Thursday, September 25, 2003

Walk 85 -- Lowestoft to Hopton-on-Sea

* Kate, Cecilia and Jay joined us for this walk, making it a B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. walk!Ages: Colin was 61 years and 140 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 282 days.
Weather: Mostly sunny. Warm, with a pleasant breeze.
Location: Lowestoft to Hopton-on-Sea.
Distance: 7½ miles.
Total distance: 633 miles.
Terrain: Mostly concrete prom. Latterly we had to walk through sand dunes and then climb a cliff up a ‘sort-of’ path that disappeared! After that it was through a caravan site, along roads and finally a clifftop grassy path.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers to cross: No.29, the Waveney, at Lowestoft.
Ferries: None.
Piers: No.19, the Claremont Pier in South Lowestoft, was closed and looked rather derelict. It did have a café at the shore end.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The ‘White Horse’ in Corton where we enjoyed Adnam’s bitter and Scrumpy Jack from the pump. I was a bit unnerved after climbing that cliff, and needed the break.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.26 at Corton where there had been some cliff falls and the beach was blocked by diggers. That is why we had to climb the cliff!
How we got there and back: We were staying with Kate and John in their brand new house in Hopton-on-Sea. Colin drove us all to the car park in Lowestoft where we had sat eating fish ‘n’ chips 2½ weeks ago.
At the end, we walked from the clifftop, through Hopton village, to Kate’s house. After a cup of tea and profiteroles, John drove Colin back to Lowestoft to collect our car.

Seven or eight years ago, my friends Cecilia and Jenny, started going for weekly walks on the South Downs. They had both retired from teaching at Bognor Regis Community College where I was still employed full time. They were soon joined by Kate, also a retired teacher though from a different school, whose husband, John, used to be Cecilia’s head of department. John doesn’t like walking much but Kate does, so he asked if she could join them. I used to accompany them during the school holidays, but for a couple of years it was mainly just Cecilia, Jenny and Kate. In 1997 I took early retirement, so did Jay and Simon. We had all been teachers at B.R.C.C. and we immediately joined our friends on their weekly hikes. We evolved several names for our little group, but eventually we settled on the B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. – which stands for:

Boldly Leading Intrepid Stomping Traipsing Ever Rambling Society
Blatently Loony Idiotic Senile Tottering Eccentric Rumbling Souls
Bravely Leaping Into Salubrious Territory Exhibiting Remarkable Strength
Blithely Lolling Imbeciles Supporting Totally Evergreen Rattling Skeletons
Beautifully Loping In Serendipity To Exercise Rollicking Silliness

We usually meet up and do a circular walk of about six miles. We try to fit a pub in somewhere, but often arrive too late which is very frustrating! We are deliberately casual, talk a lot of nonsense and sit on a log (if we can find one) to eat our packed lunches. We sometimes get lost, but generally we are in a very relaxed mood and enjoy the countryside. We walk every Tuesday, no matter what the weather – just mention Firle Beacon or Old Winchester Hill to us and we start to shiver! Cecilia made up a song about us, then she and Kate made up more and more verses which were increasingly hilarious. Cecilia and I take lots of photos, and put flippant comments in our albums. Kate wrote a journal. Cecilia made a picture map of the South Downs Way, and Jenny made a lovely piece of artwork which incorporated much of the history of places we have visited.
Our group grew. We were joined by Marion, Cecilia’s neighbour. Colin started coming, then Cathy, another former colleague. Jay brought a friend, Sue, who is a retired headteacher and Ofsted inspector. Recently, Jay’s husband, Tony, has come along, and occasionally her sister, Annie, has been persuaded to join us. Ann and Bob, also former colleagues, came along once or twice but I think they found we walked too far or too fast for them to cope. Sometimes we have brought along relatives and friends who have been staying with us.
Cecilia wanted to walk the South Downs Way, so she arranged overnight accommodation at Alfriston Youth Hostel so that we could do the first two walks on consecutive days. That was such fun, it sparked the idea of going on B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. holidays. In 2001 I arranged a holiday in Italy, youth hostelling in Rome, Florence and Lucca. In 2002 Kate arranged a walking holiday in Slovenia, at Lake Bled. This year I arranged a walking holiday in the Austrian Tyrol. We are already talking about Croatia for next year.
But things have not always gone smoothly. I badly fractured each of my legs in 1999 – in separate incidents – and was not able to walk with my friends for many frustrating weeks. Simon moved to Findon, and although he has occasionally come over our way to walk, or we have arranged a walk over his way, he hardly ever comes now. Cathy goes to Yorkshire for weeks at a time to look after her step-father who is well into his nineties and increasingly dependent on her.
In 2001, Cecilia was diagnosed with breast cancer and her treatment involved an operation followed by weeks of radiotherapy. In 2002, Colin was diagnosed with prostate cancer and his treatment involved a major operation which left him incontinent. Fortunately, both of them have conquered the big C because it was diagnosed in its very early stages. Jay has been ill several times, finding it difficult to cope with complex family problems. Marion’s husband recently had a big operation on his face.
But the most distressing illness was Jenny’s – in the summer of 2000 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s! Her condition deteriorated very fast, she stopped conversing with us almost immediately. Her behaviour became increasingly bizarre, and at times dangerous. By January 2001 she was so distressed when we took her out that we had to call a halt for all of our sakes. She is now living in secure accommodation for her own safety, and she does not recognise anybody anymore. Her husband recently died and she doesn’t even know! Alzheimer’s is so CRUEL!
Kate and John wanted to move to Norfolk to be near their grandchildren, and in April this year they went. Cecilia was particularly upset because the B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. started with her, Jenny and Kate and now Jenny and Kate are gone. Kate always told me that when we reached Hopton-on-Sea on our Round-Britain-Walk we must come and stay with her so she could join us. (She was also upset at leaving the B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. behind.) So we arranged these few days, and turned Walks 85 and 86 into B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. walks!

