Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Walk 80 -- Butley Ferry, via Orford, to Iken

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 117 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 259 days .
Weather: Some cloud, but mostly hot and sunny with a warm wind.
Location: The Butley Ferry to Iken picnic area.
Distance: 13 miles.
Total distance: 588 miles.
Terrain: Mostly grass river banks, but latterly we had to walk through a mangoldwurzel field, across grass fields, through woods, along roads and finally along a quirky little beach to the picnic site.
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: None, which is why we had to walk so far – we couldn’t get across!
Ferries: None, though we willed for one when we were opposite Aldeburgh!
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.80 at Orford Quay.
Pubs: The ‘Jolly Sailor’ at Orford where we enjoyed Adnams bitter and Strongbow cider which we had to drink in the garden because there was a log fire alight in the bar!!
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.20, Orford Castle. (We actually visited it the next day because there simply wasn’t time on such a long walk.)
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove, with bikes on the back of the car, from our camp at Shottisham to the beautiful picnic area at Iken where we left the car in the shade of a tree. We then cycled down through Orford to the nearest point to the Butley Ferry that we could drive the car to later. We chained our bikes to a post, then walked about a mile across farmland to the ferry point on the north side. (We could have ridden the bikes further, but then we would have had to ride them back to the car when we were tired at the end of the day.)
At the end, we drank two cups of tea each. Then we collected the bikes and returned to our campsite at Shottisham.
We were very pleased, when we eventually arrived at the north side of the Butley Ferry to start our Walk, to find that the river bank onwards from that point was a ‘licensed’ path and we were permitted to walk on it. We had just hiked across farmland from where we had stashed our bikes, and thought we would have to retrace our steps and stomp along a road before cutting across the marshes on a public footpath. But no! Here was this licensed path, so it said on a notice, and it was very well maintained along the river bank too – far better than many a public path we have ploughed our way through.
Yes, we did have to pass a bull – but he was extremely docile, and there was a notice on a stile warning us about him. Far more interesting were a family of swans. Two of them were resting on the bank ahead, and got up as we approached. They waddled down the slope on our left and made towards a water-filled ditch where another pair with their cygnets were feeding. The father was not at all happy. His feathers went up in an arch, and he lurched out hissing at the interlopers. He chased them down the ditch, past a footbridge and then some! They retreated several hundred yards away from his family, and yet he was still hissing and pointing his neck. We guessed that these two were last year’s youngsters, now young adults, who still wanted to hang around for a free handout, but the parents had a new family to care for and so had kicked them out.
(Personally, I think there are quite a few human families which should follow suit! There are far too many aged parents still ‘caring’ for their grown-up offspring who are lazy, selfish and rude. They rule the roost, don’t pay their way and belittle their parents who have become afraid of them. We had to show the door to our Chris when he was twenty, getting himself into debt, lying in bed most of the day and going out ‘on the razz’ by night. It was hard to do, but very necessary at the time. I told him to go and do something with his life – and three years later he passed an honours degree in Film & Video Technique! He did it all himself, through his own sheer hard work – but would he have done so if we hadn’t chucked him out when he was becoming a lout? I think not! We love our four children with all our hearts and count them as our best friends, but we couldn’t actually live with them now that they are adults – and I’m sure that none of them could live with us. It was difficult for each of them when they first left home, but Wow! haven’t they all succeeded because they did!)
Anyway, back to the swans. Colin went down the bank and tried to herd the two youngsters further along the ditch, well away from the aggressive father. But they didn’t want to know and had him walking round in circles which was quite comical from my point of view! Eventually we left them to sort it out themselves. I expect they managed much better without our interference.
Our way led southwards down the River Butley – on the opposite bank to where we were yesterday – and turned left so that we were walking eastwards, then northwards, along the River Ore. The whole area is very flat, and the river straddles a low island (which is a nature reserve) at that point. There were a lot of sailing boats out on the Ore, but they were the other side of the island so we could only see the top halves of them. Behind them was yet another sandbank, which we couldn’t see, that separated them from the waves. We seemed a long way from the shoreline again, and didn’t see the sea all day! As we approached Orford we had a lovely sighting of the little town with its castle, a vista which is not unlike my beloved Arundel as viewed from the river. We began to meet more and more people as we approached civilisation – it was a lovely day to be out walking.
