Sunday, 9 October 2016

October 9th 2016: Suffolk: Grafham Water (again)

Monty the Motorhome is back on his home drive after a week away in Suffolk.

Last night we were undisturbed in a pub car park, which was surprising considering it was Saturday night. I think there were only three other cars parked there, and we never heard them leave.

This morning dawned with bright sunshine and we were soon back at Grafham Water to hire a bike. Yes just one bike. A tandem.
The intention was to ride the 10 mile cycle path around the reservoir. However after about 2 minutes riding I thought we’d be lucky to make one mile. Neither of us had ever ridden a tandem before, and it was really challenging. Both riders have to pedal at the same time - sounds obvious - but in reality quite tricky. If one rider stops pedalling, even for a couple of seconds, the other rider is taken by surprise and finds a considerable resistance in the pedals, which can throw their balance off. Also any shift in balance by one rider will affect the other person - again quite obvious - but really disconcerting to suddenly feel the bike go out of balance without warning.
I felt like it was like riding a bike for the first time, before balance becomes second nature and something you don’t think about.
Poor Ruth was on the back, with handle bars too low for her (they were part of my seat, so couldn’t be raised any higher), which meant lots of pressure on her hands. Plus her saddle wasn’t the best, which quickly leads to one thing - saddle sores.

However we made our way, slowly, with lots of wobbles and lots of stops. Two hours later we had made it. A complete circumnavigation. Two proud people.

A quick picnic lunch in the van, then the drive back.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

October 8th 2016: Suffolk: Lavenham

Monty the Motorhome is parked up in the corner of a car park belonging to a small country pub not far from Grafham Water. We are staying the night here with a view to returning to Grafham Water again tomorrow as we really liked it on the outward journey a week ago.

Today started with rain. The first we have had so far on this trip, so can’t grumble. Anyway we took our time packing up and set Sat Nav for the town of Lavenham in East Suffolk. 
This place is supposed to be the best example in England of a medieval town. Certainly on arrival the place seemed doted with half timbered buildings leaning at all sorts of drunken angles. We later found out there are 321 listed buildings in the town from a a very knowledge guide at the Guildhall. This chap also succinctly described why Lavenham has so many such buildings, so I’ll try and do the same. The town made it’s wealth from wool back in the 16th Century, specifically  a blue dyed wool known as Lavenham Blue, which financed the building of many timbered buildings and an immense church. However competition from Flemish sources took away that trade and the townsfolk had nothing to fall back on. Other wool towns also suffered, but they were able to diversify in some way, so retained some wealth, which was put to use as the fashion for building turned from timber to brick. Poor Lavenham could not afford to pull their timber houses down, so they remained, luckily for us.

The Guildhall
We had a good look round the town, visiting ye old tearooms for sandwiches, and also visiting the church which is huge for such a small town.
Not often you see clipped topiary in a churchyard

Detail from the stained glass windows
Then on to our resting place tonight - the St John Arms, just outside the village of Melchbourne.

We had reserved a table, but ended up as the only people in the lounge for most of the meal. The food was delicious, steak for me while Ruth went for pie and veg.

Friday, 7 October 2016

October 7th 2016: Suffolk: Sutton Hoo

Monty the Motorhome is preparing to say ‘goodbye’ to Suffolk as we move on tomorrow, back towards home.

Today started where we left off yesterday - food.
Last night I was catching up with last weekend’s papers and saw a small piece about a bakery at Orford - a small village about 20 minutes from where we’re pitched. The place did breakfast and when I mentioned this to Ruth she immediately decided that was to be our first destination today. Needless to say I did not put up much opposition to this idea.
We arrived in Orford to find it just about deserted, and this was also the case when we got into the bakery and found ourselves alone on a long communal table in their cafe. However by the time our bacon sandwiches with prune sauce arrived there were a number of other people seated and ready to eat. So, marks out of 10 for the sarnies - 10. Marvellous sour dough bread, really really tasty bacon and a sauce that was just right as an accompaniment. We’ll be trying to replicate this back at Morgan Towers. Then there were the cakes - pain au chocolat and eccles cake - both really sumptuous. We also took away a few bits from the bakery - more on those when they are eaten.

Pump Street Bakery - got to be one of the best in the country
 Suitably nourished we pressed on to the second destination of the day - the National Trust site of Sutton Hoo. This is the burial site that was excavated just before the Second World War to reveal an impressive Anglo-Saxon burial ship and a collection of treasures that were heralded as one of the most important British archaeological discoveries of the last century.

Some of the original finds are displayed, such as weapons and pots, but the valuable treasure is all in the British Museum in London, which was a little disappointing, but understandable.
We also walked round the original burial mound site, which still has a number of mounds still to be excavated.

