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Today, I'm on a journey through the lowlands of Suffolk.
It's a place with all the rural trappings you'd expect
from this tranquil corner of the country,
but with some mysteries and surprises too.
I'm starting my journey in Thorpeness,
then I'll head for Rendlesham Forest before visiting the archaeological site at Sutton Hoo.
My Suffolk travels will end among the butterflies
at Wherstead Farm, south of Ipswich.
And along the way, I'll be looking back at the very best of the BBC's rural programmes
from this part of the world. This is Country Tracks.
Beginning my journey, I'm near the Suffolk coastline on this beautiful mere in the village of Thorpeness.
Thorpeness Mere covers an enormous 64 acres and is alive with wildlife.
But this is not a natural lake.
It's entirely man-made.
In fact, the whole idea of the village was dreamt up by friend of Peter Pan author JM Barrie.
Thorpeness was originally a small fishing hamlet.
Then, in 1910, a Scottish barrister called Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie bought a swathe of local land
and transformed the village into a fantasy holiday destination.
His aim was to create a fashionable resort which took people back to the days of merry old England.
I'm meeting his great-grandson Glen Ogilvie to find out more about this enchanting place.
His idea was that he would create a village that had something for everybody.
He's quoted as saying, "If children are happy, parents have a holiday,"
and that, believe me, is as true today as it was back in 1910,
when he started the village.
And this example here - rather unusual-looking building.
-Undoubtedly, it's unique.
-It's many of the odd ones here. Give me some of the history of this.
Great-grandfather built a steel water tower,
and it was a monstrosity and he hated it.
He didn't know what to do with it.
And a friend of his, a lady called Mrs Mason, said, "If you turn it into a house, I'll live in it,"
and that is how it came to be. The name The House In The Clouds came from Mrs Mason.
Great-grandfather was going to call it The Gazebo, and she said, "No, no, that's my house in the clouds."
-That's where it got it's name.
-It's a romantic name and I can see why she named it that.
I'm going to take a closer look if I may. It's so unusual.
So, Glen, this is another iconic building in Thorpeness,
-but it wasn't originally built on this spot, was it?
-No, it wasn't.
It was moved here from the village of Aldringham, which is about two miles inland,
and converted from its original function as a corn mill to a water pump.
It was dismantled by a millwright whose name I believe was Ted Friend, taken to pieces and brought here.
The millwright had to drill that great big post, which is very hard oak,
for the driveshaft for the pump.
And he had to get it absolutely perpendicular, and he had to get it right first time,
and it was all done with a hand auger. I think it's an absolute work of art.
How was life in its heyday, when Thorpeness was buzzing and the full vision of the village came together?
It was a place, perhaps not of grandeur, but of splendour and fun,
which was the original idea of the village.
And even today, it's still enjoyed in very much that same ideal.
Yes, it really is. It's still a haven for children.
Even the adults living out their childhood fun with all those activities on offer.
For the Peter Pan in us all - the boy who never grew up.
-Yes, I suppose there is that about it, yes.
Thorpeness is nestled next to the sea, so I've taken the chance
to continue my journey with a bracing coastal walk.
The Suffolk coastline is a haven for flora and fauna.
A few hundred metres inland is a man-made lagoon with its own rich ecosystem,
which Michaela Strachan explored.
Saline lagoons act as a halfway house between marine and freshwater environments,
and as such are home to very specialised plant and animal communities.
They're one of the rarest habitats in Europe, and here
on the east coast of Britain are some of the best examples.
But these precious habitats and the wildlife they encourage are now under threat.
Most coastal areas now have sea defences which don't allow new lagoons to form.
Rises in sea level and climate change
can also have a catastrophic effect.
So conservation groups have got together to look at
not only how to manage the lagoons we've already got, but also how to create new ones.
There's very little saline lagoon throughout the whole of Europe.
They're listed in the Habitats Directive
as a priority habitat - they're the most rare and the most threatened.
In the UK, we've only got about 5,000 hectares dotted around the whole coast,
most of them small sites like this.
Also, we have species that are specialised to live in lagoons -
quite harsh conditions, extremes of temperature and salinity.
Some species are protected under the Wildlife And Countryside Act because they're so rare.
The guide has been written by conservation groups working together,
amongst them, English Nature, the Environment Agency and the RSPB.
Matt, what creatures do you find here that you don't find anywhere else?
Well, we've got some here.
-I'll just get them into this tray.
-So it's lots of very wee beasties,
-Yeah, most of the things are small invertebrates.
That's what most of the important things in lagoons are.
What about these little transparent things?
They're a sort of little prawn, really, which you get in lots of brackish water bodies,
and there's lagoon corophium, which is another crustacean.
They are really like a stretched out woodlouse.
From the RSPB's point of view, species in the lagoons support birds.
You've got wading birds feeding on them. The avocet, which feeds and lives and nests on saline lagoons,
will be feeding on these sorts of species in the lagoons.
If it's birds you're interested in, then one of the best lagoons to come to in the UK is Minsmere in Suffolk.
