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A wilderness weekend in Suffolk

TIME : 2016/2/23 16:23:05

A wilderness weekend in Suffolk

Four years ago I set out in search of the remaining wild places of Britain and Ireland. Time and again I’d heard it said that wildness had become extinct on our islands – that we had developed, retailed and polluted ourselves out of ferality. I wanted to test the truth of this assertion.

My journeys took me to some of the remotest and grandest landscapes of our island group: its tors, moors, islands, forests, sea caves, mountaintops and bays. Places you will have heard of, or visited – Cape Wrath, the Cairngorms, Rannoch Moor…

But I also began to explore a smaller-scale wild world, less well known, of hedgerows, copses, riverbanks and stream cuts.

Last summer I found my way into just such an English edge-world. On a hot August day, I set out with my friend Leo, a poet and writer, to walk down the Suffolk coast for three days.

We left behind the arcades and ice-cream vans of Lowestoft, and trudged on past the gentle village of Kessingland.

And then, 3km further south, we turned a corner and found ourselves on the edge of the known world.
Bright orange sand cliffs – more Petra than Suffolk – reared up to our west, and the calm North Sea rolled away to our east, pearly and silver. Our sightlines were restricted to cliff, ocean and shingle, none of which dated the landscape, no markers of era or age.

We continued south until we reached Benacre Broad: a square kilometre of brackish water, surrounded by broadleaf woods.

Standing firm in the shingle was a single dead oak, massive and sea-polished. I climbed as high up the tree as I could, enjoying the feel of its smoothed wood. Then Leo and I swam: sculling 50m out, before letting the waves sluice us back inshore. It felt as though we were swimming off the world’s brink. Afterwards, we made a shingle-sculpture in homage to British environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy: 400 or so flints lined up along a drift-log’s spine.

We ate supper at dusk on the cliff edge – oatcakes, sardines, chocolate and beer. The sunset, when it came, was lurid: swirls of tartrazine and feather-boa pink. As darkness fell, hundreds of geese and ducks passed overhead, off to roost on the Broad. The air was still, and the squeaking of the birds’ wings carried down to us.

That night we camped in a field of blond dry grass, 15m back from the cliff edge. Just after dawn,
we ran back to the sea-polished oak and swam again, in long lifting surf that surged us up and down, while terns mewed overhead.

Discover 10 of Robert's favourite wild places in the UK and Ireland