Some folk Suffolk

Continuing the exploration of the British Isles, this year for our anniversary I took my lovely wife to the equally lovely Hadleigh in Suffolk. To get there we travelled south from Northamptonshire, anti-clockwise around the M25 and across the bottom of Essex towards Clacton-by-Sea before heading north towards Walton-on-the-Naze before heading Northwest to Hadleigh. We also visited Ipswich and Felixstowe.

Clacton-by-Sea out of season is, as should be expected, quiet. A typical British seaside resort town with formal gardens, a pier, amusements and former guest houses and hotels along the promenade and a once grand, now deteriorating due to lack of investment, town inland. The pier was undergoing refurbishment so access was only permitted into the large newly regenerated pier amusement hall but one can see how the area once was very popular with seaside visitors from London who now gentrify places like Southwold to the north or further afield like Cornwall.

Being by the seaside is enough to make anyone hungry and the urge to binge on Fish and Chips at the seaside is akin to the urge to binge on chocolate at Easter. Sadly, with it being out of season and not being Yorkshire, most of the good fish and chip restaurants were either closed for the winter or just in hiding. So after failing to find a recommended fish and chip restaurant in Frinton-on-Sea, we headed futher up the coast towards Walton-on-the-Naze. We stopped at Yates’ Fish and Chips in Walton-on-the-Naze who do a splendid fish and chip dinner (I highly reccomend them)

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Medium Cod and Chips @ Yates’ Walton-on-the-Naze

Walton is a polar opposite to Clacton. Yes, like Clacton, it is run down but there is less of a seaside feel to the place despite having the finest collection of beach huts and the second longest pier I’ve ever seen.

Again, being out of season meant that few people were around and the fairground rides that were in operation on the pier played their hauntingly merry jingles to the ghosts of former holiday makers and anyone who would listen. Aside from this, the pier was eerie. The sea was uncannily still, the light unusual for the time of year. The afternoon sun making vivid colours of blue, orange and purple in the cloud base and far away the echos of shipping and road traffic almost inperceptable.

Hadleigh is a gem of an English town. It is a former coaching, market and strip town, as in it is laid along a long High Street and, at some point in its history, provided a welcome overnight stop off for horse-drawn coaches bound for other destinations like Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds or Lavenham or much further afield. Moreover, it provided an ideal location for a market place for Lavenham wool merchants, Ipswich traders and other travelling mendicants to vend their wares.

Indeed, casual reference sources claim that Hadleigh once was home to well over twenty inns, evidence of which is clear from the architecture and names of houses along the High Street. Furthermore, the wealth generated from the coaching inns, the market and the local industry is clear from the surviving buildings in the area, a selection of which you can view below.

 

 

Of course, Hadleigh is a small town and despite having a great selection of eateries, there is little to entertain for a sustained period of a long weekend, so we also explored a few local places too.

Ipswich was the first. Taking advantage of the park and ride we soon found ourselves on the bustling streets of Ipswich. A delightful port town in which the keen eye can distinguish the signs of a seafaring history. From the locations where there would have been huge warehouses along the harbour side, to the numerous hidden churches and chapels and buildings that scream wealthy merchants lived here, Ipswich is a lovely place.

After stopping at Casablanca, a Morroccan restaurant, for a splendid lunch and headed  to Felixstowe for our third seaside fix of the weekend.

Felixstowe is not, in my mind, one of the first places that come to mind when someone says “Seaside” to me, however if you said “container port” I’d probably think immediately of Felixstowe. However, the suffolk tourist board are obviously trying to do a service to Felixstowe and get people to disregard the militaristic and logistical past and re-embrace the seaside there once more.

First point of call was the former fort at Landguard Point. Former MOD land  littered with the remains of concrete gun placements, bunkers and radar points. From there one can watch the huge container ships enter and depart the neighbouring port of Felixstowe. For a logistics nerd its kind of interesting watching the huge cranes pick up a container like one might pick up a matchbox and drop it on a precarious looking stack of containers on board a ship.  For a history nerd, it is equally interesting seeing how much value the port held for Britain through history and why it was so well protected from Napoleon and Hitler.

The seaside though, not what I had in mind. Much flatter than Clacton and, obviously as a result, much more weather beaten, the seafront at Felixstowe is more akin to Rhyl than Scarborough on the Seaside scale. The buildings and seafront goings on set further back from the beach than at Clacton and the pier looking a little more practical than its cousin at Walton-on-the-Naze.

Sunday came and we began our return journey, stopping at Lavenham along the way. Lavenham was once a bustling town of wool merchants but later reduced to village status as fortunes leaked elsewhere. But that is not to say wealth did not leave Lavenham.  Evidence of a market place, a guildhall and coaching inns show that before bus loads of tourists were the norm, the village was very prosperous throughout the following centuries. Indeed, it appears that many of the old wooden framed houses are now holiday lets aimed at those foreign tourists who think all villages across the whole of the UK look like Lavenham.

Finally our route home took us through Bury St Edmunds. Redevelopment has given the town a Milton Keynes feel but once past the modern eyesore of the Debenhams district, one can find the more picturesque and traditional sights.

In the heart of Bury St Edmunds lies the ruins of a priory.  The scale of the priory ruins just show how wealthy the church had become before Henry VIII had his hissy fit and formed his own. Moreover,  it appears that there are houses built into the walls of the ruins and indeed, to me at least, the walls themselves look quite old, almost Roman in places.

Its when you see history like this juxtaposed against the history of other places you begin to form a different appreciation of events. Over Christmas, Mrs Gnomepants and I went to  Cartegena in Columbia where we visited the Inquisition Palace and learned about what was going on elsewhere in the world just before good old Henry threw his toys out of his pram.  In both the New and Old World, Inquisitors were torturing those who didn’t agree with Papal policy. I’d not really connected the dots before but now think that maybe our jolly polyamorous monarch had other reasons for forming his own church than those taught to us by historians.

