I didn’t think our short break to Suffolk could get any better. We’d found excellent self-catering accommodation at Mollett’s Farm; spent an evening at the concert hall in Snape Maltings where I attended a singing workshop with esteemed choirmaster, Gareth Malone; then an exhilarating day walking along the beach at Aldeburgh. We’d even boxed clever on the journey from Lincolnshire to Suffolk, stopping off at the stunning Sainsbury Centre in Norwich. That would have been quite enough to make our mini-break a successful one. But we still had one day to fill. We decided to spend the day in the seaside town of Southwold, just up the coast from Aldeburgh.
This was a return visit but several years had elapsed since we had come as a family. This time it was just the two of us, empty nesters taking the opportunity again to spend quality time, out of season, in normally busy places. There was no frustrating hunt for a car park; we just rolled up and parked on the street, next to the pier. Well, this was November.
“That’s a funny place to have beach huts,” I said, pointing to a row of brightly coloured wooden cabins, stretched along the edge of the car park. They were facing the wrong way too, with no view of the sea. On closer examination we realised that many of the famous Southwold huts had been moved to a temporary location so they could be painted and repaired during the winter months.
We then discovered many more huts along the front, facing the sea in their normal location. This gave us an excellent chance to have a proper nosey, close-up, when their owners weren’t in residence.
I’ve seen beach huts in a number of seaside towns but the Southwold ones take some beating. They’re painted in the prettiest of colours and maintained to the highest standards; hence the winter sprucing up we witnessed that day. And the names, often written on arty ceramic signs, are a sure sign of each owner’s personality. ‘Take it Easy’ and ‘Chill Out’ next to a stripey ‘Mr Blue Sky’, the lyrics of the ELO song appearing in the windows. My favourite was ‘Jabba The Hutt’: a Star Wars fan or just someone who couldn’t resist a good pun?
Wrapped up warm against the chill of the coastal breeze, Dougie and I walked along the pier to the end, stopping to see the waterclock which was just about to perform. Made by Tim Hunkin and Will Jackson in 1998, to a very tight budget, it was designed as a feature about water recycling. The metal figures in the bath squirt water at each other whilst two cheeky chaps drop their trousers and aim at a toilet, always missing their target. Anything lavatorial gets my vote.
The fun continued in the Under The Pier Show, a creation of the aforementioned Tim Hunkin. His collection of wacky arcade machines was originally opened in 2001. Since then the number of machines has increased but the silliness hasn’t changed. Normally this arcade would be filled with visitors and it would be hard to elbow children out of the way to have a go on the machines. On a cold November day, however, there was only us and another daft couple, excitedly trying out all the games, shovelling money into the slots and giggling a great deal.
Dougie naturally warmed to the Doctor, a machine which diagnoses the patient with a stethoscope before issuing an illegible prescription. This is true, by the way: Dougie’s writing is awful! We then built up quite a sweat, bouncing up and down on two stools which operate Pirate Practice, earning a freshly-laundered one billion dollar note as a ransom pay-out. I also tested my zimmer frame expertise in Mobility Masterclass. I found it impossible to cross the road without being knocked over: the ambulance was constantly summoned and nee-naw sounds filled the room. If this is a taste of things to come, the local drivers round our way will need to watch out.
As we walked off the pier it was hard to miss the huge mural created by street artist, Pure Evil, or Charlie Uzzell-Edwards, the name his mother probably prefers. It features author, George Orwell, who lived in Southwold from 1929 to 1935. Pure Evil spent a couple of days in Southwold in 2014, painting this bold statement and it remains on the pier today.
In the centre of town, we bought some Christmas presents in the excellent independent shops before hunting down a creamy, calorific coffee and teacakes in Buckenham Coffee House. Located in the converted cellar of the house of a Tudor merchant, you can still see brickwork and timbers from the 1500s. The art gallery above it is also worth a visit: perfect for gifts.
The sun set early on our day in Southwold, so we wandered back to the car enjoying the beautiful light over the North Sea which picked out the pastel colours of the huts on the beach front. This town may well be a tourist favourite in the summer, when extended warm days encourage visitors to stay longer, but it’s also a winter treat that can be yours to enjoy without the crowds.