Mini guide to seaside Suffolk
Take in views from the 19th-century lighthouse in Southwold, a Suffolk village of sandy beaches and pebble-walled cottages. (Tim Oram/Getty)
Dotted with quaint seaside resorts that have doggedly refused to sell their souls to tourism, the Suffolk coast offers everything from traditional fish and chips by the pier to natural wonders in abundance.
Eat and drink
Adnams has been brewing in Southwold since 1872 and is known for its cask ales, which you can try in 70 pubs around East Anglia. In Southwold, Adnams offers one-hour brewery tours followed by a 30-minute tutored beer tasting. Its Cellar & Kitchen Store stocks beer, wines and kitchenware (brewery at Adnams Plc; tour dates and times on website; £12).
The Pinney family have been cultivating oysters at the Butley Orford Oysterage for more than 50 years. They have a fish shop by Orford Quay, selling fish from their smokehouse at nearby Butley Creek. For a hearty seafood meal – say half a dozen oysters to start (£7.70, followed by fish pie (£12.50) – the family restaurant on the market square serves simple but delicious dishes (see website for opening times).
Good old English seaside food is given star treatment at Regatta, a contemporary restaurant in Aldeburgh. The celebrated ownerchef trained at Le Gavroche and runs regular events, such as Hand Dived Scallop Week and Japanese Gourmet Evening. Dishes such as smoked prawns with garlic mayo (£5.75) and confit of Gressingham duck with Toulouse sausage cassoulet and chips (£13.50) are standard menu offerings (171 High Street).
The coastline north of Aldeburgh is popular with birdwatchers, with RSPB Minsmere flickering with airborne activity year-round. There’s a mix of woodland, wetland and coastal scenery, and species to look out for include the avocet, bearded tit, bittern, marsh harrier and nightingale (dawn–dusk, visitor centre 9am–4pm Nov–Jan, until 5pm rest of year; walks £7.50).
Comprising Walberswick, Hen Reedbed and Dingle Marshes reserves, Suffolk Coast National Nature Reserve is a natural wonderland of reedbeds, hay meadows, grazing marshes and a variety of woodlands. Home to hundreds of bird species, otters, natterjack toads, water voles, five species of deer and rare butterflies, it can all be accessed via a web of public footpaths.
Orford Ness is the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe. Once used as a secret military testing ground, it’s now home to a nature reserve and many rare wading birds, animals and plants. There are information boards and military bunkers along a three-mile path. Ferries run from Orford Quay: the last ferry departs at 2pm (Sat only Apr–Jun and Oct, 10am–2pm Tue–Sat Jul–Oct; admission including ferry crossing £7.20).
Coastal towns and villages
Southwold is the kind of genteel seaside resort where beach huts cost an arm and a leg – some sell for as much as £100,000 – thanks to the lure of the town’s sandy beach and pebble-walled cottages. Take in views from the cannon-dotted clifftop and visit the impressive 19th-century lighthouse; then enjoy fish and chips at the traditional pier or hit the waves with a boat ride.
One of the region’s most charming coastal spots, the fishing and boat-building town of Aldeburgh has an understated charm. Handsome pastel-coloured houses, independent shops and art galleries, and ramshackle fishing huts line the High Street, while a sweeping shingle beach offers big-sky views. There’s also a lively cultural scene and decent fish and chip shops.
North of Aldeburgh is a trail of serene and little-visited coastal heritage towns that are gradually succumbing to the sea. The village of Dunwich was once the Anglo-Saxon capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles, but numerous storm surges over the centuries have washed away most of the original settlements. There’s still a large shingle beach, birdwatching at Dunwich Heath and The Ship at Dunwich, a good pub with rooms.
The A12 is the main road accessing coastal Suffolk, and the area is most easily reached by car. Ipswich is the hub of the region – trains run from London Liverpool St (1¼ hours; from £16), Norwich, and Bury St Edmonds. From Ipswich you can get a bus to Aldeburgh (1¼ hours). Bus connections to Southwold are limited, but the town can be reached from Norwich via Beccles on the 146 then 524 buses. For local transport information contact suffolkonboard.com or travelineeastanglia.co.uk.