Epic Trip Diary: 12 August – 13 August

Sorry that I’ve been AWOL.  Work and life have been busy, but another part of me doesn’t want to finish telling this fantastic story of my trip.  I think one more blog post after this one should do it.

Sunday, 12 August – Aldeburgh to Orsford to Shingle Street to Woodbridge 

Just like I knew that people would ask me about my favorite part of the trip, I knew another smaller subset might ask me the worst part.  Sunday wasn’t awful, but it was a challenging day.  It gets the “worst part” superlative, but even in the midst I thought what a fun story I would have to tell!   

It seemed a shame to be spending a night at a beach and not get up early to see the sun rise over the ocean.  I set my alarm for 5:15, but I nearly needn’t have bothered as the gulls were cawing so loudly.  I went downstairs and discovered that the front door of the hotel was locked!  Remembering how the day before I had gone with a porter to lock my bike up in the back shed, I went to the back door.  It was also locked but had a simple deadbolt.  I unlocked it, left, and crossed my fingers that the door would still be unlocked when I returned.  (It was.  Whew!  And I locked it back up as I returned to my room.)

The place was beaches were deserted, but the sky was pink.  I strolled north along the beach in the sea breezes to the giant seashell sculpture to take some the sun pop up.  With clouds in the sky, it rose bright red.  I headed back to my room to try to get a bit more sleep, but those darn noisy gulls…

The hotel breakfast was quite delicious – crepes with creme fraiche and berry compote – and like the morning before at Framlingham I had the dining room to myself.  I guess everyone wants to sleep in on Sundays.  I didn’t know when or where lunch would be, so I ate a lot to fuel up.  Initially when I had booked the trip I thought it would be fun to go to one of the local churches for Sunday services.  Then I saw that I had 38 miles to cover and decided against it.  It was a sad decision to have to make, but I’m glad I did.

I left a bit before 9:00 and headed to the southern part of the town.  I wanted to see one of the Martello towers up close, but as I got close I realized it wasn’t bike-able so turned to head out of town inland to the town of Snape, then back out toward the sea around the big inlet.  I could see a beautiful church jutting out on a peninsula into the marshes and stopped to check it out.  Though impressive from a distance, inside it was much the same as the other churches – which is still beautiful but was a bit disappointing.  There were a number of sheep pastures near it and as I drove past I called out, “Sheep sheep sheep!”  Because I’m a goof like that.

I continued south toward the town of Orford.  The route highlighted on my map directed me to jut take a longcut toward the east.  I couldn’t figure out from the trip notes if there was something out there worth seeing, but they hadn’t steered me wrong this far.  My attention was slightly diverted by the enormous fields I was passed that had to be lawn farms (either that or location of the world’s largest picnic) when I suddenly realized the road was covered in sand that must have blown in from the sea.  I pushed on, hoping it was just a patch, but there was far too much of it.  Riding a bike in two inches of sand is not possible.  So I turned around back to the direct route.

(Side story: Riding in the sand actually freaked me out a bit.  I had brought my bike helmet with me all the way from Colorado because I wasn’t certain if one would be provided and my head doesn’t fit some helmet sizes.  In college I once skidded on some sand on the road left over from winter deicing, the bike crashed into the curb, and tossed me into some grass.  I was only a little scratched and bruised, but there was a big rock only inches away from where my head landed.  I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, and ever since then I DO wear a bike helmet.)

The town of Orford has a castle.  Since my tour was called Castles and Coastlines, I figured I should check it out.  This castle was much different than Framlingham.  Rather than a walled in area, the castle was just one big tower.  From the outside it looked it like might be five or six stories, but inside you could see it was actually just two stories (with a basement for storage and a well) but with some mid-level rooms in between like the chapel.  It was actually quite a fascinating layout, one that would take too long to try to describe here.

On the road again I had to head inland to Butley to get around another estuary.  Down to Hollesley, and I debated taking the side route my map suggested to the coastal area of Shingle Street.  It was noon and I was tired, having been up since 5:15, but decided to go for it.  Shingle Street was nice and I’m sure if I hadn’t been so exhausted that I would have enjoyed it more.  That would have been another chance to check out a Martello tower.

