Day 4 of the ride was officially meant to be the first full day in Suffolk. Maybe because I didn’t want to let go of Essex that quickly (which to mis quote Betjeman from day 1 has shown me far more of its beauty than its ugliness) I decided to cycle from Wivenhoe to Manningree rather than take the train. Thankfully though this time no pings outside Elmstead Market (see yesterday’s blog) – though I did come across this fine fellow in Little Bromley. Did someone tell him what happened yesterday?
From Manningtree I entered Suffolk proper, crossing the Stour on a functional, rather dismal bridge in no way an overture for what is to come!
The gentle climb through Brantham leads to the turning to Sutton, the road offering up occasional panoramic glimpses of the Stour Valley. Stutton is another of our regular venues (my 12th on this trip), but today its community shop is proudly advertising Common Ground Stuff in the Attic staring Julian Harries and Richard Mainwaring…both of whom would come up again later in my travels.
Stutton was also the setting for two of the Reapers Year trilogy (Reapers Year and Days of Plenty). Reapers Year celebrated the harvest and as I took a detour to the very beautiful Stutton church it didn’t take much to taste, smell and hear the harvest festivals and village frolics of by gone years. Leaving the pretty village the changes in farming are in evidence all around me. In the corner of one field old machinery quietly rots away and as I pass another I welcome the residue of the automatic waterer. Days of Plenty may have been set in the sixties but it’s themes of time, change, the passing of seasons and progress as a double edged sword feel as relevant as ever.
By now I’ve dropped into Harkstead (13th venue) and notional setting for Bone Harvest. Bone Harvest completed the trilogy started by Reapers Year and whose epic sweep took the family we first saw in 1915 right through to the new millennium.
As I leave Harkstead I turn my back on the Stour and my focus switches from land to water. I’d expected a trickier ride over the Shottley peninsular but the climbs, such as they were, remained easy and gentle. At points in the ride you can see water on three sides, and the strong, sea smelling breeze is a constant reminder of her presence. The quiet lanes hardly require me to break sweat and so far quicker than I expected I begin the descent into Pinmill.
Although I’ve never been here before the image seems strangely familiar – not because of Arthur Ransome’s descriptions in We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea (adapted by Eastern Angles in 2006) – Ransome is not big on descriptions – but from the simple line drawings my copy of the Puffin Classic contains. As tempting as the Butt and Oyster looked I had other things on my mind I opt instead for a stroll down the hard.
No pirates today (Pirates of Pinmill, 1996), no sign too of Goblin, John, Roger, Susan or Titty. Instead the only movement comes from two fellow cyclists and a young woman having one to one photography lessons. Mind, the boat shown below on the left below is for sale, perhaps just waiting for the next Captain Hook, Long John Silver or indeed Will Laud.
Will Laud, Margaret Catchpole’s (2012 and 2000, with Margaret Down Under in 2004) lover as a smuggler doesn’t really belong in that list – but it does provide a neat link to the next stage in the ride.
In search of Catchpole and her compatriots I head down to Wolverstone. First stop is The Cat House, hidden from the rest of the Marina by a wall of trees, where allegedly a previous owner would place a stuffed cat in the window to warn the revenue men were about. Today the stuffed cat is replaced by a more serene china animal who stares rather absent mindedly from a down stairs window! There is also some suggestion that Catchpole herself lived or worked here for a while whilst she was in service.
It’s here I’m joined by Karen (Eastern Angles Marketing Officer) and James (board member). Not surprisingly there is much chuckling at the ridiculousness of the EA Hairy Biker. After a few quick pictures (the closest I’m ever going to get to being pursued by the paparazzi) it was time to get down to more serious stuff – like boat safety!
Nervously I explain to James (my soon to be ferry man / skipper) that I’ve never really sailed before, James makes all the right reassuring noises, then tosses me a life jacket!
So a little like the smugglers of days gone past we prepare to cross the Orwell by water. Of course the analogy isn’t quite accurate. Smugglers wouldn’t have crossed at broad day light, nor would their contraband have included a pedal bike or would their boat have had a powerful motor but I enjoyed the connection all the same!
We coast gently out of the marina, waving at the occasional yachtsman as we pass, before James really puts his foot down and we shoot across the river at what feels like break neck speed (especially compared to my slow cycling!). The crossing is over in just a few exhilarating minutes before James puts me ashore on a beach at the bottom of Orwell Country Park.
