Tuesday 28 September 2021

Above The Tideline

Aldeburgh beach is tough as old seaboots. The shingle crunches underfoot with every laborious step as you weave between old boats, fishing nets, lobster pots and rusty tractors. There's the smell of fish and the cry of the gulls all along this working coastline. Not everyone would see this as a place of beauty, or even interest.

Now you might think that the citizens of this genteel little town might object to Charlotte and her rather scruffy friends, along with all the necessary equipment and unnecessary rubbish that the fishing industry leaves strewn above the tideline. But strangely enough they seem to take it all in their stride. No, when they began complaining in 2003 about rusty, twisted lumps of metal on their beach they meant this.....


Maggi Hambling's "Scallop", a tribute by the artist to the composer Benjamin Britten, who often walked along the beach here, caused all kinds of turmoil amongst the good people of Aldeburgh when the 4-metre-high work was first installed. 


I think they've got used to it by now, but you can trudge along the shifting shingle bank and make your own mind up. Me? I think I can find room in my world for both large sculptures and old fishing boats.

Take care.


Sunday 26 September 2021

Postcards From Thorpeness

Thorpeness is rather different from any other seaside place on these islands. It's to be found down in deepest Suffolk sandwiched between the ancient town of Aldeborough, with its connections to the composer Benjamin Britten, which lies a mile and a half (2.4 Km) to the south; and Sizewell nuclear power station which is about two miles north. It owes its existence not to any advantage bestowed on it by geography, nor to any special favour received through history......No, it's sole raison d'ĂȘtre is that an eccentric aristocrat saw a flooded field here one winter's morning.

Rather than having it drained, as most gentlemen of his era might have done, Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie decided to make it into a boating lake and build a holiday village around it. But then there's something slightly odd about the whole place.

You can never really quite work out whether Ogilvie was the kind of man who had very precise but individual ideas about what he wanted to achieve; or whether he was a hapless and impractical soul who aimed at something he'd seen done elsewhere but fell rather wide of the mark. Lets have a look around at some of his ideas.

 He chose to create a "typical English village" between the boating lake and the beach.

The style chosen for many of the houses is best described as "Mock Tudor" and was quite fashionable just then. He may well have been influenced by the "New Town" movement which was gathering pace at the time, though Thorpeness was always going to be a much more modest settlement. If you have heard of the place at all it's probably because of this...

This is "The House In The Clouds" and has become one of the more famous landmarks of the Suffolk coast. It was originally a water-tower, but Ogilvie thought it spoiled the look of the whole place so he disguised it as a typical small dwelling - albeit five storeys up in the air! When it ceased to be used as a water-tower it seemed the obvious thing to convert it to a games-room for the villagers. Nowadays you can hire the place as a holiday home. There are times when Thorpeness seems to be the lovechild of Enid Blyton and Salvador Dali!

Once you start building disguised water-towers why stop at just one? Here's another that might be a castle keep or a church tower.

But if you go through the arch beneath the tower you find yourself in a quiet back street.

This track, which looks completely rural, runs right through the middle of the village.

Here's the church which has recently been converted to residential use after years of standing unused and apparently unloved.

And here's the golf club with an 18-hole course designed by James Braid, who also designed such famous courses as Gleneagles and Carnoustie. For many years Thorpeness was completely owned by the Ogilvie family and they only sold property to their friends or housed workers from their estate.

A grand gatehouse announces your arrival at....well, nowhere in particular!

Like many other seaside places in the UK there are beach houses of varying styles stretching along the coast, though presumably they were not part of the original plan.

The bright sun beat down upon the incoming waves as we wandered back along the beach, which along this stretch of coast is little more than a bank of shingle with not a grain of sand in sight.

You often see cairns on our beaches; it's just what people do when confronted with an inexhaustible supply of stones. But here somebody has gone to the bother of importing the building material. I don't know who, I don't know how and I don't know why. But around here the inexplicable seems commonplace. 

We'll head back to the village and The Boathouse where you can buy a variety of food and drink and sit by the waterside, watching the world go by. The Meare has a large number of islands and hidden backwaters, all of which are named. Not only that but the names were dreamed up by Sir James Matthew Barrie, no less. Yes, that's J M Barrie of Peter Pan fame, a friend of the Ogilvie family.

This, for example, is The North-West Passage - ideal for young pirates and explorers! 

Tempting as it was to re-enact our teenage years by hiring a rowing boat or a punt, we decided to take life easy before moving on to our next destination.


Take care.

Thursday 23 September 2021

Saints And Angels

On our return from Happisburgh, around which we've lingered for the last three posts, we passed close to the village of Barton Turf. The "turf" part of the name comes presumably from the digging of peat, or turf, nearby. The Norfolk Broads, those lakes and waterways famous for both boating holidays and wildlife, owe their existence to centuries of exploitation of peat.

You don't even have to venture as far as the village to see its imposing church, for it stands all alone, surrounded by fields, a mile or so away from its parishioners. It contains a great treasure within, but is nevertheless open every day.

The church had that afternoon received a group of visitors, and the helpers from the village were having tea as we entered, but they knew exactly what we'd come to see and insisted that we came in.

This is the Chancel and it shows the way in which our churches have developed over the centuries; little additions have been made in different styles over the ages but the past was always held in gentle affection and room has generally been made for items from past eras. Rarely has there been a desire for a fresh start and the deliberate destruction of history.

So things like this memorial, with its weeping cherub and broken pillar, which may not be exactly to modern taste, is nevertheless accommodated alongside features that are either more ancient and more recent. Which brings us to the Chancel Screen....

The exception to the peaceful evolution of our village churches took place with the rise of Puritanism. Wall paintings were whitewashed over, stained glass was smashed, statues were beheaded, and faces were scratched out on paintings. The level of destruction varied across the country and in this isolated corner of Norfolk a few priceless painted screens escaped relatively unscathed.

Represented here are (left to right): St Apollonia, St Sitha; then four orders of angels - Powers, Virtues, Dominions and Seraphims. You'll notice that the two panels to the right have had their faces scratched out, but that appears to be the only damage which has been inflicted. All these works of art date from around 1450 AD.

Then on the other side of the central opening are five further orders of angels Cherubim, Principalities, Thrones, Archangels and Angels; then lastly St Barbara. The three female Saints, Apollonia, Sitha and Barbara all were the subjects of cults during the Middle Ages. The Orders of Angels are largely forgotten today - there is no mention of them in The Bible but were much discussed by scholars of the day.

I've included links for anyone who wants to learn more about the subject, but for now lets just enjoy the artistry speaking to us from over the intervening five hundred years :

Angels and St Barbara



St Apollonia

Fearsome beast at the feet of Powers


There are also four more rather more crudely executed panels....

Represented here are: King Henry VI, St Edmund, Edward The Confessor and St Olaf. All four were also the subjects of cults at the time.

It's interesting to consider, as we leave the church, that such beauty was probably funded by the digging of turf in the neighbouring Barton Broad - grubby and hard-working peasants giving rise to shining golden angels.

Take care.


Tuesday 21 September 2021