Along abbey roads
tunnel recalls those brush-stroke branches from Tor’s window, but soon it’s a world of wide plains and wrap-around sky. Across Abbey Road, it’s time to potter down Potter’s Street and fall in line, past the curved cedar tree canopies and distant Georgian arches of wartime battalion HQ, Theberton House.
The pathways weave a gentle, covert descent to Eastbridge. On the village sign is the windmill from Tor’s window, perched above a watery world with a host of curious companions including an eel, old boot, and a smuggler with The Law in hot pursuit. But there’s no mention of monks, no lonely ruins, and no Georgianfronted farmhouse . . . .
The Eel’s Foot pub makes sense of a couple of things, then a map-moment later, at a signpost by a smugglers’ track to the marshes, the adventure takes a detour down a different sort of abbey road. The lure of ‘Chapel (remains of)’ on a hazy horizon is a mystery that’s hard to resist.
From a distance, it’s tricky to see the form of Lower Abbey farmhouse and the windmill is far from view – moved to Stowmarket’s Museum of East Anglian Life after its collapse in 1977. But every step of the way, the world becomes wilder. By Sandypytle Plantation, the ruin rises into view and Tor’s picture comes to life.
Up close, the gable ends have gone and it harbours a wartime gun emplacement, an obvious hide-out in a land so inhospitable, so remote and just the godforsaken place those Premonstratensians would have been looking for. This is where their Leiston Abbey started out in 1182, until continual flooding made it more intolerable than even they could bear. In 1363, they finally decamped to higher ground, taking what they could of their buildings with them.
Back in Eastbridge, a path leads between smuggler-secluding hedgerows, past the thatched, aisled barn of Upper Abbey and near to Leiston Old Abbey, where the Honourable Miss Thellusson provided afternoon tea and entertainments for Leiston folk after the grand re-opening of St Margaret’s Church in 1854.
Today paths through woodlands – the 1958 pine plantations of Kenton and Goose Hills – process round to meet up at Sizewell Belts, where cattle graze the fresh-water marshes by the reedbeds and hay is harvested the old way. It’s a landscape festooned with Lady’s Smock, dotted with orchids, home to a motley crew of darting kingfishers, Bittern, Bogbeans and Bearded tits. A great, scorched swathe of common, shimmers purple and gold with cropped grasses and gorse.
Suffolk’s hidden treasures conjure up so many colourful pictures of the past and they’re all waiting to be discovered.