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Barge Trip at St Mary's Stoke
A Grand Afternoon Outing!
Thanks to a very generous Church Member, Patrick, Sunday 18th August saw 14 Members of the Mothers Union St. Mary at Stoke Ipswich Branch walking the 10 minutes from St Marys’ Church to the Quayside at Ipswich where we boarded the Barge “Victor”, for a Suffolk Cream Tea Cruise.
Built in Ipswich’s Dock End Yard in 1895 it was first used to collect linseed from farms along the East Coast and take the processed linseed oil to London. During the Second World War, she transported munitions to warships from Chatham Dock and was almost destroyed when a ship lying alongside took a direct hit. It is a traditionally rigged 19th century sailing vessel, and was fully restored in 2006.
We set sail at 1pm from the Old Custom House amid the “Maritime Ipswich” celebrations where we could see be-wigged sailors in their navy jackets and black hats, white hose and buckled shoes, the Marines, resplendent in their red Jackets with their muskets, standing to attention on the quay.
We motored through the Marina lock gates, out on to the beautiful historic River Orwell, the River flows entirely within the County of Suffolk, it is about 20km long and enters the North Sea at Harwich.
Passing under the Iconic Orwell Bridge, opened in December 1982 the main span is 190 metres which, at the time of its construction, was the longest pre-stressed span in use. It looked as if the mast would not go under the bridge. Patrick told us that it is an optical illusion as if you placed another sailing barge on top of the “Victor”, it would still go under the Bridge.
Our Captain cut the engines, unfurled the sails and all you could hear was the lapping of the water against the barge. Our Captain regaled us with stories and (as he put it) useless information about the “Victor” and the Orwell Area, he told us that as well as various other uses, the Barge had once been a strip club.
Looking over at the Freston Tower, a Grade 2 Listed building. It is a 6 storey Tudor Folly, perhaps built to coincide with Elizabeth the Firsts visit to Ipswich in August 1579, (Could it have been August the 18th we wonder, 440 years ago). There is a room on every floor, legend has it that it was built by Lord De Freston for his Daughter Ellen so that she could study a different subject on a different floor each day of the week, Church on Sundays.
Although it is more than likely that the Tower was built as a lookout over Freston Reach to prevent smuggling. Our Captain pointed out a house by the river where a Cat used to sit in the window to help with the smuggling operation, if the cat was absent, then Customs Men were in the area and the Smugglers did not proceed up the River.
As we sailed along, we passed the Woolverstone Marina and then the Royal Harwich Yacht Club. Catamarans, sailing boats and Cruisers, passed by, waving to us and each other across the water, chatting how lovely it was that the sun had come out for all of us.
We sailed on to Pin Mill which is a Hamlet on the South Bank of the River, a designated conservation area and generally known for the Historic Butt and Oyster Public House, records go back to 1456 when a water bailiff held court hearings there. The Butt and Oyster is featured in the children’s book by Arthur Ransome, “We didn’t mean to go to sea”.
We had been sailing for 2 hours when The Ship’s bell rang to say that Tea was ready. We went inside to the Saloon to see a sumptuous array of food. There were freshly baked Cheese Scones with butter and chilli jam, Plain Scones, Fruit Scones, more butter, strawberry jam, clotted cream, tea and coffee. Delicious.
While we were inside, the “Victor” turned about and when we got back topside, we saw more closely, the other side of the river, the Captain had pointed out the various sights on the way up river, and we sailed once more under the Orwell Bridge, sails were furled and engines cut in. Just before the lock gates we were greeted with several Cormorants putting on a fishing display for us, as well as the usual gulls.
Once through the lock gates, because of the Maritime Festival, there was a fairground with all of the heart-stopping rides that once-upon-a-time, we agreed, we would be on, but not now. There was a BBC Radio Suffolk Sound Stage with a live “Queen” Tribute Band playing, we raised our arms in time to the music and people on land waved to us and danced.
We landed back at the Custom House just after 5pm walked back to St Mary’s, passing the various stalls along the quayside. All thanks to Patrick who had worked hard on the barge all afternoon with ropes and sails as well as finding the time to talk to us, we all agreed that it had been a wonderful afternoon and one we will talk about for a long time to come.
Written by Linda Ginn