We sat on the quay to eat our lunch. A few small boats were bobbing about, and then one came across from Orford Ness to deposit a couple of birdwatchers on the shore near us. Orford Ness widens out opposite the town. That part of it is owned by the National Trust, and there is a visitor centre with a few short marked trails and hides for birdwatchers. Otherwise, the sandbank is private and a bit mysterious. We had noticed odd looking ‘pill boxes’ resembling pagodas over there as we walked along. The next day we found out that they were built by the MOD (who else?) for testing the triggers of atomic weapons – no wonder they won’t let us walk there! They also used to use the sandbank for weapons disposal, so we were really glad it was ‘off-limits’. The lighthouse on the Ness was automated in 1965 – the first in the country. So now we have passed the first to go automatic, and the last (near Margate – 1989).We went into the town to find a pub for a drink. None were in Colin’s Good Beer ‘Bible’, but the first one we found did do real ale, so he was satisfied. We couldn’t believe that there was a fire lit in the bar – it was only the second of September, for goodness sake! I remarked on it to the barmaid, a lady of uncertain age who looked as if she had never been on a country walk in her life. She replied, “Well, it’s a bit draughty with the door keep opening and closing!” We went outside to sup our drinks – we were cooked in there! We didn’t visit the castle until the next day because we still had an awful lot of ‘Walk’ to do, and we would be more relaxed on our ‘rest’ day.

Orford Castle

It was built in the 12th century by Henry II, a typical keep and bailey Norman castle. Orford was quite an important port in those days, but after two hundred years it had silted up so badly the ships could no longer get in. The castle was not maintained, and only the keep remains today. We went on an audio-tour which was very interesting. Elizabethan maps show that even four hundred years ago the River Ore did its strange turnaround at Aldeburgh, which it does today, so that it flows ten miles behind a sandbank before emptying into the sea further south. Aerial photos taken in 1949 and 1974 show the continual silting up of Orford Ness.The castle boasts numerous ‘garderobes’ (lavatories to you and me – ones which allow everything to run down the outside wall of the building!) We had never found so many in one castle before. One room even boasted an urinal for the convenience of the occupant – so long as he was male. I thought it was a holy water stoop!! The bakery was situated on the roof, which was unusual. The kitchen was the most likely room to catch fire, so they were usually built separately in the bailey well away from everything else. However, the well water there was brackish – due to the proximity of the sea – so they had a cistern on the roof to catch rainwater. Perhaps that had something to do with the positioning of the bakery.We climbed the tower to the top where we had wonderful views of Orford, a pretty little town which hasn’t expanded much since the port silted up about seven centuries ago. Some houses boasted very decorative brickwork, especially on their chimneys. We could see the countryside for miles around; we could see almost our whole Walk from up there, and beyond Orford Ness to the sea.
We returned to the quay, skirted round behind some fishing sheds, and continued along the river bank north-eastwards out of Orford. At first there were a few people around, but soon we were once more on our own. We sat down to eat a further snack opposite ten huge radio masts which rose into the sky from Orford Ness. Colin’s school-friend, Keith, used to work there a long time ago when he came home to settle after traipsing round the world as a ship’s radio operator. He lived in Chelmsford, and had to drive up to Orford where he was ferried across in a small boat, often in a thick mist. It must have been quite spooky! I expect the masts had a military use in those days, but now they are used to relay the BBC World Service, so we were told.
