A wan­der in the Alde Val­ley

Take your time around and about Sw­ef­fling

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

Surely no Suf­folk spot ever sur­vived the cen­turies on a wing and a prayer, quite like Sw­ef­fling. Fol­low the vil­lage foot­path along The Gull and soon hedgerows bright with berries and busy bullfinches lead the way up gen­tle val­ley slopes to views of me­dieval St Mary’s perched proudly on its hill­top roost.

In the woody copses, bold wood­peck­ers drum the day away to the tune of the sky­lark song­sters climb­ing high above the rolling fields. Drop down to the Alde and there’s a fire­work flash of a king­fisher, the beaky dart of a snipe per­haps. Up beyond the low­ing herds, catch a glimpse through the pines of the flinty fortress-like St Michael’s at Rend­ham. Alas, gone are the days when the scythe-like wings of vast flocks of scream­ing swifts cut through the Sw­ef­fling (Swifter­ling?) skies, but in the sum­mer months you’d like to think that some still re­turn to fa­mil­iar nest­ing sites, in his­toric haunts be­neath the church.

Sw­ef­fling – an an­cient place full of beau­ti­ful sur­prises that just loves to keep you guess­ing and on your toes. First up, is it one ‘f’ or two? The elec­toral ward and par­ish bound­aries talk only of Swe­fling, but all the signs sug­gest oth­er­wise.

At the top of the hill, stretch up for a quick peek over hedgerows and you’ll spot the stumpy round­houses of the ‘High’ and ‘Mid­dle’ post-mills. There was clearly once a third in the orig­i­nal ’Sw­ef­fling tri­an­gle’, al­though it seems that Gir­lings (low) Mill has mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared Ber­mu­dastyle with­out a trace.

Dare to go your sep­a­rate ways with a part­ing, “Meet you in the White Horse” and you’re ask­ing to come a crop­per. Tra­di­tion­ally, great ri­vals and staunchly in­de­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ties, Sw­ef­fling and Rend­ham seem to have dug in their heels (hooves?) over the name of their vil­lage wa­ter­ing holes.

Whether mildly amus­ing, glee­ful spite or sheer Suf­folk bloody-mind­ed­ness, hav­ing two white horses prac­ti­cally in the same sta­ble on the B1119 just can’t be a co­in­ci­dence, can it?

The feath­ery an­ces­tors of the lo­cal par­lia­ment of owls seen quar­ter­ing the mead­ows beyond Friar’s Grove around Barn Spring, ob­vi­ously chose their nest­ing sites wisely. Roy­al­ist strong­hold, Rend­ham, would have been no place for them dur­ing the Civil War years, but they were among Par­li­men­ta­r­ian mates on the Sw­ef­fling side of the val­ley.

Over the cen­turies they must have seen plenty of cu­ri­ous com­ings and go­ings, like the early in­de­pen­dent-spir­ited Con­gre­ga­tion­al­ists who rooted them­selves first in Sw­ef­fling in 1650, only to de­camp to ‘the other place’ a cen­tury later, and the cu­rate of Sw­ef­fling St Mary’s, the fa­mous 18th cen­tury poet of na­ture and truth, Ge­orge Crabbe. A blue plaque com­mem­o­rates his time at Lady Whin­cups, just along the lane from Grove Farm’s great hol­low tree where the clergy poet, also a renowned creepy-crawly col­lec­tor, is bound to have bee­tled about.

To­day, Rend­ham boasts sculp­tress Maggi Ham­bling among its creative res­i­dents, and there’s some­thing gen­tly com­fort­ing that Crabbe found his rest­ing place by the seashore, in St Peter and St Paul’s just an Alde­burgh peb­ble throw away from Maggi’s Scal­lop, that steely trib­ute to Brit­ten’s Peter Grimes and Crabbe’s lines that in­spired it.

The Green Man peer­ing out from the Suf­folk pink farm­house by Ben­hall Low Street and the ‘wood­wose’ carved above St Mary’s porch door are un­de­ni­ably at home here. And as you curve your way around the Alde marsh­land be­hind White­house Farm, and the early cross­ing point of Dern Ford, you find your­self will­ing to be true the ru­mours of an an­cient low mound and bat­tles here­abouts with great Queen Boudica. It’s surely not a co­in­ci­dence that Rend­ham school­boys found Claudius’ bronze head in the river in 1907. Pos­si­bly part of the vic­tory spoils from the Iceni’s ran­sack­ing of Colch­ester around AD61? The hea­thens used it as a foot­ball un­til a savvy Ben­hall school­mas­ter bought it off them for five shillings. Some 60 years later, it sold at Sothe­bys for £15,500.

High above Sw­ef­fling vil­lage at me­dieval St Mary’s, you can’t help feel­ing that the van­tage point was a recog­nised place of im­por­tance long be­fore the Domes­day Book recorded it as Swe­flinga with one ‘f’, or Chris­tian­ity left its tow­er­ing mark.

Per­haps Rend­ham ri­valry goes back even to the Dark Ages, as far as Swef­tel’s fam­ily? In Suf­folk there are many rivers to cross, but for some rea­son the Alde here al­legedly drew bat­tle-lines, and neigh­bours on foot, or per­haps even on white horses, tried not to cross each-oth­ers’ paths.

To­day, any ri­valry is more light-hearted, lim­ited maybe to foot­ball and bowls matches. The Rend­ham Mum­mers hold on to an­cient tra­di­tions, but are con­tent with a well-an­gled quip or two dur­ing play per­for­mances at home or on ri­val ter­ri­tory.

Sw­ef­fling’s vil­lage sign, too, seems in­tent enough on keep­ing the peace. It bears a lov­ing heart firmly con­quer­ing a dag­ger drawn and rag­ing bat­tle-axe. It cap­tures the roll of the hills, the church, a mill and swifts, of course. For all to see, it shouts out the joys of Sw­ef­fling – with two ‘f’s.

ABOVE: The view across the River Alde to Grove FarmLEFT: Ex­plor­ing the hol­lows per­haps as na­ture lover and poet Ge­orge Crabbe did?

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