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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Smugglers' Run!

Last weekend we did the wonderful "Smugglers' Run" at Martlesham in Suffolk. With a name like that this walk was always going to be fascinating - not only is it a walk around a particularly picturesque part of the county, it's packed full of interesting facts for history buffs!

The walk starts in Woodbridge where there is the last remaining working tide mill in the UK. It dates from the 12th century, was working up until 1957 and was restored in 1982. The mill is situated on the River Deben, a waterway frequently used by the smuggling fraternity. One incident in Woodbridge Haven in 1739 records that a smuggler's cutter was stranded by the tide and the preventive officers were able to seize brandy and tea. The smugglers were clearly an audacious lot for they not only raised affidavits for the recovery of their goods, but also managed to have the master of the grounded cutter that they were using to ferry the goods in press-ganged into serving on HMS Boyne which prevented him from testifying against them!
The footpath travels along the edge of the river to Kyson Point and Kyson Hill with lovely views across the water meadows. I particularly liked the part of the walk that went along the beach here - and so did the dog! At high tide this stretch of the walk is impassable and you have to be careful not to get cut off by the tide. This was part of the area that fell to the Harwich Customs Collector to patrol - with a pitifully small army of riding officers. The little creeks, marshes and inlets here were perfect for landing contraband.

Martlesham Creek turns westwards from this point and we walked along the edge of the water following the path taken by the smugglers of old. This little inlet was used as a waterway for the transport of small, shallow boat-loads of contraband. It is said that Phillip Meadows, rector of Great Bealings from 1804 to 1837 gave the free traders aid by leaving his stables unlocked on moonless nights with the chaise and harness ready. Since the owner of the chaise was so well respected locally and was above suspicion, the excisemen and the constable allowed the cart to pass freely and it collected the contraband from Martlesham Creek. In return the rector was given a keg of brandy from each load as thanks for his co-operation. I was intrigued to hear this story of real-life involvement of the gentry with the smuggling trade, and so late into the nineteenth century as well.

From here the path turns along the head of the creek and enters the woods and it would be easy to imagine a moonless night and the crack of branches underfoot as the free traders made their way up to the road with their cargo. The path emerges to cross the fields and comes up by the church from where it is a straight run to the Red Lion pub. This inn dates originally from the late 1500s and was a coaching inn on the old Norwich to London road used as an overnight stopover for the mail coaches. The mail was locked up safely and then the coachmen and guard probably retired to the bar to drink some contraband brandy!

This was a fabulous historic walk through some beautiful countryside with a drink and a meal waiting at the end. What more could one ask?


Jan Jones said...

Sounds fabulous, Nicola! Wonderful photos.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thanks, Jan! We were lucky we had such a nice day for the walk. It was quite a long way but having a pub to aim at always helps, I find!

Kate Hardy said...

Fascinating stuff, Nicola. Thanks for sharing. And what a wonderful idea: a walk and the smugglers' run. (You may just have given me a lightbulb.)

In Norfolk, they used to use the sails of the mills as signals for smugglers, so they could sink the contraband before the revenue men arrived. (Then there's the use of the Black Shuck legend - and the farmer who got his confiscated horses back by telling the revenue men that the horses had mange, when they were actually moulting...)

Nicola Cornick said...

I love the idea of the Norfolk smugglers using the sails of the mills as a sort of semaphore, Kate! It's also interesting how many counties seem to have a Black Shuck legend. That dog gets around! I read somewhere that whilst the legend seems to have come from East Anglia originally it is also associated with ley lines which is maybe why there's a similar story around here.