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Visiting North and East Suffolk: A Sample of the Real East Anglia

Southwold Lighthouse Dominates Town and Sea - Joe Gray
Some pointers for visitors in the North Suffolk coast to Norwich triangle, and how to make the most of the many attractions on offer with limited time.

Norwich is the heart of Norfolk and north Suffolk, and whether driving in or flying from within Britain or internationally via Schiphol Airport in Holland, it’s the start and end of a mini visit to the real joys of the most easterly part of the British Isles.

Lowestoft houses ‘Ness Point’, that most easterly spot, bravely adjacent to a usually very busy North Sea. Windfarm off Great Yarmouth to the north, Sizewell power station on the horizon to the south, with oil and gas installations offshore between: all pay tribute to the area as an energy hub.

However, the history and the culture, the wildlife, openness of the landscape and the quality of facilities for businesses, speak of a special reward for the traveller hungry for an authentic slice of East Anglian life.

Lowestoft, Most Easterly Point

Birthplace to composer Benjamin Britten, Lowestoft was once a premier fishing and boat-building port. Industrial changes have been deep, but hotels in all price ranges, sports facilities, some interesting eating places and unusual attractions pay testament to the appeal of the area.

Between Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, off the A12 is Pleasurewood Hills Theme Park, a large family attraction of rides and spills, based originally on the American model with a Main Street and furry mascot (Woody Bear). Large enough to contain a variety of rides, yet small enough to walk round comfortably with car parking very close, it’s an asset much prized locally.

One of the most original and unusual restaurants anywhere, never mind East Anglia, is Sgt Pepper’s Restaurant in the old High Street, Lowestoft. Boasting a large choice menu of Beatles’ themed food (such as Ringo Burger, Strawberry Fields Forever dessert), it creates ambience with music and artifacts from the 1960s. Another unique eatery, is The Swan, outside Lowestoft at Barnby, specialising in prized fish dishes.

Long stretches of truly golden sands make Lowestoft’s beaches, with wilder areas north and south, ideal for those wanting traditional beach activities. Parks, woods, open country, a well-stocked transport museum, maritime displays, Africa Alive wildlife park, Fritton Lake Countryworld add to the long list of family variety.

Lowestoft is where the Suffolk and Norfolk Broads meet the North Sea at Oulton Broad, and motor speed racing is an annual feature, along with the renowned summer ‘Lowestoft Air Show’. South of Lowestoft some 13 miles, lies the ancient Borough of Southwold.

Suffolk Heritage Coast

In a spectacular location and part of the Heritage Coast zone, Southwold is almost an island, bounded by the North Sea and the River Blyth. There is just the one road in and out, and if coastal erosion continues as it has done in that locality, the sea could break through and make it literally an island.

In the meantime, for some. it’s a metaphorical one, a time-warp of history, retirement and culture; what the guidebooks call ‘quintessentially English’. The Pier is a landmark with quirky entertainments and attractions, and the Lighthouse is another, standing sentinel over sea and town alike.

Walks around the old shops and along the river bank, golf on the Common, Adnams’ brewery, the summer repertory theatre are all part of a day out in the region. Lunch, or a drink in The Swan or The Crown (or both) are devoutly to be desired, combining quality local food with a sense of stepping back in time.

On, back up the Blyth valley to the tiny town of Blythburgh, with Holy Trinity Church, known as ‘the cathedral of the marshes’ as it is floodlit and looks spookily like a ghosting hulk ship on a misty night. It was also the setting of legendary devil dog ‘ Black Shuck ’ who reputedly attacked and killed two parishioners in 1577 before running fourteen miles to kill two more at Bungay Church.

Interesting roads lead visitors in the same direction, either taking in the market town of Halesworth with its famous arts centre in the old Cut, or Beccles and Bungay, lively communities of modern business skillfully standing alongside history that calls from every old shop, church, alley or local feature.

Norwich, City of Delights

So, on to Norwich, glorying in the description, ‘a fine city’. Home of the University of East Anglia with global acknowledgment of much of its research, acclaimed shopping centres, theatres like the Theatre Royal, the old Maddermarket, Norwich Playhouse, The Sewell Barn, medieval churches and guildhall; and more museums, sports, pubs, restaurants, churches, markets, clubs than anyone can visit in a year, together with a castle , a cathedral and a river, Norwich seems to have it all.

For a city it is small enough never to feel overwhelming, yet has all the cosmopolitan excitement one expects. The international airport is a real boon, making access to the region easy and convenient. Fast links to London and to a less extent into the Midlands, together with all kinds of business and cultural links across the North Sea into Europe, mean that Norwich truly is the epicentre of tourist planning.

Get a sense of pirates and shipwrecks, heroic sea rescues, wartime invasion threats, on the coast. Walk in modern shopping malls short distances from medieval buildings and later survivals still in working use. Norwich is the end of the tour, but also the beginning of a journey into North Norfolk.

First published on Suite 101, 2 February 2011.

Photo: Southwold Lighthouse Dominates Town and Sea – Joe Gray

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