Friday, 10 January 2020

Suffolk sojourn

Photo: Clive Simpson
THE side of Sussie’s Beach Hut Café on Southwold seafront didn’t have the best of views. The cool North Sea stretched to the left and, opposite the walkway to old concrete steps from the beach to the cliff road, began a series of colourful beach huts for which this part of Suffolk is quite famous.

Climb a few metres to the top of these steps, and Gun Hill has a much more open vista. As the name suggests the cliff walk is  still resplendent with an array of cannons aimed menacingly out over the North Sea. Today they stand on ceremony only, overlooking the colourful beach huts and traditional beach cafe.

In the late September sunshine the side bench at the café was wonderfully secluded from the stiff onshore breeze. There was a blue plastic, rectangular table to my left as I sat down to re-hydrate with a bottle of water. Underneath the table, almost to big for it, was a scruffy mass of grey hair, half standing half crouching and looking rather awkward. It had a pointy nose and sorrowful dark eyes. It was Ben, an Irish Wolfhound, I discovered as the lady sipping tea on the seat beside tried to cajole him into lying down.

The dog’s owner had a thin face too, though her nose was less pointy. She had shortish, straight hair and was probably in her late 60's. “Lovely to see you - have you missed a few afternoons?” she inquired of a blond-haired friend of equal vintage who came to sit down beside me. I almost felt part of the conversation.

“It was a lovely morning but I’ve decided I’m going to stop swimming,” she answered in a kind of high-pitched, whiny way. “Are you going to go through?” I realised that these hardy coastal ladies were talking about their daily, or weekly, sea swim. “It’s beginning to get chilly, and I have to be careful with my chest,” she added. I got the mental picture as the conversation rose and dove through swimming, sea temperatures and cold showers.

By now Ben was sprawled across the cold floor. It didn’t seem to bother him and I guess he had heard the conversation all before. His black nose poked out from under the table. “Bye Ben,” I muttered, as I set off to climb the steps to the road above, leading to the dunes and a brisk walk to catch the last ferry across the river before the close of day.

I had long wanted to visit Southwold and a weekend break at the village of Eye about 20 miles inland had provide the ideal opportunity.

In place name lore, Eye derives from the old English word for an island and, in Saxon times, such a place was generally surrounded by water. Though that is certainly not the case today, the neighbourhood retains its marshy nature in places. The ‘island’ in this part of Suffolk was originally formed by the low-lying water meadows of the River Dove.

Whilst on place names it struck me that originality does not always triumph over practicality. There are many “Eye’s” scattered across the country, including one close to my own hailing ground of Peterborough. And of course, there’s a beautiful River Dove cutting a different course in the Derbyshire Dales, my county of birth.

The small coastal village of Walberswick is probably more unusual when it comes to both naming and pronunciation. It’s adjacent to Southwold but neatly separated from it by the River Blyth which had flowed into its tidal estuary at this point.

The walk between the two settlements is an easy and popular stroll. The only decision is whether to take the Baily bridge across the river a short stretch to the north of the town, or pay to be rowed across the flowing Blythe in the tiny foot ferry, or large rowing boat depending on your perspective.

It’s a short crossing and the boatsman or woman skilfully guide the boat against the outgoing or incoming tide. From the ferry landing jetty there is a sheltered path in the lee of the dunes, or you can walk in the brazen North Sea air across the dipping dunes themselves.

Southwold is often depicted as the sort of seaside town that everyone thought had vanished into the past. But this small resort, and a few precious others like it, do still exist - and despite the trappings of modernity are relatively unspoilt. 

With its signature lighthouse, pier over the sea and rows of colourful beach huts, the town retains much of its original charm and character, though no doubt some of the die-hard locals like our swimming ladies would beg to differ. It does, however, still evoke that unfathomable touch of nostalgia for a time gone by, but it has also become increasingly trendy in recent years.

Where else, for example, would you find a Bentley, pristine open top sports cars and the latest, fashionable four-by-fours parked in a row along the cliff top sea road during a sunny September afternoon stroll towards the pier?

Camomile Cottage B&B.
About 40 minutes drive from Southwold, the 16th century timber framed Suffolk farmhouse that is now Camomile Cottage B&B nestles off a private lane lined with towering oak trees.

The French doors of the breakfast room embrace the east-facing decking, a perfect spot to enjoy the first rays of sunshine on late summer days such as this. Giant popular trees rise to the left, noisy in the morning breeze, and a beech hedge runs the length to the end of the garden, defining borders and a wide lawn path. At the far end a wooden seat looks back towards the house.

Later, in the afternoon, when the sun has shifted to the south west, shafts of sunlight cut through the side windows and skylights, and reflect interesting patterns onto the tiled floor from the antique wall mirrors. A gentle breeze spills through the open patio doors. It is a room of delightful light and relaxation.

It is easy to fall in love with a home like this where character and history is etched into every nook and cranny, and piece of decoration.

The quirky Camomile Cottage was once a 16th century timber framed Suffolk farmhouse. The traditional, grade II listed building has been tastefully restored and extended over recent years.

It offers luxury B&B accommodation in two bedrooms - one with an intriguingly slopey floor - along with an open fireplace in the cosy guest lounge, exposed original timbers and a romantic period-style finish, all reflecting the warm character of host Aly Kahane and her friendly mut, Fozzie.

Aly Kahane.
Aly, who has been running the B&B for almost 18 years, was the perfect hostess and made us feel very at home. A homemade welcome cake, delicious cooked breakfasts and easy relaxation. In this beautiful and charming setting, away from the busyness of everyday life, there was ample time to linger, to ponder and refresh.

September 2019 - Camomile Cottage B&B

No comments:

Post a comment