Southwold Milestones And Memory (part two)

Between Dunwich and Walberswick

Starting the day eating bacon cooked on a gas burner is one of life’s simple joys. As is brewing fresh coffee on the same.

The rough notes I have for the walk to Dunwich and back are copied into my notebook. It’s about as simple as walks go. I must catch the ferry across the river Blythe to Walberswick, find the route into the reeds that leads to Dunwich then come back along the beach, crossing the harbour by means of a foot bridge around three-quarters of a mile upriver.

The foot ferry is a row boat that can probably take up to six passengers. I’m the only one on this crossing that costs a quid and takes long enough to say hello, remark on the weather – it’s going to brighten up into sunshine later – and for him the ferryman to suggest reversing my route by going out along the beach, it being much easier to pick up the way through the reeds on the way back.

This I do, which also allows a swim before kicking on, taking advantage of the near empty beach to whip off my trunks and let the sea kiss where the sun doesn’t shine. Some more sandpipers whizz by. I say they’re sandpipers. They could be dunlin. They could have been dunlin yesterday. Or sanderling. They went past at a rate of knots. Maybe they’re knots. These are words that have only half a meaning because I can’t attach them to the material world any more. Still nice to see them though, half-forgotten mysteries that they are.

I think the next time I visited was with T, although me, The Boy and Mikey may have gone back the next year. But anyway, let’s say it was T. And because we’d met at university it’s safe to say that by then I had not only fallen in love but crashed out of it. At least once. Perhaps because I don’t seem to have any photos of that trip I remember little of it apart from the fact T was bitten by a midge on the eyelid in his sleep so when he woke up it looked like he’d been gone the proverbial ten rounds or developed a weird Elephant Man-like disease.

I only remember this because it’s a story that comes up if we’re together and the topic of Southwold or camping or midges comes up with someone who doesn’t know the tale. One of those stories that glue friendships.

Letting the sun dry me off, I watch a woman walk heavily through the shingle on two crutches. She’s a huge woman with two small dogs and is exercising a superhuman degree of strength to hoist herself along in a great ungainly but impressive shoulder-powered lumbering motion, like she’s dragging herself and all of her belongings up a mountain. It’s almost heroic.

The weather has taken the predicted turn and the drizzle and overcast grey-cover of the morning has turned to hot blinking blue with no clouds out to sea and only friendly puffy ones inland. For this reason, I’m glad the pub I find in Dunwich, The Ship Inn, has seats out the front that fall under the shadow of the roof and eaves to cool down out of the sun.

Outside the pub’s two front doors are a pair of bird feeders strung up among the creepers that are under constant attack from squadrons of chirpsy house sparrows. Because one of the feeders is not three feet from my head and at eye level where I’m sitting, I can see how dark and perpetually in motion is a sparrow’s eye – trying to notice everything.

If I’ve got this right, my next visit was The Boy’s stag do. There must have been eight of us. It was not a raucous affair and I think that was the point of coming here. I don’t have any photos but am pretty sure we played a lot of French cricket – it’s always French cricket, a game I’ve only ever played at a campsite – and that we tried to light barbecues and drank a lot of Adnams.

And because I can’t remember exactly when Rob got married it’s possible I may have known my future now ex-wife by then. I don’t think we ever came here together, which is strange because we were always driving around to places. But I don’t remember her here, her black hair against the dunes. And I’ve no photos to say otherwise.

In the reeds

I set off from The Ship for the route into the reeds of Dingle and Westwood Marshes, made up of freshwater reedbeds and saltwater lagoons. The path navigates its way along Dunwich river, a tributary of the Blythe. After about half an hour a bunting bursts out of the sedge and a warbler balances on a swaying reed head beneath it. I think they’re a bunting and a warbler – the first is burly; the second dainty.

On the bank

At a bend in the path I step down on to bank with the river curving away to my left and the disused 18th-century windpump silhouetted in the haze. A squat church tower breaches the treeline in the further distance while black cloud and ripple shadows mark the water like zebra skin. Grassheads skit in the breeze, the sun is on my neck.

Teasels and windpump

A short walk and I’m out of the reeds and back on the beach for the last stretch. It’s still hot so I have another swim/bob around. The sun is low now, catching the surf as it breaks and sending out tiny diamond flares like mermaid souls ascending.

Mermaid souls

Sitting in the dunes, my eye is pulled to the horizon – featureless beyond its simple form – then back to the busy diamond shoreline. The formless future, the busy moment; back and forth between the two, the one a distraction from the other – all the while my mind floating over the past.

I’m too late for the ferryman back but that’s fine because I know there’s a pub across the bridge just upstream. The walk to it overlooks the black mirror lagoons and marshes hazed over with mist down and away to the left. Grazing cattle and wildfowl are just shadows. Everything has taken on a mother of pearl sheen.

Across the marshes
Up the Blythe, from the bridge

I cross the bridge and reach The Harbour Inn, taking my pint and bag of nuts outside to sit estuary side and look into the last of the silver. I’m joined by a couple I’d nodded hello to at the campsite.

He’s got a beard like a rusted, ancient ceremonial dagger and deep blue eyes. He’s wearing a leather waistcoat and carrying a fishing rod. She’s looking after the two dogs – a lurcher and a terrier – and is wearing slightly hippy jewellery and a shoulder scarf. We talk for an hour or so. It turns out they grow most of their own veg and he catches rabbits for the farmer with his ferrets and terrier, cooking what he catches in his pizza oven. His catchphrase is: ‘It’s a thing of wonder.’

They walk back and I have one more alone. By the time I get back to the campsite, the stars are out, bright as I can remember.

Southwold Milestones And Memory (part two)

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