Friday, 25 July 2008
A suggested walk for Gordon
If Gordon's feeling in need of some quality time next week, I'd recommend a walk. From Walberswick in Suffolk to Dunwich down the coast is about three miles of hard walking on saltmarsh and shingle, but worth every step. To your left is the North Sea, once teeming with rich harvests of Cod and Herring, now barren and swept by factory trawlers from Spain and France. To your right is the depression that once formed the Dunwich River; seven hundred years ago it would have been crowded with shipping and vessels. At the end of the walk is a car park and tea-room, maybe a fishing boat pulled up on the beach, a tiny village and some intriguing earthworks. This is Dunwich, once a city to rival London, and England's biggest port in mediaeval times. Legend says it had fifty-two churches; it didn't. I think the count was about thirty. Legend says it lies under the waves; well, bits of it do. The usable bits were usually removed as the sea advanced, leaving wall-cores of flint rubble to lie in a fallen jumble on the sea-bed.
The Dunwich story and Labour's have some intriguing parallels. Dunwich went from greatness to oblivion and obscurity. The town's wealth came from the pockets of others. The burghers of Dunwich wasted vast amounts of public money on a losing cause. In the end, even the taxpayer wasn't enough to save them.
You see, at one time the River Blyth didn't reach the sea at Walberswick, but turned south into the Dunwich River and emerged into the North Sea three miles away at Dunwich. All Walberswick's trade and goods, all its fishing boats, its lighters and barges, all at one time had to pass through Dunwich. And the burghers of Dunwich made the most of it, levying fees and duties for each bale of wool that left, each tun of wine or basket of herring that passed through. They became fat and wealthy. And greedy. And they were always a year or two or more behind in paying their taxes to the King.
Then one stormy night the sea broke through the shingle at Walberswick. At once they were free of the tyranny of Dunwich. The burghers of Dunwich weren't going to let this go; they sent men and boats to try to block up the new channel. There were skirmishes. Men were killed. They appealed to the King for money to help pay for blocking up the new channel and restoring their ancient rights. The King very fairly replied that they could keep half of what they owed him.
Well, this went on for a long time - scores of years, maybe even a century, but all the expenditure was wasted. The Dunwich River silted up, the town was battered and nibbled by the sea and not rebuilt, the people left for richer towns (Walberswick now amongst them) and Dunwich continued in slow decline. Perhaps now the only village that is a Church of England See - a Bishop of Dunwich is still appointed, as has been the case since St Felix brought the cross to the Angles.
And perhaps, as with aching calves Gordon enjoys a cup of tea and an egg sandwich in the beach cafe at Dunwich, the realisation will come that when the tide of events turns against you and that there's no way back, it's time to go with grace and dignity and make the most of what you've got left.