All in the Wash
|PLAYING FOR KEEPS: The 12th-century tower of Orford Castle (courtesy, Aldeburgh Tourist Information Centre)|
Few out-of-country visitors make it to the pregnant bump that forms England's lower abdomen, either for good reason (points due-east are pretty much forgettable) or lack of insight (the dreaming spires of Cambridge are like a big magnet for anyone journeying nor'east of the Big Smoke). More's the pity when it comes to the latter, as the coastal counties of Suffolk and Norfolk offer a surprising wonderland of tidal estuaries brimming with interesting birdlife and nearly deserted dunes and marshes. Go in autumn, and you may even be lucky enough to catch the last flocks of migratory birds heading to winter nesting grounds in Africa and on the continent.
Hop a train at London's Liverpool Street or rent a car, and start wending your way northeast toward Ipswich. An unremarkable grid of suburbia will accompany you pretty much all of the way there, but beyond Ipswich you'll shed London's ever-growing commuter belt for wide-open coastal flatlands and glimpses of the English Channel over hazy marshes and estuaries.
The medieval fishing port of Aldeburgh makes for a good start point for forays north and south. Here, thatch-roofed 16th- and 17th-century cottages give way to bustling riverside marinas from where fisherman and yachtsmen launch out into the English Channel. The High Street has a number of reliable restaurants serving everything from pub grub to nouveau British cuisine. Suffolk Tourism (www.visit-suffolk.org.uk) has information on Aldeburgh and surrounding towns and attractions.
The ancient hamlet of Orford, about 20 minutes' drive from Aldeburgh, is worth a quick day trip to wander the quaint village streets and visit Orford Castle. This remarkably well-preserved 12-century castle, commissioned by Henry II as a strategic stronghold to help quell his rebellious sons, gives you a true sense of the area's long and colorful history. Wander from the castle down to the small harbor, where you can watch fishermen head out to sea as you snack on fresh mussels brought from the harborside seafood shack.
About three hours north of Aldeburgh lie the mudflats and saltwater marshes of the estuarine Norfolk Wash, including several important nature reserves. Snettisham Coastal Park and Titchwell Marsh offer prime birding hot spots, with dunes, lagoons, and reed beds sheltering everything from wintering wildfowl, marsh harriers, curlew sandpipers, and black-tailed godwits on their way south from Arctic breeding grounds to Africa. Norfolk's Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn, as well as numerous small villages en route, offer ample B&Bs, pubs, and inns. Visit the Norfolk Tourism website for more: www.visitnorfolk.co.uk.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication