Pop across to Harwich

IT'S just 15 minutes from Felixstowe if you use the foot ferry, but how many off us have made the effort to visit Harwich? For this Bank Holiday weekend, columnist JAMES MARSTON and photographer LUCY TAYLOR took up the challenge to find out what's on offer across the water.

IT'S just 15 minutes from Felixstowe if you use the foot ferry, but how many off us have made the effort to visit Harwich? For this Bank Holiday weekend, columnist JAMES MARSTON and photographer LUCY TAYLOR took up the challenge to find out what's on offer across the water.

WE'VE all heard of Harwich in Essex.

It's where you get the ferry to the continent from - you can go to Denmark or Holland. As a town that people often pass through, Harwich isn't always high on the list of tourist destinations.

All I knew about Harwich were four simple facts.

You can see it from Felixstowe.

It's got lots of pubs.

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There's a pier.

It's quite quaint apparently.

Photographer Lucy Taylor and I, always keen for a day out of the office, were looking forward to our visit.

“Tell me, why exactly are we going to Harwich?” asked a skeptical Lucy as we made plans.

“Well Lucy,” I replied, “I want to try out this foot ferry and I've never been there.”

It seemed a good enough reason.

We'd chosen a lovely bright and sunny day and in the mid-morning we left the Ipswich newsroom and headed off to Felixstowe. Where the rivers Stour and Orwell meet, Harwich Harbour separates Harwich on the Essex side and Shotley and Felixstowe on the Suffolk side.

The foot ferry departs during summer months from by The Crow's Nest snack bar at the Bradfield viewing area, Landguard Fort, at £3.50 a crossing. It's advisable to book in advance as the ferry only takes 12 at a time.

The ferry travels between Harwich and Felixstowe and Harwich and Shotley.

Skipper and owner Alan Sage said the ferry takes between 10,000 and 12,000 people a year across the water.

He added: “It's mainly a tourist ferry but it is also part of the national cycle route so we take lots of cycles, about 1,000 a year. There are many footpaths and cycle tracks along the riversides and birdwatchers are well catered for with feeding waders on extensive mudflats on both rivers and three reserves within easy reach.

“By contrast many visitors enjoy close-up views of the massive vessels alongside Europe's largest container terminal at Felixstowe, the towering passenger ferries arriving from Sweden, Holland and Germany, as well as the hundreds of yachts sailing through the harbour to their marinas up river.

“We also carry regulars who work or have families on either side. From Felixstowe, if you don't drive the alternative is a three-train or two-bus journey which takes a couple of hours. This takes just 15 minutes.”

Crossing the estuary by water is a pleasant, relaxing experience. The view, of the surrounding countryside, Felixstowe docks and Harwich is always changing.

Deck hand Nobby Dawson takes the money and ties the ropes at Harwich's Ha'Penny Quay, and we disembark.

Almost immediately we spot one of the town's many plaques, pointing out a fact of historical interest. I pause to have a look and discover diarist Samuel Pepys was MP for Harwich.

As we head into town we discover more things of historical interest; the 1911 Electric Palace cinema, the High Lighthouse, the Guildhall, the home of Christopher Jones - master of the Mayflower the ship that took the pilgrim fathers to America, St Nicholas Church - there's a lot to see.

As we turn a corner we can see the estuary once again and a promenade. Taking a breather and looking out to sea, was grandma Jennifer Howlett and with her granddaughter Jessica Basidon.

Jennifer said: “We've been for a coffee at a café and now we are looking at the boats. I love Harwich, it is an historic place and it is very relaxing.”

While two-year-old Jessica munches on a packet of crisps, Jennifer, of Holyrood Road, Dovercourt, suggests a few sights to take in. She said: “We come here quite a lot because there is lots to do. I'd recommend Harwich to everyone. It's a lovely little place. I love the pier and the maritime museum is very interesting.”

Situated on Harwich Green and known as the Low Lighthouse, Harwich Maritime Museum was built in 1818 to replace the previously wooden ones from the late 17th Century.

The Low Lighthouse was purchased by the Harwich Corporation under the understanding that it would be returned to the Trinity House if it was needed for navigational reasons. In 1970 it was converted into a pilot signal station by Trinity House. However, since 1980 it has been the Maritime Museum.

Run by the Harwich Society, the museum contains artefacts and records of the town's seafaring past.

Volunteer George Day was on hand to show us round. He said: “We have all sorts of things here including uniforms, models, navigational charts, records, pictures, photographs and other interesting objects. Harwich was an important naval port and the collection charts the town's maritime history.”

Harwich's position on the estuaries of the Stour and Orwell rivers and its usefulness to mariners as the only safe anchorage between the Thames and Humber led to a long period of maritime significance.

The town became a naval base in 1657 and was heavily fortified, with Harwich Redoubt, Beacon Hill Battery, and Bath Side Battery.

The Royal Navy is no longer present in Harwich but adjacent Parkeston continues to offer regular ferry services to Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands and Esbjerg in Denmark.

For a spot of retail therapy, Harwich Antiques Centre offers a vast range of collectables including glass and ceramics, silverware, clocks, furniture, pictures, lamps and lighting and books.

Proprietor Hans Scholz said: “We've been here for ten years now and there are 25 different dealers. We come from Germany and we were once waiting for the ferry when we had some extra time so we looked round Harwich.

“We thought we would give our lives a change and found an empty building that used to be a bank so we set up business here. Harwich is unspoilt with a unique location on the peninsula. We have been welcomed with open arms.” Harwich isn't really as commercial as other towns. There is lots to see and do.”

After quick peek at Harwich lifeboat and RNLI shop and it's time for a coffee and a break and Lucy and I head for the Ha'Penny Pier.

As we relax with an ice cream and a mineral water, we spot some crabbers dipping their nets and dropping a line.

Chelmsford couple Michael and Cynthia Drury have brought their grandchildren Daniel, aged nine, and Erin, six, for a day by the sea.

Michael said: “I used to come here crabbing when I was a boy. It's the summer holidays and we thought we would bring them for a day out. We've caught six crabs so far.”

Cynthia added: “Harwich isn't really as commercial as other towns. There is lots to see and do. It is very unspoilt.”

Before we know it, we're back on the 12.15am foot ferry and its only 15 minutes back to Landguard Fort. Felixstowe, Lucy sums up the day. “It's been a bit of a blink or you'll miss it tour of Harwich. But it's been fun.”

Have you visited Harwich? Where do you like to go for a day out? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

One of the oldest, purpose built cinemas still in use in the UK - the cinema first opened on Wednesday 29 November 1911. It was built in 18 weeks for a cost of £1,500.

'The Battle of Trafalgar & The Death of Nelson' was the first film shown at the cinema.

Tickets for the best seats originally cost one shilling for adults and sixpence for children.

Many features like the ornamental frontage, ticket box and entrance lobby are original. The interior has been lovingly restored to its former glory.

It closed in 1956 after 45 years of screening films - and was forgotten until 1972 when the rescue and restoration began, after the cinema was threatened with demolition to make way for a car park.

After nearly a decade of hard work, the Palace re-opened on 29 November 1981 ­ the cinema's 70th anniversary.

It now operates as a community cinema run by volunteers and screens the best of contemporary movies, from Hollywood blockbusters to independent art house films every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The auditorium has seating for 200 plus space for four wheelchairs.

The distance from Felixstowe to Harwich is 1.7miles by sea, and 38 miles by road.

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