If you run your own business sometimes you get a bit over-focussed on the quotidian and if you live in a beautiful place, you sometimes forget to leave. So, we have decided to have an AirB&B adventure each month. Not necessarily far away, just a night or two, but regularly, to riffle up our molecules a bit.
Blog it someone said. So here we all are, settle in and keep an eye open for the egrets.
1. August. Pin Mill.
My sense of things geographic is notoriously scatter-gun. Most of Norfolk has been transfixed from the London train by the treat of the view of the bright morning light shining on the tidal river when you pass Maningtree in Essex. So when I booked this adventure I thought that was roughly where we'd be. But no, turns out we were headed to Suffolk and another river. No matter, Essex can be a different month.
Pin Mill is a beautiful little port village on the banks of the Orwell. It's famed for Authur Ransome having lived there and is nestled amongst National Trust woodland. Mostly what people do from there is mess about with boats and mend boats. What leapt at me though, from my phone and the AirB&B app was this little wooden building. There's an adventure.
A terrific man called David is going to feature a lot in this. Really our weekend turned out to be about David, his stories, and the river.
David lives on a metal house boat, permanently moored on the river in a community of house boats. He says he has no interest in sailing off to anywhere, he just likes to stare at the river, the woods and tend his garden. He has converted his wooden cabin on the bank into a tiny, comfortable mini house, with a veranda overlooking his jetty garden and the river. When the cabin gets a booking he's set the system to automatically block out the three days either side so he doesn't have to over-stretch himself on the breakfast cooking. David has finessed the art of convivial laid-backness. This also means book in time is midday but you don't have to book out till 3 pm the next day, so one night is like two days holiday.
After calling in on cousins further up the Suffolk coast and relieving them of tea, cake and chutney, we drove past Ipswich and down to The Orwell. David met us at the harbour, with a beaming smile and led us along the winding river bank, on the edge of the wood, to his mooring and jetty.
Tip 1. Use the resident's parking space up the hill, as instructed. Driving down to the harbour and having to turn round again on a busy Saturday lunchtime because you missed the car park entrance just makes you look like a tourist and can lead to in-car tension. Trust me.
Tip 2. If you aren't reasonably nimble this isn't one for you. Not least because when the tide is fully in, the only way back to the harbour is via a metal ladder in the wall below the pub. Reader, I coped perfectly well. Feel free to use me as your nimbleness benchmark.
David lived in India, and as he says, he likes "stuff". So the cabin is richly decorated with music and film memorabilia and Indian fabrics. We are not talking boutique hotel luxury, you are essentially living between a wood and the river, but the cabin is super-comfortable with squishy leather chairs and every square inch is fascinating. Everything I wanted was there - a jug of fresh milk, a kettle, PROPER GROUND COFFEE, a cafetierre, tea and a shower.
We took ourself off to buy some bread, tomatoes, smoked fish and a nice bar of chocolate and had a restorative picnic lunch on the veranda.
Tip 3. The closest farmshop is the very busy Suffolk Food Hall. I recommend driving to the other side of the bridge and going to Jimmy's Farm Foodhall. Not only does this give you access to much nicer, ahem, pork pies, but I think the food there is generally much better and has more choice, especially if you are after local provenance.
After a sunny walk down the river the sun seemed to be over the yard arm (whatever that is) so we plied a willing David with a bottle of wine that we'd had the sense to keep about us for the purpose of a little light socialising, sat at the end of his jetty watching the wading birds as the tide turned and we slowly discovered all the things we had in common.
David's one of these people with, what Dennis Healy used to call, a broad cultural hinterland, so I suspect most people would easily find things in common with him, but he and OH have a very closely aligned interest, nay obsession, with music and collections of vinyl, so they bonded instantly. My connection was that he used to work in food, albeit on a very different scale.
We'd booked into The Butt and Oyster, so made our way, possibly a little unsteadily, down to the pub, had supper and then back by torchlight, finding David had lit candles in the lamps on the veranda, and clambered up into bed, falling asleep listening to the river, the owls and the sound of rigging ringing against masts.
I'm an early riser and was in my element as I made coffee and sketched a little. There's no shortage of things to draw if you live amongst house boats on a river. David cooked us a fine breakfast on his boat whilst OH* companionably criticised his vinyl filing system. This is how men like OH and David make friends. We LOVED his boat, living there is definitely the dream. He loves it too. David is a happy man.
We drifted through the morning reading for a while and went for a walk up-river, picking blackberries along the way. We could have got lunch en route but breakfast and the blackberries seemed to suffice until we got back to Pin Mill and an ice cream from the gallery, after looking at their exhibition of Arthur Ransome's photographs of the village.
After an hour or so more sitting by the river we walked back to the car with David and said our cheerios.
As I had said to David over breakfast that morning, I think by choosing this as a our first monthly adventure we might have peaked early. The benchmark is now pretty high.
Next month: A weekend in Cambridge and The Fitzwilliam.