After leaving our friends we drove, under a cloudless spring sky, straight to the Suffolk coast at Southwold.  There we walked along the sand, past the multicoloured beach huts, to the pier.

Southwold was mentioned in the Domesday Book as an important fishing port, and it received a town charter from Henry VII in 1489. Over the following centuries a shingle bar built up across the harbour mouth, preventing the town becoming a major port.

Southwold was the home of a number of Puritan emigrants to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early seventeenth century. In 1659 a fire devastated most of the town and damaged St Edmunds Church, whose original structure dated from the 12th century. The fire created a number of open spaces within the town which were never rebuilt. Today these greens, and the restriction of expansion because of the surrounding marshes, have preserved its genteel appearance.

Southwold lighthouse was constructed in 1887 by Trinity House. It stands as a landmark in the centre of the town. It replaced three local lighthouses which were under serious threat from coastal erosion. It began operation in 1890 and was electrified and de-manned in 1938.

Southwold Pier was built in 1900, was practically destroyed by a gale in 1934, and had a major refurbishment in 2001. Whilst many English seaside piers are in decline, Southwold Pier is enjoying renewed popularity. It includes a collection of modern coin-operated novelty machines made by Tim Hunkin.

“The north Suffolk coastal area around Southwold is a land of undulating countryside rich with public footpaths, oak-tree lined minor roads and lanes, productive arable fields, beaches of both shingle and sand, crumbling cliffs, marshland, and heather-covered commons, all under open skies where the star-spangled night sky can be seen in all its glory. Here too are otter and kingfisher at home along river banks, hares, wild deer, a wealth of native birdlife as well as bird migrants visiting by accident or design.

“Scatterings of houses and farms shelter in ancient lanes with villages tracing their beginnings back many centuries before Domesday. The village church stands as testament to past wealth and glories. These churches, rich in an atmosphere of hundreds of years of humble worship, are an important part of the modern-day community. Suffolk’s churches contain notable fonts, screens, pews and all manner of historic interior items of interest and are well worth a visit. Some churches have a round tower, something seldom found outside Norfolk and north Suffolk.

This unspoiled coast can be idyllic at any time of year but Nature can still exert her force at times, whipping the North Sea into a foaming frenzy, or sending an eerie sea mist ashore, dank and cold, or just letting that Lazy East Wind blow (“It blows straight through you being too lazy to go around”). At such times, perhaps surprisingly, it is good to venture out, wrapped up warm, just to give your senses an experience. To see and hear the timeless ebb and flow of the sea can be fascinating at any time but when a storm is brewing and the waves are building, relentlessly driven by a strong wind, these are exciting times.
Explore Southwold

Construction of Southwold lighthouse began in 1886 and took three years to complete. It’s a wonderful piece of classical Victorian engineering.

It took 1,500,000 half bricks to construct. The local coal merchant, Thomas Moy & Co, brought them to the cliff top in a fleet of 15 horse-drawn wagons. The lighthouse stands at 101 ft, making it 120 ft from sea level to the focus of the light. The lantern is reached via two winding staircases and 113 steps.

If you want a good place to eat in Southwold, try The Blue Lighthouse in East Street. We found the food and atmosphere excellent.

Mary Newcomb:  The little lighthouse town


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