All that stuff about credit crunch (but let’s call a spade a spade, it’s a recession) has meant that the UK travel supplements have recently orgied on the joys of British holidays, above all seaside ones. Dripping nostalgia, there is much talk of Nivea- and ozone-perfumed streets, fish ‘n chips, chintzy sofas and of course that grey sea that encircles our isles, fringed by even greyer shingle. It’s amazing what a touch of poetry can do to such an experience. So last week I set off with my partner for a reality check.
This is our friends’ idyllic garden cottage where we stayed, down Snape-way in rural Suffolk. I remember watching it being hand-built 20 years ago, and as it’s soon to be demolished to make way for an extension to the main house, this will be my ode. At least it will live on in cyber-space. Bon voyage little house, you treated this guest well over the years.
Nostalgia aside, this Suffolk outing threw up some contrasts of the GBH (Great British Holiday – not grievous bodily harm) genre. On our way, we stopped at Colchester to have a look at a rather remarkable exhibition of Chinese terracotta figures – not quite warriors, but almost. They were displayed inside the castle museum, which was absolutely packed with families – good sign, those Essex kids are interested in their Roman heritage (or was it the ice-creams?). In the park outside, we grabbed a mediocre sandwich – then the heavens opened. Reason no. 1 for avoiding a GBH, though other punters seemed well prepared. Maybe that’s an integral part of sandwich in the park?
Southwold is an easy drive from Snape, so that was an obvious outing. Down by the pier the beach-huts were hopping, despite the clouds massing on the horizon and generally over Suffolk.
Extended families sat outside in their deck-chairs or on the beach, lapping up the few chinks of light, drinking, chatting, laughing. I don’t quite know how they do it – but “We do like to be beside the seaside” went the refrain. Nearby, a Punch & Judy man in a boater waited patiently by his stand for an audience to roll up, all rather touchingly old-fashioned.
Further on, past the iconic lighthouse, the beach-huts became larger and smarter and the clientele distinctly posher. A few brave souls even entered the water.
At the far end of the beach which, incidentally, is no longer shingle but sand (this seems to have happened within the last few months) we caught the little rowing-boat that crosses the river to Walberswick for 80p, and reached the lovely old Bell Inn which I remember from aeons ago. Now this is one of the big attractions of a GBH, finding a pub that retains its atmosphere and that isn’t serving Thai food. This one did the trick.
Further south along the coast, one of the most beautiful spots is Dunwich, a wild expanse of heath high up on the cliffs above the sea. In the distance, the grey seas churn but the colours of the heather are incredibly vivid, subtly changing hue with the light. This summer the heath is dramatised by three wave-like sculptures. Made of natural, local materials and entitled Storm Surge, the triptych marks three points of predicted coastal retreat over the next century. Very worrying, but congratulations to the National Trust for sponsoring such an enlightening installation.
A few more wet moments (time to read at least), a white church with a ceiling of carved angels, an excellent photo exhibition by Graham Murrell at The Maltings, an architect’s ironic, post-pop installation of squeaky toys in a garden shed, and some really top food (back at the Station Inn at Framlingham – see an earlier blog). And impossible to forget the sea-bass fillets resting on a HUGE bed of samphire that I devoured at a village pub – but that one should remain a best-kept secret. Leave it to the locals.
So, the conclusion? To go? yes, but only if you’re prepared (umbrella maybe?).