And so to my last hours in East Anglia.
With a meeting in the North East that seemed important I couldn’t spare another full day here, so decided to head for the North Norfolk coast road once again. Disappointingly you don’t see much of the sea; the area being so flat that any obstruction by buildings, bushes or trees is enough to take away the view. Even the natural beauty by the road is a fleeting pleasure as there are few places to stop and explore.
I headed for Morston thinking I might have a stroll around the area before returning to County Durham at which point I realised I should have done more research. The bulk of the Blakeney Point Nature Reserve was away to my right, or rather access was. The reserve is rather like Orfordness in reverse, a long peninsula that divides river from sea. Before me was the river and folk who had come prepared for watersports, which I had not.
I was weighing up the options of driving to a better vantage point or making do with what I had when a man in orange ran past me and asked if I was going on a seal trip. “No.” I replied, “But I’d like to!”.
And so a couple of minutes later I and a couple of dozen others were making our way towards the mouth of the estuary in search of colonies of grey and common seals. I realised immediately that I had just boarded a craft with no shelter, under ominously greying skies and with no waterproof. Was it a good omen that the skylarks were still aloft?
As our journey continued we were joined by terns. Sandwich terns, common terns, arctic terns and little terns are all nesting in the area. Perhaps it was as well that Storm Petrels don’t colonise these parts.
And then we reached the sand banks that were our main objective and all thoughts of the weather were forgotten. Fat and lazy with an odour of fish they nevertheless charmed everyone aboard and we had lots of time to photograph them before our boat returned to shore and beat the rain. I don’t think we would have cared anyway.
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.
Orford Castle Keep
Orford Caste Cellar
Orford – town or village?
Orford Castle Keep
Orford Castle Keep
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.)