As the song goes “If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, quaint little villages here and there” then you will love Southwold and the Suffolk coast. It’s a little slice of The Hamptons in the UK, it’s coastline dotted with wooden clad houses and fishing huts and is so untouched by the excesses of modern life that it feels a little like going back in a time machine, to when life was simpler and calmer.
It’s been many years, since I last visited Southwold but my memory of it was strong enough to know that when foreign travel was off the agenda again this year, due to Covid restrictions, that I wanted to revisit. Another stylist friend has a lovely holiday cottage in the town, where we stayed for the week, and which I would highly recommend @blackshorestay. Sally the owner, has that sort of effortless style that mixes modern amenities with antiques and foraged finds beautifully and her work is seen in publications such as Country Living magazine and Modern Country, as well as having her own published book, “Relaxed Coastal Style” so it was exactly as I expected. Both stylish and comfortable, with just about everything you could want for a week by the coast.
So If you too are looking for a UK destination to spend your staycation and want to know what Southwold has to offer, then this is what we got up to during our week there and what I can recommend. I would also say that as practically, everybody is holidaying in the UK this summer, book ahead for any meals or events, to avoid disappointment. It’s a small town and capacity is limited.
- Hire a bike from Southwold Cycle hire. Southwold and the Suffolk coast has over 155 miles of coastal paths and there are many places close by that are only a short ride away. It’s much less stressful than driving and you’ll see more of the surrounding area as you cycle along. Jason from Southwold cycle hire will deliver your bikes to your holiday address and collect them when you have finished with them. It’s a great service and as we were there during a reasonably quiet week, outside of children’s holidays, he let us change our original booking to suit the days when the weather was better, for no extra charge.
2. Walk or cycle along the Ferry road which is lined with boats and Fishermans huts and buy some fresh fish or sea food to cook at home, or book a table at Sole Bay Fish Company to sample the best of the days catch with a glass of wine or a cold beer. They open Friday & Saturday evening or most days for lunch.
3. Walk or cycle over the bridge from the Ferry road to Walberswick which has a lovely beach, backed by sand dunes and lined with black painted beach huts. The village is so pretty with a small selection of shops, also in wooden shed type buildings and a couple of good pubs, The Anchor and The Bell Inn, perfect for a sundowner after a day collecting shells.
4. Spend a day on the beach in Southwold which is one of the prettiest I’ve seen, lined with sugar almond, pastel coloured Beach huts and a lovely Victorian Pier at the far end. Walk along the beach to the Pier which is lined with shops, cafes, amusements & a restaurant and is the only 21st Century pier in the UK, rebuilt in 1999, after the original Victorian pier was swept away in a storm in 1934. The entrance to the pier has a graffiti painted tribute to George Orwell who lived in Southwold for a few years and revisited often.
5. Visit the lighthouse which is prominent from the beach and right in the middle of the town. Walk around the pretty streets of cottages which were built for the fishing community, some of which still have Maritime architectural features above their doors.
6. Take a tour of Adnams brewery and sample the many beers that are made on site. Adnams also own all the pubs and hotels in Southwold and they have a shop in the town where you can stock up on gifts to take home, as well as a cafe which serves a great breakfast. Many of the pubs have rooms above and The Swan is definitely the jewel in the crown, with beautiful large suites, decorated in a contemporary bright style.
7. Take a trip to Henham Park, home of Latitude festival on a Wednesday evening for some fantastic pizza. Phoenix Pizza take over one of the barns in the park once a week to cook their amazing pizza on a wood fired oven and the views of the rural setting, on a summers evening are beautiful. I’m coeliac and I can say that their gluten free pizza, was one of the best I’ve had in almost 20 years of being coeliac. Simply order online, through their link on the Henham Park site, or through their instagram account, then turn up and enjoy!
8. From May 2021 Southwold common has been the venue for an outdoor cinema. With films donated by local resident Richard Curtis, expect favourites such as Bridget Jones’s Diary and Emma and what better way to spend a summer evening than with a view of the sea in front of you and an Adnams pub next to you.
9. Visit the handsome town of Woodbridge for some great independent shopping.
Around the area of Church Street are some of the best on offer including:
Uniform research is a great one stop shop for contemporary clothing brands with a selection of gender neutral clothing from brands such as Rains and Folk and a small selection of contemporary homewares and terrariums by Manchester based Northern Lights.
Charlotte crofts & Co Interior design shop stocks some amazing wallpapers and interior accessories, with a real emphasis on colour and form. Charlotte has an incredible eye and has some beautiful and really interesting pieces in her shop. The front is painted with a trompe l’oeil effect in bright turquoise giving a glimpse of what to expect inside.
The Merchants Table is the most beautiful gallery style shop which focus’s on hand made products by British artists and makers, that can be used on or around a table. It is absolutely stunning and sells items such as these hand painted oyster shells and mounts for frames.
New Street Market and canteen is a lifestyle shop and cafe, selling beautiful table ware and pottery by Pascale, clothes from Homespun who create their collection using ethical cashmere, plants and flowers all housed in a huge, former antiques warehouse.
10. For a change of coastal scenery, visit Aldeburgh, home of composer Benjamin Britten and walk along the beach towards Thorpness to view the giant bronze scallop shell sculpture by artist Maggie Hambling, created in honour of him. Aldeburgh is a lovely town with a wide High street which is parallel to the beach and home to quite a few antique book shops, Two Magpies bakery, who also have a branch in Southwold and the best fish and chips in Suffolk, The Golden Galleon, an honour bestowed by Delia Smith many years ago which means the queues are long but the wait is worth it. Take them down to the shingle beach and eat al fresco with a pint from one of the local beach side pubs. The beach is lined with black wooden shacks, a regular feature of this part of the coastline, from which you can buy seafood, fresh fish or smoked fish. One or two of the huts, have their own smokery, so this is as fresh and authentic as it gets. A drive 5 minutes down the coast road will bring you to Thorpness, a quirky village built purposely for holidays at the beginning of the 20th Century, with a village green and Duck Pond and some of the loveliest coastal houses I’ve ever seen. See them and weep. One of the most famous follies in the area is The House in The Clouds which which can now be hired for a holiday and typifies this eccentric village perfectly.
Finally when the sun comes out and you want to get away from the crowds, head to Cove Hithe beach which is on the road to Beccles and is a national nature reserve. Park up on the street near the Church and a hand painted sign “To the Beach” will take you on foot through farmers fields of planted crops. After a 10 minute walk you’ll arrive at an oasis. A beautiful lagoon surrounded by sand dunes and petrified trees which have fallen onto the beach, as the coastline has eroded, leaves way for miles of white sand, with not an ice cream van, a cafe or facilities in site. Come prepared with food and drink if you’re staying for a few hours and then just sit back and enjoy the peace and relax!