Thank you, Kate and John, for your hospitality!

It was really pleasant to have friends joining us for this Walk! From the car park, we strolled along the prom towards Lowestoft. There were quite a few people about because it was such a nice day. As we passed South Beach, an elderly woman, who had obviously just been in the water, came up the beach and grabbed her towel. I asked her if she had enjoyed her swim – she replied, “It was glorious yesterday, but a bit cold today!” I told her she was very brave – it is a bit late in the year to still be sea-bathing, I think. It’s a mere three months to Christmas!
As we approached Claremont Pier, we could see that it was derelict – yet another pier succumbed to the elements, but at least no one had attempted to set this one on fire! The café at the shore end was open, but the rest of it looked highly dangerous.
We came to the harbour entrance, having passed a rather lovely glass pavilion (shut), a statue of what looked like Neptune wrestling with a giant fish and a gaudy red and green seat which resembled an open fan under a large umbrella! South Pier is made of concrete and is not very long. It has a lifeboat station part way down, and outside is a notice warning you to protect your ears when the foghorn sounds. Fortunately it was a nice clear day. At the end of the pier was another notice asking you not to fish in the harbour entrance – there were several fishing rods set up just there!
We walked round the small harbour, which is very pretty, crossing the River Waveney on a metal bridge. It is an opening bridge, so that boats can get further up the river, and it rattled! The traffic was quite heavy, and it was especially wobbly every time a bus or a lorry went over. After that bit of excitement, we had to walk through a small industrial area, but it meant we could miss out the North Pier and its extension.
However, I was struck by the decorative brickwork and painted pictures on some of the buildings – they were beautiful! Colin and I stopped to photograph them, and also a statue of a lifeboat man, but the others didn’t seem interested and went on. Soon we were past the tiny dock where they had to wait for us by a busy roundabout, and we were able to take a short road back to the seafront.There we came to the first of the four Cardinal Points – the easternmost place on mainland Britain! From this little promontory, everything British is West! There is a big brick circle on the prom there. They call it a ‘Euroscape’, and marked on it is the direction and distance to practically everywhere else in the world! We spent a while there, reading them and taking photos of each other. We were still behind industrial units, not a very pretty place. That was the view to the West, and to the East it was just sea.We continued northwards, and ever so slightly westwards! We were still on a concrete prom as it opened out to a greensward, and next we came to a caravan park. Then the concrete prom came to an end, and we were on the dreaded soft sand! There were low dunes, but we found that we could stay on fairly solid ground if we picked our way carefully. We were discussing the film ‘Calendar Girls’ which had recently been released. It tells the true story of a group of middle-aged women in Yorkshire – the local village Women’s Institute, no less! – who posed for a nude calendar in order to raise money for their local hospital. We were winding up Kate, telling her that we were going to do a B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. nude calendar, and asking her which month she wanted to pose for! Kate is wise, and wouldn’t buy it, but I took some ‘practice’ shots of all three of them peeping over grassy tussocks in the dunes. (Fully clothed, of course!)
Kate, being a ‘local’ now, had heard that the cliff path along Corton Cliffs was closed due to erosion. So we tried to keep to the beach. However, we could see up ahead that our way was blocked by huge JCBs trying to deal with landslides off the soft sandy slopes. We came to a gap in the cliffs with a path leading up, and wondered if we ought to go up on top there. A man was walking towards us along the beach from the direction of the diggers, so we asked him if it was possible to get through. He told us that there was another path further along, near the JCBs, which led up to the top of the cliff – so we carried on. The path petered out, and although it sort of went up the cliff, it was very ‘sort-of’! As usual, I was behind everyone else and the last to scramble up – I had to ask Colin to come down again and assist me on a particularly big step. We were all a little unnerved by the experience, and I felt really bad about leading my friends into a situation which was potentially dangerous. We had laughed about it at the time, but later on I got a little shaky – I was in a mild state of shock, I think. I certainly felt guilty.
We rounded some bushes, and found we were walking through a caravan site. We came to the entrance, and walked along the side of the road into Corton. We passed some holiday chalets, and Kate remarked that you could stay in them very cheaply – she and John had done so when they were house-hunting in the area. Eventually we came to a pub, and I was quite relieved because I was still reacting from that climb up the cliff. After a drink and a rest, I felt much better – I think we all did.
Refreshed, we continued through Corton, round the back of the last house, over a stile and on to a path which led us back to the clifftop. No sign of closed or eroded paths here, and it was very pleasant walking through grassy fields along the edge of a low and sloping sandy cliff. As we approached Hopton-on-Sea, the path descended to the beach – but we were able to use a proper set of steps this time! At this point, we crossed from Suffolk into Norfolk – our sixth county. After only a quarter of a mile, we once more ascended to the clifftop.
Kate pointed out a very picturesque garden which she had often passed on her walks round Hopton. We saw a kestrel flying over the cliff ahead of us, then it flew towards us over the beach and was actually below us. The cliffs are not very high at that point, but we were able to look down on it as it hunted for its prey. We walked past about half the caravans of the huge ‘Holiday Village’ on top of the cliffs, and then decided to call it a day.

That ended Walk no.85, we shall pick up Walk no.86 next time part way along the caravan site at Hopton-on-Sea. Kate led us unerringly through the caravans to the entrance, then through the village (where I had a rather severe nose bleed and had to stop to let it subside) to her house. After a cup of tea and profiteroles, John drove Colin back to Lowestoft to collect our car.

Jenny died in 2007, it was a merciful release.
She was a good friend, we will all miss her terribly.

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