Suffolk by the sea, one of the great British holiday escapes. Sumptuous, serene, sunny, sandy or shingly, whatever takes your fancy.
Grey seas broken up by foamy white breakers crashing in. Gasping gusts from which solitude and escape can only be found behind multi-coloured windbreaks or tucked up amongst the dunes and wispy natural grasses. It is positively links-like, our very own whistling straits.
Holiday makers are stoic and resistant to any inclemency. True British gundog spirit, “we’ll fight them on the beaches”, whatever the conditions, and they do. Middle-aged men in wetsuits, lowered to the waist revealing paunches indicative of a business lunch too many, keen to show their offspring that ‘daddy’ can still ride the waves like they could when they were young men spending carefree summers on the Med.
Wide expanses of sand provide the perfect playground for a plethora of pastimes. Kites are controlled; frisbees are flung; balls of all shapes and sizes are bashed, bounced and buried; castles are constructed; even the family lab gets a run out, albeit only on a lead. The sign says so. And not an I gadget in sight.
The beach cafe is the daytime eatery of choice, selling anything and everything the hardy beach goer could ever need and more, catering for young and old alike. A multi-coloured lolly and a crabbing net for one, a nice cup of tea and a scone for another, side by side in perfect harmony. Delicious.
And the towns. Quaint and twee, as if from a bygone era. Still largely the same as when great Aunt Mable used to holiday, arriving by train and checking into the same room in the same hotel in the same week every year.
But some things have changed and times have moved on. Staid greys and long flowing dresses have been replaced by colour, bright colours too, from the brush strokes of the local artists to the stripy tops of the holiday makers, de rigueur to all in this modern age. All colours of the rainbow too and providing a roaring trade for the multinational ‘outdoor’ clothing brands slowly infiltrating these parts.
But there is still a place for the local trader too, stylish ‘upmarket’ outfitters sitting cheek by jowl alongside the branded outlets and doing very nicely ‘thank you’. Ditto the local coffee shops and patisseries, home grown, home produced and homely, infinitely preferable in this environment to the mass produced, mass market ‘massifs’. The coffee stars can make their bucks elsewhere. And by and large they do, for the time being anyway.
Holiday homes and holiday makers seem to keep the economies buzzing and alive. The brewery aside, the locals seem to rely on the visiting flocks to make hay, yet mostly only when the sun shines. The strong, suntanned, salted seadogs who row the tourists across the narrow estuary in small wooden boats only ply their trade at weekends these days, ditto some of the local landowners with surplus acreage which can double as a temporary car park for the day-trippers. Handy.
Others make a season out of it. The summer theatre seems to be a success for visitor and local alike. Gentlemen in sports jackets and club ties and ladies bedecked in Laura Ashley prints, sit seamlessly with the visiting classes to enjoy a classic British farce or an intriguing “who dunnit”. All washed down with a pint of ‘the local’ in The Swan or The Crown. Perfect.
Film buffs gravitate to the creaking listed cinema to see nightly reruns of old classics, a black and white perhaps or even a modern blockbuster. Oh what a joy.
The younger generations are well catered for too. They can peer into pier and participate in its modern jollifications. They can even lose themselves in the maize maze. Amazing.
Yet a trip to the English seaside is not complete without sampling our traditional classic staple dish, fish and chips. As the world has become all consumed with celebrity chiefs and cooking programmes, the modern day punter demands something rather special, not just ‘your average’ battered cod and greasy chips. Whilst Stein’s Cornwall might be top of everyone’s lips, this part of Suffolk provides a culinary fishy delight, surely hard to be bettered. The daily catch is dressed, adorned and perfectly presented, much like the clientele at the splendid seafood establishments, where tables must be booked in advance.
Fresh fish forever finds favour in this sleepy Suffolk setting and whilst seagulls might follow the trawler, as Gallic Eric once mused, here the sardines are never thrown back into the sea. This is England. Welcome to Suffolk by-the-sea.