Here, the RSPB have created man-made lagoons where you can find over 300 different species.
-Any good birds today?
-It's a bit mixed at the moment.
The breeding season's over now,
so most of the things like the avocets have left.
But we're seeing lots of migrant waders coming through,
birds which bred in Arctic Europe. They have a quick refuel stop, then on to West Africa.
The amazing thing about this lagoon is that it's man-made.
Yeah, it was the first lagoon of its type in the world.
It was based on the fact that this was partially flooded during the war, and natural lagoons began to form.
We've excavated three main lagoons, put lots of islands in, a very intricate water-control system,
and it's been copied everywhere from Spain to Australia.
Right next to the sea, the shingle beaches are a feature of the Suffolk coastal landscape.
What I find amazing is that these windswept shores can harbour such a diverse selection of plant life.
Malcolm Farrow is an expert in the field.
Malcolm, it's so lovely walking along the beach on a day like today, isn't it?
-Yes, fantastic, isn't it? You couldn't be in a better place, really.
-No, not at all.
Most people expect to see plants colonising the dunes and that part of beach life,
-but down here on the shingle it's quite a surprise to come across so many.
It's the last thing you'd expect to see,
because shingle's such a hostile environment for plants.
It's a pretty tough place for any kind of life,
-so to get such a huge variety is amazing.
-And flowering plants.
-What's this with these beautiful white flowers?
-This is sea kale
and this is a real tough customer.
-It's just sort of purpose-built for this kind of environment.
-You have a feel of these leaves
-and feel how thick and rubbery they are.
-Incredible, isn't it?
-So what conditions do these plants have to deal with? There's not a lot of fresh water.
-No, that's right.
The only fresh water you get is the stuff that comes down from the sky,
-and it's going to go straight through these stones.
These plants have incredible root systems to suck up as much moisture as they can
-and store it in the leaves.
-This is in flower. What time of year would you expect to get this?
Well, it's just starting to come out now and it'll flower right the way through May and into June.
Then, once the flowers have set seed,
you get lovely seed heads all over the plant.
It looks like the kale you get in gardens and supermarkets, but I presume we can't eat this stuff.
You could. It's a very close relative and people do... Here, they're protected.
You'd have to get the permission of the landowner to eat or harvest them, so I wouldn't recommend it here.
-What else have we got on the beach after the kale?
-Well, another famous incumbent here is sea pea.
-Shall we go and have a look at some?
-Yeah, let's see if we can find some sea pea.
This is a much rarer plant than sea kale.
-It looks completely different. Looks much more delicate.
-Yeah, it does, doesn't it?
-It looks much more fragile.
-And is it?
-Well, no, it's just as tough in its own way.
It's just got a different strategy for survival here.
While the sea kale makes a big clump, sea pea likes to stay low.
This one hugs the ground as a way of staying out of the worst effects of the wind and the elements here.
You tend to find sea pea growing quite close to the wilder part of the beach.
What happens is, after it sets seed, the seeds end up in the sea,
and they'll float about and colonise another bit of beach. It's quite a scarce plant.
-Goodness. What a great find.
-Yeah, it is.
-And that's its flower?
-Yeah. A lovely flower.
-Gosh, that is pretty. Given that this is so rare,
and it's doing well in Suffolk, do you think local people are quite proud of this
-and like having all the plants on the beach?
-I do. I think it's a real Suffolk speciality.
We've got a lot of really good areas of vegetated shingle beaches,
and sea pea is perhaps the real, most glorious plant here, really.
It is very pretty. I'm so glad to have seen it.
My coastal walk continues to the village of Aldeburgh.
In the 16th century, Aldeburgh was a leading port and had a flourishing ship-building industry.
Sir Francis Drake's ships Greyhound and Pelican were both built here.
But the town is also known as home of one of the country's best-loved composers - Benjamin Britten.
I have tried to live elsewhere, but a magnet always brings me back.
I feel at home in this kind of scenery.
The marshes, the small villages, the fishermen in their boats -
that all is a part of my life without which I cannot seem to do.
This is the old mill in the village of Snape, and Britten was living here when he wrote
his most famous work, Peter Grimes, a story of a local fisherman who was a loner and an outcast.
And from this balcony, Britten would be able to look down to the old barley maltings in Snape.
And later, when those buildings became derelict, he was inspired to turn them into a great concert hall.
It was a completely mad idea in many ways,
but there again, starting up a music festival in 1948
in a tiny fishing village about as far east in England as you can go
also must have seemed pretty mad at the time.
The concert hall was a huge success from the start,
mainly because the natural qualities of the venue - the acoustics that come from the brick and the wood -
meant that it had a very fine sound indeed, and musicians and audiences were very excited by that.
And also, of course, its incomparable setting.
His routine was to walk along the riverbank every afternoon, after spending the morning composing.
Then he'd work again from tea-time till dinner, but no later in case any wrong notes got through.
Britten loved the church here at Orford, a couple of miles from his home,
not least because the acoustics are excellent.
