Southwold and Aldeburgh – two little jewels of the Suffolk coast

Southwold and Aldeburgh are two seaside resorts that have their own distinctive culture. They lie by the North Sea coast along the shore line of East Suffolk in East Anglia. I visited them both one mid-winter day when the sea was growling powerfully and the waves were crashing the waterside. The beaches can be wild on breezy days as they face the power of the North Sea; the real power of natural forces at work that I love.

Southwold beach Southwold, firstly, has a fairly low concrete promenade. It lies at the mouth of river Blyth along the ‘Suffolk Coast and Heaths Areas’, an appointed region of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Southwold is about 100 miles NE of London. The last low season census revealed a population of roughly 1,100 residents. There are many more people in the high season though as many houses are used as holiday lets and second homes. Southwold is beautiful, sophisticated and has a high artistic culture.

The town supports a light fishing industry port. It is probably the major centre for the fishing industry along the East Anglian coast. The shingle at the mouth of the river Blyth is always shifting and this prevents the harbour from becoming anything more industrial. Fire devastated Southwold in 1659 and many of the much older features were not re-built. This has resulted in a very tidy layout of the town features. Market days are Mondays and Thursdays.

The Adnams Brewery is a very prominent industry in Southwold and is the largest employer during all seasons. Adnams beer is a very popular nationwide product. I will always get a pint of it whenever I am in a pub that sells it. Southwold also has a reconstructed pier stretching out to 600 feet across the sea. There are many of the usual amusements within it to entertain children. The pier shelters an adjacent model boat pond for all to use. Regular annual regattas are held on it for interested constructors. Southwold lighthouse There is also a now disused lighthouse tower that is dominant in the town centre. It was recently used as, but now departed, lifeboat museum. Other local attractions include an electric picture palace and town museum of local background events and history details. There is also a well maintained sailors reading room that was built to dissuade them from drinking in the local pubs. It was founded on sound Christian principles that nowadays seems to have disappeared. It contains exhibits and books for all to view and contemplate.

A golf club still actively operates. It was originally unavailable to people with a so called ‘working class’ background but those days of course are long gone. Players should continue to become members I assumed however. The very special St. Edmunds Church close to the centre is, to many people, the finest in the region. It features the longest unsupported gallery and roof of anything in East Anglia. There is also a very active sailing club located as part of the fishing harbour.

The beach of sand and shingle is overlooked by finely maintained beach huts accessible from the promenade. They are kept in a fine, well painted condition and are arranged in a straight line facing out to the sea. They provide a perfect and private access to the promenade and beach and contribute much to the town’s vista.

Southwold private house Many films and TV programmes have been produced at Southwold. A lot of them have featured very well- known celebrities that are still very active today. Southwold is seen as a true slice of a previous English culture. Many well-read books have also been written around Southwold. ‘Something Might Happen’ by Julie Myerson features proudly. The author George Orwell too lived in the town with his parents in their house. Find the blue plaque marking his presence on the fish and chip shop at the far end of the High Street that used to stand next to Orwell’s residence. Much of his literature was written about events in Southwold as well.

Southwold in Suffolk has an entrenched culture of theatre arts, music, literature, film and art. Find it all at the annual arts festival. The town possesses a particular and almost unique beauty and culture. I thought it represented a particular character and would appeal to admirers of the finer things of life. I visited during the lockdown in winter so many features of the town were not available to view.

Aldeburgh beach boats Aldeburgh is a sort of brother to Southwold. It is a neighbouring town about 20 odd miles to the south. It lies on the coast too and has a similar but rather junior culture to Southwold. Aldeburgh has much of the Southwold artistic characteristics, but I felt rather more of a seafaring tone. Sea going and fishing boats seemed to dominate the main road beach head.

Benjamin Britten, the English classical composer, lived in Aldeburgh for many years. He apparently loved it and made Aldeburgh his home. I assume he loved the sea of all seasons as well. It would have inspired his musical talent in so many variable ways.

Look for the ‘Weird Lighthouse’ and the large and enduring beach scallop sculpture on the beach in front of the crashing sea. A very controversial art-form among many of the local people. Find also the street side, very ancient Moot Hall. Locked away for me but a very prominent and imposing building along the roadside.

Aldeburgh Moot Hall Aldeburgh, as with Southwold, has acquired a unique artistic culture in Suffolk. Wander through the streets and admire what you see. I loved both towns and felt very much at home. Try a visit in the summer when the sun comes out. Both townships will bask in their own special distinctiveness and maybe the lockdown may have ended.

By the way, Aldeburgh boasts the finest fish and chips in Britain. Try them on a cold day as I did and warm yourself up.

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Bob Lyons

Retired airline pilot and European explorer

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