I have been reading Ronald Blythe’s Next to Nature which came out in October, just a few months before the great man’s death aged 100. And so a weekend holiday in Suffolk was calling to me. I went to Aldeburgh, on the coast, north of the river Alde. The town appears to be thriving – full of bustling cafés and London money. It is fashionable and chic. In many respects it is a world away from Blythe’s Akenfield. But there is much here to charm you.
I lingered by a wonderful second-hand bookshop, Reed Books 4, its window display with Peter Kent’s Fortifications of East Anglia, George Ewart Evans’s The Farm and Village and Hugh Barrett’s recounting of a rural Suffolk morning in Early to Rise. Is this what Scruton meant by oikophilia? Here was heart-warming local pride. Here was love for this place, which made me want to love it too.
In one happy hour on a bright Saturday morning, several dozen browsers crammed through the rickety bookshop door – a throng of activity you expect nowadays only in a rush-hour Pret. A lad behind the counter barely looked up from his book. He must get through hundreds of pages a day. A glamorous woman swept in asking after the 1994 biography of Quentin Crewe, clearly with every expectation that it would be there, somewhere. Something about that bookshop made me feel hopeful.
I walked to the beach. It had an austere, even desolate, haunting beauty. A sadness; the memory of when sprats and herring outnumbered people. Wooden boats littered, or graced, the sand. A little sign thanked Alan Burrell, a local man who had repainted them – as if to tell the tourists, and remind the residents, about the proud fishing community that Aldeburgh once was. I was drawn to the lifeboat station tower and its noticeboard with richly descriptive tales of heroism at sea:
CG paged to report a lone dinghy sailor in difficulties off Barber’s Point… The goose neck had failed, and the sailor had been in the water several times.