And in fact he chose this church for the very first performance
of his much-loved work for young people, Noah's Flood, the biblical story of the Ark.
And here's a small statue of Noah reaching out to the returning dove to remind us.
The performance was such a success, technically as well as artistically,
that Britten decided to record another of his works here in the church.
It was the Burning Fiery Furnace,
and the recording session took three days in May 1967.
It was filmed by the BBC, and not everyone in the village
was pleased to see an invasion of so many musicians.
Well, the traffic's shocking. It's worse than Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday night.
I cater for my local trade and I don't even stop to think about what visitors might want.
If I haven't got what they want, that's just too bad.
In any case, their attitude is, "Oh, haven't got so-and-so?"
You'd think it was Fortnum & Mason's, not the village shop!
There's a much warmer welcome these days, but even then, tourists were beginning to discover the area.
Britten needed tranquillity, and he moved here, to the Red House in Aldeburgh,
with his partner, the singer Peter Pears. It was to be his last home.
Previously, the Red House was, for about two centuries, a dairy farm,
and the room in which we're now sitting was actually a milking shed
and a school for dairy maids and dairy lads, I suppose.
In 1963, they really decided that they wanted a place where they could store books, manuscripts,
scores that they collected as well.
Obviously too, they wanted a space that was large enough to accommodate the rehearsals,
a place that could accommodate small local ensembles.
They also wanted a room large enough for a nice large grand piano.
The rooms are quite large but not large enough for a ten-foot concert grand, so they built this place.
They started in 1963 and I suppose it was opened in '64.
You have a great collection of photographs, covering most of Britten's life?
Indeed, yes. We've got 12,000 photographs in the collection.
Here's a photograph of Britten in the 1930s, at work composing.
It's a rare photograph of him wearing spectacles. You didn't often see him wearing spectacles.
There he is on the beach at Aldeburgh.
That's right, yes. Very near his beloved sea, where he found a great deal of inspiration, of course.
And finally, we've got a picture of him with Peter Pears,
taken not long before his death.
And of course, towards the end of his life, he heard in this very room
one of his last completed compositions, a string quartet, the Third String Quartet,
which was performed in the space at the end of the room here.
He was extremely ill and the Amadeus came and played the quartet for him.
It must've been a very moving moment.
Oh, yes, it would have been extremely emotional for him. For everyone concerned, I should think.
Benjamin Britten died nearly 30 years ago and, until recently,
there was no memorial to him here in Suffolk.
But in November 2003, this sculpture, highly controversial,
by Maggi Hambling, was unveiled here on the beach at Aldeburgh.
It symbolises his love for this coastline and for the sea.
When you listen to his music, when you're actually here on the Suffolk coast,
there's something about his music that taps into the spirit of his place.
It's feeling that connection, I think, between the music and the place
that I think is very, very special, and certainly speaks to me.
I've left Aldeburgh behind and I'm heading 12 miles inland to Rendlesham.
Driving into the heart of Rendlesham's forest,
I'm planning to set up camp and enjoy a night amongst the trees.
But first, I want to investigate a mystery that continues to baffle.
This may look like a picturesque and peaceful spot with the sun setting but, in 1980,
an incident happened in this very forest that made headlines
all around the world.
Now then, you may remember the sensational claim earlier this week that a glowing UFO had landed
in some woods near the US Air Force base at Woodbridge in Suffolk.
We had an eye-witness, a former security guard
who wanted to remain anonymous, and this is what he had to say.
This thing came down, it went right over and sat there maybe two seconds.
It was just a ball of light in the air.
Maybe 20 feet off the ground, 30 feet, and it dispersed in a multitude of colours,
and they all seemed to fall on top of this thing. And before our eyes,
it's almost indescribable, but there was a craft, an alien spacecraft or whatever.
Servicemen initially thought it was a downed aircraft.
Three of them entered the forest to investigate, armed with torches, a Geiger counter and a dictaphone.
150 feet or more from the initial suspected impact point...
What happened next sparked interest around the world.
A number of strange lights appeared to move through the trees, while a single bright light
appeared to emerge from an unidentified object.
I'm meeting the first civilian on the scene that evening, Vince Thurkettle,
to retrace the steps those servicemen took through the forest.
That night, OK, we've got...
This here was a tactical American air base. Tons of planes, tons of weapons,
and I believe there were three young airmen on guard here.
And it's probably a bit like this.
We're late at night. They saw something burn in the sky.
They thought it crashed in the forest. They asked permission to go out and were told,
"Leave your weapons, go out and see what it was." Can you imagine?
They must have had kittens! This is where it all started.
This is the east gate. They left their weapons and three of them went into the forest
around midnight or something. This is Close Encounters Of The Third time.
This is a very exciting, very serious time, so when these guys set off in the woods
to find something that had crashed, this is a big deal.
Now, call me paranoid, but there's a lot of activity going on.
I think a lot of the UFO people are paranoid, but I have to say, every time I've brought people here,
a military helicopter comes and seems to shadow us, and by God, it's happened now, even at night.
