Lowestoft to Harwich, via Southwold and Aldeburgh

Day 76   Sun 29 May:   My four days off, relaxing in Lowestoft, are over. Lawns mown. Fondo cleaned, checked & oiled.  Promenade promenaded. The Jolly Sailor visited, good local beer and great live music from Murphy’s Lore enjoyed. Beccles food & drink festival attended. Not quite Abergavenny but this is only their second year. Busy, good atmosphere and some great local produce.
Oh, and a Lifeboat Station visited. Quite a significant one. The Easterly Cardinal point of Britain is Ness Point, Lowestoft. The Southery mainland Cardinal point, The Lizard also has an RNLI ALB Station, where I shall, sometime this summer collect the last signature before moving on to Penlee, back where it all started, thus pushing the pin into the final link of an unbroken chain around the British mainland. The most Westerly (Ardnamurchan) and Northerly (Dunnet Head) mainland Cardinal points are both in Scotland. Neither of these has a Lifeboat Station but I did manage to get quite close to both. Perhaps, one day on a mountain bike or more likely, in a pair of walking boots. I digress.
Thanks to John Fox, the Lowestoft Cox’n/mech, for fitting me in, between two school visits. Great to catch up with the local ALB Station. A few changes since my last visit at the end of the first RNLI Fundraiser two years ago (the widest West to East, coast to coast cycle ride, 400miles from St David’s to Lowestoft). Most noticeably, the old Tyne Class has gone, replaced by a lovely new Shannon Class boat.

Time to get back on the road.
If every day was like today, this adventure would be over too quickly. Light traffic, northerly wind assistance, good roads. The first 15 miles to Southwold took just 50 minutes. A warm welcome from Philip and Rosemary at the RNLI Shop. Thanks also for the kind donation, to the Institution that you already give a great deal of your own time!
Southwold ILB Station is a mile or so from the town, in the harbour at the mouth of the river Blyth. Not only was I treated to a tour of the modern ILB Station, with its davit launched Atlantic 85 but also a quick tour (must return for a fuller appreciation) of the beautifully restored original 1893 Southwold Lifeboat, the Alfred Corry, in the salvaged and similarly restored old boat house from Cromer pier. My guide, David Craigie (DLA), is the great grandson of one of the original Alfred Corry Lifeboatmen. Thanks David, a real privilege to meet you.

The route continues through this green and pleasant Suffolk landscape,  inland of Minsmere and back to the coast at Aldeburgh. The bold, modern Lifeboat Station houses the pride of the crew, a serious contender for the most immaculately maintained Mersey Lifeboat on the RNLI fleet. Stripping the paint off all the copper pipes and brass steel fittings in the boat house and keeping them well polished could be described as obsessive but James, the full time Lifeboat mechanic explained that this attention to detail has a more practical purpose when applied to his Lifeboat. He is much more likely to spot potential leaks, cracks, wear & tear in components and systems. Thanks James, for the great tour; Charlie (LOM), for the tea & world-righting chat; Steve ‘Tag’ Saint (Cox’n) for the autograph and kind words. In lieu of the lack of photos with recent blogs, take a look at these amazing photos by Jack Lowe at The Lifeboat Station Project .
Yes, they really are contemporary but taken and processed with early Victorian technology, from the 1850s. Since first discovering Jack’s stunning photographs last year, I have now met a good number of his subjects. It sometimes takes a while to accept that the bold monochrome images are not characters of days long gone. They are the very much alive, active and colourful Lifeboat men and women of the here and now.

Another very pleasant 30 miles of Suffolk landscapes (Snape Maltings etc) before entering Essex at Harwich. This would have been more like 50 if it wasn’t for the two very useful foot/cycle ferry links from Bawdsey to Felixstowe across the River Deben and Felixstowe to Harwich across the Orwell and Stour.

Thanks so much to Dave (mech) for the great welcome at this major, busy Harwich All Weather Lifeboat Station. The first and oldest Severn Class plus an Atlantic 85, covering hundreds of square miles of busy, treacherous waters. Thanks also to John (crew) and his dad Bob for the very professional photo shoot! I was very relieved each time Bob climbed down from the stepladder without incident.

A bed for the night in The Stingray, a lively and friendly Inn in the historic harbour town of Olde Harwich. It just happens to be disco night in the bar beneath my room. I had been warned, but reassured that it would all be over by 1 a.m. Well,  if you can’t beat ’em, … But first, a good meal in their adjoining Crown Post Restaurant, where Vicky, the winner of the National Speed Waiting Championships moved in a constant blur of activity, only pausing to smile as she deftly presented each dish. An impressive solo act, if you don’t count the dumb waiter (ie. the small porter’s lift) she filled with used dishes, pressed the button, ran downstairs to empty and reload with plates of hot food ordered a moment earlier and reappeared, completely unflustered, in perfect time to open the little elevator and gleefully distribute its contents. If I hadn’t already been close to nodding off, just watching Vicky at work would have been exhausting enough to ensure that I enjoyed a good night’s sleep. Disco? What disco?   The generous full English breakfast was followed by the most unexpected kind gesture from Jamie, the proprietor and supporter of the local Lifeboat. No charge.

Most people are good. Some are just amazing. If you ever find yourself in Olde Harwich, please go and spend lots of money in The Stingray and put all your loose change in the Lifeboat collection box on the bar. Or if that’s an unlikely scenario for you this evening, stay at home and bung the cost of a beer or two in  here  and it’ll go directly to the RNLI.

Thanks.

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