In late summer we had an accident, which set our touring plans back for a few months, as Joe was injured and our vehicle was badly damaged. Fortunately, Joe made a full recovery and three months later, with our ’van repaired, we were back on the road and keen to visit our friends Helen and Roy in Suffolk, who had kindly offered to look after our ebikes during that time.

We overnighted at Kingsbury Water Park Camping and Caravanning Club Site, in Sutton Coldfield, treating ourselves to a meal at the nearby Dog and Doublet Inn.

Best of Britten

The next morning we were off to Suffolk, heading for Jaydene campsite, which is just a few miles south of Lowestoft. This adults-only motorhome site has 12 gravel pitches set behind the owner’s house, away from the busy A12 Lowestoft to Ipswich road.

As soon as we’d checked into the site, we popped over to see Helen and Roy for a cuppa and to collect our bikes. I say “popped over”, but this is a bit of a misnomer because if you aren’t stopped by the train crossing, there’s another road closure – for shipping – to be encountered.

Fascinating for the tourists, as Roy remarked, but not so great if you’re a local! We made plans to explore further the following day, with Helen keen to show us the area.

Helen and Roy picked us up from the campsite and drove us to Snape Maltings, the famous arts centre created by Benjamin Britten and his partner, the singer Peter Pears. Originally, these converted Victorian buildings were used for malting the local barley, for the brewing of beer.

At its heart is the 832-seat Concert Hall, formerly the largest malthouse, where the Aldeburgh Music Festival is held.

Snape Maltings
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto – Snape Maltings, the renowned arts centre, hosts the annual Aldeburgh Music Festival

There are galleries and shops to browse, and restaurants and cafés for the hungry and thirsty. On a cold but sunny late November day, it was amazing to see how many people were there – in fact, we had difficulty finding a parking place.

We decided to have some refreshments there, but the café was also full. Luckily, we were all warmly dressed, so it was pleasant to enjoy our drinks al fresco in the welcome sunshine.

Snape Maltings lies on the banks of the River Alde and there are trails to follow through the reeds, which are grown for thatching buildings.

Quay attractions

Next, we moved on to pretty Orford Quay, where lots of small boats were hauled up on the shingle.

Here, you can take a river boat trip around Havergate Island RSPB Nature Reserve on the Regardless, or have a brunch, lunch or dinner cruise on the Lady Florence. It was good to see that even in the low season, the Lady Florence was operating and had passengers aboard.

Orford Quay
Image: Getty Images – Orford Quay is busy with small craft, including boats providing tours around the nature reserve

This distinctive area, known as Orford Ness, is a long shingle spit extending from Aldeburgh and separated from the mainland by the River Alde. Together with Havergate Island, it’s a National Nature Reserve, but it was used by the military for conducting secret tests during both world wars and later in the Cold War. The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment had a base on the site and from the quay, we could clearly see the buildings known as pagodas (because of their shape), formerly used in missile tests.

The site, now managed by the National Trust, can only be accessed by ferry on selected dates from Easter to October. In Orford itself, there’s a pretty village square, and Orford Castle, which dates back to the 12th century.

Orford Castle
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto – Orford Castle, built in the 12th century, offers splendid views of the surroundings

Medieval abbey ruins

On our return journey, we stopped off at the fine 14th-century ruins of Leiston Abbey, also under the care of English Heritage. Entry is free and according to the website, the abbey is “open any reasonable time during daylight hours”. It seems to have had a chequered life, having been built nearer the sea to begin with, but subject to regular flooding. In 1363, the decision was made to find a safer place and the second abbey was constructed at Leiston. It finally fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution in 1537.

That evening, we all dined at Iconic Bar & Grill, in Lowestoft. Great food, excellent company and a brilliant atmosphere, cheerfully illuminated by ever-changing pink and purple lighting.

ruins at Leiston Abbey
Dramatic ruins at Leiston Abbey

Next day, we resumed our tour after our friends collected us from the campsite, starting with Aldeburgh. Lying on the North Sea coast, Aldeburgh has a long shingle and pebble beach, with boats drawn up beyond the tide. Smoked fish is sold from traditional sheds here.

The nearby Grade II listed Aldeburgh Beach Lookout now houses an important arts centre.