-It is amazing.
Well, let's move on to our next destination in this story.
-OK, why don't we do this? Why don't we make a sweep?
I think it's much better...
So this is odd, isn't it, walking through the woods at night?
Well, not really, because this is what the young airmen will have experienced when they came out.
They've left the gate, come up the tracks and walked through a forest pretty much like this.
-What did they see?
-They're looking for something that's crashed, so they're wandering about
and then they see this pulsing light through the trees ahead of them.
It's described as yellow or reddish, but there's this pulsing light
five, six feet above the forest floor, illuminating the forest.
And very bravely, actually, they follow it, they move towards it,
and it appears to move away from them through the trees as they get towards it.
They must've been so excited at this point - terrified excited!
-Terrified and slightly mad to follow it. I'd have raced home.
-They're pretty brave.
-Very brave! Well, we need to follow in their footsteps. Let's bravely...
-Let's push on through the woods.
INDISTINCT RADIO CHATTER
OK, here we are on the edge of the forest.
So what would have happened next?
Well, they've got here. Whatever they were seeing, they think it's now flown out across these fields.
We're whispering! Interesting - we've started whispering!
But animals went berserk about here.
Now, whether they were wild animals they flushed out of the forest
or whether it was farm animals, I don't know.
-What's your explanation for what they saw?
-They were following a light.
They followed it, it moved away, then they got to the edge of the forest, where we are now,
and they stared out across these fields, and were staring straight into the beam of a lighthouse.
So science suggests that it could have been the lighthouse they saw,
and the animals could've been spooked by them? So what's kept this myth, potentially, going?
We still have the core that, on two separate nights,
two groups of airmen came out in this forest and saw a pulsing light within the woods,
and watched it for hours in one case.
They WERE staring at a lighthouse, but in all honesty,
whether it could've fooled them for two nights, that's incredible.
3.05, we see strange, strobe-like flashes...
They're sporadic, but there's definitely something there, some kind of phenomenon.
I've just finished the UFO trail,
which I found absolutely fascinating, and even as something of a non-believer,
it's left me suitably spooked to be staying alone in the forest at night.
But if you're going to camp out, you might as well do it in style.
My accommodation for the night may look vintage Americana, but it is in fact brand-new...
..and very snug. I always love camping, but there's something about camping on your own
that's pretty spooky, and having gone round the forest in the dark,
hearing about UFOs doesn't often help your cause when you're feeling a bit spooked.
But there's something about camping in this incredibly luxury vehicle
that has a lock on the door... that really helps.
And I tell you what also helps is... outside, I can hear two nightingales singing,
which is quite a rare thing these days, and it makes me think that the dawn is coming
because it's birdsong. Now I'm not quite so frightened.
I had a very good night's sleep in my wagon of dreams last night.
It was a lighthouse, not a UFO!
I feel much braver this morning... and a little bit daft.
This is perhaps the most famous UFO incident to have happened in Britain,
and ranks amongst the best-known UFO events worldwide.
Two decades earlier, just down the coast at Orford Ness,
a series of events occurred which, though frightening and fantastic, were definitely of this planet.
This was the United Kingdom's own Area 51.
Grant, what's Orford Ness
got to do with weapons of mass destruction, then?
This is where they were carrying out tests on Britain's atomic arsenal
between the 1950s and the 1970s.
This, Adam, is the type of bomb that they were testing here on Orford Ness, and this is a WE177,
which was the last of Britain's own atomic weapons,
and this was developed here on Orford Ness from the mid-1960s onwards until 1971.
And this particular weapon is a fairly small strategic weapon
of 200,000 tonnes of TNT,
which is about 200 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
-It is, for something so small, and it's often what people comment on.
They're expecting something massive, but actually it's very small.
And what sort of tests were they doing on bombs like this here?
They called them environmental testing -
looking at all the environments that the bomb may be subject to, doing things like vibration testing -
mimicking the vibration in an aircraft carrying it.
And they were also looking at extremes of temperature - the highs, the lows -
and the humidity encountered, and a whole host of other different tests
which basically were designed to make sure that it was transported safely and, when it arrived,
it was in a good condition to operate.
One young man involved in those tests during the '50s and '60s was Jim Drane.
What work were you doing here, Jim?
Originally I was on the trials team. We were doing airborne trials.
So the planes used to fly over here?
Yes. They were controlled from this building. This was the bomb ballistics building,
and they controlled the aircraft. There was a target
about three-quarters of a mile out,
more or less in that direction over there.
Was it quite exciting? Was there sort of a good team working?
Well, on the airborne trials, we were working to a timetable in a lot of cases
because of the live nuclear tests taking place at Christmas Island,
and we had to complete our tests before those ones could take place.
Although the work was quite secretive, did you ever feel like the Russians were looking in on us?
If we heard that Russian vessels were in the area, we had to switch all our equipment off.
Yes, that did happen.
'Here at Orford, in May 1935,
'a small team of experimental scientists was detached from Slough
'to conduct these first experiments in RDF...'
