Four years of my childhood were spent in north Norfolk, in the environs of ‘The Wash’, a flat, featureless, agricultural landscape devoid of trees or anything of interest. You would only consider holidaying there if you were an obsessive ‘twitcher’. The Wash has a large population of water and shore-loving birds.
Other than this area, I know little of the area of the UK known as East Anglia, the part that sticks into the North Sea like a rounded carbuncle and boasts the largest container port in the UK, Felixstowe, in Suffolk. The town is also a seaside resort of the traditional British kind, with an abundance of fish and chip shops, ice cream vendors and gaudy amusement arcades. If you look along down along the handsome promenade from the north end, towards the pier you will see the pier head and rows of tall, port pylons rising above it. It makes for an interesting view.
Looking for hitherto unexplored parts of our island we stop at a site here, near enough to hear the cranes grinding and clanging at night as they reach down for each container and hoist it up high on to the impossible stack of the ship that is to transport them somewhere.
Next day we cycle through the nature reserve on a stony track dotted with clumps of hardy sea cabbage and when we reach the end the giant ship with its towering cargo is almost within touching distance, rearing up behind a shingle beach scattered with bathers and sunbathers.
Away from here, back at the seafront, the prom and gardens are pristine monuments to tourism, without a trace of irony. After a cycle northwards up the coast we take a ferry ride across the Orwell estuary, a staggering £12 return for a 2 minute voyage! But the last ferry returns at 5pm and we’ve scarcely half an hour’s cycling. When we get back the cafes and kiosks have closed.
On a patch of grass by the prom we can sit in the sunshine with a beer and watch the container ships queuing to get into port. Later we dine at the Steak and Lobster Restaurant, taking advantage of the cut-price, early weekday deal the government has provided, though we need no motivation!
The UK weather unleashes its predictable inclemency and a whole day is spent confined to van, writing. Valuable but not physically tiring enough to allow sleep.
Unable to reserve nearby sites we are forced outwards to Hertfordshire, to spend 3 nights outside the county town, which is ok, since neither of us has visited before. A late afternoon stroll around the town in the sunshine is enough to see the place-a pseudo castle, one or two historic buildings and a welter of pubs besides the usual high street carrying the usual stores.
But it does have a creditable cycle path along the Herford canal, continuing along the River Lea, and with a dry-ish day we spend a few hours cycling the tow path, past more narrow boats and barges than I’ve seen on one stretch, ever. The water is busy with river revellers, shouting, splashing, occupying locks, attempting to open/close locks, or [for those whose boats are their homes] pottering on their rooftop gardens and undertaking repairs.
Later, in a quiet, more picturesque part of town we find ‘The Barge’, a beautiful old pub by the canal offering splendid food in a lovely setting.
Then it’s time to move back East…