Sunday, August 17, 2003

Walk 78 -- Felixstowe to Bawdsey

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 101 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 243 days.
Weather: Mostly sunny with a strong wind. Warm.
Location: Felixstowe to Bawdsey, via the Deben Ferry.
Distance: 6 miles, including the ferry.
Total distance: 565 miles.
Terrain: A stretch of shingle beach, a couple of short bits of road, but mostly concrete prom.
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: No.24, the Deben.
Ferries: No.7 across the River Deben to Bawdsey; cost £1.50 each.
Piers: No.17 at Felixstowe, but we couldn’t walk it because most of it was derelict.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.19, Landguard Fort. (We visited it a couple of days before because we knew there simply wouldn’t be time today.)
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We packed up our camp at Elmstead Market. We drove, with bikes on the back of the car, to a car park on the northern edge of Felixstowe about a mile short of the Deben Ferry. This was because it only cost us 80p to park there all day, compared with £1 an hour at the ferry! We cycled back to Landguard Fort where the ferry comes in from Harwich, and chained our bikes to a fence.
At the end, we drank a cup of tea as we passed the car, then took our chocolate down to the Deben Ferry to eat it. We walked back to the car, and had more tea and a huge pasty each for our evening meal. We drove back to Landguard Fort to pick up the bikes. Then we went straight out on to the main roads and headed for home. Traffic was fairly light, and with only one stop we got back to Bognor three hours later at about ten o’clock. Tired but happy – we now feel we are really getting somewhere!

Landguard Fort

In 1543, Henry VIII had two blockhouses built at Landguard Point to protect the rivers Orwell and Stour from foreign raiders – particularly the Spanish with whom he had fallen out big-time! Over the centuries these buildings have been demolished, rebuilt, enlarged, fortified and refurbished again and again to keep out the Dutch, French, Germans or whoever was currently Enemy No.1 to the British. In 1956 the fort finally fell into disuse, and it was abandoned to let natural erosion and vandals do their destructive work – as has happened to so many other similar structures that we have passed along the way. By 1995 a few local residents were grieving that a building of such great historical interest was rotting before their eyes, so they formed a charitable trust to preserve what was left and open it to the public. Unfortunately, by then the building was unsafe – so they called in English Heritage who put up the money for essential repairs and consequently became custodians, though the Landguard Fort Trust still run the place on a voluntary basis.We were lucky that our visit coincided with one of these volunteers who had turned up unexpectedly and decided to give a guided tour to whoever would care to stop and listen. He was very interesting. He knew his subject and loved his fort – that was obvious from the way he held our attention, and that of several children who were in the party, for an hour and a half! He gave us ‘blow-by-blow’ accounts of all the battles that had been fought there, the guns that were on show and the conditions that the soldiers who were billeted there had to endure.
He mentioned in his spiel that he had been in the Army himself and was once stationed near Aldershot, so at the end I stopped to speak to him. It turned out that he was born and had lived as a child in Cove, not a quarter of a mile from where I was born and brought up! He said he had attended Farnborough Grammar School, to which I answered that I had gone to the Convent. “Oh po-w-sh!” was his reply – which is the response I always get from anyone who knows Farnborough. “Were you that Grammar School boy who used to tease me on the bus because of my convent school uniform which I was forced to wear on pain of mortal sin, hell and damnation?” I countered. He grinned, and neither confirmed nor denied – I wonder! Perhaps I have forgiven him after all these years, especially as he had just given us such an entertaining afternoon.
We gained the impression that the Landguard Fort Trust is not very enamoured of English Heritage. (We were the butt of several remarks because we had got in free on the English Heritage ‘ticket’.) They needed English Heritage for the grant, but that only comes with conditions and they feel that there has been too much interference with the exhibitions they want to set up. English Heritage have very fixed ideas, and want to place the fort in a specific period, but the buildings have evolved as needs changed and technology improved over four centuries so you can’t do that. Both sides need to sit down with more open minds and discuss more flexible ideas – after all, their aims are the same. Both organisations want to preserve this historic building – it is silly to fall out over the way they go about it.

