It’s just a few days to the winter solstice – our shortest day – but that’s no reason to mope indoors, so I am walking the River Ore seawall between Hollesley and Orford. Mist that swirled in from the sea last night has soaked the tall grasses beside the path. Stubbled farmland merges into the mist to the left, and on the right, the invisible river is silently and swiftly ebbing toward Shingle Street and the open sea. Lost in the mist, somewhere out there lies the stony bulk of Orfordness. A few minutes ago the mist reddened as the sun rose, but then it thickened and for a moment was almost purple: it might be mid-morning before it is burned away. Suffolk’s muddy estuaries, marshes and mudflats are the winter home of waders and wildfowl. The voices of redshank, dunlin, grey plover, lapwing, shelduck, teal, brent geese, and wigeon float out of the blanketing mist. Many are migrants, and two months ago you could have heard their stirring calls on Siberian rivers, in Scandinavian fjords and in the waterlogged emptiness of the Arctic tundra. Now, here they are. For me, the spirit of our winter coast is heard in the wild skirling and bubbling calls of curlew: not for nothing is the twisting course of the Alde/Ore known by lovers of Britten’s music as Curlew River.
Mid-day, and the mist has gone. Unseen in its grey folds, the tide turned and is now flooding up the Ore towards Orford and Snape Bridge. Across the river the much-loved Orfordness lighthouse gleams red and white in the winter sun. For centuries, the successive lighthouses of Orfordness beamed their warning light out to sea, but this lighthouse will be the last. It is surplus to modern navigational needs and endangered by beach erosion. In front of me, Simpson’s Saltings stretch beside the swirling Ore. This lonely place is a nature reserve cared for by Suffolk Wildlife Trust, and its name commemorates the late Francis Simpson MBE, the eminent botanist who laboured long to create his superb Simpson’s Flora of Suffolk.Buy Now