For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Friday, 24 August 2007

Constable Country


From Thursday 16 to Saturday 18 August my wife and I spent time in Suffolk. I used to go to East Anglia for family holidays as a child - to Cromer, Sheringham, Southwold, Frinton, that kind of genteel seaside place. Nothing's altered that much. Just a few more people, cars, South-of-England retirees, smarter shops - as everywhere. But the creeks and estuaries, reed beds and lazy rivers, painted cottages and flintstone churches are unchanging. We supped Adnams ales in the Crown and the Lord Nelson and The Sole Bay Inn at Southwold; we ate take-away fish and chips on Aldeburgh sea front and they were excellent. I passed a few hours late on Friday afternoon at Minsmere RSPB Reserve - I could have spent the whole day there quite happily - and saw a marsh harrier (earlier I'd seen 2 floating over the reed beds near Snape Maltings), an egret, 2 avocets, 2 stonechats, several reed warblers, common terns and barnacle geese, some redshank and lapwings, a flock of 50 feeding black-tailed godwits - and a small deer, which could have been a muntjac. On the Saturday we explored Dedham vale and John Constable country. Many of Constable's magnificent canvases were of scenes centred on the small but sublimely picturesque area surrounding Flatford Mill (see photo). We stood at the exact spot from where The Haywain was painted - or at least initially sketched as most of his paintings were worked on and finished in London. This is one of the greatest of all English rural life pictures according to the art critic, Sir Kenneth Clark. I would not disagree. It's such a tranquil, timeless scene, beautifully composed, and coming to life in such details as the spaniel with its wagging tail, the 2 figures in the horse-drawn cart, and various other country people and animals merging with the landscape. We walked the few miles to Dedham and back, across the water meadows by the river Stour. It gave us a strange feeling. What with the willow trees and the reflecting water, the grazing cows, the clouds and the big skies - it was just like walking through a series of those Constable six-footers. Like Cornwall or the west coast of Ireland, Suffolk has always attracted artists. It's to do with the water, the sky and, above all, the light. (Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Alfred Munnings - and the art forger Tom Keating - are also associated with the area.)

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