Aldeburgh Beach Lookout
Aldeburgh Beach Lookout now houses a major arts centre

Sculpture on the shore

We browsed among the interesting local shops, then decided to stop for lunch at the Chocolate Teapot. Later, we drove north along the coast to view the famous sculpture on the beach, known as the Scallop.

Designed by Maggi Hambling, it was made to celebrate the work of Benjamin Britten. The phrase pierced into it, “I hear the words that cannot be drowned”, is from Britten’s operatic masterpiece, Peter Grimes.

We continued north on the coastal road to the pretty village of Thorpeness, which has an unusual history. In 1910, architect and landowner Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie bought the hamlet and transformed it into a private fantasy holiday village (mainly for the well-heeled elite), complete with mock Tudor houses.

One of the first buildings constructed in Thorpeness was the boathouse, also designed in the instantly recognisable ‘black-and-white’ style. A golf course, a swimming pool and tennis courts were provided, with the emphasis being on families and children in particular.

The Meare, an artificial boating lake, covered 60 acres, but was only a few feet deep, so children could row on it and visit islands called Wendy’s House and Pirate’s Lair (JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan, was a friend of the Ogilvie family).

Looking out across the Meare, a windmill and a rather eye-catching elevated house can be seen. The windmill was moved to its current site in 1923 to pump water from a well to the House in the Clouds. Originally a watertower, one of two built in Thorpeness, the House in the Clouds was constructed of steel and concrete blocks.

The House in the Clouds
The House in the Clouds, built in what used to be a watertower

Both structures were disguised to blend in with the local architecture (the other one was designed to look like a church tower) and to continue with the delightful fantasy theme.

The House in the Clouds was clad in black weatherboarding and topped with a pantile roof. The water tank was later removed and the tower converted into a house – with 85 steps!

Traditional seaside resort

We drove on to charming Southwold, which we have visited before, pausing at the pier, where there’s a collection of quirky coin-operated novelty machines designed by engineer, writer and artist Tim Hunkin, who lives in Suffolk. Don’t miss them, they’re great fun.

We also glimpsed the lighthouse, which was built in the town because its predecessors had suffered from coastal erosion.

The light was fading fast, but Helen and Roy wanted to show us one final place that we didn’t know about. We drove down an unmade road alongside the River Blyth to The Harbour Inn, where a painted sign shows the level of flooding experienced in 1953 – halfway up the building! We entered the pub at street level, but then had to go down several steps to reach the bar.

Apparently, the pub still floods on a regular basis and they have a well-practised routine to remove everything when there’s a flood alert.

We stopped for refreshments there, watching appetising plates of food being delivered while we waited for our meal. It was high tide at the time of our visit and there were strong winds and heavy rain the following day. Sure enough, a couple of days later, the pub closed and the road we had left on was flooded yet again.

A flavour of the area

Arriving back at the campsite after our day of exploring, we found that our fish dinner was still frozen, but a quick call to Helen gave us her recommendation for a pub five minutes away. Livingstone’s provided us with an excellent pheasant pie to round off our visit.

This had been a bit of a whistlestop tour, but it had given us a flavour of this beautiful part of the world and certainly a taste for returning. So we plan to be back to discover more very soon!

Looking for more touring inspiration? Then see how Sam Johnson got on when embarking on a getaway to North Norfolk. If you’re thinking of visiting a different part of the country, don’t miss how Janette Sykes got on when exploring Rutland either.

When to go to Suffolk

We were pleasantly surprised by the number of places that were open when we visited in November, and on the whole it’s quieter in the low season. On the minus side, of course, the days are shorter and the weather less reliable, although we were pretty lucky on our visit.

Where we stayed

Jaydene Touring Caravan Park

London Road, Gisleham, Suffolk NR33 7PG,

  • Tel: 01502 800 718/07570 931 569
  • Open: All year, adults-only
  • Pitches: 12
  • Charges: £22 to £32, plus metered electricity

Jaydene is a pleasant campsite with immaculate showers and toilets, a washing machine, a tumble dryer and washing-up facilities. A bar with a pool table is open seasonally, weekends and bank holidays. There’s also a bus stop just outside the site.

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