RDF, or radar as it later became known, was tested here too, along with aircraft-delivery systems,
free-falling bombs, and a pilot's best friend - the parachute.
'..a typical aircraft at 10,000 feet up to 45 miles.'
So what's the future, then?
Well, it's a National Trust property,
and what we're looking at is continuing the restoration.
We're continuing to enhance it for its conservation interest.
Some buildings we're restoring, others we're not.
The best way of illustrating is to look at Orford Castle.
Here we have a military structure built in the late 12th century
which became redundant, and so it was just allowed to ruinate.
It was many hundreds of years later that somebody decided it was worth preserving.
This may be the same for these buildings.
We have neither the resources financially or technically
to do much in the way of restoration of some of these very large buildings.
But who knows what the future holds?
Money may be available, the technology may be available, and the will to do it.
Somebody will come along and restore them
and the Cold War will be a major historical feature, and Orford Ness in it.
Leaving Rendlesham and Orford Ness behind, I've travelled south to Sutton Hoo.
Opposite the harbour, along the bluffs of the eastern bank of the River Deben,
lies the site of two Anglo-Saxon cemeteries dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries.
When Edith May Pretty and her husband moved into this house in 1926,
they heard local stories of untold gold,
but it wasn't until 1937, when she employed Suffolk archaeologist Basil Brown,
that Britain's most important and atmospheric archaeological site was uncovered here at Sutton Hoo.
I'm meeting Sutton Hoo guide Lindsay Lee.
So, Lindsay, this is Mound One that Basil Brown excavated all those years ago. What did he find?
Well, the most exciting thing was that he put in a trench
from that area round there, right through,
and discovered pretty well straight away ship rivets, iron ship rivets or clench nails,
but the important thing was that they were in situ.
They had not been moved by man.
And so, as he followed them along and down,
then he discovered that they were actually following the lines of a clinker-built ship.
So what was the significance of finding the ship?
The importance of an Anglo-Saxon ship here, of late 6th, early 7th century,
is that nothing had been found of that period in this country before,
indeed, in the world before of that period, apart from outside Scandinavia.
And here, there are two ships on this site, a third one being about ten miles away at Snape,
which was slightly earlier,
and it looked as if, obviously, this site was a very special burial site
of these early Anglo-Saxon rulers
who had pagan burial practices of being buried in a ship.
So was it absolutely ground-breaking at the time?
It was ground-breaking, and it changed the history books
and it's changing the history books to this day. And Sutton Hoo,
because of layers and layers of history on this one site, continues to change the history books.
We're still writing and finding out about this site and about this special place.
-And, other than the ship, did you find anything else here in Mound One?
The treasure. An amazing amount of artefacts were found.
This was the richest hoard ever discovered to this day
of this early period,
and these artefacts came not only from here but from all over Europe,
from the Mediterranean areas, right up through the Rhine region, through to Scandinavia,
and that pinpoints that this was not just any old local ruler.
This was an important man.
The fact that the treasure was here suggests it hadn't been robbed at Mound One?
There had been an attempted robbery in the 16th century, and the robbers came here,
just about where you're standing, and actually sunk a shaft.
We know they'd been here because they left their lunch at the bottom of the shaft at some stage,
and it was a 16th-centruy Bellarmine jar, which of course we could date.
-And they had missed the burial chamber by about 9 to 12 inches.
Absolute luck, and it's a luck to this day that they had done that.
So, Lindsay, what are these flint markings here on the ground?
These just mark out where some early graves were, which came as a big surprise,
another great surprise at Sutton Hoo. There's so many of them.
They're actually of a slightly later date, we think.
To begin with, we didn't know what they were, because the sand bodies were quite obviously
very badly mutilated when we dug them up.
And then, in the following five, ten years, a lot of research has been done about these early pagan sites.
We now think pretty firmly that they were executed by early Christians.
So firstly, why are they called sand bodies?
OK. Right, Sutton Hoo, sand is very acidic here and it destroys everything.
A bone, a 90-foot ship, you name it, anything,
disintegrates very quickly in the acidic soil,
and so what you have here is not skeletons but,
as the body matter leaches out on decay,
it actually melds with the soil, the sand, and makes rather like an inverted sand castle.
So the sand takes over the body that was there,
and so, a thousand years later, you dig up and you see the shape in sand.
So, Lindsay, there are two mounds of flint here. What are these for?
Well, yes, it isn't two mounds, it's one mound.
And here again is the surprise. It took us completely by surprise.
And when we dug here, we went down the middle of the mound,
as one would expect, and that's what robbers did.
At some stage in the past, they went right down the middle
and they missed two graves on either side, in the middle of the mounds.
Here we found an intact grave of a young warrior man,
aged between 17 and 24, perhaps, with his knapsack, with his spear,
with his sword. He had been groomed for kingship maybe.
And in the other one was a horse, a male horse,
14.2 hands high, maybe his favourite steed, we don't know,
and that horse was killed as a sacrifice on his death,
which was quite normal in Anglo-Saxon burial practice.
