Local History, Out and about

Scaling Suffolk’s highest peak, by bike

There aren’t many people who know where Suffolk’s highest hill is. And I’m not surprised. I looked it up the other day on Wikipedia. It’s a spot in a middle of a wood on the Newmarket Ridge. The Newmarket Ridge?  That  is a line of chalk that runs from the Chilterns in Hertfordshire all the way to the edge of Sudbury. It’s 136 metres high, which is about the  height of a 40-storey tower block.  The sort of tower that in the City of London would barely raise a planning officer’s eyebrows.

I hatched a plan to cycle there and back. Google maps said it would take about 1hour 44 minutes.

Perfect day for it, or so I thought, with a sparkling blue sky, and a few puffy clouds. However, a short way into the ride I realised that I was heading northwest, which was exactly the direction the bitter wind was coming from. So I was scaling Suffolk highest mountain against a headwind.

Still most of the way there went swimmingly. I even found time to stop between Lavenham and Bridge Street to take some pictures of the pair of pill boxes still standing sentinel in a field, in case any stray Germans still thought the war was on.

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You can just see the other one in the distance. Why two so close together? I don’t know.  I hope no one cracks the mystery surrounding these concrete lumps in the fields. The internet if full of pillbox enthusiasts trying to explain their siting and use, but it was all done in quite a hurry and was jolly hush hush. So no proper records remain  of the thinking of the harried officers, who spent sleepless nights trying to predict how Hitler would try to conquer England.

These ones are part of the “Eastern Command Line” or “Stop Line” which acted as an inland tank barrier, so that if the Germans took the coast in the East – between Lowestoft and Aldeburgh was the thinking – they would not be able to progress westwards. It ran from Wivenhoe in Essex, to Colchester then via Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds up to Mildenhall and then on to the Wash. The Home Guard were were supposed to huddle into the pillboxes in order to defend the tank barriers. These pillboxes are just north of a disused railway line that ran between Lavenham airfield – a US bombing base in the war – and Sudbury so perhaps this part of the line was also trying to defend the rail track.

On to Bridge Street, a cluster of houses around the confluence of the endlessly droning A134 and the River Chad. There was something ancient about it. It would perhaps have been a major coaching stop on the way to Bury St Edmunds.  But obviously no longer. However, Terry and Lynette, I gather, do welcome you to their historic pet-friendly guest house. I fancied a quick stop here but the Rose and Crown looked firmly shut.  So I pressed on up the road to Shimpling which meanders in apparently random series of different directions up the hill.

Another stop in the sun half way up to take a picture of this bizarre newly built house, which seemed to have been designed to look like a chapel conversion. A flat roof had been provided, I noticed, to make it more difficult to protect from damp.

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From Shimpling the way took me to Hartest, which meant freewheeling down a steep ravine – quite an unusual experience in Suffolk – to the open triangular village green, surrounded by medieval houses.

There is something frustrating about Hartest. There was a deathly quiet in the air. Yet the village with its green surrounded by medieval shops tucked into a secret valley, ought to be bustling with activity and independent shops. But there is not even a village shop, to buy the essentials – scratch cards and fags.

There was a butchers, BS Clarke. I cycled past Mr Clarke’s shopfront on the way back and he was inside with what looked like huge cattle legs, chopping them up with a cleaver.

The Crown appeared to be open, but I didn’t fancy it. I still haven’t forgiven the place for giving us the cold shoulder when we turned up at 2pm with the family looking for lunch. “No we’ve finished serving,” they said.

Hartest, like so many other Suffolk villages, has been hollowed out by axing of buses and the rise of the motorised commuter.

On the way out, on the road that was beginning the ascent to Brockley, I took a snap of the only other apparent business still going.  This historic corrugated iron garage on the way out of the village. The owner came out and we had a chat about his pumps.

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“Everyone wants to buy them,” he said. “I had someone offer me £1000 for them.” They date, he reckons from the sixties because they were still in use in the 70s when he bought the garage. But there were different pumps in wartime photographs he’d seen of the place.

