Lazy days on the Orford River
PUBLISHED: 12:14 28 July 2015 | UPDATED: 12:14 28 July 2015
Garth Cooper recalls happy hours ‘tooling’ about on the river Ore and Alde
Tooling about is such an expressive phrase, but it’s exactly what one does on the Ore and Alde.
Meander slowly along the waterways, enjoy the peace, broken only by the swish of water from the bow or the chattering and calling of local wildlife. Yet in the not too distant past this area of the county rang to the booms and bangs of bombs and ordinance being tested on Orfordness, the shingle bank that separates the river from the sea.
This is big sky country – to the west, flat, open marshes and water meadows rising slightly into manicured farmland, to the east the flat grey North Sea. It’s a stargazer’s paradise.
Entry from the sea can be tricky, but with care, local knowledge, and entering on the half flood and above, you should have no real problems. Don’t, however, attempt it on the ebb or in bad weather.
At its lower end the Ore runs through low lying marshes and water meadows on the landward side and the raised shingle bank of Orfordness to seaward. But the visitor is compensated by the abundance of wildlife, ranging from seals to sea birds and waders. Halfway between the entrance at Shingle Street and Orford town the river divides around Havergate Island, home to one of Britain’s largest colonies of lapwings and therefore a no-go area for landing.
The Butley River is a great place to anchor overnight, or while away several hours enjoying the peace and quiet. The upper reaches as far as Butley Mills are best explored from a dinghy. At several points are the remnants of old farm docks where barges used to load hay, straw and grain from local farms to go to London.
Above Havergate Island the river joins up again to form a single waterway approaching Orford, with its Norman keep and large wool church dominating the skyline. There are clearly marked visitor moorings, but a call to harbour master Philip Attwood (VHF Ch 08), call sign Chantry, will find you a suitable buoy to hang on.
For twitchers and wildlife enthusiasts an accompanied trip round the National Trust’s Orfordness site makes a fascinating break from bobbing on the briny.
A mile or so upriver of Orford the river changes its name to the Alde, and at Slaughden Quay, home to Aldeburgh YC, Slaughden SC and Upson’s Boatyard, it swings 90 degrees west and snakes across a wide, wood-bound shallow valley to Snape. Here at the crossing of the A12 is the farthest navigable point for a vessel of any size. These upper reaches are by far and away the most attractive aspects of the river.
The intrepid first time visitor will need to keep his wits about him. The course of the river from Cob Island to Snape follows a meandering path across the shallows, guided by a series of withies (long hazel branches stuck upright in the mud) and often veering more than 90 degrees as it wriggles across the flats. But creeping up on a rising tide with a shallow draught and the ability to take the ground reveals some of the most attractive scenery on the east coast.
At Iken Cliffs there’s a deepish hole that makes a comfortable anchorage. Row ashore to walk back down the foreshore and visit isolated Iken Church or up river to Snape. At Snape itself it is possible to lie side-to against the wall of the old quay.
But do not moor on the outside of any of the barges – they’re flat bottomed and almost certainly will slide on the muddy slope, tipping you over.
What to see
Snape Maltings – world famous concert hall (catch The Snape Proms in August), shopping, monthly farmers market, craft centre, Plough and Sail, cafe and art gallery.
Snape village – the Crown Inn, home reared and produced food www.snape-crown.co.uk
Iken – hire Canadian style canoes and kayaks to explore the upper reaches of the river. www.ikencanoe.co.uk .
Slaughden – riverside landing for Aldeburgh. Excellent fish and chip shops and other shops in the high street. Two sailing clubs, Slaughden SC and Aldeburgh YC plus a couple of boatyards. Both clubs welcome visiting yachtsmen.
Orford – famous for oysters, shellfish and fresh fish from Butley Oysterage restaurant. Pump Street Bakery and Orford general store, with cafe, Crown and Castle, Jolly Sailors and the Kings Head pubs. The quayside, from which a ferry runs across to the National Trust owned Orfordness, is a great place to go crabbing. The Lady Florence runs river-dining trips from the quay. Visiting yachtsmen should contact Orford harbour master Philip Attwood (01394 459950 or 07528092635) for a mooring.
Need to know
The Alde and Ore Association has produced a guide to the estuary
For pilotage and general boating information East Coast Pilot
River trips, walks, musical and choral events in the world famous Snape Maltings concert hall www.snapemaltings.co.uk
The Alde, which takes it name from the coastal town of Aldeburgh (Saxon for a fortified stronghold), rises within spitting distance of the River Blyth near Laxfield and meanders a leisurely course to Snape where it becomes salty-tidal.
In prehistoric times it flowed out to sea at Slaughden. The existing 10-mile long shingle spit of Orfordness began to form and grow three or four thousand years ago as longshore drift dragged material off the soft coast to the north. It diverted the river south, in medieval times exiting just below Orford, once a major port and a Tudor centre of shipbuilding.
Today it joins the sea at Shingle Street at North Weir Point. The River Alde, which changes its name to the River Ore at Pig Sluice, just above Orford Town quay, runs for around 20 miles through an area of outstanding natural beauty. Above Snape it is only accessible to canoes and dinghies.