This burial mound has been excavated; it has now been filled in again to restore it to the  original shape to demonstrate the size

This notice amused us
A quick lunch of sausage rolls from the bakery (8/10) and then a quick look at the coast near our site. This involved a trip along a narrow dead end road to a row of coastal cottages that seemed in the middle of nowhere. A barren shingle beach stretched in both directions, with just a few fisherman braving the gusty wind coming off the north sea. We walked along the sea bank for a while, before turning for home.

The sweeping East Anglian sky from the sea bank
Tonight will be a simple meal in the van, a moroccan chicken dish that was prepared some time ago and frozen. It made the journey all the way to Scotland and back on our last trip, and has languished in the freezer for the whole of this current one, so it’s about time it should be eaten. Accompaniment will probably be sour dough from this morning’s foray. 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

October 6th 2016: Suffolk: Aldeburgh

Monty the Motorhome has been reunited with his Sat Nav and is now hoping that the problem has been fixed. The phone call came this morning to say everything appears to be working fine, so we called in and got Mr Techy (Nigel) to fix the unit back into place and connect up the multitude of wires in the right places. Actually it didn’t look too complicated, but whether I say that again if we need to remove the unit is doubtful. The problem seems to have been a map update that I did last year online, though why everything worked fine after I did it for almost 12 months is still a puzzle. So a new download, from a authorised source (I could swear mine was also from such a source) and everything looks dandy. Time will tell.

Anyway that was only a detour from today’s trip out. First up was a visit to Snape Maltings, an arts complex best known for it’s huge concert hall which was formerly a malt house for malting barley in the production of beer.  We peered inside the hall and wondered what a concert would be like as the acoustics would probably be outstanding. 

The concert hall from across the adjacent reeds
Elsewhere on the complex there were galleries and boutique type shops - all very up market with pictures on sale for thousands of pounds. With these sort of prices we moved on and drove a few miles on to the town of Aldeburgh. This coastal town is notable for being the home of the composer Benjamin Brittain, and remains a very artistic and cultural centre. Second homes make up roughly a third of the town’s residential property, so affluence is abundant.
We parked at the northerly end of the town, opposite a 4.5m high stainless steel sculpture entitled The Scallop which is sited on the shingle beach. It is a dedication to Brittain and is made up of two interlocking scallop shells, each broken, the upright shell being pierced with the words: "I hear those voices that will not be drowned", which are taken from Britten's opera ‘Peter Grimes’.The sculpture is controversial in the local area, with some local residents considering it spoiling the beach. It has been vandalised with graffiti and paint on at least 13 occasions. There have been petitions for its removal and for its retention, but we enjoyed it and hope it remains.

The town itself was fairly quiet and initially we were not too impressed. However it grows on you and there is a sense of style which can often be missing from popular seaside towns.

Lunch was fish and chips. Again. However these were from the Aldeburgh Fish & Chip shop, reputably the best in Eastern England. We sat on the beach wall to eat and agreed they were the best of this trip - but not outstanding - maybe 7 out of 10.

That was the main meal of the day, so we hunted around for some ‘bits’ for tea and came up with: local Suffolk ham, potted smoked shrimp, a local Brie type cheese, local baked cornbread and Aldeburgh Ale.

We got our shrimps from this beachside chalet
They were all consumed this evening, back at our site, and we agreed it was one of the best meals we’ve had in a long while.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

October 5th 2016: Suffolk: Dunwich Heath

Monty the Motorhome is settling down at a new campsite just to the east of Ipswich, in the small village of Hollesley.

Today we visited Dunwich, or more accurately Dunwich Heath. This is a large area of heathland just to the north of Minsmere, where we were yesterday. The area is owned by the National Trust, so for us as members the parking was free. However non-members with motorhomes have to stump up a hefty £12.50 to park, and no overnighting either!
It was a windy day, of sunshine and cloud, which meant chilly temperatures in the wind, but really warm when in a sheltered position.

The wind was coming in straight off the sea, meaning the waves were much more impressive than this photo shows
We walked across the heath, with masses of heather flowering and down towards Dunwich village. We had hoped to walk back to the van along the cliff top, but most of the land appeared private with no public access. We could have gone along the beach, but it was deep shingle which would have made hard walking. Later we found out that there is a sand bar exposed on this section of beach that is good for walking, but only for a couple of hours either side of low tide - which was not while we were there today.

A sea of Heather

No I haven't shrunk
Back at the car park we visited the Trust’s cafe (is there any property they own now that doesn’t have a cafe?) and had spiced pumpkin scones. They were good, but in my opinion needed more of the ‘spice’ to make them memorable.
Talking of memorable food that takes me on nicely to lunch. We moved on from Dunwich and revisited Darsham Nurseries (see the post from Monday Oct 3rd). The main chefs are still away, but from today they have guest chefs in who specialise in lunches of organic flatbread tacos filled with seasonal and local products. I had roast aubergine and fried chick peas with tahini dressing, while Ruth went for slow cooked goat with kohl rabi. Puddings were salted chocolate mousse and goat yoghurt cake with plum compote. The whole lot was delicious.

