We are thrilled to have Jane Brocket guest blogging today, she’s still on her Grand Provincial Tour around Britain’s towns and cities, gathering information for more of her delightful Pocket Brocket guides. Today she’s looking at Aldeburgh.
Flat marshes, shingle beach, brown sea, huge grey skies, chilly winds, huge nuclear power station down the road. Put this way, Aldeburgh doesn’t exactly sound enticing. So why do we, and many others, keep going back for weekends and holidays to this funny little town right on the pebbly edge of East Anglia?
It’s nearly twenty years now since we first visited and were captivated by Aldeburgh, and we’ve lost count of the number of times we have stayed there. Our three grown-up children have memories of ice cream from Ives ice-cream parlour, Frisbee on the beach, balls blown out to sea, bracing swims in the murky waves, bags of chips eaten on the sea wall, and skating/running/skipping up and down Crag Path which runs next to beach and is the closest thing to a promenade in the town. Every time we go, we find it doesn’t take long to get into Aldeburgh mode; once you tune in to the place, it soon becomes clear that for a small, end-of-the-road Suffolk town, it has many charms and provides all you need for a good break.
Books, beer, and bread are supplied by thriving businesses which prove that a high street full of independent businesses is much more interesting than any identikit version. The Aldeburgh Bookshop is one of the best bookshops in the country and the driving force behind the annual literary festival while the second-hand bookshop is good for browsing and making surprise discoveries. A queue forms outside the bakery at weekends, waiting for the shop to open for fresh bread and croissants (if you want to look like a local/regular, wear a towelling robe and go for a swim first), and the beer in the pubs is from the excellent Adnams brewery which is in genteel Southwold, just up the coast.
Coffee and cake are in good supply, too. There are small cafés where you drink coffee and read the newspapers outside in the sun, and the Aldeburgh Market does hearty breakfasts on blustery days. The sweetly old-fashioned Cragg Sisters Tea Room is the place for a pot of tea, a scone with jam and cream, and a big slice of cake, or buy a big brownie from the deli and eat it in on the beach.
If it’s culture you’re after, Aldeburgh is full of it; the personalities and creativity of local artists and writers rubs off on the place, giving it a mildly eccentric and Bohemian flavour. Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears lived here, founded the world-famous Aldeburgh Festival and, in the process, put Aldeburgh on the literary, musical and artistic map (there’s clearly something very inspirational about this austere landscape which encourages a puritan work output). There are smart art galleries (Thompson’s is particularly good for Mary Fedden’s work if you have a spare £25k) and the Peter Pears Gallery above the Tourist Information Office is the venue for the Suffolk Craft Society’s annual show (somewhat cheaper).
Aldeburgh is as much as locals’ place as a holiday-maker’s destination, which means it’s not just for summer. The cinema (saved from closure by locals) is good for rainy days and matinées, the gloriously colourful memorial window to Britten by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens in the church glows in winter light, and the well-regarded and reasonably priced Lighthouse and Regatta restaurants (great for seafood) are packed and noisy every Sunday lunchtime. The beach is exhilarating in wind and rain, and there’s always a cosy pub to retreat to after a walk in wellies along the paths that run round the marshes.
Or come simply for the fresh air, space, big skies, Suffolk pink houses, tall hollyhocks, flowers tumbling over walls, and roses climbing round doorways. Pick up a bottle of chilled wine from Adnams, buy a bag of chips from the chip shop, go to the beach, and watch the waves and listen to the shingle. You’ll be back again before you know it.
[We rent accommodation though Best of Suffolk, and have had several memorable holidays in the Martello Tower.]