Am re-working ‘Postcards from the Edge’ as Suffolk never fails to inspire and once again am taking a short break and long breather here:Breaking cover from the dense vertical axis of London, the horizontal coastal planes of the Eastern edge of England are a familiar bolthole. Here the sky meets the sea; yet this is no Bali Ha’i but a solitary landscape reclaimed from the water, which still maintains its grip in fingers of inlet, creek, and dyke: “down to this outpost, this strange ledge of life, this channel of finite to infinite”
Wind, water and the sheltered sinuous river channels of Deben and Ore are a magnet for seabirds, sailboats and solitude seekers. Yet trade, industry and smuggling once made this an area of bustling activity. Timber shipbuilding at Woodbridge and back in the 12th Century, Augustan monks harnessed the power of the sea to grind their corn at the Tide mill.
Suffolk’s maritime accessibility has fashioned a landscape of defence and offence. Saxon longships landed and established an East Anglian kingdom, with royal burial grounds in the wooded slopes of Sutton Hoo. Normans built ramparted churches indistinguishable from their castles whilst rotund Martello towers and concrete ‘pillboxes’ were erected against Napoleonic and Nazi invasions that never came. Large tracts of land requisitioned by the Ministry of Defense have resonated with bursts of shot and shell, most notably the Orford Ness ‘Pagodas’ built for testing explosives. The guns have fallen silent now and wildlife has resurrected the shingle spit.
Arable fields and saltmarsh pasture have been the dual wealth of Suffolk for time immemorial. These are the scenes of serenity that arrest the artist: golden corn under steel-blue skies; whispering reeds ‘waving not drowning’ in the drainage ditches; and sheep that safely graze in the certain knowledge that wolves haves long since departed and their descendants are kept leashed and at heel.
With broad skies and a beckoning horizon, the walker is easily lured from the quaint calm of shoreline town and village into the outstretched arms of the marshes. Here the distinction between earth and water is constantly dissolving like the floating islands of Perelandra. Causeway paths narrow, twist and turn so that headway is never linear and since there is so little vertical distraction, attention is drawn to the nearby details and the underfoot hazards.
Swathes of unscented sea-lavender, the everlasting Stachys, flush the sedges and grasses along with Thrift and Columbine. In the gorse. shieldbugs nymphs mimic the Saxon helms of Sutton hoo and all along the spiked bushes, labyrinthine nets of the Tunnel web spider catch flying insect prey in their multitudes.
The air is filled with the shrill cry of gulls and waders whilst grazing geese go complainingly down to the water’s edge at the approach of footsteps. Amidst this cacophony, there is an intermittent buzz where bumblebees have colonised the vacant burrows, lining them with sphagnum moss and laying out their dead in sad piles around the opening. At the marshy outreaches, a pair of sentinel oystercatchers sound the alert but the seal and her young just gaze back in mutual surprise.
“It will not last: the osprey will wing off into the West, the tide will turn, the sky pile up the clouds, the great grey shadows run across the sands and shut away the sun.” Jane Tyson Clement