I suggested the popularity of the TV series Salvage Hunters was making such items desirable . “Drew Pritchard was at my daughter’s school this week!” he said. “Really, what was he doing there?” I asked.

“No idea.”

A steady climb to Brockley Green. By now I was starting to look for excuses to stop and rest. Brockley failed to offer any. You have to turn left once in the village alongside a quite pleasant green with an uncompromisingly ugly 1970s village hall on it and a carpark. There were seats here, but they had all been placed on the car park, not close to the road. I started to get annoyed by the lack of roadside seats. If you don’t provide anywhere to sit in a village, you don’t provide anywhere for people to talk to each other. I presume seats would get in the way of people wanting to park their cars, which would never do. Retired people are forced to the seclusion of their conservatories. There to read the Telegraph and learn to hate the modern world.

So swiftly through Brockley pausing only to observe a bare-leaved apple tree in someone’s garden that glittered with shiny red apples, exactly like Christmas tree baubles.

One last push, up to the village of Rede which is at the heady heights of 110m. It appears abruptly at the end of a long road as a cluster of dormer-inserted bungalows.

Checking the map, I noticed an old man staring at me from out of his conservatoried retirement.

Then on up the road – only 26m to climb – and eventually onto the extremely isolated concrete farm track that took me all the way to Suffolk’s highest point, marked with a radio communications tower.

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And here it is, Suffolk’s most boring place. The word “ridge” is a misnomer, this was  a plateau, and a pretty featureless one at that. Rusting old farm machinery  lay mouldering around the cracked up concrete. There was a barbed wire fence, giving away the presence of a reservoir owned by Anglia Water. And that was about it. Continue reading

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Local History, Local politics, Out and about, Politics

White Horse, Hitcham – planning committee gives stay of grace

The planning committee yesterday (26 November) decided to defer a decision to give the community time to make a bid to buy it as a community asset. Babergh have 8 weeks to approve it as a community asset and then there is a six month moratorium on selling the pub to allow time for a community bid.

The committee said they wanted to wait the full 8 weeks plus six months.

I would have thought a refusal would have been much more straight forward and easier to defend at appeal – that seemed to be the advice from officers – and councillors Desmond Keane, Kathryn Grandon and Bryn Hurren were putting together some good planning reasons, with the advice of officers, for refusal.

Unfortunately their move to refuse was lost by 5 votes to 8.

Here is the East Anglian report http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/villagers_submit_last_ditch_bid_to_save_their_only_pub_the_white_horse_in_hitcham_1_3864075

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Local History, Nature, South Cosford

Elmsett and Aldham Village Hall coffee morning – Gainsborough’s oak pollard

Elmsett church, oak pollard   (c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I thought it was about time I visited one of Elmsett and Aldham’s fundraising coffee mornings. I bought myself a “Buckle’s Wood” hessian bag from the people running the community woodland in Elmsett. The village hall has had a refurb with new roof insulation and a gas boiler. The committee tell me they could do with more people getting involved, likewise with the Buckles Wood volunteers and the parish council. The problem seems to be that many people now work far away from the village and by the time they have done the commute they are too tired to go out and socialise. Seems a shame.

Anyway, the point of my two pictures. I try to cycle to all my parish council meetings and the ride to Elmsett is magnificent, particularly coming down Manor Road from Nedging direction, you can see the church tower looming up magisterially on the hill ahead. The last time I went it was dusk and as I reached the valley bottom past the bridge, a huge white barn owl flapped silently out of the bones of a withered dead oak tree in the hedge to the left of me and fluttered across the field to my right. There was something quite imposing about that oak.

Then I hear from my colleague, County Councillor Jenny Antill, who went to the coffee morning a few months back, that Elmsett church was once painted by Gainsborough. In the foreground of his painting is a strangely familiar tree. It looks like an ancient oak pollard, just coming into leaf. Well it may not be the same one, 200 years on and now housing a barn owl. But I’d like to think so. (There’s a young pheasant sitting in it in my photo).

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