Despite our mini-break at Choo Choo Moo being in Norfolk, we were practically straddling the border of neighbouring Suffolk. Which gave us plenty of options when it came to selecting a seaside destination for a birthday day trip. We settled on Southwold. And here are FIVE reasons why we’re glad we did.
I’m not gonna lie. I saw those beautiful rainbow-coloured beach huts on Instagram and instantly wanted a photo. What I didn’t bank on was it being an extremely blustery day when we arrived, and therefore having to run the gauntlet of the waves crashing against the seafront. Eventually though, it was safe enough to walk along the promenade without risking a drenching. And it’s safe to say we got a little obsessed with taking photos and mentally decorating and restyling our own hypothetical beach hut. Of course there would be bunting. And fairy lights. Maybe a little bookshelf of classic novels.
And of course what’s a beach hut without a beach? Southwold has an award-winning Blue Flag beach, so make sure you pack your bucket and spade.
Southwold’s pier provides the expected. An amusement arcade full of ringing and pinging sound, and a metallic tang of two pence pieces in the air. Little souvenir shops, selling all sorts of trinkets with your name on. (Well, not my name but hey, unusual monikers rule right?) A fish and chip shop where the smell of vinegar permeates the air.
But what really makes this pier stand out from the rest is it’s Under The Pier show, with the kind of amusements that you definitely DON’T find anywhere else. Free to enter, this is an array of eccentric coin-operated machines designed by inventor and model-maker Tim Hunkin. There’s a mobility masterclass, where you play as a pensioner trying to cross a busy road with a zimmer frame. Or you can Rent-A-Dog, and take it for a walk on a treadmill. How about experiencing the world from a fly’s perspective – feed as long as you dare before being swatted. It’s the type of place that really has to be seen to be believed.
The pier also has a huge George Orwell mural, celebrating the fact that this literary genius spent time residing – and indeed, writing – in Southwold. The mural, by street artist Pure Evil, depicts a likeness of Orwell, and also a number of his most famous quotes, most notably from Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Both books which seem oddly prescient in these current times.
Orwell lived at Montague House from 1932-1941, and there’s a plaque outside the building commemorating the fact. He completed his novel The Clergyman’s Daughter whilst living in the town.
Towering above the town, and a handy point of navigation if you’re ever lost, is a 19th century, Grade II Listed, 101 foot high lighthouse. Unusually, it’s not on the seafront, but inland, nestled amongst hidden lanes and colourful cottages. It’s still a working lighthouse, and tours can be taken for £4.50 per adult or £3.00 for kids. Except it’s sadly closed at the moment – thanks COVID-19. You can find out more here.
Ever heard of Copper House Gin? How about Ghost Ship Pale Ale? Both are made by Adnams, a brewer and distiller based right here in Southwold. And if you want to see behind the scenes, tours are available, including the chance to make your own gin. A little more forward planning and I would definitely have booked this as a special birthday experience.
If you want to buy your own beer and gin from the Adnams flagship store then be prepared to queue for entry, as COVID times mean that extra health & safety precautions are in place, included restricting numbers due to social distancing. As with all shops and indoor spaces, face masks are required, but make sure you check local guidance for the most up-to-date regulations.
Adnams also took over an iconic 17th century building in the town, transforming it into a flagship hotel and restaurant. We ate in the Tap Room of The Swan Hotel, surrounded by brewing artefacts and gorgeous navy and coppery tones. Being by the sea I opted for “posh” fish and chips – battered monkfish with triple cooked chips, tartare sauce and “green split pea puree”. Or mushy peas, as I like to call them. Mr Fletche opted for the rump and chuck steak burger, served on a brioche bun with chips. Of course, we had to sample the local brew too – I went for the classic Copper House G&T whilst designated driver Mr Fletche was impressed by the 0.5% alcohol version of Ghost Ship.
As always, I rely on bloggers for the best information. The Swan Hotel and its restaurant were recommended by Sophie of Sophie etc. and A Lady in London so I knew I was in good hands. We also had a takeaway beer from Adnams Pub The Red Lion, perfectly located for soaking up the September sunshine on South Green, as recommended by Adventures with Nell.
With just one day in town, we couldn’t visit all the suggestions so here are a list of those top places to eat and drink (as recommended by bloggers).
If you’re planning on dining out, visiting a pub or other food and drink establishment, make sure you check online or get in touch before you go as there may be COVID-19 restrictions in place.
Southwold is located just off the A12, between the Suffolk coastal towns of Aldeburgh and Lowestoft.
There is a large pay and display car park right beside the pier at the northern end of the seafront. Parking is cash only at present, or there is the option to pay by mobile app. There are also car parks at the south end of town, off Godyll Road, and a few more as you head towards the harbour and the ferry across the River Blyth to Walberswick. In fact, at busy times in Southwold, the £2 return ticket on the little ferry is a great option.
There are public toilets right by the car park, and also some on Cumberland Road, behind the Adnams Brewery and not far from the lighthouse.
If you want to rent one of those iconic beach huts, there are some companies that hire them out on a weekly basis from £180. Check out Suffolk Secrets, Best of Suffolk and Durrants Holiday Cottages for more info. It’s also possible to rent some on a daily basis for around £50 a day.
Southwold is a traditional seaside town with enough quirky touches to appease my love of the untraditional. Fish and chips, bracing sea air, local gin, local beer – is there a better way to spend a birthday?
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