Into the unknown . . . well almost
PUBLISHED: 11:14 22 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:14 22 December 2015
David Falk, manager of Suffolk County Council's Brandon Country Park, leaves his map at home and follows his nose around Orwell Country Park, a hop and skip from the bustle of Ipswich and the A14. Photos: Lynette Falk
It’s not often that I head out without a clear sense of where I’m walking. It must be the geographer in me. I feel lost without a folded, dog-eared OS map and the reassurance of a north marker, contour lines, and a symbol for parking.
I recall my geography teacher once advising that no-one should be without an OS map for it showed with great accuracy the location of all the pubs in Britain. Sound advice. But today I’m heading to the haven of Orwell Country Park on the outskirts of Ipswich and surely I won’t need a map. I’ve walked around the edge of the park many times. I’ve followed big arrow signs on the Orwell Walk, that marathon of a hike run by the Rotary Club every June. I’ve wandered along the foreshore in the shadow of the Orwell Bridge. Surely I won’t need a map?
I approach the park along a narrow lane that becomes the narrowest of bridges, soaring above the fast flowing A14. It ends in a small car park where I park up, lace up and wrap up.
Orwell Country Park is divided into three – Pipers Vale, Braziers Wood and Bridge Wood. I start at Bridge Wood. I read an information panel and learn about ancient oaks, reedbeds, heathlands and spectacular landslides. I pick a path – the choice seems endless – slide through a metal barrier, and crunch on leaf litter between sycamores, elders and an old bird box clinging to the side of a scots pine.
I hesitate at a junction before choosing the path on my right, and head into the unknown. The path, a mattress of needles, criss-crossed like a game of pick-up sticks, lies on the edge of a valley and as I wander I catch glimpses of the canopy and landscape beyond. At a flight of wooden steps I head downwards and am drawn forward by a light that shines through the trees. It’s the River Orwell, and after walking over a concrete boardwalk I find myself looking down onto its exposed mudflats.
The waters of the Orwell are calm and still. In the distance I can see the silhouette of a fisherman as he casts a line. Ahead of me an egret takes flight as it shifts down shore. On the muddy shore tufts of grass mound up, and on the land old oak trees lean precariously towards the water. The path hugs the cliff as it drops down on to the foreshore and here I see how landslides have revealed sandy soils and entwined roots.
Lying across the stony beach is a fallen tree trunk. It’s been smoothed by waves and rain, and makes a perfect bench. I stop, sit and absorb the scene. To my left, in the far distance lies the Royal Harwich Yacht Club, its marina full of sailing boats. Across the Orwell stands Freston Tower – I make a mental note to visit it next time it opens to the public. To my right is the sweeping span of the Orwell Bridge. I can see the traffic flowing and from here on the shore lorries look like children’s toys. A young family appear from the woods, join me on the shore and then push off a pair of pushchairs for their morning stroll. They scare a green woodpecker out of the trees. It laughs as it circles above me, then disappears into the woods.
I re-join the path along the cliff top with an elevated view of the river. I soon turn inland, following a path that becomes a track leading under the Orwell Bridge. Under the spans of the bridge I halt. The massive structure looms over me, its form perfectly reflected in the still river waters, the heavy sound of traffic rumbling from up high. Beyond the bridge lies Pipers Vale and I stride into a confusing array of wide mown paths all heading in the general direction of Ipswich. I reach a car park, double back on myself and then climb even higher to loftier views.
I’m making my way through the vale, passing though narrow metal barriers, crossing tracks, nearing housing estates, hearing the sound of school children at play, and entering open grassland as my route undulates and meanders. I hit a tarmac path that runs parallel to the A14. It climbs upwards past sweet chestnuts and tangled brambles, before giving way to sand. At the top of the rise, near a bench occupied by two walkers, I stop and look back towards the sweep of the main road. From here you really appreciate the smooth, graceful lines of the bridge as it curves across the Orwell.
Beyond the bench, the sandy path meets a concrete track and rises further. To my side spreads Braziers Wood with its art installation called Green Wind, then I recognise my surroundings – I’m at the lane I arrived on.
I re-cross the narrow bridge above the A14 and return to my car, having enjoyed my map-less wander. The car park is fuller than when I arrived, regulars on daily walks. I wonder if any of them are carrying maps. Probably not. I bet they all know exactly where they’re going.