We started our Walk on the beach where the ferry comes in.
A number of people were waiting to catch it, either to Harwich or on to Shotley which is between the Rivers Stour and Orwell. Along our side of the River Orwell, as far as the eye could see, were giraffe-like cranes, many with huge ships moored under them. Felixstowe is Europe’s largest container port, and these days – when we rely so much on imported goods – it is very busy.
At the top of the beach, where we were standing, was a memorial stone reminding us of less halcyon days when it was difficult and dangerous to import anything. Three RAF pilots were killed when their aircraft was shot down in June 1940. They crashed into the Orwell Estuary, and their bodies have never been found.
We walked south along the beach, round the back of Landguard Fort which we had visited on our ‘rest’ day before the weekend. We passed a jetty where some teenagers were jumping into the water. A man coming towards us remarked that it was dangerous, but the kids wouldn’t take any notice of him. We discussed the foolhardiness of youth, and the tragic death of just such a lad across at Dovercourt – which we could see clearly from where we were standing – just a couple of weeks ago. We moved on, and Colin remarked that we were once more walking towards the tower on ‘The Naze’, but I reassured him it wouldn’t be for long. The long jetty at the end of Landguard Point had fishermen dotted all down it. We walked partly along, but then it got a bit slippery and I declared it ‘unsafe’ so that we could return to the beach.
We turned our backs on ‘The Naze’ tower for the last time, and marched off northwards with great glee – for the rest of today’s walk was to be in a straight line with no more deviations! This southern length of the beach is a nature reserve, and part of it was fenced off with notices warning about ground-nesting birds that don’t actually make a nest but lay eggs which look like pebbles – you can’t see them until you tread on them, and then it is too late. We didn’t see any birds about, this time of year is too late for eggs we thought, but we kept off the designated areas anyway.
We were hungry and wanted our lunch, but we didn’t want to sit in the sun because, despite the blissful breeze, it was still too hot. The beach is quite wide at that point, and was almost totally deserted. We were looking for some shade, but couldn’t find any. Colin was walking nearer the fort than me and saw an enormous woman sunbathing topless – his eyes were sticking out on stalks, but that didn’t help much with the lunch situation! Eventually we found a bit of a ruined wall which offered a little shelter, so we settled down with our backs to the sun and munched our sarnies.
We carried on, walking along a concrete ‘path’ just above the waves because it was easier than the shingle. Then we came to a caravan site which stretched right over our way with impossibly deep gaps to negotiate. This forced us inland to walk along a road for a bit, and immediately we lost the wind causing the temperature to shoot up – we weren’t very happy. Fortunately it was only for about a quarter of a mile, then we regained the shore and found ourselves walking along a real prom!
There were a lot of people about enjoying the sunshine, a good many of them were obese! The tide was right in, splashing against the prom in many places, and with the wind up and the roaring of the surf – it was all rather exciting! A lot of people were in the water enjoying the big waves. A lot more were sitting about on the prom looking fat. We sat on a wall alongside some large ladies to eat our apples (were we trying to tell them something?) and passed a singing group whose audience were lounging about on the grass. It was all so happy and jolly – we really enjoyed it.From a distance, the pier looked fun – quite a long structure. Then we noticed that there was no one on it. As we reached the entrance, the noise was of migraine-inducing raucousness and there was a nauseous smell of hot fat! We battled our way through the ‘musies’ (pee-ee-ee-ow!!! Zzzzzzzzup!! Bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop! crash! Bang! Wallop! Pee-ee-ee-ow!!!) and out the other end on to the pier-proper, we thought. There was only a little space, and then there was a security fence preventing us from going any further. The pier was derelict! It didn’t look as if it had been abandoned very long ago – in fact we couldn’t see anything wrong with it – but we supposed the structure to have been recently condemned by the Health & Safety experts and closed. A group of tarty twelve-year-old girls were packed into the space to have a smoke, so we braced ourselves and returned through the cacophony of the arcade to the safety of the prom. Once there, we hurriedly put as much distance as we could between us and that dreadful row!
Our next challenge was about a mile further on. The ground to our left was quite hilly, and the road we were alongside went up a steep slope before disappearing inland behind a school. There were notices all over the school/sea wall telling us it was private and we were not to climb it. The prom led down on to the beach but the trouble was, there was no beach because the tide was right in and waves were smashing up against the wall. So, for the second time on today’s Walk, we had to follow a road inland to get round an obstruction. On the other side of the school we emerged on to a green with some trees. Behind the trees were beach huts! We found a set of steps leading down to the prom where there were more rows of beach huts. We were not sure if the area was private, but nobody challenged us as we walked boldly through!
