Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Is Felixstowe a contender?

Possibly. It is an interesting place. Because the town is a mixture of things, major container port, minor holiday resort, a suburban overspill for nearby Ipswich, it has neither succumbed to the fate of so many southern English seaside towns and collapsed entirely into decay and poverty, nor headed the other way to become second home heaven for monied Londoners. There are always surefire signs of gentrification - artisan bakeries and butchers, 'free from' grocers, silver jewellery and harem pants emporia, upscale clothing chains - Jack Wills, Fatface - Felixstowe high street has none of these. In fact it looks like English high streets did in the early 1970s, apart from being pedestrianised and the added convenience of pleasant seating areas and bike racks. As if to assert its 'prog rock' credentials, the place even boasts a Wimpy Bar. Moreover, to develop the Peter Gabriel theme further, the nearby farm shops were selling English sausages by the pound. There is nothing 'retro' or 'vintage' about Felixstowe, it is simply unashamedly old fashioned. 

So Gill observed, as she disappeared into a branch of Santander leaving me to ebike watch. She was not around to witness how her hypothesis was immediately reasserted by the two elderly residents standing in front of me. Pleasantries were dispensed with in a trice; the two then immediately embarked on a convoluted conversation on the subject of 'the cardie'. Both women appeared to be in their late seventies. One was small, frail and a little stooped, the other tall, stately and dressed in black and grey. It was like watching a sparrow gossiping with a cormorant. 

 "That's a larvlee cardie' you gart there," Mrs Sparrow ventured, rubbing Miss Cormorant's black lambswool cardigan with her thin spindly fingers. Miss Cormorant did not seem to take this intrusion amiss at all, but proceeded to embark on an extended paean concerning the manifold virtues of her cardigan. These included: the colour (black, doesn't show marks); texture (lambswool, folds easily into a handbag without creasing); weight (light, perfect for breezy summer's day). All the while Mrs Sparrow continued to rub the garment, interjecting the occasional phatic affirmative phrase - "yehs breezy; lambswool... lahvley; ooh sarft." Finally she brought things to a close with a cheery, "Must be arf!" As the two old birds fluttered away Mrs Sparrow left dangling in the air a question of profound mystery, "You can't sneeze at a good cardie', now can you?" 

Gill emerged from the bank muttering darkly about ATM malfunctions and slow queues. However I was still ruminating on the idiosyncrasies of what I had just overheard. Picking up on Gill's observation as she entered the bank I responded when she exited as if no time had elapsed whatsoever, "You are right, the place does seem trapped in a time-warp." 

We had spent the latter part of the morning exploring Felixstowe's seafront. It stretches for about two and a half miles from the docks and container port on the banks of the Orwell to the golf links beside the foot passenger ferry over the river Deben. The old pier is at the end nearest the docks. The area is somewhat run down. Though a concerted effort is being made to restore the Edwardian structure, the surrounding area is never going to be charming due to the slab-like 60s apartment​ blocks which overlook it. Further to the north, however, the seafront is charming, retaining something of the gentille atmosphere that brought Queen Victoria and her Romanov relatives here in the mid 1890s.

At one end of the beach - the Container Port
Which then becomes a slightly sedate resort

Then an almost deserted beach
The place is lifted from being merely workaday or sedate by rows of jolly beach huts that stretch along the shore. We stopped for lunch at a modern looking place overlooking the beach. Smoked fishcakes with a lemon creme fraise dressing - 'ok' we agreed, but lacking finesse. Recently we have become a bit snobby on the subject of fishcakes! 

Front row huts are advertised in Estate Agent's window's for £18,000

The gradual transition from workaday to up-market discernable on the seafront is reflected in the town itself. Yesterday we hunted for the local Morrison's superstore. It is situated off the A14 just before it reaches the docks. To reach the town centre from there you drive through an area of housing estates, some council, some 1970s 'starter homes'. It is not an affluent area, but not impoverished and run-down either. The closer you get to Felixstowe Ferry golf club at the opposite end of town, the posher the houses look. Gill pronounced that the picture window plated modernist villas on at the northern end of town 'looked a bit swanky'. 

In between here at the high street lies 'Old Felixstowe' a tangle of streets which mix bay fronted Edwardian villas with slightly older, and more substantial, arts and crafts mansions. Many of these seem to have been converted into holiday flats or nursing homes. On the edge of Old Felixstowe there are streets of more recent developments some 'chalet style' bungalows, others detached houses with biggish drives. It's here where we will focus our Rightmove research. 

We pedalled along the road across the golf links thankful that we were wearing bike helmets. Unprotected, visitors are in considerable jeopardy from being lobotomised by a supersonic Dunlop 65. After a mile or two, if you survive, you reach the delights of Felixstowe Ferry. It is a truly lovely spot. A tangle of unkempt wooden huts surround the quayside. Some belong to fishermen and sell fresh produce, others are full of mysterious tackle and belong to the boatyard, and some don't seem to belong to anyone and are falling to bits. The big mansion across the estuary was commandeered by the Air Ministry at the outbreak of WW2, it's where radar was developed apparently. The ferry carries bikes, so we could have crossed over and explored the lanes on the other bank. However, by now it was mid afternoon and time to head back.

Felixstowe Ferry

We found a cycleway sign on the outskirts of Felixstowe which promised to take us by the backroads to 'the Trimlies'. These villages were on the  to Newbourne, where we were camping. As it turned out the waymarked road was hardly a shortcut, but it proved to be a very picturesque​ diversion wandering its way through the lanes inland from Felixstowe though an undulating landscape of broad cornfields dotted with copses. So, an interesting day. We do think Felixstowe is a possibility, we liked its mix of seaside town and port. The locals seem friendly and the roads and lanes cycle friendly. We shall see.

Poppies by the roadside - too lovely not to stop for a photo

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