How was it for you personally, coming across something so rare and intact?
Well, I'm privileged to have dug here because every barrow-load came up with something.
You can dig for years at sites and not come up with anything.
But Sutton Hoo has so many layers of history to it, so much archaeology,
and things had survived
as a testament here, particularly to these early, wonderful years,
and the first page of English history, which is Sutton Hoo.
Over the decades, Sutton Hoo has slowly given up
its ancient secrets of Saxon kings, their ships and weapons of war.
In more recent times, this part of Britain has been associated with people who work the land.
It was this rural tradition which inspired theatre and film director Sir Peter Hall,
and he came to Suffolk to tell this story.
Blending fact with fiction, he set out to create an enduring portrait of a farming community.
Over 30 years ago, a film about rural life
set in a beautiful, fictional Suffolk village
entered cinematic history.
It told the story about three generations of a farming family
and the changing face of the English countryside.
That village was called Akenfield, and what made this film unique
was that it wasn't actors carefully reciting lines from a script.
It was local people speaking from the heart about the lives they loved and lived.
Directed by Sir Peter Hall, the film takes place over one day in Akenfield.
It revolves around the funeral of Old Tom, who,
apart from going to fight in the First World War, like so many,
never left the village in which he was born.
Events are seen through the eyes of Young Tom, his grandson,
with loads of lovely flashbacks to years gone by and the two great wars.
He used to be so fond, Tom, of this village.
Well, you see, he was born here and went to school here,
got wed here.
This is his real native place.
-Village has changed...
-It has, yes.
Some of the poor old cottages have been knocked down.
Of course, it's only right, I think, this progress.
Originally a book, Akenfield was adapted for the screen by its author, Ronald Blythe.
Ronnie, you're a Suffolk man born and bred. Is the book autobiographical?
Oh, very. Yes, it is based on things
I've seen since I was born before the war -
changes in farming, the sort of people I grew up with - so it's very autobiographical.
I think, like all writers, from childhood onwards, you listen to family voices,
and in the countryside, people talk about things, many, many years ago sometimes,
and you notice certain changes
and you understand people's difficulties and the old poverty.
It's all the sort of...thing which a writer would do anywhere, really, but I did it in Suffolk.
How did the book turn into a film?
Peter Hall got in touch with me. He'd been born in Bury St Edmunds,
not far away, and he was very moved by the book,
then shortly afterwards proposed that we made it into a film.
So I wrote a story based on the book, covering the same period and the same work and the same kind of people,
so I made it into a story as seen through the eyes of a young man at his grandfather's funeral.
'You be careful of the governor.
'Farmers still aren't used to their men being free.
'I know he gives you little things - petrol for your motorbike, things like that -
'and one day he'll give you a cottage, but he wants more than your work.
'He wants you to be beholden to him in some way, just like the old days.
'He wants you to throw your life into his farm. He wants to own you.'
Akenfield was a fictional place.
In reality, filming took place in six neighbouring villages,
and I'm here in Hoo where the church scenes were shot.
And one of those locals who had their life turned upside down back in the '70s
was Peggy Cole who played Young Tom's mum.
Peggy, it's lovely to meet you.
-How are you doing?
-Fine, thank you.
I love the film. I thought it was fantastic.
I really did. It completely drew me in when I saw it.
What was it like when you had these big names coming down from London?
Well, at first, I couldn't quite understand why they wanted to
make a film about us.
That's really what it was based on -
Suffolk people and how we worked and farmed the land, really.
I had met Ronnie Blythe the day before with Peter Hall at the flower show,
and I sold him some raffle tickets.
And, in fact, I didn't know who Peter Hall was.
I thought he was somebody buying a house in the village,
and he said, "Now, just talk anything and chat."
Well, we talked the biggest squit on earth! That's the truth.
And Peter Hall said to me, "Now, Peggy,
"I don't want any posh talk or anything put on."
I said, "I can't put posh talk on, not for anybody!"
I said, "I am what I am and you won't change that."
Because, through the movie, there was no script.
You basically were given a cue and then you just went with it.
Yes, that's what... At various stages, he said, "Now, Peggy, you're a mother and I want you to be riled."
Well, my two sons were in the room when we were doing one scene and I always remember them.
They said, "Mum, you were riled with Tom, weren't you?
"Just like you get with us sometimes."
-Wouldn't have hurt you to have poured me one out today.
-Why don't you?
Wonder if Jean'll wait on you like this.
Did you ask her to come?
-Maybe later on.
-Give me a hand.
She didn't say if her mother was coming, I suppose? HE MUMBLES
-Don't answer with your mouth full.
-If you talk to me when I'm eating, I've got to answer!
Peter knew I made homemade wine. He said, "Can you bring some down?"
-This is what I done. I took a gallon down and I'd got parsnip...
Yes, I'd got parsnip, gooseberry wine, and they'd all had a tiddle of this before we started the scene.
Well, by the time we got through the scene, there was two or three gallons went,
cos I know I had to send my son home to get some more. That was gone.