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Grapes

Spring flowers are blossoming everywhere lately. The Camilia at the front of Gnomepants Manor is a shock of pink and looks very pretty. Furthermore, the well tended gardens at the front of the town hall in Barnsley are awash with fragrance and colour. As the daffodils of March die back, the tulips of April thrust skywards bold and proud and here and there blue flowers mix with yellows and light reds. It’s such a lovely sight to see.

Such sights remind me of childhood haunts. One being the hidden garden in Reynolds Park, Liverpool. The garden is a walled enclosure which traps the variety of strong fragrances and the warmth of the Equinoxal sun. Paths lined with memorial benches twist and turn between the flower beds. The benches remind the living of those who have passed before and how much they too loved the area.

Indeed, the gardens in Liverpool’s Calderstones Park, though a shadow of their former self, also pay tribute to those who seek sanctity and serenity in such locations. If you know where to look, there are walled gardens and forgotten Victorian hot houses brimming with fragrance and colour.

It should also be noted that at this time of year the colour green is a lot more vivid than at other times. The new leaves of the privet and yew hedges are striking and the twists and turns of climbing rose bushes ready themselves for their May blossoms.

Do you have a secret garden near you? Do you visit gardens such as these? If not why not? Simply saying “I don’t go to such places because there aren’t any near me” is just a cop out. Get out this weekend. Go see natures show. Rest a while in the sun, breathe in the scents and think momentarily, how people love these places.

Potty time

At around about the age of 2 I was introduced to a delightful receptacle known as the potty. I can’t remember the time really, but I know that that basic training put me in good stead for using the toilet. As a lot of my tutelage in such matters came from women I still prefer to use the cubicle rather than a urinal, something many of my male friends scoff at and mock me about. Yet I am, relatively recently, now able to choose which receptacle I want to use though 75% of the time the cubicle wins.

Now, I realise that the basic family unit of the 1970’s (mum, dad, siblings & pet cat) is somewhat different to today’s family unit (mum, mum’s partner, estranged father, estranged father’s partner, step and paternal siblings) but surely that should be no excuse for the way I perceive things going in the noughties. Indeed, one might argue there is no excuse for such behaviour in any generation (except maybe physically or mentally disabled people), but there really is no excuse for pissing all over the seat and the floor.

You see it was instilled in me from an early age that the appropriate urination techniques are as follows:

Ensure toilet seat is in upright position
Undo fly
Take out willy
Aim willy at bit of porcelain just where it meets the water (so as not to make too much noise)
Relax
Urinate
Shake (more than two is classed as a wank)
Put willy back
Do up fly
Wipe any spillage with tissue
Put used tissue in toilet
Flush
Leave

Some may argue that I should also have included “Lower seat” in between “flush” and “leave” but it reminds 50% of the public that men stand up to do their weewees.

However, it has come to my attention that in the age range of say 18-25 there is a distinct lack of appropriate toilet training. Rather, I believe some mothers would prefer their male offspring train themselves and instead of castigating them for piddling all over the seat simply wipe it up for them because in their eyes that is what mothers do and that telling their male off-spring off for pissing all over the place might cause them to become closet homosexuals or golden shower fetishists.

Today, I entered the male toilets in the College in which I still work so that I might perform some ablutions. My first “doh” was the puddle of liquid on the floor in which my trailing shoelace was now lain soaking. The second “doh” came because some oik had decided that pissing all over the seat was more appropriate than careful aim. Tissue, soggy tissue, lay all over the place and the cubicle smelt like someone had been drinking haddock juice or at least had a really bad urinary infection. Simply, there is no excuse for such behaviour. Especially at the age 16-19, which most of the boys here are. I dread to think what their homes are like.

Thaal

So, I don’t know, you’re pootling up the M1/A1 from the south heading towards Leeds; Maybe you’re just wandering like Kane; Perhaps you are skydiving over the South Yorkshire Countryside; You could be like Hiro from Heroes and teleported; Or maybe you just wake up naked, cold, lonely and confused after a large drinking session with your best friend Induviae Equus; either way, you find yourself in Darfield, South Yorkshire, hungry and feeling like a good curry. I know. It happens to me all the time.

Like the other day, there I was minding my own, tootling along the A635 into Barnsley while trying to avoid road works and there it was. Set back from the road was a white building with a bold black and red logo announcing itself as THAAL. Darfield is hardly a place where you’d expect to see a fine restaurant so it kind of threw me. So, as it was the wedding anniversary today, I thought I’d treat Mrs Gnomepants to a slap up nosh in Thaal.

And a bloody good choice it was as well…Service – bloody excellent; Food – Out of this world; even the decor and the price were damn bloody good. Between us, 4 diet cokes, 4 popadums and a pickle tray, a garlic naan, a peshwari naan, thaal special rice, a murgh makhoni (chicken with fruit and nuts in a mild sauce) [for me] and a murgi tarkari (for Mrs G) came to about £35. The meal was splendid, the sauces perfect, the meat cut and cooked to perfection. Just the right amount of creaminess, just the right amount of spices. Flavours of garlic and fenugreek not too harsh and delightful melt in the mouth naans. A truly splendid repast.

So there you are, some how stuck in or passing through or near to Darfield without a clue what to do….get yourself to the Thaal restaurant (don’t use the number on the website though cos that’s for one in Brovvaton or Brotherton as anyone normal would call it) and dine in the finest Indian this side of the M1/A1/M18 triangle. You too can be a fat bastard like me.