diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 15, 2016

compass pointsCompass points
(an occasional feature where I visit Great Britain's geographical extremities)
EAST - Ness Point, Lowestoft

The easternmost point in Great Britain is in the easternmost county, which is Suffolk, in the easternmost town, which is Lowestoft. Southwold would be nicer, but that's three miles further west. Great Yarmouth is closer, but wouldn't necessarily be an improvement. So Lowestoft it is, and not even the nice bit of Lowestoft, which I can assure you does exist. I headed to Britain's easternmost station, crossed its easternmost high street, and walked down to its easternmost extremity. A compass beneath a turbine beyond an industrial estate.

The train arrives in Lowestoft up the side of a saltwater lake, part of the much depleted (but still functioning) fishing port. Numerous sidings used to run down to the dockside, now generally brownfield and ripe for redevelopment, but still with silos, hangars and cranes. The harbour is crossed by a bascule bridge which opens less frequently than it used to, and leads to the other half of town, with the elegant seafront you'd hope a former seaside would have. Once 'the Brighton of East Anglia', a broad promenade and sandy beach sweep down to Claremont Pier, the end of which is sealed from public access behind a couple of restaurants and a nightclub. A handful of gardens with floral displays provide the foreground to a long run of Victorian villas, in one of which Benjamin Britten was born, but very few of which are now hotels. This is not the easternmost bit.

Lowestoft's main shopping street is in two very distinct halves. The part leading up from the station is pedestrianised, not especially beautifully, as part of the changes wrought to the town centre when traffic was banished to an encircling gyratory. The retail offering is good, as befits a town with seventy thousand residents, but not as good as it would be were the local economy in better shape. There's an M&S and a Waterstones, plus Beales department store, but also a proliferation of Poundstretchers and Peacocks for the daytime demographic to enjoy. Still, when the local independent bakery does lush Chelsea buns for 63p, and checks carefully through all those in the window to find you the best one, who's complaining?

Beyond the one-way system the ambience changes completely, this the original high street and surprisingly well preserved. The Triangle Market attracts a few shoppers, or drinkers, and provides a handful of parking spaces around the fish and chip kiosk. The rising High Street contains a mix of old shopfronts and huddled houses, one of which contains the town's Heritage Centre, and many of which eke out a living as takeaways. A dazzling array of independent boutiques could find an ideal home here, but this is not Margate, nor ever likely to be.

The Old Town's most interesting feature is a sequence of eleven narrow alleyways, called Scores, leading steeply down towards the shore. These once linked the fishing industry at the bottom to homes up top, and had names like Crown Score, Mariners Score and Spurgeon Score. I took Maltsters Score, whose double dogleg was supposedly introduced to make mugging fisherfolk easier, a vibe it's still easy to imagine on the descent past litter-strewn backyards watched over by a startled cat. I would have taken Rant Score, because this lines up most directly with Britain's easternmost point, except the fish finger factory is in the way.

Birds Eye's last remaining UK factory covers a large area of Lowestoft Denes, the beachfront lowland that's long been the centre of the town's fish processing industry. 800 people work here inside a large corrugated shed, churning out rice fusions and whatever other newfangled frozen stuff sells these days. They also own a brick lockup outlet close by, the Birds Eye Store, which genuinely is the answer to the fabled question "Why did the one-eyed chicken cross the road?" Neighbours include carpet showrooms, van hire and builders merchants, plus the easternmost bus garage in the UK, a gasholder and a sewage treatment plant. If Great Britain's other cardinal points are rugged and scenic, Ness Point is anything but.

The one waterside structure you can't miss is 'Gulliver', in its day the tallest wind turbine in the UK. This white spike rises 126m from the ground - a fraction shorter than the London Eye - with three spinning petals that cast periodic shadows across the sea wall. It's here because the town is seeking to reinvent itself as a centre of renewable energy, hence the opening of an adjacent business centre hub in 2008 part-funded by the EU. This closely resembles a concrete grandstand, with five terraced storeys looking out across the featureless North Sea, and a suite of underused conference facilities and meeting rooms within. A huge 100-stalk wind farm is planned 30 miles off the coast, provisionally named East Anglia One, which should be operational by the end of the decade.

Gulliver very nearly marks the most easterly point in Britain, but that honour goes to the minor headland at Ness Point, not so much a bulge as a bend in the coast. To reach it head down Gasworks Road, the easternmost road in Britain, and step through the gate in the flood defence wall. There's an artificial feel to the shoreline, a waveproof concrete promenade lined by large chunky boulders to create a breakwater, and which signs warn against attempting to climb. On my visit someone had tied a bouquet of Morrisons red roses to the railings, reduced from a fiver to £3.75, suggesting that this place is indeed dangerous, or has a fateful allure. A small car park has been provided up top to leave your vehicle.

Look down to see the Euroscope, a large paved compass which is the official monument to Britain's easternmost scrap of land. Around the outer metal ring are distances to several places around Europe, including Minsk, Luxembourg and Andorra, as well as to Great Britain's other three cardinal extremes (Dunnet Head 472 miles, Ardnamurchan Point 453 miles, Lizard 352 miles). If you're cycling, jogging or walking to any of them, it's a very long way. Three different sunrise markers are provided, two for the solstices and one for the equinoxes. But think twice if you're planning to be first to watch the dawn - at this time of year Dover sees the sun four or five minutes earlier, and at midsummer John O'Groats wins by almost half an hour.

Annoyingly a sewage outfall pipe pokes out beyond the headland, encased in concrete and shielded by boulders, potentially possible to walk along but again with warning signs strongly recommending against. A single fisherman had ignored the cautionary notice, and a set of metal railings, and was busy dangling a rod into the warm emergent flow several metres out to sea. It would have been dangerous, gauche and intrusive to join him, and he wasn't going anywhere soon, so I had to make do with being merely the second most easterly person on the mainland, my ultimate target missed. A most peculiar place, this accident of geography, in the less than mystic East.

» Sixteen easterly Lowestoft photos

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