We saw the Union Flag fluttering on some rocks at the top of the beach, it was being splashed by waves as the tide was still right in. As we got closer, we noticed that near it was a child’s rubber boat in which was sitting a big teddy bear wearing a lifeboat man’s hat. To our left was a wooden hut where they were trying to raise money for the lifeboats – a worthy cause. BUT… several years ago, the Lifeboat Association was listed as one of several charities (Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Church of England were two of the others, I remember) which had accumulated so much money that they didn’t know what to spend it on – yet still they were appealing to our emotions, persuading us to part with even more of our hard-earned cash. The lifeboats unwisely invested their surplus money in stocks and shares, consequently losing most of it when the Stock Market crashed!
For many years we have been feeling that this whole ‘charity’ business has got out of hand, finding out about that debacle was the final nail in the coffin as far as we were concerned. How much of the cash donated to Africa in times of famine ends up in the hands of rebels who use it to buy more weapons? How much of the cash donated to earthquake victims ends up in the pockets of trumped up ‘officials’ to enhance their luxurious houses and pay their golfing fees? How much ‘it’s for charity’ money has been swindled out of us by easy-talking conmen and used to fund their yachts in the Caribbean? Yes, we are cynical – and have every reason to be so.
I have often wondered – if the roles were reversed so that we in England were the victims, how many other nations would rally to our aid? Thirty years ago, Colin and I worked for a charity called ‘The Samaritans’ whose purpose is to listen objectively to the depressed as they unburden themselves, thereby helping them to like themselves a little more so that they can see an alternative to suicide. (We got involved through the Church, when we were told that we ‘ought’ to care about such things.) Over the five or six years during which we gave our time to this good work (how much were we paid? not one penny!) I suppose we might have helped a spattering of the desperate, but mostly we were dealing with the mentally ill (beyond our scope) or the ‘lame ducks’ of society to whom we were very tempted to scream, “Get a grip!” We left for two reasons – we vehemently disagreed with their policy on dealing with sexual deviants, and we found we were neglecting our young family because of the hours, sometimes whole nights, which we spent away from them.
Twenty years ago, Colin and I became Scout leaders – he ran a Scout troop and I took on the Cubs. That was much better because, not only was it fun, but our children were all involved. We introduced many innovative ideas to those young boys, engaging them in fun activities they would never have otherwise enjoyed. (How much were we paid? not one penny! – in fact we ploughed a lot of our own money, which we couldn’t really afford, into it because it was partly for our own youngsters.) Many parents appreciated what we did, and boys we have subsequently met up with in their adult life speak in glowing terms of the fun they had on our camps, expeditions, gang shows and with the canoes. I left after six years because I found the more I did, the more I was expected to do. It all came to a head one day when I was criticised by a parent, who had let me down on numerous occasions, because her little darling was upset by some triviality. Colin soldiered on for a couple more years, becoming more and more dischuffed for the same reason – I honestly don’t know why he put up with the flak for so long. Eventually he was falsely accused of stealing some money gained from the selling of unwanted canoes – it all ended on a sour note.
In the 1970s we hosted seaside holidays for disadvantaged children from London. (How much were we paid? not one penny! – though I do remember being reimbursed for some clothes I bought for two little boys who arrived virtually in rags.) During their fortnight’s stay, we spent as much time as possible on the beach or having picnics up on the Downs. I shall never forget the expression on the face of a five year old called Susan – who hailed from Ba’’ersea – as we walked along Barrack Lane towards the seashore with her for the first time. “Cor! Look at that big river!” she cried. She had obviously never seen the sea before in her life – I had to show her how to play on the beach! We stopped hosting those children when we found it impossible to fit their two-week stay between Scout camp and the increasingly adventurous camping holidays we were taking our own children on as they were growing up – and still fit it all within the school summer vacation.
(UPDATE: In 2009, our younger daughter, Annalise, was contacted by a young man through one of the social networking sites on the internet. He had recognised our grandson, Jamie’s, surname and the fact he lived in Bognor. He turned out to be a child called Ian who had stayed with us for two weeks when he was only five years old, a lovely little chap who had never played on a beach nor picnicked in the countryside before. I did think, at the time, that two weeks was a long stretch to be away from his mother at that tender age, and he did get a little homesick towards the end although he had his older sister with him.
But now in his thirties, he couldn’t praise me enough for giving him and his sister such a life-changing experience! He remembered the holiday in extraordinary detail, and declared it had made an enormous difference to their lives which had been lived, up until then, entirely in London.
To say I was chuffed is an understatement!)

