Since we moved from London out to Royston, I've slowly been introducing bellinghwoman to the joys of East Anglia. This morning, looking out of the window at the sunshine and checking the treetops for excess wind, I suggested we go visit the village of Orford.
And ninety minutes later, we were there.
Orford is a quiet little fishing village. It's a bit of a touristy place, but not the way so many seaside places are. It's not got tacky tourist shops, it's not got arcades, it's not got any of the 'we must attract the tourists in large numbers' features that so many places have. It's about ten miles from the nearest main road, and it's not got much of a beach. More shingle banks.
We parked down near the quay, and wandered down. Orford is about 10 km from the sea. Or 500 metres, depending on how you measure it, because you can actually see the sea the other side of a spit that runs between the river Alde and the sea itself. But if you want to get to the sea, you either have to cross the river (and there are no bridges), or you have to get a long way south. This 'long way' is the tragedy of the village - when it was founded, it was as important as Ipswich, and large (for the day) ships came in and out of the port. But the spit, which just protected the river mouth at that time, grows at 15 metres a year, and 800 years later, that's a hell of a long way for ships to come. As a result of all this, Orford hasn't grown much since those days - there's quite a lot of nice Georgian houses and cottages, but the village is isolated and it's not been swamped by later housing.
So, we gazed out over the water for a bit, and then wandered up into the village square, where we had lunch at the Butley Orford Oysterage restaurant. Hmmm. I've been wanting to go there for many years, and I wasn't disappointed. I had Grilled Mussels with a Crunchy Garlic Topping for a main course - six (yes, only six, but a huge six) mussels with a totally delicious topping that perfectly balanced the mussels themselves, while she had the Prawns in Garlic Oil. We also had a half bottle of a delightful Muscadet Sur Lie (2002) to go with it, and followed this with a Chocolate Truffle Torte for me, a Sticky Toffee Pudding for her, and finished with coffee. At just over £30 for the two of us, this wasn't a cheap lunch. However, for £30, it was well worth it, and the atmosphere was friendly and definitely not precious or hoity-toity at all.
And then we were off to visit the other feature of Orford - the castle.
Orford castle, or rather its keep, is in fine condition. It's a Norman Keep built by Henry II, and it's very compact, surprisingly neatly designed, and I think I'd quite like to own and live in it, since it's about the right size for us. The main rooms are a basement, a main hall and an upper hall, all 10 metres in diameter, and stacked above each other. All the other rooms are tiny, and actually embedded within the walls and the three external towers. Well, two external towers, the third containing only a spiral staircase. Not much room when the King came to visit.
The great thing since last time I visited (which was ... ah, pardon me, I'm not giving my age away that way, thank you) is that they now have audio guides, so you get a much better idea of what everything was. Since there's almost no artificial lighting, reading a guide book would have been a real pain.
What I do like about the keep is that it's so different from any other mediaeval castle I've visited.
And then, it was time to come home again. We got slightly lost finding our way back to the A12 (not badly so, just slightly), and so took a bit longer getting home than getting there. Also, the weather finally broke and became nasty and windy about 15 km from home, but that's fine, we'd done what we wanted to outside.