We are sitting outside the Butt and Oyster at Pin Mill on the banks of the River Orwell, made famous by the children’s books of Arthur Ransome. This is quintessential sailing country, and Ransome’s books, such as Swallows and Amazons and We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, have been responsible for introducing many a young reader to the romance and adventure of sailing that carried on throughout their life.
Out on the river, a Thames barge sails majestically past, only its topsail out but somehow managing to catch the almost imperceptible breeze. A fish breaks the surface of the water in front of us as it snaps at an insect. To our left a dilapidated pier stretches out into the river – two houseboats are tied up to it, whether they are inhabited, it is difficult to say. Beyond the pier is the boatyard where Ransome apparently had his own boats built. It all seems like a piece of time preserved from a previous age. Back in the present, the waitress brings our asparagus soups and corn bread. They are delicious.
We had bought two folding bicycles to have with us on Ruby Tuesday so that we could explore the surrounding countryside of the places that we stopped at on our voyages. It was a glorious sunny afternoon, so we had decided to give them a shakedown test by cycling from Shotley Marina along the path by the Orwell. Across on the other side, the skyline was dominated by the giant cranes and container ships at Felixstowe, the largest container port in the UK, with occasional metallic clangs drifting across the water as containers are dropped on to their ships, a striking contrast to the more bucolic landscape of the south bank where we were.
Returning, we explore the small village of Shotley Gate next to the marina. Dominated by a Martello Tower, one of many that were built as defences all along the coast during Napoleonic times, the village is also home to the now dilapidated HMS Ganges, a former training centre for naval cadets. We stop at the Bristol Arms to have a drink, sitting outside in the warm sun looking across the River Stour this time to Harwich on the other side. Tomorrow we plan to take the short ferry ride across the river to there and see what it has to offer.