-So they were well-oiled?
-They were well-oiled, yeah.
And the tales were coming out, and Peter Hall was cracked up.
Funny thing, I should be at this funeral today, but I remember Tom laughing one day...
When they went to have a cup of tea like we are having now,
he was saying, "What sort of husband was he?"
"Oh," she said, "one of the best. You couldn't wish for a better one.
"We used to lie in bed Sunday mornings and hear the church bells ringing.
"We used to go up with the ding and come down with the dong."
And she said, "If it hadn't been for that fire engine going by at the time, he'd have been alive now!"
THEY ALL LAUGH
How did you cope? Your life must've turned around doing this filming.
Well, it did, really.
I used to, um...cook and put it in the deep freeze
so the family had a meal for the weekend, but that got...
Through the film, I was cooking for the crew and that as well.
-For the whole crew?
-I used to bring cakes and pies and things down, yeah.
-So you acted and you also supplied the food?
I often said, "I don't expect Elizabeth Taylor would've done this when she was in films!"
And we had to sort of stand by the roadside sometimes and be sort of...
a bit of make-up and that put on, and I thought,
"Where are your posh caravans where you see these film people go in and get ready,"
but there was nothing like that.
Garrow Shand, who played Tom, told me how the schedule was organised under such unusual circumstances.
The way they made the film, cos it was only done at weekends,
which was nice, so you could do your normal job during the week,
and they did it over a whole year to get all the seasons in.
-So it didn't affect your normal work, really.
-So it just became part of your life, really?
Yeah, for a sort of year, yeah.
There's this one scene I remember, which is you on the morning of the funeral having your breakfast,
and you were getting your breakfast cooked by Peggy, who played your mother in it,
but it wasn't as straightforward as it seems on TV. You didn't like her cooking.
I think the thing was...
They'd shot that scene four times, so I'd had four cooked breakfasts, and I'd just had enough.
I had to go out and made myself physically sick so I could eat another breakfast!
-So it wasn't her cooking?
I've had enough of this.
I'm trying to run a school here, and every day, half my class is away out working on the farms! Sit quietly!
Stop that! All right, hands on your heads. And no smirking there, you.
'Well, at the time, I was actually teaching up in London, in Hackney,
'and you had to be pretty strict to deal with the kids in Hackney,
'so Peter said, "Just come in really hard,"
'and I did my research, you know, about Victorian times.'
Hands on your head, I said. On your head! That's better.
What did you have to do at the screen test?
We had to talk to Sir Peter Hall and then he said,
"Could you tell a joke in a Suffolk dialect?"
And I said, "I suppose I could."
-I told this joke and they said, "Thank you very much," and that was it.
-What was the joke?
I was sittin' in a pub in Southall with my friend
and the nights were starting to draw in, and my friend came and he sat down next me.
He said, "Oh, blast, that's getting late early nowadays, in't it?"
For some of the original cast, the memory of Akenfield and all it symbolised is bitter-sweet.
Farming is changing and everything is happening so quickly, it's frightening, really.
Um, you know, I know they say they were hard times.
They were hard times, but people were more happier and more contented in them days,
I'm sure, than what they are today.
It's rush here, rush there, haven't got time.
I see the fields, a lot of them now have got put out to set-aside,
you know, and that's so pitiful for the farmers, I'm sure.
61 miles of film was shot over that year,
and this is now stored in the East Anglian Film Archives,
where it's treasured as a unique piece of social history.
What Akenfield achieved was to capture the magic and misery of life on the land in 20th-century England,
and it left us with a legacy that will fascinate and enthral many generations to come.
We men were beaten, for the farms took every ounce of our physical strength.
It was the farm against our bodies.
The farm always won.
My Suffolk journey continues.
Of course, Sir Peter Hall's brilliantly realised Akenfield
doesn't feature on the map, but the rest of my route does.
I started in Thorpeness, travelled to Aldeburgh,
and then on to Rendlesham Forest and Sutton Hoo.
Now I've wound my way to Wherstead.
Farming is still one of the most important industries in Suffolk, but times have changed.
Farms are diversifying to stay viable.
I'm visiting Jimmy's Farm, a small pig farm that was borne to our screens five years ago
after a cash injection from Jim Doherty's friend Jamie Oliver.
It's been a very public first five years.
I'm meeting Michaela, Jimmy's fiancee,
to find out how the farm is faring when the cameras and Jimmy are away.
What was the vision for the farm at the very beginning, all those years ago?
I think that the first point of the farm
when we set it up was that we had to concentrate
on bringing back the rare-breed pigs.
That was number-one priority. And, as things evolved, we wanted to
make it a lot more accessible to people to learn about farming, understand farming,
see where their food came from, so we opened the farm shop, we started going to shows selling sausages,
-so, yeah, it's evolved.
-How have the last few years felt? Has it been pretty hard work?
-Really hard work.
God! The last few years have been...probably some of the hardest.
I mean, we've just hit a recession, obviously, now,
so we're up against harder times, but, yeah, it's been hard.
