Thursday, 6 July 2017

Alderborough and Orford - how much cute can we afford?

A couple of posts ago I ventured to list a few surefire symptoms of gentrification. If I recall, these included: a plethora of high-end branded casual clothes shops, food outlets that contain the terms 'artisan' or 'craft', gift shops renamed as galleries, especially those selling handmade silver jewellery, hand printed scarves, vaguely​ Oriental looking textiles or silk harem pants. By these criteria, in the game of posh-place bingo, Alderborough hits almost every button.

High end casual clothes shops....

Craft shops with hilariously pretentious names...

more 'quality' tee-shirt and chino purveyors

Silver jewellery shop....
All that being said, it is a unique place with beautiful vernacular buildings positioned on a wild, remote coast. No wonder people flock here. Therein in lies the problem, there comes a point where the balance tips between a town as a dwelling place, and its function as a visitor attraction begins to predominate. Gill felt that Alderborough was reaching that tipping point, l think it has already.

It might be posh, but it is still England - the country may be falling apart - but forming an orderly queue will always prevail
16th Centiry Moot Hall

Small fisherman's cottage - for a small fisherman we presume...

pleasing roofscape - well it pleased me!

It's a fishing boat, by George...

Gulls and hollyhocks

Gulls sitting on a Caterpillar -not often you can say that...

such a lovely coastline...
The village of Orford lies about five miles to the south. To reach there from Alderborough by road is over twice that distance due to the meanderings of the river Alde, the acres of salt march, estuarial mud and miles of flint shingle banks that have formed over the past thousand years. Though the landscape immediately inland is typical of Suffolk, a mix of cornfields, patches of woodland, and lanes that twist and turn over low hills, the coastline is wilder, a bleak strange place of shivering grasses and silvery mudflats.

The river slithers along behind the low bulk of Orford Ness. This massive bank of shingle is over ten miles long. The empty otherworldly atmosphere is magnified by the abandoned concrete giant 'pagodas' dotted about the place left behind by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment whose experiments there remain secret even today. Now it is open to the public and the unique habitat protected as a nature reserve. It retains a slightly sinister ambiance, not least because the pale grey slab of Thorpe​ness nuclear power station dominates the horizon to the north.

Orford village is neither otherworldly nor in the least sinister. A tangle of red brick cottages stretch along a low rise a few hundred yards inland. The southern edge of the settlement is dominated by the tall keep of Orford castle built by Henry II in the mid twelfth century. The only other building of any size is the stubby flint church. Otherwise the place is a pleasing collection of cottages and more substantial houses from a mix of eras, there is a village pub, a general store which doubles as the post office and a very famous bakery.

This is a seriously good bakery

 Inspirational,pasteis da nata, so good we drove to Lisbon last year partly to compare the Suffolk version with the real thing!

It's quite a stragging sort of village - a tangle of lanes with lovely collages built of warm toned brick

One shop - does everything - Post Office, stationers, vegetables logs, compost....

Orford Quay next to the river is home to Pinneys fish merchants and a tea room in an old fisherman's shack, otherwise it's a workaday small harbour home to half a dozen small fishing boats, a few yachts and tourist boats offering excursions to the Ness or a trip up the river.

The two linked settlements look like a couple of paragraphs from Hoskins 'Making of the English Landscape' embodied. You sense a continuity, history as descent, a link between generations across a swathe of time. The lonely footpaths across the salt marshes, the huge sky and the strangeness of the deserted shingle bank adds to this sense of timelessness. Unlike Alderborough, Orford has retained function and integrity. It not unvisited, the large car park is evidence of that. However it is more than simply a cute visitor attraction, a parody of a village like nearby Dedham has become.

Is it somewhere we might consider moving to? It is tempting, though you are a long drive from a supermarket or chemists. There is another obstacle. Overlooking the quayside there is a house for sale. It is not a very nice house, in fact it may be the ugliest house in Orford. It is concrete faced, a bland early twentieth century building which looks like two semi-detached cottages knocked together. The garden is pretty and a wooden balcony had been built on the first floor to give the main bedroom a harbour view. I looked it up on the estate agents website. The asking price - two million pounds! I have a feeling we are destined to forever appreciate the charms of Orford as admiring day visitors.

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