The incident which really finished me with the Catholic Church as a charity occurred in 1973 when Maria was five. All my life I had put money in the plate for two collections every time I attended Mass. I remember my mother hurriedly emptying her purse of change so that we could all put at least a penny in the plate as it was passed under our noses, then despairing later in the week that she hadn’t enough money left to feed and clothe her eight children. I had followed the same ritual with my own little ones. Then Maria brought home from school an empty carrier bag which I was supposed to fill with ‘goodies’ to sell at the Parish Bazaar. I had nothing to spare! Our mortgage took up a third of our income, we had three tiny children and were negotiating to adopt a fourth, and we ran a clapped out old car which was always breaking down. (Colin miraculously kept it on the road, but several times a week he would come in the back door – covered in oil – and declare, “I hate cars!”) Next time I was at the shops, I bought three packets of the cheapest biscuits I could lay my hands on, put them in the carrier bag with lots of packaging to make it look full, and sent Maria proudly back to school with it. Then we were expected to attend the wretched bazaar and spend lots of money on things we neither wanted nor needed in order to raise money for the Church. One of our priests had just returned from a trip to the Holy Land which he got for free because he was ‘Spiritual Director’! Another just got back in time to attend the bazaar from a trip to Canada where he had been visiting friends and relatives! To this day, I have not forgotten my disgust.
But the biggest thing we ever did was to adopt two babies – who would otherwise have spent their young lives floating from children’s home to foster home to children’s home – and bring them up as our own. We took on Annalise, who is half West Indian / half white, when she was just five weeks old, Paul was just three and Maria was five. Two years later we took on Christopher, who is of Jamaican origin, and was already eleven months old. He had spent that vital first year in an orphanage where he never learnt to make a relationship with a mother-figure because there was always someone else on duty tomorrow night. Twice he was admitted to hospital to have hernia operations, and apparently spent the whole time screaming – no one visited him because ‘there were other children in greater need’. For each child we had to justify our motives to a myriad of social workers and the Court, convincing them of our commitment and care. Meanwhile, we had to cope with these emotionally disturbed youngsters whilst not neglecting the needs of our natural children. We hadn’t a bean, and we went into it completely blind – just doing our best and coping with every challenge as it cropped up. (How much were we paid? not one penny! – we didn’t even receive maternity grants to help start us off because I hadn’t actually given birth to the children.) Where were the Church and the Social Services when our two much-loved but oh-so-difficult adopted youngsters reached their teens? Nowhere! We were on our own! We are very proud of the fact that all our four children are now responsible, successful and happy adults.
Yes, we have done our bit for ‘charity’ – now it is time to do things for ourselves! That is why there is no way we would get ourselves sponsored for any ‘charity’ whatsoever to do this Round-Britain Walk. We are doing it for us, for our own health and interest. We have set the challenge, and we are beholden to nobody.
Musing on these thoughts as we ambled along (we didn’t put any money in the lifeboat tin!) we noticed a whole vista opening up as we came to the northern end of Felixstowe Town. The car park where we had left our car is a large triangular grassed area, and we had parked at the northern end of it, up on a bit of a cliff. When we thought we were equivalent to it, we climbed up some steps only to find we should have climbed up a further set of steps to be absolutely accurate. At the top was a notice about the ‘Suffolk Coast & Heaths Path’ which leads fifty miles to Lowestoft. People were gasping when they read that, baulking at the thought of a fifty mile yomp and declaring that they would rather drive to Lowestoft or not go at all. But Colin and I have got to do that within the next month if we are to get to Kate’s on time! With this thought in mind, we had a very welcome cup of tea from our flask in the boot, and used the car park loo.
Then we locked up the car and carried on, for we had not yet completed today’s hike. We had dumped our rucksacks, picked up our cameras and pocketed our chocolate. Colin was in one of his ‘bolshie’ moods (I think he was anticipating the long drive home which was still ahead of us) and insisted on going down the northernmost set of steps because I had made the mistake of coming up a set merely fifty yards too soon. So I descended the steps we had come up, just to be pernickety about detail, and we met at the bottom – silly, but we were both very tired by then.
The cliffs sloped down to a kind of marshland (not again!) on which was set out a golf course. We walked alongside that, then past a row of beach huts to a Martello Tower. Rounding that, we came to the ferry point where we were supposed to cross the River Deben to Bawdsey. Once more, we had made the decision not to actually use the ferry – it would have cost us a total of £6 to go over and back, and if we had parked in Bawdsey, our cycle ride would have been an impossible thirty miles or so. So we sat on a stone eating our chocolate while we watched the last ferry of the day cross over from Bawdsey. We pretended with all our hearts that we had used it!
We both agreed that we had thoroughly enjoyed today’s Walk.

That ended Walk no.78, we shall pick up Walk no.79 next time on the other side of the River Deben where the ferry comes in at Bawdsey. We walked back to the car where we partook of more tea and a huge pasty each which did for our evening meal. We drove back to Landguard Fort to pick up the bikes, and then went straight out on to the main roads where we headed for home. The traffic was light, and with only one stop we got back to Bognor three hours later – at about ten o’clock. We were tired but happy. We felt we were really getting somewhere, and we knew that the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts were going to be a lot more interesting than Essex and the Thames Estuary which we shall never willingly visit again in our lives!

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