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January, 2015

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A bright cold day just after New Year – just right for a quiet drive off the A12 to the coast at Orford. The last time we were there a charity art exhibition was raising funds for sea defences; this time we hear the historic lighthouse on the Ness is in danger as tides wash the shoreline away.

No risk where we parked: in winter there’s space to spare in the square. It’s a leisurely ten minute walk to the quayside. Our preferred route was past the Crown and Castle, now a highly rated hotel and restaurant, and round by the castle of the Bigods – a bad lot if ever there was. There’s a Jubilee beacon near the entrance as there was one to light if the Spanish Armada had evaded Drake.

The houses tell the story of Orford’s prosperous past. Priory Cottage recalls the church in its monastic existence; Merchant’s House shows the importance of trade along this coast, with Orford and Aldeburgh taking the place of Dunwich, although all is reduced to tourism and small scale fishing now.

What elsewhere would be the High Street actually runs across it downhill to the harbour. More attractive cottages and houses line the route. The pub opposite the lower car park is The Jolly Fisherman, its doorstep below road level and its sign reads “Step Down”. High tides here may one day be as destructive as at Dunwich. Aldeburgh already has doorstep slots for boards to hold back the sea.

All around, when you can see between buildings though often you can see right through them, are mud flats at low tide. This is a place out on a limb: perhaps the Ness has become its natural protection as governments once thought the mysterious goings on in its bunkers would protect the country in wartime. The view out there is no less eerie than WG Sebald described in “The Rings of Saturn”. Fortunately, the nuclear weapons are now far away although the idea of using them attracts our politicians still.

Whether it was the boat that went out to inspect the erosion round the lighthouse I don’t know, but there was one coming to harbour. I hope he had his own refreshment as two people in their beach hut had. We didn’t and the tea shop was closed until spring. Fortunately we could wait a while and take shelter in Pinney’s Smokehouse, to buy the wonderful fish products that almost turn you into a sea dog by their aroma.

We took the direct route back as far as the church, scene of some splendid concerts in the Aldeburgh Festival seasons. The churchyard retains that part of the chancel that collapsed many years ago, showing that the church – still impressive – was once among the largest in the area. It was of course monastic.

There were still few cars in the square. We had seen what the antique shop had to offer and on a previous occasion had visited the museum with its remains from Dunwich and other lost parts of the coast. Snape was a few minutes away and its excellent cafe still open prior to its brief redecoration later in the week. Cream tea, not quite the summer fare of Wimbledon but at a fraction of the cost, was delicious.

Just the way to end a bracing afternoon. By the way, it was 2016: Silver Traveller not yet up to date.


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