. The path sandy – naturally – and increasingly warm. Pine and it’s sweet smell all the way, I noticed the pine cones forming. We had our picnic under their needles, eating delicious parma ham sandwiches. We would both have loved to fall asleep and rest up, but we needed to press on. Once again I had under estimated the length of walk.

In the end, coming to Rendlesham forest cafe, Michael collected us from here, to drive us the last mile or so to Staverton. Here we enjoyed a second picnic under the great oaks. It was my first time here in summer, and it had the same magic and feeling of ancient age, history, spirit, and something far larger than my being there then. The holly looked as if it were struggling. Here is a blog I found inspiring after my first visit – Michael took me only 2 years ago, in 2018.

15 K that day. I vow not to over estimate next time, and to allow a good rest and mid day snooze next time.

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