Saturday's Essex/Suffolk ride
- Our market research people have asked why this rather good new ride was not (much) attended. Answers on an email please. A stamp saves us money.
Saturday 2 March 2002
9am Cutty Sark Gardens..…despite the dire forecast the bright sun was scrubbing away the frost. We got to Liverpool Street station by 9.40am and got the half-price group day-returns to Essex’s Manningtree. £7.60.
The 10.15 took just over an hour to get there. The station buffet is a bit special…open all day, real beers, all-day-breakfast baps….. it wasn’t cold in the sun.
Out of the station and left, onto the quiet A137 and over the narrow river Stour. Constable country. His Flatford Mill is only two miles away, but not this time.
Warm sun. Big blue skies.
Left as you cross the bridge is the narrow river and low marshes. Right is the Stour huge estuary and low tide mudflats that dominate the area. Lots of birds, and shelduck, my faves.
And you’re in Suffolk. The ride’s a con. It’s not flat Essex at all.
Through Branthan village and past Brathan Court with its almost Hindu phallic red-brick gatehouse…one of the first (Elizabethan) brick structures in England.
Onto the even quieter B1080 into pretty Stutton.
And a left into Alton Water, a big Essex Water reservoir with café, bike hire and 4 mile bike hire path right round. Worth a visit.
And, just before Holbrook, the road runs through very uniform 1930’s ish cottages with fussily manicured lawns and a huge bell-tower, a neatly clipped estate, a world apart. This is the huge tower and façade we see and wonder about when we ride the south Stour shore from Manningtree to Mistley and lovely Harwich. It turns out to be a Victorian tuck-em-away isolation hospital that, in 1932, the Royal Hospital School moved into. So? That’s the Greenwich hospital. The public, ie private, boarding school moved from SE10 to here and was for sons (later daughters too) of sailors (who until 1950, I think, were required, yes, to go into the navy too). It’s a wonderful site with fine buildings and Stour views. The chapel was locked. I had no idea about this Greenwich connection.
Then, we didn’t see a car for perhaps 30 minutes, the tiny lanes through Lower Holbrook, Shop Corner and Ewarton. Greening hedges, huge old houses, tractors ploughing. There’s something sorted, sexy, grown-up and knowing about the ripe Suffolk landscape, then some small hills and Shotley and the long downhill to Shotley Gate…..the big locked up derelict Navy training school (MOD waste again) and down to huge river views across to lovely old Harwich. And the meeting of the rivers Stour and Orwell in Harwich Harbour.
After Easter, ferries stitch up this wateryness and will be fab this summer.
There’s a prom and a derelict pier, and the one pub. The Bristol Arms. A find. Right by the water. Big menu. Not busy, but geared up to be. Nicely quirky. Big yellow fluorescent stars everywhere selling doubles, cutlery sets, portraits of Les Dawson, 5 litre bottles of Aussi wine…
The beer, the service and the food was good.
Then up to Chelmodiston and a right down to the river Orwell at Pill Mill (Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons country). Just a pub and some boats at the end of a hill….but river context perfect.
So we followed the footpath to Woolverstone. Two miles walking through fields and stately home grounds by the river to a slightly dodgy boat base at Cat House Hard. (Great name).
We got lost in Freston. The map disagreed with the footpath signs and the farmers versions, and the bull was indeed massive and fenced.
And it was 4.30pm so we headed for Holbrook, Stutton and Manningtree station.
And, lucky, a tea,then a train in 10 minutes. And we were back in London by 6pm.
Verdict: 42 miles of really lovely countryside and quiet roads, good lunch place, sunny, dry weather. So why did only three of us turn out?
But it didn’t matter a bit coz we were good company.
2 Much 2002