We carried on. There was only the occasional boat on the river now, and no one else on the towpath. We saw egrets, curlews, blue butterflies, a yellow butterfly with a brown border, red dragonflies, herons, terns and coots. The river mutated into the River Alde (we are not sure exactly where) and after what seemed like many miles we reached the sudden turn of the flow where it ‘kisses’ a sandbank, then turns sharply right to run ten miles southwards before opening out to the sea. We sat on the grass again to eat our chocolate for a final energy boost. There, just across that narrow strip of water, was Aldeburgh. It was a mere hundred yards away, yet we couldn’t get across to it – so near yet so far! There were a number of small boats moored in the river, and we willed someone to come across and offer to ferry us there. We would have paid anything! (Well, almost!) £5? £10? But nobody came, so we wearily pulled ourselves upright again and pressed on inland and westwards.It had been obvious for some time that hardly anybody walks those paths. After we turned the corner, things got worse. The official footpath runs alongside the landward side of the bank, but nobody had ever walked down there – so we kept to the top of the overgrown bank. Soon we found ourselves struggling through a sloping mangoldwurzel field where there was a vestige of a path, then thankfully we regained the river bank where the going seemed easier. We knew that the public footpath did not run continuously next to the river, and sure enough we came to a barrier on which was nailed a notice: PLEASE DON’T WALK ON THE MARSHES BECAUSE IT DISTURBS THE WILDLIFE – SUFFOLK WILDLIFE TRUST. We were quite pleased really, for we were very tired and the path we were allowed to walk on was a short cut, though we still had more than three miles to go.
The trail across the fields was waymarked, but the notices were cleverly disguised as fence posts or trees, and hidden behind bushes and brambles. However, we made only one mistake – and realised when we were half way up a hill (what a waste of time and effort!) Soon we came out on to a tarmacked lane, which was boring but at least the navigation was easy. We had reached that state of tiredness when the brain doesn’t function properly.
There was minimal traffic, which was a relief. We almost caught up with a man and his son on their bikes, but they completed their rest and whizzed down the hill ahead of us just before we reached them. I felt a bit sorry for the boy – he was wearing an oversized heavy motor-cycle helmet, whereas his father had no protection on his head at all. Further on we met an elderly couple out for a doddle who were picking and eating blackberries. Since we had been eating blackberries nearly all day I hailed them, and the conversation went something like this:
ME: “The blackberries are good this year, aren’t they?”
WOMAN: “I know you from somewhere – I saw you in Orford earlier today!”
ME: “Yes, we have walked from there!”
WOMAN: “But it must be four and a half miles! I saw that distance on a signpost!”
ME: “No, we came the long way, all along the river – we must have walked nigh on fifteen miles!”
MAN (aghast): “Do you feel better for it?”
ME (after a pause): “I’ll tell you tomorrow!”
That made them laugh, and we carried on. The next person we met was a girl on a bike (about thirtyish) who had apparently been navigating by signposts and got herself completely lost. We managed to put her on the quickest route to Orford which she wanted to reach before dark because she had no lights. The sun was already setting for the evening was quite advanced, so we bid her all speed. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who wander in the countryside without adequate maps – I wouldn’t be able to function without the OS 1:25000 ‘Explorer’ maps which I pore over for hours in preparation for these walks.
We would have liked to have visited Iken Church, but there just wasn’t time. Apparently there is a fragment of a 10th century cross which was set up in memory of St Botolph in there. This obscure saint founded a monastery in Iken in AD654, so he must have been one of the first English Christians – a brave man in a land full of pagans! Daylight was already fading and the church may have been shut when we got there anyway. We were anxious to get back to the car before it got dark, so we missed out the half mile detour on the grounds that it was a dead end – additional rule no.2.
We took a footpath leading off the road, which led us down to a quirky little beach by the widened river. There was real sand on the shore, though we were about four miles or so from the sea, and a line of car tyres had been placed all along. We assumed that was to keep the beach in place. It was a bit muddy underfoot, but we coped. The blood-red sun was sinking behind the trees and reflecting on the water – it was absolutely beautiful! We seemed to be walking on a long way, but perhaps that was because we were so tired. A path led off to our right, but a notice informed us that it was a dead end because the seawall had been breached. I had wondered about this right of way I had seen on the map that seemed to meander all over the lake under water! I suppose the ‘right of way’ bit is sacrosanct, but the path is now absolutely impassable – as we were to see on the next Walk. So we bypassed it, and a few yards further ahead we came out into the picnic site where our car was parked.
That ended Walk no.80, we shall pick up Walk no.81 next time at the picnic site at Iken.
We gulped down two cups of tea each, by which time we were the only car left and it was almost dark. We drove down to Orford to pick up our bikes, then back to our campsite at Shottisham.

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