It was chilly but under a clear sky so the sun kept us warm even on deck. The objective was to celebrate a friend’s birthday, even if delayed by almost three months. It was also to be a surprise, and how surprised he was on arriving at Orford car park to find four of us already there with four others soon to join.
Even so he had no idea of the plan. We all walked to the quay, where the surprise slowly unfolded. The Lady Florence was at her mooring. It dawned on him that she was the boat booked for his trip.
Going on board we were welcomed to the stern seating area and offered drinks. A dozen of us were the full complement of passengers so there was little delay in beginning the cruise. On the seaward side was Orford Ness, still looking mysterious and a little sinister. The Lady Florence has a good commentary system so we were given the story of weapons research, including nuclear bomb testing. W.G. Sebald has given a rather more chilling summary in one of his books. It is remarkable how long this spit of land is: easily thought of as an island but connected to the mainland. The only island hereabouts is Havergate, which we were expexted to pass after lunch.
About forty-five minutes into the cruise lunch was announced. We squeezed into the saloon and ordered more drinks to accompany the meal. Lady Florence was then just off Aldeburgh and soon to turn about.
It is surprising how much can be done in the minute galley on board. The meal was three-course. Some had pate; some creamed mushrooms; others had prawn. The main course offered a choice of chicken in paprika sauce, cod in a mustard cream, a vegetarian pie or a steak version. Desserts were fruit crumble, cheesecake or a fruit pudding, with a cheese option. Everyone seemed to enjoy what they had chosen.
Two hours had quickly passed and we were passing Havergate as promised. Another turn brought the approach to Orford into view. The castle and church are major landmarks, not only here but across much of the Suffolk coastline. Approaching is a stirring experience, even more so with an historical summary that reveals the slow decline – not only here but in several ports – of merchant shipping. The most striking of course is the collapse of Dunwich, literally and financially.
Just two fishing vessels go out into the sea from Orford. The warehouses of the medieval era are no more. The town itself is heavily into tourism and second homes. Pinney’s Smokehouse does good business, as does the associated restaurant. On the waterfront is a busy cafe. If you are lucky the fish hut is open with crab high on its list.
Our cruise had occupied a very enjoyable (almost) three hours. It was greatly enjoyed by everyone so well worth repearing. We were also prompted to plan other group food events.