Saltings & Maltings

I promised in my last East Anglia posting that the Orfordness Light was my next objective, and indeed the next day it was, but first I needed to find my accommodation for the night, necessitating a journey up the coast a little.

Along the way I stopped off at a spot that clearly has some significance for a little-known writer of wizarding adventures.  JK Rowling named one of the most important characters of her Harry Potter novels Snape after the village which marks an important crossing on the River Alde.  There has been a settlement here at least since Roman times (evidence of salt pans from then has been found on the river), but it was the production of another ingredient that gave Snape greater significance.  Malt.

Barley had long been exported from the area and Snape’s position on the river made it an obvious choice to load barges with the grain, but in the mid 19th Century a complex was built that would malt the barley for the production of beer in London and the continent.  The Snape Maltings would operate in this way for over a century.

Eventually the market shifted (much as the nearby shingle) and the Maltings went into liquidation, and might have been demolished but for the vision of a local farmer, George Gooderham, who bought the derelict site and began a remarkable transformation.

Snape Maltings today is an internationally recognised concert venue, but also comprises holiday and residential properties, shops, rehearsal rooms, galleries, and places to eat and drink.  It is a thriving tourist attraction set in beautiful grounds where Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and an uncontroversial Sarah Lucas, vie for your attention.  What’s more some of the complex remains undeveloped so there is still untapped potential.

I couldn’t get into the concert hall to take pictures.  It didn’t seem to matter though.

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More from the Ore

When does a town become a village?

I’m not sure there’s a clear point where the reverse comes true, but it must happen as most towns have begun as smaller settlements that have grown or merged from historical villages.  My own birthplace of Sunderland grew from Wearmouth, Bishopwearmouth, and Monkwearmouth according to my primary school teachers, although the reliability of that particular source may be questionable.

But back to my original question.  I ask it because Orford has a distinctive feel of archetypal English village.  Country cottages abound, the community centre is hosting a photographic exhibit, local crafts are on sale, church and pub vie for attention as the centrepiece, and I’ve never seen so many hollyhocks!

Technically though, it is a town, and one which in Norman times clearly had greater significance.  The river Ore (or Alde) gave easy access to the sea, and protected by Orford Ness would have had some strategic importance in the decades that followed the conquest.  With France just across The Channel, East Anglia was not the backwater that it appears to be today.  Even before the Normans it must be remembered that the Angles who settled here gave England its name.  We were a popular destination for immigration even then.

But it was a Norman king who gave Orford greater status.  Henry II built a castle here to consolidate power, and if historical records are accurate it was quite a structure.  All that remains now are the original castle keep and the undulating earthworks that surround it.  Do these mounds conceal other elements of the castle’s defences or were they created as defences in themselves?  I’m not sure, but they maintain a space around the keep which gives the remaining edifice greater stature.

What there is is in remarkably good condition, from the basement with the inevitable well to the roof above the fourth floor.  It was this feature that I was in search of for it gave me my first views of my next objective.  The Orfordness Lighthouse. (And yes, when referring to the light, the words Orford and Ness do become one.  More shiftiness.)

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Fording the Ore

Map showing Orford Ness, historical extent, an...
Map showing Orford Ness, historical extent, and sites of interest. Drawn by User:Jakew in Inkscape based on maps by English Nature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My main objective in this trip to East Anglia was inaccessible by car.  I needed to be ferried across the water, and interesting water at that.  The gulls, the fishing boats, the salt air, the rise and fall of tide all point to this being the sea, but this is Orford, the crossing point of the River Ore and a strange crossing point at that.

The town has a long history but on the other side of the river there is no continuation of the settlement so why name the town after a crossing point?  And a ford at that?  Where is the road across the river?

The truth is that this is a strange and shifting landscape.  The land across the water is Orford Ness, a spit of shingle some 10 miles in length, which joins the mainland near Aldeburgh in the north.  There’ll be much more about this feature and its history in postings to come but the spit forms a barrier that forces the River Alde south in search of the sea, though just before Orford that river undergoes a name change to become the River Ore.  As you can see from the attached map the shape and extent of the spit changes regularly as the tides sculpt the shingle into new shapes.

So that water between me and my objective.  Alde? Ore? Sea?

No matter, it provides moorings for yachtsmen, a habitat for seabirds, rare vegetation (and free supplies of samphire), and of course a fantastic opportunity for a photographer.

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As Names Go…

…you can’t really beat Bury St Edmunds.  They did what it said on the tin.

In all my travels around England’s green and pleasant land, I’ve never made it to the East Anglian coast, which given how much I love that environment is perhaps surprising.  The problem is that Norfolk and Suffolk aren’t really on the way to anywhere bar each other so I needed a reason to travel.  More about that in a future blog about a lighthouse that became a cinematic star.

Anyway with a few days to spare this week, it was time to rectify my omission.  My friend Jane who used to live nearby suggested that I add Bury St Edmunds to my itinerary; not because it is coastal but simply because it is an interesting town.  I was glad of her input, though as I said to her later, for an atheist I end up spending a lot of time in churches.

The Church however is what the town is all about.  Yes it has other features such as a very colourful hotel (The Angel), the country’s first internally illuminated street sign (a design that doesn’t seem to have caught on elsewhere) and a very subtle-looking branch of the nation’s favourite purveyor of cheese pasties.

The clue however is in the name.  From early in the 10th Century the relics of St Edmund were located here.  Edmund was an East Anglian king who was martyred on the orders of a Dane with the magnificent name of Ivar the Boneless for refusing to renounce his religion.  From such origins a highly profitable industry may grow, and the Benedictine Abbey was one of the largest and richest in the country, until Henry VIII intervened.

The Abbey is gone, though the site is now home to formal gardens, colourful artworks, and a little wildlife.

The prime evidence of this religious site is in the two gateways that remain and two churches that still stand, one of which has assumed the status of cathedral.  I say the Abbey is gone, but one of the most interesting features of the churchyard is the way in which residential properties have been incorporated into what remains of its walls.  Ingenious recycling.

But back to the cathedral.  Originally the church of St James, it was transformed in the 20th Century into St Edmundsbury Cathedral, and whilst it is compact compared to the Abbey it’s interior is still worth a visit for the light that fills the internal space and the polychromatic font cover at the very least.

Just a technical note about the shot down the nave.  Without my tripod I tried to use my camera bag as a stable support for a long exposure, and though it gave lateral stability, the lens drooped slowly while the shutter was open.  I like the ethereal effect though, so will share that with you rather than the more prosaic version.APW_4264_5_6