Riding the coastal flat lands of Suffolk, an edge of England made from clay and sand, being slowly reclaimed by the sea, it’s so flat that it is like actually riding on a map. The edges of the paper can’t be seen, extending away in all directs. The map isn’t completely flat though, it ripples gently, as if the map has been scrunched up and then pressed flat by giant hands. Lanes crisscross the hinterland of the River Alde and the North Sea, heath land and farmland scattered with forest and woodland, I start to think about Graham Swift’s ‘Waterland’ and W.G. Sebald’s ‘The Rings of Saturn’. I didn’t get on with the latter, stopped about half way through, but think that maybe I should try again.
I’m aiming to ride from Blaxhall to Orford then up the coast to Dunwich before returning to Blaxhall. However there are a lot of rivers and obstructions along the coast, so I can’t simply ride along the coastline, I have to ride inland, then back to the coast, then inland again, and so on. It’s a coastal ride with only intermittent views of the sea. And then there’s the wind: Strong with even stronger gusts, sand lining the lanes is whipped up, sandblasting and stinging my legs. There are bridleways and tracks disappearing off across fields and into dark woodland. I start to wish I have a cyclocross bike with me.
I head Orford through Tunstall Forest and then fields and fields and fields of wheat. I get a faceful of chaff as I pass a field being harvested. Passing bookshops and cagouled tourists I find my way to Orford Quay, where boats wobble on the wind rippled River Alde. It’s a bit gloomy, a dark, flat landscape under a dark grey sky, but then I realise I’m still wearing sunglasses. I take them off. It’s still gloomy, but a brighter shade of gloom. In order to get to Aldeburgh which is probably about 5 miles up the coast I have to head inland via Snape and a giant pig farm making it about 15 miles. It’s carnival weekend in Aldeburgh so there is a funfair on the seafront, bright colours and flashing lights contrasting with the dark sky.
Further up the coast I can see the giant golfball of Sizewll B nuclear power station, which is my next stop after again heading inland via Thorpeness and Leiston. The cafe at the car park on the beach is called Sizewell Tea. We love a good pun in England.
Next up is Dunwich via Leiston Abbey and Minsmere Level where I decide to off-road through the woodland to avoid another inland detour. After riding across the purple floored Dunwich Heath I arrive at the Beach a month after the annual Dunwich Dynamo. There is another cyclist here pitching a tent between a small wooden fishing boat and a storage hut. He is clearly going no further tonight.
However I need to get back to the youth hostel so head off through Dunwich Forest before turning south and into the wind. Memories of the wind on the Military Road on the Isle of Wight come flooding back. This is not a good thing. Fortunately it’s not as bad as that, but then I accidentally take a turning I shouldn’t do and I’m tacking into a sidewind through fields of wheat, shining gold in the evening sun. Not long after I’m back in Snape and on the road to Blaxhall and to dinner and a pint.
Strava link: http://www.strava.com/activities/75725475
Miles ridden: 59
Feet climbed: 1250
Average speed: 15 mph
Hay bales seen: Many, many.
Pints of local ale: 2 x Cobbold Festival
Cameras used: Holga 120 and Samsung Galaxy Ace/Instagram
Film used: Kodak Tmax 100asa