We were so lucky to be able to spend the first weekend of the new year in Suffolk with our very hospitable friends Sharon and Alan. We went back to Suffolk, where we had our first staycation to see what else there was to do. Not only were we spoilt, thoroughly, it was such a treat; a relaxing adventure. Perfect!
It was so quick and easy to get there, we jumped on a train from London to Ipswich and made one change to Woodbridge. We have a two-together railcard so it made the trains pretty reasonable too.
Oford Ness Beach
The first thing we did as soon as we got there was visit the Suffolk coast at Orford. The prettiest little town with a harbour and cafe and some serious military history. From Orford Ness you can see the nuclear building and some pagodas that have an interesting story. Here the military carried out experiments in the First World War. Including those on parachutes, aerial photography, bomb and machine gun sights, the evaluation of aircraft and the development of camouflage. Prisoners of war were held here and the pagodas were used for nuclear testing! They’re still around and although the island is perfect for bird watchers, you can apparently stay overnight in the pagodas too!
We stopped for a picnic by the sea, which was perfect and so British. The sun was just about out, but it was still January cold so we were wrapped up in scarves and hats to stay warm! We also went to the cafe on the seafront for a cuppa. It was an ideal way to start our brain refresh!
En route to our next stop we drove past a thatched church. Being with the most confident explorers we know, we pulled over and all piled out to see if we could go and look at it closer. It was amazing, so old – the cemetery had stones whose dates you couldn’t read they’d been there so long and the church was beautiful. We managed to get inside even though no one was inside, and we’re so glad we did! Butley Church, part of Butley Mills is from the 1800s, a much newer addition compared to the Norman churches around.
Another great place was our actual destination – Shingle Street. Definitely something to add to your list of things to do in Suffolk. One of the most desolate but fascinating places so close to the tourist routes in Suffolk. It has no streets of any kind, despite its name, just a line of houses facing the beach and the North Sea! There’s a lot of history to this beach too, namely World War Two and a supposed German invasion. However, it turns out that that might not have happened. There were a very large number of mines placed on the beach during this time and therefore it was uninhabited until the end of the 1940s.
The wildlife here is amazing, there’s very few people, no cars and minimal boats, and just a huge expanse of shingle and sky, so beautiful! There’s also the Shingle Street shell line – or the friendship line. Started 15 years ago and made up of over 20,000 individual shells was made by two local after their diagnosis of breast cancer, which they said became part of their own therapy. It’s not only cute but there’s an air of magic about it, running down to the sea and up all the shingle, unbroken.
As self confessed sunset chasers, we were given the option of going back to have some dinner, or to drive for about 25 minutes further to see if we could see the sunset. Obviously, we chose the latter, and our hosts took us to the best place locally to watch it.
Ramsholt and this part of Ramsholt in particular was perfect for this. The funny part? There’s the most beautiful pub overlooking the water, the Ramsholt Arms; if you want to visit I’d call in advance as their open hours are rather flexible.
The next day our first stop off was Aldeburgh beach. What is it about being by the sea that is so good for the soul? We walked for a while, taking in the nuclear plant and the house in the sky that we could see from the beach too. Turns out, Tim’s life growing up by the sea meant that he was an expert skimmer.
One of the highlights, or for some locals, a low-light is “The Scallop”. It’s a memorial to Benjamin Britten that lived in Aldeburgh, with a line from a famous opera of his engraved. “I hear those voices that will not be drowned”.
Aldeburgh itself is super cute. A proper little old English coastal town with quaint shops and restaurants. We went at Christmas rather than the summer and it was still busy, so look out in the summer holidays!
One of the thing about small English towns is they all have weird things. Aldeburgh has a couple, but one is Snooks the dog’s statue by the boating lake. (The boating lake is something in itself too). Snooks is there as a statue in memory of his owner – the local doctor that served the community for years. The bonus here was some lovely local has knitted him a lovely Christmas outfit!
The locals out playing bowls on the green by the beach. There are lots to look at and things to do in Suffolk, particularly in Aldeburgh!
Like all great British seaside towns, Aldeburgh has not only one great fish and chips shop but two. Actually both owned by the same people, but one is just a takeaway restaurant and the other you can sit upstairs. We managed to get a seat in the early sitting for the most delicious fish and chips. Careful though, even in winter there are queues round the block for the local delicacy!
Moot Hall, built in the first half of the 16th Century, now a museum. The museum recently underwent a Heritage Lottery-funded refurbishment too. It is one of the best preserved Tudor public buildings in Britain, and was first built as a town hall.
Leiston Abbey was one of the highlights of our trip. A free entry English Heritage site, it was a 14th century Abbey. As you can see, it’s now just remains. It was an Abbey for Premonstratensian canons, and the size of the archways are impressive. In fact, even the ruins are architecturally impressive! We could have spent hours and hours here because the setting itself if so beautiful. There’s not loads of information on the boards around about it, but most tell you about the site and the surrounding area.
Dunwich beach and ruins
Dunwich beach was another highlight. For starters, when parking there isn’t any charge. Instead, the direction is to donate to local charities instead. This was something not only we loved, but as Londoners wondered where else they would trust you to do something like this. What a brilliant start!
Dunwich itself has an interesting history. At its height, in the 1200s, Dunwich was one of the largest port towns in Europe. In EUROPE! However, as you may have guessed with its newer nickname “the lost village”, it is no longer.
It was a seat of power for the Anglo-Saxon bishops for centuries, an international port, and the Domesday book of 1086 puts the population at over 3000, but it is now a tiny village. This is because (mainly) of coastal erosion. Most of the city has been lost to the sea, and you can find videos on youtube of what it was like, and searches for the lost city! Legend has it that you can still hear the bells of the churches tolling from the sea.
There is a museum in Dunwich which tells you all the details of the town’s eerie history, but it is only open March – October. It’s free to enter but they ask for a donation to keep running. If you can! You must visit the beach and the village if you’re looking for things to do in Suffolk!
The beach itself is beautiful, and there are loads of dogs about to boot. As we couldnt get enough of the sea this trip it was perfect!
The Dunwich local
We finished the day in the local pub, where you could tell it was out of the city as soft drinks for 4 people cost under £5 and so we couldn’t use card! The best part about the pub aside from the prices and the beautiful dogs? Definitely the fact we got seats by the open fire, one of our favourite things to do in Suffolk.
What a weekend, we played some bananagrams on the way home thinking about how forever grateful we will be to Sharon and Alan for letting us come to reset our brains for the weekend!