I decided to take a walk through no-man’s land. The no man’s land that is the coastal strip between the end of the Norfolk Coastal Path, which ends at Hopton, and the start of the Suffolk Coast Path, which begins on the south side of the harbour’s mouth in Lowestoft.
Understated. That is perhaps the most generous epithet that could be given to Ness Point, the most easterly point on the island that is Great Britain. Land’s End has a theme park and hotel, John O’Groats has a shopping complex and Ardnamurchan Point has stunning vistas along a wild and rocky coast with an iconic lighthouse thrown in. Ness Point is low fi.
The fishing port of Lowestoft has undergone a renaissance in recent years and the pedestrianised town centre now has a pleasant ambience. Ness Point is situated at the end of Gas Works Road and is indicated by a simple brown sign. It should carry the words, “Welcome to Hard Times”.
On reaching the small parking area by the sea wall I felt I had entered a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland. The Birds Eye factory behind me looked like a Stalinist era interpretation of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, all hissing and columns of steam.
In front of it is a circular concrete outfall tower with the top appearing to have been obliquely sliced off. A spiral of steel pipe is wrapped round and extends beyond the top, as if it were trying to escape. This piece of brutalism stands at the top of a short flight of steps with railings with an adjacent bed of vegetated shingle. It is as unfathomable to me as Stonehenge.
The focus of Ness Point is the circular concrete and metal wheel, which is a direction indicator called the Euroscope, on the far side of the sea wall . It shows mileages and bearings to various points in Britain and Europe, as well as the most westerly, southerly and northerly points of this country.
I stepped from the car to the one beat per minute throb of an enormous wind turbine, the perfect sound system for this desolate place. A drizzle, so dense that it was like being wrapped in a cold flannel, enveloped me, and the flood gates in the sea wall, slammed shut, prevented closer investigation of the Euroscope.
I headed north, driven by a southerly wind, and accompanied by the all-pervading gossamer web of rain. The concrete promenade stretched to infinity and to the left the baleful eye of the lighthouse on the cliff shone periodically. In the foreground caravans crouched below the promenade in a state of hibernation and beyond them rows of wooden posts supporting wooden horizontals. These were used for drying fishing nets in a now almost forgotten past.
As I approached the end of the promenade, the trees and tall monument of Belle Vue Park and beneath, Sparrows Nest Gardens, came into view. But for a simple twist of fate and geography this could have hosted the most easterly point. An altogether more salubrious location.
With grand houses on the cliff top, telling stories of a time of greater prosperity I reached the end of the promenade.
Blown on and mocked by the leaking air, I walked through the dunes and along the high tide line, strewn with strands of seaweed, like skeins of wool, with the gaunt cliffs at Corton almost lost in an ozone fog ahead of me.
Even the trees in the area of scrub seemed defeated. An Elm caught my attention. Its branches were deformed by Wing Bark virus.
I reached Corton beach and walked the narrow strip of sand between the ever encroaching waters of an incoming tide, an unsettling and angry muddy brown, and the sea defences, penning in the towering vertical reality of glacial terminal moraine, the last shout of the retreating glaciers of the last Ice Age.
The incalculable tons of ice, kilometres thick, had ground and pulverized the landscape as they moved, sluglike, south and east. As they melted they dumped the millions of tons of detritus they had absorbed, creating a fossiliferous jamboree bag. Here can be found an amazing variety of petrified creatures which are migrants from far flung geologies.
The wall of granite blocks, dropped in to protect the soft geology from the ravages of storms, and the rising tide made the prospect of inundation a certainty so I retreated up the steps to the cliff top and the road through the village. I reached the public footpath that opened the way to a fine cliff top walk to Hopton, a great favourite, to find that it was not only closed but no longer existed. Erosion had swept it away and the line of the path now lay along the base of the cliffs on an inaccessible beach.
Still the drizzle fell and the walk evaporated. The trudge along the road, with passing vehicles treading raindrops and ploughing their way through puddles, eventually took me and my thoughts to Hopton.
On the verge, Winter Heliotrope, that pioneer of the New Year, glowed technicolour on a sepia day. It was perhaps the perfect end to an inauspicious beginning.