But we're still here, and you keep learning and fighting.
I'm getting nibbled!
Come this way! Piggies!
-Come on, sweeties.
-Come on, piglets.
And how's life here on the farm now, cos Jimmy's away a lot filming other programmes, isn't he? He's busy.
Yeah, he is. Obviously I miss him madly when he's away,
but he's just been here for the last two weeks
and we've both been bothering each other, but we've built Chicken Safari. He's here a lot of the time.
If he's not here, he's on the end of the phone.
-Yeah. But you're working constantly here, aren't you?
-Yeah, this is my baby, yeah.
Absolutely, this is, um... Which is great.
It works really well, even with him being away.
So describe what countryside life is like.
It's fantastic, actually. I mean, certainly it's a big transition
to move from London to Suffolk, but it's such a beautiful county.
I was gobsmacked when I arrived,
because it's these huge open skies, beautiful, beautiful vistas.
We're right on the coast, so you get these amazing estuaries that come in.
The wildlife, the flora, the fauna, the whole thing.
-It's actually a bit dreamy, but it's a beautiful county.
-Fantastic. Oh, these pigs are hungry!
We'll need to give them some more food, I think.
Look at them.
Cheeky little monkeys.
Look at you, you monkeys!
So the farm really began with the saddlebacks, but it's diversified so much in a really short time.
Yes, it has. We've got all sorts of rare breeds, actually, certainly in pig.
We've got saddlebacks, large blacks,
Gloucester old spots, Berkshires, so we've got a full range of rare-breed pigs, but we've also...
Jimmy's a bit nuts about cows as well,
-and he loves sheep.
-You've got sheep as well?
-Yeah. So we've got some Jacobs and some Soay.
But actually this young lady over here was one of our prize Red Poll cattle,
which is indigenous to Suffolk, and she's just had a little calf.
Oh, sweet! That's quite an amazing colour she is.
-Really rich, rich, red.
-Beautiful. They're actually a dual-purpose cow, so used for beef and dairy.
But, yes, it's really exciting cos it's also a heifer.
-So you'll be able to breed with the calf?
-Yes, so good news.
-Good news for Jimmy's Farm.
-That's fantastic. She looks very content, actually.
-Are rarer breeds harder to look after?
-All of our stock - sheep,
cows and pigs - are all used for meat, so we mature them slowly.
So, yes, they're harder to keep in that you've got to keep them for longer but otherwise, no.
We're a small farm. We're not a commercial farm.
There are probably far more problems and excitement on larger, more commercial farms.
But here? No, piece of cake! Piece of cake. Loads of food and they follow you anywhere.
See you later.
Although mostly stocked by rare breeds, an exception has been made for a small group of orphaned lambs.
After taking the orphans in from neighbouring farms, Michaela and her team
are hand-rearing them, ready to join the rest of the flock.
I've been on a journey through Suffolk. I started in Thorpeness.
I then went into Rendlesham Forest before visiting the fascinating site at Sutton Hoo.
My travels are ending
among the butterflies at Wherstead, just south of Ipswich.
I'm on Jimmy's Farm with his fiancee Michaela, who's running the place while Jimmy's away.
-This place is amazing.
-I know, very hot.
-Take your jacket off!
-Why have you got a butterfly house on the farm?
-It's a good question.
I think probably, predominantly, Jim studied entomology as a PhD,
and it was his great passion, so he decided that this was one of the things
that had to be on the farm, and also he worked in a butterfly house when he was very young.
But probably, secondly, it's sort of the educational value side to it.
Fantastic. So it was another of Jimmy's ideas that you had to put your back into?
I know. Very much certainly on the whole gardening side.
It was the design in here and the type of plants that were going in, etc, etc.
So, yeah, it was back-breaking work, actually.
And then, once you've got the structure, how do you get butterflies in here?
There's a company in London that sends out pupae. They send them out
and they arrive by post, which is great.
-In the mail.
-In the mail, in a little polystyrene box, and basically you glue them up on these sticks.
-So along here, you've got little points where they're glued on.
Then, after a couple of days, they emerge, they hang from these,
-they pump their wings full, and then they set like glass, and then they fly.
So the ones you've got in here - they're also breeding away?
Yes, there's lots of caterpillars all over the shop, so we're hoping that we're going to have our own reserve.
So what's in there?
We have got, I believe, lots of Plains Tiger, we've got a Common Mime, which is there.
-And a Common Crow as well.
They are absolutely beautiful.
-Can I have a go at releasing them?
-Yeah, go on.
-This is what I'm most excited about.
-It's the first time they've flown.
I hope I don't let them down. OK...
'..Now a crow Which in a cage he fostered many a day
'And taught to speak As men may teach a jay
'White was this crow As is a snow-white swan
'And counterfeit the speech of every man
'He could when desired to tell a tale...'
Look at that!
-They are beautiful. Aren't they crackers?
The colours on the wing... It's great, isn't it?
Absolutely gorgeous. What a fabulous way to end my trip through Suffolk.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd