The coast was calling and Southwold was our destination a couple of weeks or so ago.
Dignified and charming, this quintessentially English seaside town on the Suffolk Heritage Coast is almost an island, bounded by the North Sea to the east by the River Blyth and the harbour to the south-west and by Buss Creek to the North. As in all the best seaside towns, there is just a single road in ... and out ...
Our choice of weekday avoided the usual influx of week-enders although as we are on the cusp of holiday season and being a beautiful blue-sky day, the town was busy, but happily so, and on this occasion we had no problem finding a place for lunch, as well as all those necessary coffee pit-stops along the way.
But surely any trip to Southwold must begin with an amble along The Pier. And so we did. The cheeky antics of The Water Clock stops us in our tracks. Made in just three weeks by Tim Hunkin and Will Jackson, the Water Clock was originally designed as a feature to promote water recycling sponsored by Thames Water. Nowadays it is powered electrically but I'm glad to say that all the copper used in the making of this idiosyncratic clock has indeed been salvaged from old hot water cylinders.
Another must-see is the 'Under The Pier Show'. Once again Tim Hunkin has delivered his mad-cap take on the world in a unique collection of typically potty hand-built machinery. 'Walk the Dog' and 'get the mother-in-law frisked' as well as 'Whack a banker'! It's absolutely hilarious but not for the faint-hearted.
Below is a view from the Pier over to the Lighthouse which stands in the middle of the town. The Lighthouse provides a waymark for vessels navigating the East Coast and for those coming into Southwold Harbour. It was built in 1887 and replaced three local lighthouses that were under threat from severe coastal erosion at Orfordness.
After all the excitement it's definitely time for a coffee pit-stop and for this we leave the delights of The Pier behind. Getting just a tad crowded. Instead we head along North Parade to Suzie's Beach Cafe at the bottom of the steps by The Sailor's Reading Room. Sitting in the sunshine with a local newspaper and frothy cappuccino watching the world go by must surely be one of life's greatest idle pleasures.
Colourful beach huts line the lower promenade. I've always hankered after a beach hut - it must be great fun spending lazy days, whether rain or shine, just a hop and skip from the beach. They sell at extortionate prices these days, but I'm told can be hired at fairly reasonable rates by the day or week.
Before hitting the High Street we take a detour into Queen Street and the wonderful Serena Hall Gallery. A couple of cold drinks are purchased in Munchies Cafe to slake our thirst and then suddenly the street fans out into a wonderful open panorama. An expansive green common interspersed with pathways and flanked by fabulous Georgian architecture. After a fire destroyed most of the town in 1659, a large number of green spaces were created and these spaces survive today, giving the town a very spacious feel.
The houses here cost well into the millions but for me their history is what fascinates. Who were the people who lived in these grand houses? I imagine ladies in crinoline dresses and bonnets a la Jane Austen. Surely this was the heyday of the town. Were they wealthy maritime merchants and their families, on having made their fortune in the City were now enjoying the fruits of their wealth with a second home by the sea. If that's the case not a lot has changed in 200 years!
Our walk takes us down Constitution Hill and into Queen's Road as the sun burns down from a cloudless sky. The light is fantastic as we take in the view from the Ferry Road. We are in the farthest reaches of the town before the landscape gives way to countryside and rich marshland. Retracing our steps we head back into town. Market Place is home to the Town Pump and Jubilee clock and then we are into the High Street with its independent shops and cafes and some very expensive boutiques. We pop into Southwold Gallery which exhibits work by some of the Region's most respected artists including Karen SJ Keable, George Hill, Rosemary Cook and Raymond Leach. The Black Olive is a deliciously enticing deli and The Two Magpies sells wonderful pastries.
The next coffee stop is No 51, Southwold, a relatively new opening, bright and airy and service with a smile. What could be better. Then on to Adnams Cellar and Kitchen. Adnams is the local brewery but have branched out into much more - I could spend a lot of money in here.
Our meander takes us unto Victoria Street where we find a terrace of charming fisherman's cottages painted in a jaunty seaside palette of pastel colours. Many of these bijou properties are holiday lets and with their coastal themed names and ubiquitous planting of hollyhocks, verbascum, sea-holly and fleabane tumbling over walls and railings, you can see why holiday-makers flock to websites such as The Best of Suffolk for their holiday get-away. Click on the link and prepare to be transported to Southwold. Expensive but excellent quality.
Time for lunch before whiling away an hour or two on the sandy beach. Our chosen venue is the aptly named Sole Bay Inn.
What's for lunch? Well, Fish & Chips of course!