IN SUFFOLK

THE Orwell is reputed to have the finest estuary in East Anglia. It
is a broad stream, and immediately Shotley Barracks and the engines
of destruction have been left behind, it begins to be humane and
reassuring. Thanks to the surprising modernity of the town of Ipswich,
which has discovered that there are interests more important than those
of local pilots, it is thoroughly well buoyed, so that the stranger and
the amateur cannot fail to keep in the channel. It insinuates itself
into Suffolk in soft and civilized curves, and displays no wildness
of any kind and, except at one point, very little mud. When you are
navigating the Orwell, you know positively that you are in England.
On each side of you modest but gracefully wooded hills slope down with
caution to the bank, and you have glimpses of magnificent mansions set
in the midst of vast, undulating parks, crisscrossed with perfectly
graveled paths that gleam in the sunshine. Everything here is private
and sacred, and at the gates of the park lodge-keepers guard not only
the paradisiacal acres, but the original ideas that brought the estate
into existence.

Feudalism, benevolent and obstinate, flourishes with calm confidence in
itself; and even on your yacht’s deck you can feel it, and you are awed.
For feudalism has been, and still is, a marvelous cohesive force. And
it is a solemn thought that within a mile of you may be a hushed
drawingroom at whose doors the notion of democracy has been knocking
quite in vain for a hundred years. Presently you will hear the sweet and
solemn chimes of a tower-clock, sound which seems to spread peace and
somnolence over half a county. And as you listen, you cannot but be
convinced that the feudal world is august and beautiful, and that it
cannot be improved, and that to overthrow it would be a vandalism. That
is the estuary of the Orwell and its influence. Your pleasure in it will
be unalloyed unless you are so ill-advised as to pull off in the dinghy,
and try to land in one of the lovely demesnes.

About half-way up the estuary, just after passing several big
three-masters moored in midstream and unloading into lighters, you come
to Pinmill, renowned among yachtsmen and among painters. Its haven is
formed out of the angle of a bend in the river, and the narrowness of
the channel at this point brings all the traffic spectacularly close to
the yachts at anchor. Here are all manner of yachts, and you are fairly
certain to see a friend, and pay or receive a visit of state. And also
very probably, if you are on board the Velsa some painter on another
yacht will feel bound to put your strange craft into a sketch. And the
skipper, who has little partiality for these river scenes, will take the
opportunity to go somewhere else on a bicycle. You, too, must go
ashore, because Pinmill is an exhibition-village, entirely picturesque,
paintable, and English. It is liable to send the foreigner into
raptures, and Americans have been known to assert that they could exist
there in happiness forever and ever.

I believe that some person or persons in authority offer prizes to the
peasantry for the prettiest cottage gardens in Pinmill. It is well; but
I should like to see in every picturesque and paint-able English village
a placard stating the number of happy peasants who sleep more than three
in a room, and the number of adult able-bodied males who earn less than
threepence an hour. All aspects of the admirable feudal system ought to
be made equally apparent. The chimes of the castle-clock speak loud,
and need no advertisement; cottage gardens also insist on the traveler’s
attention, but certain other phenomena are apt to escape it.

[Illustration: 0297]

The charm of Pinmill is such that you usually decide to remain there
over night. In one respect this is a mistake, for the company of yachts
is such that your early morning Swedish exercises on deck attract an
audience, which produces self-consciousness in the exerciser.

Ipswich closes the estuary of the Orwell, and Ipswich is a genuine town
that combines industrialism with the historic sense. No American
can afford not to visit it, because its chief hotel has a notorious
connection with Mr. Pickwick, and was reproduced entire a lifelike-size at
a world’s fair in the United States. Aware of this important fact,
the second-hand furniture and curio-dealers of the town have adopted
suitable measures. When they have finished collecting, Americans should
go to the docks–as interesting as anything in Ipswich–and see the
old custom-house, with its arch, and the gloriously romantic French
and Scandinavian three-masters that usually lie for long weeks in the
principal basin. Times change. Less than eighty years ago the docks of
Ipswich were larger than those of London. And there are men alive and
fighting in Ipswich to-day who are determined that as a port Ipswich
shall resume something of her ancient position in the world.

Just around the corner from the Orwell estuary, northward, is the
estuary of the River Deben. One evening, feeling the need of a little
ocean air after the close feudalism of the Orwell, we ran down there
from to the North Sea, and finding ourselves off Woodbridgehaven, which
is at the mouth of the Deben, with a flood-tide under us, we determined
to risk the entrance. According to all printed advice, the entrance
ought not to be risked without local aid. There is a bank at the mouth,
with a patch that dries at low water, and within there is another bank.
The shoals shift pretty frequently, and, worst of all, the tide runs
at the rate of six knots and more. Still, the weather was calm, and the
flood only two hours old. We followed the sailing directions, and got in
without trouble just as night fell. The rip of the tide was very marked,
and the coast-guard who boarded us with a coast-guard’s usual curiosity
looked at us as though we were either heroes or rash fools, probably the
latter.

