Dunwich is really good at falling into the sea.
It’s been doing it for years, and I thought whilst I was home I’d take the opportunity to go back there and see if it still exists. It does, and that’s great news, because the forest I ‘grew up in’ is located there. There’s also a great pub, and two beaches – one coming off of the heathland, the other near the small town itself with a lovely little cafe.
Initially, I didn’t know Dunwich was a town. As kids our parents would take us to the two forests you come upon before reaching Dunwich itself. We would pack sandwiches and flasks of tea, then walk out into the woods with binoculars. Over the years I saw the place change – large sections of the planted pine would be cut down and replaced by fresh saplings, fences were replaced, the old train carriages that sat in the middle of the woods were removed.
I grew to know every inch of these woods. I knew the bats could often be found in the centre; the square of trees surrounded by a track of thick grass provided the perfect conditions for them. Our ramblings through this area would kick up the moths, and the bats would silently disturb the air above our heads. Beside this was a field full of rabbits, and further along the path you’d climb a small hill and emerge in an area of farmland. From here the night sky could be seen in its fullness, uncorrupted by the lights of the small villages nearby. Roe and Muntjac could regularly be seen, picking at the field edge.
We would visit the town for ice cream, and drive to the heath in the summer with my grandparents and their dog. I thought the landscape here sparse and uncommmunicative, even in summer, when the air was full of the scent of heather and butterfies flickered between the wiry plants. The remains of the monestary appealed to me, however, and the constantly changing paths along the clifftop made every trip an adventure.
Dunwich has a long and curious history. Some argue that it was the capital of The Kingdom of East Angles during the Anglo-Saxon period, though that’s not certain. What is certain, however, is that much of the town was swept away during storms in the late 1200’s. Before the town fell to coastal erosion, it was said to have a large port and a sizable economy. It’s now a shell of it’s former self, but the remains of buildings can still be found along the coast, in various states of disrepair.
Some say that the Dunwich of Lovecraft’s, ‘The Dunwich Terror’ is also modelled on the town – though whether it’s modelled on more than just name I’m unsure. The boggy nature of the setting in ‘The Dunwich Terror’ reminds me of the area surrounding Dunwich – Walberswick – which is only a stones throw away, and is so boggy that the only way to explore it is via an extensive network of boardwalks and bridges. There’s also the dark heat of Dunwich tale, which Lovecraft would have adored if he hadn’t knowledge of it previously. As told by Wikipedia:
‘The legend tells of how Eva, a Dunwich maiden due to be married to the son of a local landowner, fell instead for a good-looking local cad, who had his way with her and then deserted her, running off to sea. After waiting in vain for her lost love to return, she cut out her heart and hurled it into the sea. However, according to the legend, she was unable to die, and still haunts the area, particularly around the (constantly shifting) beach, where the land meets the sea. The heart itself, believed to be similar in appearance to a wooden heart, is believed to wash up occasionally, and bring great misfortune onto anyone who picks it up and keeps it.’
So it was lovely going back again, to see the places I had so enjoyed as a kid. More of the forest had been levelled, yet so much of it remained familiar – the two bridges over the slow running stream, the boggy land just off from the footpath, the house hidden deep in the woods. Hopefully it’ll still be there when I go back next!