Saturday, 27 October 2012

Stories of Suffolk

We emerged from inside, towels tied over swimming costumes and trunks. We crossed the garden, slid down steps and headed for the estuary. I was hesitant, tempted to return to the sluggish warmth of bed. Here it was crisp, a bite in the mud beneath my feet. For a last minute I lingered, offering a single toe to the water. Early morning stillness was broken by dad as he flung his towel over a grounded canoe. He waded along the partially submerged jetty and crouched down into the water. I followed, shivering but determined.
There is always a moment before yielding to the cold when everything feels foolish. There is a barrier to cross, a line between land and sea. But when it is broken, and the far-off town seems to be floating on the horizon of soft water as you swim, it is entirely worth it. More than worth it – worthy of celebration, of being alive. Submersion allows the world to be seen from a different perspective, sky and shore framed by every stroke. The boat anchored several meters out is now a target to be reached. Planks rear up and away from the water and frayed rope is passed whilst arcing back to land.
Dad and I were swimming in Suffolk. It was the third day of our family summer holiday and we were feeling brave. We reveled in the smell of salt and the smooth, fabric sheen of the estuary. Coffee and bacon waited back in the barn. It had been rented for the week. We were marking our brief territory: in the sand that returned with us on our feet and in our hair; in the books and papers we scattered on sofas; in the toothbrushes in the bathroom. My parents had decided to return to an area they had loved and visited when they were newly married. The names of towns were remembered and revisited: Aldeburgh, Snape Maltings, Southwold, Orford.
The last on that list offered the location for these photos. Orford Ness is a shingle spit sitting a short ferry ride away from the coast. It is some ten miles long, with a striped lighthouse crowning the outermost edge. It is an otherworldly place combining beauty with extreme bleakness. Desolation may be traced to the spit’s tangled military history. It used to be property of the Ministry of Defence, with the site used to test radar methods during WWII and, in the Cold War, atomic bombs. Echoes of this heritage are not just gleaned but actively amplified –explanations offered in the information center, with most of the original buildings still in place. Many are out of bounds, but their presence is enough to unsettle. The National Trust has left them to decay. Roofs sag and moss grows as entropy eats at history. As brick and metal subside, visitors follow the carefully marked paths around the island. We spent several hours exploring. Where soldiers and scientists had trod we now followed. Charcoal clouds were overlaid with sunshine, light and dark co-existing in much the same way as the stories of the spit. See Robert Macfarlane's piece for further meditation on the place. 
Across from Orford Ness sits Shingle Street: a coastal hamlet we had already visited one evening. While there, we had noticed the glow of gaslights through the windows of a lone house on the beach. It was a pilgrimage – a return to the place we had stayed at twice when I was first baby, then toddler. It had been easy to be washed to sleep by the sound of waves on stones. I have little memory of the place beyond the yellow swimming costume I wore to paddle in. Dad filled gapped recollections with accounts of the walks, the writing, the laughter that had taken place there. It was a location rife with the resonances of extended family – of my grandma joining us on holiday, of my uncle (who died before I was born) spending time there with my dad in the late eighties. Together they had sought out the best food in Suffolk. We followed similar routes this time, with plenty of googling and research leading us coffee and lunch all over the county. Pump Street Bakery ranked high on the list, while numerous flat whites were tried in the course of the six days. The week was full of golden moments: hiring bikes and coasting through the countryside, walking along the paths that criss-cross the mud flats, wrapping newly bought smoked fish and cheese to carry in backpacks, taking photos, eating freshly cooked Thai food in a pop-up street cafĂ©. We created our own memories and moments. The images we hold of Suffolk now have double exposures: new overlaying the old.   

The outfit is best summed up as impromptu - merely being what I had decided to wear on the day of visiting Orford Ness. All items were second hand, dug out of my suitcase as I was being told off for not being ready sooner. But in some ways I rather love the way that the landscape took precedence over the outfit. Dramatic colours and shapes were not needed when facing the expansive, extraordinary location. 


Willow said...

Sounds like a wonderful holiday. You've described the places so beautifully, and these photos are so dramatic with the stormy clouds and great outfit to match. You are stunning, as are these photos and backdrops.

Tanya Kalyan said...

Like Like Like

Melanie said...

The first photo makes me think you're saying "Fill it up, and make it snappy!" I love these shots, especially the one with the charcoal clouds. What a wonderful layering of time you've written here too. I love this phrase "leading us coffee and lunch all over the county" - that's my kind of compass. Beautiful piece.

Sacramento Amate said...

$th pic from the top is so Vogue.
You are fabulous beyond words, my dear Rosalind.

Anupriya DG said...

Aaaah! The names of those small towns seem entrancing enough for me to want to visit them one day! And you look like a modern-day Venus in that long, slender column of a dress rising out of the ragged, yet beautiful landscape. :)

Now you have got more memories to recollect of these places when you will come visiting next, maybe with your kids? ;)

Emalina said...

A glorious post, and your dress works with the landscape beautifully. Plus well done on your swimming in the sea, there's nothing as lovely on a warm enough day!

samecookiesdifferent said...

xx the cookies
share the feeling
visit <3
enjoy your evening!

Thrifted Shift said...

The simplicity of your outfit allows your beauty and nature's beauty to be the stars!

The Style Rawr said...

I love the barn picture! You look very regal ;)

The Style Rawr!

SabinePsynopsis said...

Uaahh, brave indeed - putting anything more in the water than your toe. It sounds beautiful though, and as you say the streamlined dress enhances the dramatic surroundings. xo

Jean at said...

I was disturbed by the unnatural desolation of the location before I read your post. Now I understand. The sky took precedence, untouched by human interference. I loved the simplicity of your clothes, the scuffed boots with their own story to tell.

I'm glad you were with your family, filling in the spaces with love and continuity.

The Foolish Aesthete said...

Memories in double exposures, or triple, (or more) are the best kind! They create a kaleidoscopic vision of a place, each refraction a product of a separate visit. I love revisiting places and seeing if my sensations and perceptions vary. This location for your family seems so special, particularly since it strings together your evolving history, from your parents' youth to your own.

The mound of hay bales photo is so interesting! I had just never seen hay stacked like this. It is also interesting to see such rustic stores contrasted against the modernity of an aluminium barn (or whatever it is). I think your minimalist dress is perfect here! -- J xxx

casper+pearl said...

gorgeous photos, i adore your blog and your words!

lots of love from the c&p girls,
casper&pearl blog

Isabelle said...

Gorgeous dress and boots!

The Chicagoenne

Izzy/Bella said...

What a nice, loving description of your family and the trip as much the place! I'm loving the contrast between your blog and this benighted election race. This is how many of us are currently feeling in the states:

Fashionistable said...

I like Suffolk too. It is a special place. The locations you found in Orford Ness are wonderful and you know what the dress and boots are a perfect fit for your story. Which as always is so beautifully described I feel I am with you on your trip. Xxxx

Old Cow said...


I have a peculiar penchant for things decrepit and rusty and so your fist photo made my heart leap!

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