The wife discovered a stag beetle making its way across our lawn this evening. She pointed it out to me and I in turn I pointed it out to junior, and so within a few minutes there were three of us down on hands and knees following it as it made its way to the garden border. Not quite sure what any watching neighbour must have thought. I don’t think I’ve seen a stag beetle since I was quite young and a quick bit of research suggests that the UK’s largest terrestrial insect is becoming very scarce indeed.
Despite having missed a very similar goal scoring opportunity during my (very short) playing career it’s very difficult not to be amused by this…
Anyone who has travelled by rail from London Liverpool Street to Ipswich and beyond can’t have failed to notice the estuary of the River Stour that opens up wide before you as head north out of Manningtree station on the railway bridge. The estuary is a nature reserve which, according to the RSPB, is one of the best places for wildlife in the UK.
On the southern side of the estuary, less than a mile from Manningtree town centre, you can find a large herd of swans (yes, that is the correct collective noun) that at one time numbered around 1,000 but as the result of the usual suspects (mans destruction of their habitat, etc) is now down to around 250.
With a population that is swollen by many hundreds of geese, ducks and seagulls, this still creates an impressive sight so much so that they’ve become a bit of a local attraction (a tea and burger van is parked permanently nearby to tend to the needy human visitor). Tame would be the wrong word to use for the Swans but they are certainly well used to people wandering in their midst. Although being followed by a group of birds that individually can weigh up to 33 pounds with wing spans of 10 feet is a bit unnerving.
As is the case with most things rural the ‘mock country folk’ (Londoners who have escaped it all for a quieter life out east) are up in arms about the nuisance the swans make of themselves by wandering into the road that hugs the estuary, crapping in their gardens and causing other grave annoyances.
A little ways beyond the swan reserve are the Mistley Towers, the twin towers of a once magnificent 18th century church. The towers – all that now remain of the structure – were added to the church at the behest of wealthy politician Richard Rigby. He wanted something to look at from the windows of his nearby mansion, and also a suitably grand church to act as a backdrop for those arriving in the village of Mistley, a village that he planned, but ultimately failed, to transform into a spar town.
I’m sure he wouldn’t have approved of the swan crap either.
Having lived in Suffolk for the majority of my life it is quite easy to become blasé about the beautiful county that it is (for the most part). It’s not a stunning county (we don’t have the Jurassic Park like coastline of Cornwall, or the dramatic lakes of the North West, etc) but we are surround by some picturesque country side and many many villages and towns that just ooze quaintness. Two such examples are Kersey and – six miles away – Lavenham, that myself and the ministering angel of domestic bliss visited earlier today. Not the first time we’ve been but then neither losses its appeal no matter how many times you visit.
Kersey takes its name from the woollen cloth that was once produced hereabouts. The main street is lined with timber framed buildings all of which are immaculately maintained. The ford half way through the village has the tourists oohing and aahing during the summer months I’m sure, but today just the boss and I were doing that as we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Pretend that the cars aren’t there and the village is probably much as it was 500 years ago.
Lavenham was once one of the wealthiest settlements in England and had made its name – and money – in the wool trade too. The church which looms over the town is of cathedral like proportions (built by wealthy wool merchants buying their place in heaven) but it is the profusions of timber framed buildings and the main market square with its Guildhall that draws in the crowds. It’s a mandatory place for US tourists to tick off the list too, not least because it was home to USAAF 487th Bomb Group during WW II. They flew 185 missions from Lavenham airfield losing 48 planes.
Enroute to watch Haverhill Rovers take on Mildenhall Town this afternoon I stopped off in the village of Cavendish. The Suffolk-Essex border in these parts is formed by the River Stour and Cavendish, one of several villages along its banks, is quite easily the most picturesque. From many perspectives I consider myself very lucky to have lived here during the formative years of my youth (six of them anyway) and here are a few highlights (refer to panorama below).
In the far left is the village school. I wasn’t there for long but long enough to write two memorable essays. The first, penned shortly after we moved to the village, was written the day after the 1968 European Cup Final and we had to write a four page essay/match report in our English workbooks. I don’t think I’d ever been asked to do school work about a subject I was really interested in before so doubled my efforts to make sure it was a good one. And teacher obviously thought it was as I got a gold star!
A few weeks later and we were taken on a day trip to the Houses of Parliament where Eldon Griffiths (Member of Parliament for Bury St Edmunds) was on hand to give us a tour of the lower and upper houses. He’d also arranged a trip up the clock tower to see ‘Big Ben’ – I was entranced! So entranced that the essay that I wrote describing our day out was considered the best in the school (out of its +/-30 pupils) and the reward was a 10 bob note from said Mr Griffiths who came around to the school to hand it over in person! The 10/- was blown at the sweet shop at the bottom of the green (behind you in the panorama).
Roughly in the centre of the picture is the village church (where yours truly was chorister and server) and in front of that the famous Pink Cottages that have appeared on the covers of numerous local, regional and national guide books, biscuit tins, etc, etc. It was in one of these cottages that my Aunt lived – until they were almost burnt to the ground by fire after the thatched roof ignited in the middle of one November night in 1969. Through no fault of hers I should hasten to add. It was at the back of the cottage, in the church grounds, that your narrator had his first fumbling encounter with a person of the opposite gender. But I’ll spare you the details.
Camel jumping began, so the legend goes, following a dare between two Yemeneese villagers and has since grown into a serious year round sport. With close ties to traditional dancing contests take place during festivals and weddings when camels are rounded up from nearby villages. The winner is the jumper who clears the most dromedaries…
Following some confusion over the switch from BST to GMT in the small hours, the ministering angel of domestic bliss and I ended up on the Suffolk coast at 7:15 this morning. This meant that we virtually had several miles of coastline all to ourselves, although I imagine that’s pretty much the case when ever you visit Shingle Street, a very very small village on a particular bleak but, to us anyway, alluring stretch of coastline a seventeen mile drive from Ipswich.
As the name suggests there is an awful lot of shingle around and no sand so this is not a place for a family day out by the sea with bucket and spades, only ‘hardy’ ramblers such as us. It’s not shown on our road atlas, and there are no road signs pointing you in the right direction until you are just a few miles away.
The place is steeped in mystery all of which dates from WWII (many pill boxes, tank traps from that era remain along this stretch of coast and there are four Martello Towers from the time of the Napoleonic Wars). It’s is claimed by some that a foiled invasion attempt by German forces took place off the coast here when anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand enemy troops were burnt to death. Supposedly a network of underground pipes, filled with petrol, was detonated as they attempted to come ashore. What is not in question is the fate that befell the local pub, The Lifeboat Inn, which was flattened by scientists testing out experimental weaponry!