We drove on from there to our campsite - Run Cottage - a small site that is part of the Premier Parks network. We’re here for the next three nights, hoping for a phone call soon to say the Sat Nav is ready for collection.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

October 4th 2016: Suffolk: Minsmere

Monty the Motorhome is feeling a little blind without his Sat Nav. So it was back to reliance on the atlas today, which was not much of a problem as our destination was Minsmere RSPB reserve - just a few miles away from our site.

It must be 20+ years since we visited this reserve, in which time the visitor reception area (car park, shop, cafe, toilets etc) have been expanded and redeveloped, such that it was all very unfamiliar.

However the reserve itself remains the same with a mix of woodland, wetland and coastal habitats that attract a wide range of birds at any time of the year.
Our first port of call was to the Bittern hide with hopes of seeing ……………. yes, Bittern. However it was not to be today, and no booming either (their call sounds like a foghorn) as this is just heard in the Spring. We did see Marsh Harriers and a Kingfisher which hovered over the water, like a Hummingbird, for several seconds at a time - something I’ve never seen before.
The next stop was the Island Mere hide, set amongst a vast reedbed. This was the spot for Bearded Tits, but again we were unlucky, with just a possible sighting of one darting from one clump of reeds to another.

We had lunch at the cafe before doing the coast trail around the scrapes and along there sea front. By now the weather had turned cool,dull and windy. Not ideal birdwatching conditions. However there were plenty of ducks and waders on the scrape, but we struggled to identify them without a book. Later we decided our tick list included Teal, Gadwall, Shoveller, Snipe, Curlew, Redshank, Little Egret.

I’m afraid no photos were taken of the wildlife today - they were all too far away. The best we could do was a shot of our map guide to the reserve, somewhat crumpled, but you can still make out the details.  

Monday, 3 October 2016

October 3rd 2016: Suffolk: Southwold

Monty the Motorhome has had a minor operation this morning to remove the Sat Nav. This unit is fitted into the dashboard, meaning that removal is not an easy affair - at least to someone with my skills. Truth to say this was the primary reason we came to Suffolk - so someone at the techy company could take the Sat Nav out and give me instructions on how to refit it. Extraction involved removal of a plinth around the unit, then insertion of special prongs which somehow released the whole unit so it could be pulled out. Then to my horror there was a spaghetti of wires that had to be disconnected - I just hope the techy people fix it over the next couple of days so we can return and they do the re-fit. There is an outside chance that it will take longer than a week, in which case it will be posted back to us! 
So now there is a gaping hole in Monty’s dashboard, with all sorts of different coloured wires inside. Most unbecoming

So with that task done we headed to Darsham Nurseries for breakfast. This place is a plant nursery with a cafe. These days it seems most plant nurseries have a cafe attached to them - food sells just as well, if not better, than the plants. However Darsham is a cut above the rest, so much so that it has been featured in a Sunday Times list of best cheap eats in the UK.
Unfortunately for us the resident chef was away for the next couple of days, but we were warmly greeted by an understudy and provided with a breakfast platter of cornbread and banana bread, with homemade marmalade (delicious - and I say that as a marmalade maker myself), ricotta laced with lemon (novel idea, but it worked) and honey. We were really pleased with it all.

Outside the cafe there is plenty of colour and interest
Tummies full we pressed on to Southwold. The main car park is on the seafront, just north of the pier. Three spaces were provided for motorhomes and we got the last one, but that mattered little as it was such a large car park and only half full. 
We walked along the seafront, past the pier and all the brightly coloured beach huts, before coming to the harbour. This is slightly out of town and on a little inlet. The place bustles with activity from a number of boats, boatyards, cafes, fishmongers, locals and tourists.
We stopped at the first cafe and had fish and chips. Well you just have to when by the seaside. The food was ok, but it was the lady in charge that provided the most amusement. She was a bit of a Dawn French lookalike and soundalike - even if she didn’t realise it herself. Each new customer got the same spiel about what was on the menu and what the specials were. Then she ended by announcing, in a downhearted voice, that there was no Pinot Grigio today. It just seemed so bizarre in the setting and we could just picture Dawn French coming out with such a comment in a comedy sketch.

Southwold is famous for it's Beach Hut, or at least it is famous for the price they fetch - up to £100,000 !!

Tummies full (once again) we strode off back towards Southwold. The town itself is dominated by the parish church of St Edmund - a beautiful flint masterpiece that has been described as the “grandest galleon of churches that once sailed the Suffolk coast”; it certainly looked impressive gleaming in the autumn sun. 

The picture does not really do justice to this beautiful church
Another famous building in Southwold is it's lighthouse, which is set back from the seafront and lies amongst housing and shops

After a quick walk out to the end of the pier we returned back to our campsite to catch the last of the sun.