I had been keeping my eyes peeled for a place to stop for lunch, but the areas I was biking through today were quite remote with very small towns – except Orford.  I should have stopped at Orford for lunch.  Instead, I raided my snack supply – bananas, almond butter, and granola bars – as I sat on in front of the Hollesley church.  Out through the little town of Shottisham it was basically just one more straight road to get to Woodbridge.

And then things got interesting.

With almost no traffic all day, suddenly a group of cars came to halt in front of me.  I could see a small jam up ahead.  I started to ride around these stopped cars to get up close to if I bike could get through when I saw two bicyclists up ahead turning around and heading back toward me.  One of them was stopping at a few cars to tell the drivers what was ahead and I overheard him say “tractor and a lorry (truck) blocking the road”.  I didn’t go up further to see for myself, but with the street just barely two cars wide I could guess that they had tried to pass each other and not made it, effectively blocking the road for everyone until they could get unjammed.  And since these cyclists were turning around, clearly there wasn’t even enough room for a bike to squeeze through.  Brambly bushes on either side of the road meant that there wasn’t anything to do but turn around.

As we rode back, there were more cyclists behind us and the man called out to warn them to turn around, too.  I overheard his companion mention going back to Hollesley.  I kind of wanted to cry a little.  Hollesley was only a few miles, but it was back-tracking.  I was tired and it was a hot, hot day, probably over 90.  Instead, I pulled over in Shottisham and examined the map.

I didn’t know exactly where the accident was – since this was such a long straight road – but I could get a general idea.  There were a few small roads marked alongside that were probably driveways to local farms because the map was THAT detailed.  I also saw that a “footpath” connected with one of these.  Backtrack, or try to find a new route among these back roads?  I picked the latter.

The footpath was… not a footpath.  It was a weedy area between two fields.  But if I handled the corpseway I could handle this.  Even though it was pretty, as I pushed my bike through the knee-high grasses, all I could think about was the fact that I was that my legs were bare and I’m allergic to grass.  I prayed over and over, “God, please no hives.  No hives, God, please.  At least, not too bad?”

The footpath connected to another footpath that was also not what I’d call a footpath.  It was a dirt track about the width of a car tire through the middle of a hayfield that had recently been mowed.  Connecting the footpaths was a waist-high fence and instead of a gate there was a step to step up and over.  But I had a bike.  I unhooked the heavy pannier of supplies and tossed it over, put the bike on my shoulder, and stepped over the fence – and in the back of my mind I’m rather impressed with myself.

The ends of the freshly mown hay cut into my legs as I crossed the huge field that felt endless.  Should I mention that I’m allergic to hay, too?  By the time I reached the other side, my legs were burning with hives.  Thankfully not too badly, but definitely hives.  I took one of my water bottles and dumped half of it on my legs which did provide some relief.  Then I pushed through the trees to see what kind of back roads I’d be dealing with.

Sand roads.  That’s what.  Six inches of sand.  And now my legs and shoes were wet.  I kind of had to laugh.  It was exhausting to push the bike down those roads as my shoes slowly filled with sand, but thankfully it was shady so provided some relief from the heat.  Eventually I came back to the main road, and I had judged correctly that my route got me around the accident.  Hooray!

It was only about three more miles to Woodbridge, but John and Frances had emphatically insisted that I stop at Sutton Hoo.  So I did.  I locked the bike up at a rack, went inside to pay the admission fee, and the cashier looked at me and said, “Are you okay?”  I laughed and said I had to throw my bike over a fence and push it through a field.

Sutton Hoo is an ancient Anglo-Saxon burial ground.  The bodies were buried inside boats along with a significant amount of treasure.  And the tourist area they’ve made there is fairly extensive with nature paths and picnic areas.  I went to the exhibit hall first (because it was closest) and sat down in the little theater where they were showing a brief film about the area.  In the corner in the dark, I took off my sock and shoes and emptied the sand.  Not the classiest thing to do, I know.  I hope they forgive me.  The exhibit itself was kind of disappointing because none of the treasure is there, just recreations.  Everything’s been moved to the big museums in London instead.

I walked over to the burial grounds, and saw the home of the lady who in the 1940s say, “Hey, why don’t you archaeologists dig up those burial mounds there and see what you can find?”  And then I was ready to go.

