A stranger in Walberswick
PUBLISHED: 11:08 09 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:19 20 February 2013
Sam Rosebery visits a favourite coastal village
A stranger in. . . Walberswick
Sam Rosebery visits a favourite coastal village
High above, a marsh harrier is turning lazy circles in a clear blue sky, sweeping the thermals with its impressive wingspan, tipped by outstretched finger-like feathers.
I stand looking out over Oldtown Marshes awestruck by the grace and beauty of it all.
Then a voice from heaven speaks.
Arfur, its Mar-hin. Got that stuff yet?
High in his scaffolding eyrie clinging precariously to a nearby chimney stack, Martin the builder is hard at work on his mobile phone.
Builders are everywhere in Walberswick, clambering over rooftops in Lodge Road, poking about at the bottom of a huge hole in Leveretts Lane and replacing guttering in Manor Close. White vans line whole stretches of The Street, rendering this narrow, footpath-less, main thoroughfare barely passable, while down on Ferry Road, piles of bricks are being wheelbarrowed across the green, chippies and sparks are at work on a row of cottages where a flatbed builders lorry is delivering a bulbous, 1950s-style Smeg refrigerator to one cottage not much bigger than the fridge itself.
Yet, as if to emphasise just how upmarket is this gorgeous seaside resort, nowhere is heard the sound of builders radios, belting out non-stop, static-laden monster pop. They are silent. Peace reigns. Birdsong prevails.
Its hardly surprising that Walberswick, with Southwold and Dunwich as near neighbours, is such a fortune-kissed village, cupped as it is by heathland, marshland and the sea, yet enfolded, protected and so very private.
The list of the rich and famous who reputedly own, have owned, could have
owned, or might have been thinking about owning a home here is legion. And certainly, as coastal resorts go, the village has its share of celebrity residents and part-timers, most prominent among them being the v
v family of the late great Sir Clement Freud, while broadcasters Paul Heiney and Libby Purves live nearby in glorious seclusion.
Its easy to spot these second-home owners darn for a few days they are the ones who refuse to make eye contact when you encounter them in the narrow lanes, or decline any kind of acknowledgement when you scramble on to the verge to allow them to sweep by in their big cars.
Im happy to report, though, that true villagers and permanent residents still greet complete strangers with a friendly smile and a cheery hello, as they do anywhere in Suffolk. Indeed, I enjoy a long and informative chat with a parrot, sunning itself in its cage in a cottage front garden.
Despite the exclusive tag, Walberswick bends over backwards to welcome visitors and has done brilliantly in providing huge car parks, one at the end of The Street, a short walk from both the village and the beach, and others down by the harbour at the end of Ferry Road, from where a small ferry still carries passengers across to the Southwold side of the River Blyth.
The trouble is, according to my friend the parrot, drivers are reluctant to cough up the 3 parking charge and instead clog the villages narrow lanes, rather spoiling what they have come to admire.
Nevertheless, the car parks will undoubtedly be full on Sunday, August 9, this year for the biggest charity fundraiser on Walberswicks social calendar, the annual British Open Crabbing Championship.
Over a 90-minute period, hundreds of children and their families will be trying to nab the biggest crab of the day. Entry costs 1 and buckets, lines and bait are also available, along with refreshments and souvenirs, including an I Caught Crabs in Walberswick T-shirt.
However, today I am feeling particularly crab-free and virtuous, having left the car to walk the three miles to Walberswick from Blythburgh, along a footpath that skirts Angel Marshes, passes through a nature reserve and crosses the common to fetch up at the heel of Leveretts Lane.
From here to the triangular green on Ferry Road, which is the hub of the older, more cottagey part of the village where there is a small visitors centre in a pretty Victorian building, perhaps once the village hall. Here, too, is a row of clothing and gift shops, galleries and tea rooms, in a variety of attractive redbrick or black-clad buildings, with names like The Parish Lantern, Tinkers and The Potters Wheel.
Across the way, just off Ferry Road and overlooking another small green is Adnams 15th-century Bell Inn, below which is Valley Farm, the one-time home of a famous resident from the past, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The Glasgow-born artist and designer rented the house in 1914 from the renowned painter Philip Wilson Steer, but his habit of taking nocturnal walks along the beach carrying a lantern raised suspicion among villagers that he was a spy, signalling the enemy. This was the years of the First World War, you understand.
When soldiers turned up on the doorstep, Rennie Mackintosh let rip with some ripe Glaswegian, the guttural tones of which were mistaken for German and the poor man was jailed for a week.
So its on down Ferry Road to the picturesque harbour, with its boats, views to Southwold and eye-catching fishing huts-turned-expensive-crash-pads, one of which is said to belong to Emma Freud and her partner, the film director Richard Curtis, he of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame.
From here a footbridge crosses the creek to the beach, cut short to the north by the harbour mouth, but stretching away southwards to Dunwich, although the line of the beach is now breached where the sea broke through a couple of winters ago and flooded the Dingle Marshes.
The beach wears an away-from-it-all air, as there are no overlooking house windows, as at Southwold, although there is a scattering of beach huts, modest black-stained garden sheds nestling in the sand dunes.
Crossing back into the village I head out along The Street, passing The Anchor Inn (organic food and biodynamic wines),
Fishers garage, which looks and is a
throw-back to the 1930s, and an ornate Victorian chapel.
The sign outside The Old Curiosity Shop says, Curious folk welcome, so I feign a curious face and push at the door, which is firmly locked. So, dropping the affectation, I snap up a snack in Walberswick stores instead before exploring Leveretts Lane, Lodge Road, Palmers Road and the rest of The Street. These roads are lined with what must be the villages most comfortable homes glimpsed through tall trees or hiding behind high hedges. Dare I say it? A tad Surrey.
Finally to the Church of St Andrew, which is much smaller than at first appears, being little more than a side chapel to what was once one of the grandest churches in the county, the ruins of which are a graphic indication of its original impressive scale.
Built in the 15th century, the congregation had so dwindled that by the 17th century the villagers sought permission to demolish the old and build anew within the shell, leaving the magnificent tower standing as a landmark to ships at sea. The result is a beautifully simple, light-filled and wildly romantic space.
The afternoon is fading. So I slope off down Church Lane to pick up the footpath across Walberswick Common for the return walk to Blythburgh aware that Ive encountered not a single spectre in what is, supposedly, one of East Anglias most haunted villages.
Maybe such things only abound on dark and stormy nights, or perhaps it is because Im stone cold sober. Ghost stories so often feature pubs or journeys home from the pub, have you noticed?
Here on the common, it is said the that the wild pounding of horses hooves can be heard, while elsewhere in the village a strange trilling noise called the Walberswick Whistle has been known on occasions, while a poltergeist haunts the Anchor Inn from time-to-time.
Down on the landing stage, an old man and a boy await the ferry, a Victorian church warden strides the aisle and ghost of a fisherman visits The Bell, while a phantom dog roams the road between the inn and The Vicarage.
One for the road, Vicar!
Suddenly my heart is in my mouth at the sound of galloping horses approaching.
Emerging from the bracken through the early evening mist, two teenage girls in hard hats, pink T-shirts and stretch jodhpurs rein-in their farting ponies.
Lovely day, I manage to squawk in a strangulated sort of way.
Oh yah, they chorus, tossing their blonde manes.