Then followed something a kin to a Whitehall farce. Steve and Pen – colleagues at Eastern Angles – were due to meet me on the Nacton side of the estuary. As I landed ahead of schedule we missed each other…
….then we couldn’t find each other.
Our mobiles kept cutting out…
…I misheard the gates of Orwell County School for the gates of Orwell Country Park.
Steve is asking am I near x and y. I can’t hear a word. I mutter back incoherently about maps and GPS….
…the phone cuts out again.
Meanwhile I’m trying to ascend to the road up a narrow path I’ve found from the beach. Pushing through the undergrowth I feel my back wheel dragging…I fear the puncture word…
…the phone goes again. I emerge into an open field ‘er Steve think I better go – I appear to be on private land!!’.
Half an hour later we did manage to find each other so cycling could recommence. We headed back out onto the Sustrans NCN 51 route in the direction of Nacton, Margaret Catchpole’s home village. The village shop is firmly shut so we decide to seek out the church instead in the vague hope of finding a Catchpole family member grave. Even in a village of Stutton’s size we get a little lost and have to ask for directions. A friendly resident describes the two of us as discombobulated. Don’t think I’ve ever been called that before – and doubt I ever will again!!
We do eventually find the church and though the ladies of the parish have carefully documented all 300 odd tomb stones (no mean feat given that many appear to the naked eye to be unreadable) we find no trace of a Catchpole.
she sprang upon the firey little Suffolk Punch, snapped her fingers instead of a whip…. on she went, and well had she her own wishes answered by the fiery animal she bestrode. Her heart was up, and so was the pony’s, who, feeling a light weight upon his back.. answered to her hearts content the snap of the finger for expedition
(from The History of Margaret Catchpole 1846).
As two blokes on pedal bikes how well we recreated a thirteen year olds ride on a horse I’ll can only leave you to decide!
We end up at what was the former county hall where Margaret was imprisoned (and subsequently escaped) – passing on the way the old Cobbold brewery. Both buildings rich in history, both now in need of a new lease of life.
Now that I’m in Ipswich we switch tack a little and grab chips and lemonades in what was the Old Rep theatre, a stage that had once been graced by the likes of Diana Rigg, Ian McKellen and Gawn Grainger. We’re here of course because of The Ghost of the Old Rep the 97/98 Christmas show which featured both Richard Mainwaring and Julian Harries. The conversion to pub though has been so clinical that the only spirits you are likely to find here now come as doubles with ice.
Striding round the corner we pause for a moment outside Starbucks (with its former life recorded in its sign The Great White Horse). A blue plaque commemorates the fact that both Charles Dickens and his creation Mr Pickwick stayed here. What it does not mention is that neither seemed to have a good time!
Never were such labyrinths of uncarpeted passages, such clusters of mouldy, ill-lighted rooms, such huge numbers of small dens for eating or sleeping in, beneath any one roof, as are collected together between the four walls of the Great White Horse at Ipswich
from The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
Dickens might have had more fun at Round the Twist, Eastern Angles Dickens spoof 2011/12! Mr Pickwick himself has also featured in the first ever Eastern Angles Christmas show – Mr Pickwicks Victorian Christmas (1988/89) and Mr Pickwick goes to Town (1989/90).
That left just enough time to drop by the Sir John Mills for tea and biscuits (my 14th venue of the ride). After a quick sit down it was time for the last leg of the journey to Woodbridge, via California (so called after the predecessor to our regular sponsor Ipswich Building Society sold plots of land to members by ballot, the resulting scenes being likened to the Californian gold rush). I take a detour to visit little and greater Bealing where Margaret was once in service.
Then, finally, at around 7pm I descend into Woodbridge passing on the way The Seckford Theatre and Woodbridge Community Centre (venues 15 and 16) to reach the station just in time to see the train leave. Still there are worse places to be stuck for an hour!
I’ll be back in Woodbridge on Friday to start phase II of the ride. Phase one has seen me I’ve cycle some 200 miles passing through 16 Venus and being able to name check 17 shows to date. Not surprisingly I’m a little saddle sore and my knees appear all of a sudden to be articulating fairly strong views. Climbing the stairs tonight could be fun!
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And if you haven’t already done so read day one blog here, day two blog here and https://matthewlinley.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/ea-hairy-biker-day-3/.