We dropped anchor for the night, and the next morning explored the
estuary, with the tide rising. We soon decided that the perils of this
famous river had been exaggerated. There were plenty of beacons,–which,
by the way, are continually being shifted as the shoals shift,–and
moreover the channel defined itself quite simply, for the reason
that the rest of the winding river-bed was dry. We arrived proudly at
Woodbridge, drawing all the maritime part of the town to look at us, and
we ourselves looked at Woodbridge in a fitting manner, for it is sacred
to the memory not of Omar Khayyam, but to much the same person, Edward
Fitzgerald, who well knew the idiosyncrasies of the Deben. Then it was
necessary for us to return, as only for about two hours at each tide is
there sufficient water for a yacht to lie at Woodbridge.

The exit from the Deben was a different affair from the incoming.
Instead of a clearly defined channel, we saw before us a wide sea. The
beacons or perches were still poking up their heads, of course, but they
were of no use, since they had nothing to indicate whether they were
starboard or port beacons. It is such details that harmonize well with
the Old-World air of English estuaries–with the swans, for instance,
those eighteenth-century birds that abound on the Deben. We had to
take our choice of port or starboard. Heaven guided us. We reached the
entrance. The tide was at half-ebb and running like a race; the weather
was unreliable. It was folly to proceed. We proceeded. We had got in
alone; we would get out alone. We shot past the coast-guard, who bawled
after us. We put the two beacons in a line astern, obedient to the
sailing directions; but we could not keep them in a line. The tide
swirled us away, making naught of the engine. We gave a tremendous
bump. Yes, we were assuredly on the bank for at least ten hours, if not
forever; if it came on to blow, we might well be wrecked. But no. The
ancient _Velsa_ seemed to rebound elastically off the traitorous sand,
and we were afloat again, In two minutes more we were safe. What the
coastguard said is not known to this day. We felt secretly ashamed of
our foolishness, but we were sustained by the satisfaction of having
deprived more local pilots of their fees.

Still, we were a sobered crew, and at the next river-mouth
northward–Orford Haven–we yielded to a base common sense, and signaled
for a pilot. The river Ore is more dangerous to enter, and far more
peculiar even than the Deben. The desolate spot, where it runs into the
sea is well called Shinglestreet, for it is a wilderness of shingles.
The tide runs very fast indeed; the bar shifts after every gale, and not
more than four feet of water is guaranteed on it. Last and worst, the
bottom is hard. It was probably the hardness of the bottom that finally
induced us to stoop to a pilot. To run aground on sand is bad, but to
run aground on anything of a rocky nature may be fatal. Our signal was
simply ignored. Not the slightest symptom anywhere of a pilot. We
were creeping in, and we continued to creep in. The skipper sent the
deck-hand forward with the pole. He called out seven feet, eight feet,
seven feet; but these were Dutch feet, of eleven inches each, because
the pole is a Dutch pole. The water was ominous, full of curling crests
and unpleasant hollows, as the wind fought the current. The deckhand
called out seven, six, five and a half. We could almost feel the ship
bump… and then we were over the bar. Needless to say that a pilot
immediately hove in sight. We waved him off, though he was an old man
with a grievance.

We approached the narrows. We had conquered the worst difficulties by
the sole help of the skipper’s instinct for a channel, for the beacons
were incomprehensible to us; and we imagined that we could get through
the narrows into the river proper. But we were mistaken. We had a fair
wind, and we set all sails, and the engine was working well; but there
was more than a six-knot tide rushing out through those narrows, and
we could not get through. We hung in them for about half an hour. Then,
imitating the example of a fisherman who had followed us, we just ran
her nose into the shingle, with the sails still set, and jumped ashore
with a rope. The opportunity to paint a water-color of the _Velsa_
under full sail was not to be lost. Also we bought fish and we borrowed
knowledge from the fisherman. He informed us that we had not entered by
the channel at all; that we were never anywhere near it. He said that
the channel had four feet at that hour. Thus we learned that local
wisdom is not always omniscience.

After a delay of two hours, we went up the Ore on the slack. The Ore is
a very dull river, but it has the pleasing singularity of refusing to
quit the ocean. For mile after mile it runs exactly parallel with the
North Sea, separated from it only by a narrow strip of shingle. Under
another name it all but rejoins the ocean at Aldeburgh where at length
it curves inland. On its banks is Orford, a town more dead than any
dead city of the Zuyder Zee, and quite as picturesque and as full of
character. The deadness of Orford may be estimated from the fact that
it can support a kinematograph only three nights a week. It has electric
light, but no railway, and the chief attractions are the lofty castle,
a fine church, an antique quay, and a large supply of splendid lobsters.
It knows not the tourist, and has the air of a natural self-preserving
museum.

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