I wish I could say that I arrived at my hotel in Woodbridge and the day ended happily ever after, but unfortunately it did not.  My hotel was on the far side of the city, and though the map is detailed enough to show farm roads, in the city it’s just a mess of roads on top of each other so close together that there’s no room for street names.  I stopped at another hotel to ask for directions, but even she couldn’t do much more than point me in a direction.  I rode around the town for an hour in circles before finding my way to the highway crossing.  A big highway only a bit smaller than an interstate.  And you have to cross it with a bike.  There actually is a path going across it, but you have to stand there forever waiting for a break in the traffic.

Safely across the highway, I knew it was only a tiny ways to my hotel, and I said out loud, “Seckford Hall better be worth it.”  Thankfully, it was.  The Seckford family was very wealthy, and their home and the grounds were gorgeous.  My little room wasn’t that fancy, but it had a bath tub, and that was the most important thing.  After my bath I went to the building with the club restaurant and pool and asked if I could get something to eat.  I still hadn’t had lunch.  Unfortunately, their kitchen was closed.  But, the restaurant in the hotel would be open in an hour.  I knew it would be pricey, but there was no way I was going to cross the interstate again to get food in town.

I got there right when the doors opened, inhaled the appetizers they gave me (which were delicious) and dined on guinea fowl in orange sauce with potatoes and vegetables.  It was heavenly.  I seriously considered dessert as well, but was afraid I might fall asleep in the middle of a slice of chocolate raspberry tart.  So I retired to my room at the end of a crazy day that I survived and wouldn’t soon forget.

Aldeburgh sunrise

Crossing the inlet at Snape

The Iken church peninsula in the marshes

Some suburbanites would kill for a lawn this perfect…

Orford Castle

Orford Castle chapel. It was so small that people would stand outside in the stairwell to hear services; there is a hole cut in the wall for this exact purpose to allow them to hear.

Martello Tower at Shingle Street

Detour! I don’t know exactly where I turned around, so that’s a guess. The red dotted lines are “footpaths”. I didn’t notice until uploading this picture that the sand road is also designated a footpath – which should have been a clue to me that it wouldn’t be very bike-friendly.

“Footpath” #1 on my detour

Looking back across the huge field of footpath #2

Sutton Hoo exhibit

Sutton Hoo burial mounds. The one in the back – seen next to the house – has been built back up to what would have been its original height 1000 years ago.

The Sutton Hoo burial grounds are in the middle of a sheep pasture. 🙂

Spectacular Seckford Hall

Lunch– I mean, dinner. Finally!!

Monday, 13 August – Woodbridge to Needham Market to London 

I managed to stay in bed until 7:00, which was quite the accomplishment.  Nothing to do today but ride about ten miles to return the bike.  Breakfast in the hotel restaurant was again wonderful; I’ll never be able to stomach a US continental breakfast again.  I took my time getting ready and left about 10:00.

I didn’t go inside as many of the churches on the way back, but I did slow down to look at each one.  All of the churches have a memorial to their local townspeople who died in the world wars.  I breaks my heart to see how many families were affected by that violence.

I arrive back at Cycle Breaks around noon.  Other than suggesting that a detailed map of Woodbridge be added to the packet, I had no complaints.  I thought they did an excellent job planning and facilitating my trip and I would highly recommend them to anyone.  I really want to go back and do another one of their trips.

My train to Ipswich transferring to London Liverpool isn’t until 1:30, so I ask about places to eat.  Turns out many Suffolk businesses are closed on Mondays, but there is one place in town that should be open.  I enjoy a roasted red pepper and goat cheese panini while I finally pull out my iPod to listen to some podcasts.  The sandwich was delicious, and in fact I tried to replicate it tonight at home with satisfactory results.

Outside the restaurant is the church for Needham Market, and even though I’ve seen a dozen churches in the past few days I decide to add one more.  And I’m so glad I did.  It took my breath away.  The ceiling is wooden and features amazing, hand-carved figures.  Blew all the other little town churches out of the water.

My train to Ipswich is late, but thankfully they’ve held the connecting train to London.  A tube ride back to Aimee’s, with a stop at Tesco to get some nibbles for dinner.  I still have two whole days of London to look enjoy before heading back home.

Good morning, Seckford Hall!

War memorial outside one of the churches.


Signs like this kept me on the right track.

Inside the church in Needham Market, with its stunning ceiling

I think this Needham Market citizen likes begonias. What do you think?

Olympic Park from the train

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