Of all the coastal settlements visited on this summer’s tour of East Anglia, I have to say that my favourite was Southwold. The town exudes all the charm of an old fashioned English seaside resort, without the slightest hint of tackiness or any fading to its grandeur. It has all the essential ingredients – a sandy beach, well kept beach huts, ice cream parlours , a pier, a lighthouse and a harbour, all backed by a historic and delightfully elegant town.
Starting at the north end of town, we walked past the beautifully maintained beach huts, that were once a feature of most British seaside resorts. They line the seafront and people buy or rent them in order to change into their beachwear, store their deckchairs or to perform that most essential of tasks for the British – to make a cup of tea. Many just sit inside their huts and relax to the sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline.
Moving onto the pier, we found a mural featuring quotes from the works of George Orwell, a one time resident of the town. Apparently the young Orwell found Southwold’s relaxed pace of life just a little too slow and unadventurous. If he’d stayed here, I don’t think he’d have found the inspiration to write dystopian masterpieces such as 1984. There just seemed to be nothing the slightest bit sinister about the place.
Walking further up the pier brought us to the Under the Pier Show, a counterpoint to the amusement arcades with electronic games and slot machines found in many British coastal towns. The Show features handmade attractions spawned from the imagination of Tim Hunkin. You can take a mechanical dog for a walk along a non electric treadmill or whack a banker – particularly popular after the 2008 Financial Crisis. S and I peeped in without taking full advantage of the fun inside as we were still trying to avoid confined indoor spaces in the midst of the Covid pandemic. After admiring the view of the town from the pier, we decided it was time for refreshments at the pier cafe.
Thirst quenched, our exploration continued south along the seafront Promenade. We noticed there seemed to be a lack of hotels compared to other resorts. We did spot a small number of self catering lets and b & b’s before coming to the Southwold Cannons at Gun Hill. I should say that in these parts, a hill constitutes a very slight elevation above the surrounding land, so no energetic climbing was necessary. While the current cannons have been in place since the 18th century, they commemorate the 1672 naval Battle of Sole (Southwold Bay). In this inconclusive fight against the Dutch Navy, almost 4000 people died. Before seeing these cannons, I hadn’t realised the British had ever fought the Dutch.
Following the path beside Ferry Road, we walked out of town past a campsite to the harbour. Southwold was once the busiest fishing port in Suffolk, but has long since been eclipsed by Felixstowe. However, there are still a number of vessels based here and fish shacks line the Harbour Road selling the latest catch to diners. A small foot passenger ferry connects Southwold Harbour to the village of Walberswick, the other side of the River Blyth. S and I however turned right and followed a footpath across the fields back to Southwold.
Arriving back in town, we noticed a number of large greens. A fire raged through the town in 1659, destroying extensive areas of buildings. It was decided not to rebuild everywhere, but leave firebreaks which became greens. These are now a very attractive feature of Southwold and we found a pub with outdoor tables facing one of them for a late lunch.
Southwold’s best known business is Adnam’s Brewery at East Green. Tours are available including tasting sessions of its award winning ales and spirits. As I was driving and S was less enthusiastic, we gave this a miss, although I did get to sample Adnam’s beer and cider later in the holiday. One thing I wasn’t going to miss though was ice cream. I consider this a duty to support local producers, especially when at the seaside. I found a public bench to sit down and eat it near to the lighthouse, which is strangely located in the middle of town rather than directly on the coast.
After admiring the Georgian and Victorian architecture in Queen’s Road and High Street, it was almost time to leave this genteel seaside town, but not before having a paddle in the sea. While it was good for my wife and I to get away for a break, it’s times like these that I miss our daughter F. She was always my companion when having a dip in the sea or a lake, with S thinking it is too cold, for some inexplicable reason. We had left her in summer school at Cambridge, and it turned out she preferred that to her parents’ company (equally inexplicable). So I sunk my toes into the North Sea by myself, which was really not too cold compared to the icy waters of Northumberland which I braved one August. I did stop short of becoming fully submerged though, something I hadn’t hesitated to do on the South Wales coast a few weeks earlier.
Southwold had proved to be a very pleasant day out. Our first venture into Suffolk had got off to a good start.
Southwold is on the east coast of Suffolk, England, UK, about 35 miles north east of Ipswich and 31 miles south east of Norwich
The nearest train station is Halesworth from where regular buses reach Southwold in 30 minutes. Halesworth is on the Ipswich – Lowestoft line and mainline connections are available at Ipswich. Southwold is just off the A12 London – Lowestoft road on the A1095
Click the link for further information on Southwold. There are plenty of places to eat and drink in the town