Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The East Anglian coast is littered with examples of villages that are a fraction of the size and importance they once were.
Where is Covehithe?
Covehithe is holding on to the cliff top on the Suffolk coast, two miles east of Wrentham and four miles north of Southwold. The only road links are two lanes that lead to Wrentham and South Cove. Otherwise, access is on foot along the beach, tides and weather allowing.
The village is a small cluster of cottages dominated by the shell of a church built out of all proportion to the village.
The road east into Covehithe continues through the village and stops abruptly where it reaches the cliff edge, a haunting echo of a time when there was a thriving fishing community here.
The parish of Covehithe was called North Hales when the original church was built and was linked with the priory and monks at Wangford; but even at its height fewer than 300 people lived there.
The church dominates at Covehithe but it does not only command the land around. The tower, which is still home to a round of five bells, has been used as a landmark for sailors for hundreds of years.
The church was probably built in the 15th century, but, in 1672, permission seems to have been given for a new church to be built within the walls of the original structure because the cost of maintenance was too high and the church too large for its parish. Many of the materials for the smaller building were taken from the bigger church.
The village is actually shrinking back. Deep gullies in the cliff speed up erosion while the beach is battered by the North Sea.
And the church, now just the length of one field from the cliff top, could be at risk within the next 100 years. But the cliff exposure brings geologists and fossil-hunters, and, as well as evidence of the geological formation Norwich Crag, enthusiasts have found fossils such as echinoids and corals.
Southwold is the nearest town, with affluent Walberswick on the other side of the River Blyth. The A12 passes closest at Wrentham, famous for its antique shops.