Coast and Broads of East Anglia

Tuesday 19 to Sunday 24 September

Our attempt to explore the beach towns of East Anglia was either naivety on our part or a failure to find the truely quaint seaside villages.

This was balanced by our enjoyment exploring the Broads of Suffolk and Norfolk.

We arrived in England with a vague plan to tour the coastlines. We would travel north from Essex around the East Anglia coastlines of Suffolk and Norfolk, up to Yorkshire, into Scotland and then head south on the western coast. We had places to see and friends to visit.

After a pleasant evening at the Court House pub in Harwich and a hearty English breakfast, we set off to Colchester. We needed money, a phone card and an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the English language.

We found what we needed and made our way to our first overnight destination of Lowestoft, stopping for a break in Snape.

Snape is a tiny village of 600 people on the River Alde. For me it was memories of the estuaries of Essex when I lived in Chelmsford in 1971. I had learnt to sail at high tide, in a Fireball. At Low tide, we waited, in a local pub.

Snape has been inhabited for 2000 years, by Romans and Wuffings in earlier times. Forty-nine men were recorded in the 1085 Domesday Book.

The Snape Maltings were built on the Alde Estuary in the 1800s and barley maltings for the beer market were sent from here to London and exported to mainland Europe. The Maltings went into liquidation in the 1960s, and over the next few years it was converted to an arts complex. In 1967 the Snape Maltings Concert Hall was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and has become the home of the Aldeburgh Festival.

We wandered around the bird walk on the Alde Estuary and then drove to the nearby beach resort town of Aldeburgh for a quick look. We couldn’t find anywhere to park, so satisfied ourselves with a drive through the town.

We checked into our Bed and Breakfast in Lowestoft and toured the town. In summer (now past), it is a popular beach resort and rows of bathing boxes, all colourfully painted, line the beach walks. The beach was wide and sandy.

Lowestoft was a fishing port town and is the most easterly settlement of the United Kingdom. A marker and a wind turbine named Gulliver mark the spot at 1°46’ E.

We drove to Oulton Broad, just a little up the saltwater lake of Lake Lothing. This is in the Broads system which is believed to be a remnant of medieval peat cutting. Oulton Broad is another popular holiday resort, with a lot of holiday chalets and moorings for boats and yachts.

Our hosts suggested we eat at The Jolly Sailors. It is a pub overlooking the water in Kirkley, which is just a little south of the main town on Lowerstoft, and an easy walk from our Bed and Breakfast.

It was our wedding anniversary – celebrating 44 years, so we decided on a drive in the country, before moving to our next destination of Great Yarmouth.

We drive into the Waveney Valley, to the country market town of Beccles. It is a quaint town with boats moored along the Waveney River and lovely grey stone buildings.  The most prominent building in town is St Michael’s Church with the 16th century detached bell tower. The tower is at the wrong end of the church, as the correct end would be too close to the large cliff that separates the town from the river.

It was autumn and the traditional harvest time, so the church was decorated in preparation of the Harvest Festival.

We continued meandering through the Suffolk countryside to Burgh Castle. Today it sits where the River Waveney joins the River Yare. In the fourth century it had sat on the Great Estuary on the border of Norfolk and Southern Suffolk, and was probably part of line of defence from the raiding Saxons and Franks from present-day Germany.

Burgh Castle, known as Gariannonum by the Romans, is the best preserved Roman building in East Anglia. The huge walls still stand to their full height. It was later occupied as a Norman Castle and an early Christian monastery.

Opposite the castle was the Berney Arms Windmill which was built in 1865. It is the tallest mill in the Broadland area and is 70 feet tall, with 7 floors. It ground cement clinker until about 1880 and was then used for drainage until 1951. Today it is looked after by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. If you want to visit you will have to take a train ride, as there are no roads leading to it.

We walked along the river to The Fisherman’s Inn, but pickings were slim there. No food, just a soft drink and a bag of crisps for lunch.

We also stopped off at the little church of St Peter and St Paul. The caretaker gave us a fantastic tour. There was an interesting plaque in memory of two of the Best Monarchs of Britain King Alfred who died in 901 and Queen Victoria who died in 1901.

We especially enjoyed the warm autumn day – those warm days are numbered.

We had chosen a Bed and Breakfast in Great Yarmouth for our anniversary, and hoped to get a nice meal somewhere in town. As it turned out, there was little choice, but our hosts recommended the Imperial Hotel, a short taxi ride to the northern end of town. It was one of our more elegant anniversary dinners, as I remember celebrating on a Chinese train and in a Kenyan safari park in other years.

We explored the Norfolk Broads, with a boat trip on the Vintage Broadsman on the Bure River and Wroxham and Salhouse Broads. There are some lovely homes on the edge of the river, typical English thatched cottages with grassy front gardens that had been taken over by a variety of water birds. In my days in Chelmsford, one of my very English friends, Barbara, would talk about holidaying on the Broads. I imagine her family had one of these quaint English houses.

To the north of Great Yarmouth and off the coast is a wind farm. Scroby Sands was one of the first commercial off-shore wind farms to be built in the United Kingdom. It is made up of 30 turbines, 3km off the coast, in a shallow, windy part of the North Sea. It first supplied the national grid with electricity in 2005.

We returned to Great Yarmouth, finding it almost depressing. The main pedestrian street was crowded, sadly many of the people there were using mobility scooters. It seemed like the rough end of the earth. Marine Parade which became South Beach Parade was overcrowded by fun parks with names like Joyland, Gold Rush Arcade, Golden Nugget Arcade and Pleasure Beach. Cheap casinos and cheaper take away shops entertained and fed the masses.

We walked into town in search of a pub that had a good write up. It was a basic pub and no food was on offer. We returned to the pedestrian mall and had to settle for a very ordinary grilled meal, under enormous pressure to eat before they closed.

Great Yarmouth was perhaps the least attractive place we had visited on our whole journey to date.

Our next destination was the city of Norwich, but we chose to continue our coastal drive of East Anglia, north to Cromer then south to Norwich, arriving at dusk.

We stopped for lunch at Cromer which is notable for the Cromer crab and there is a fishing industry built on it.

We visited the pier and watched the very English sport of crabbing. The souvenir shops were selling buckets and nets and for a small price, some meat. Children of all ages and sizes would take these to the pier, drop the nets into the water to collect crabs. When they had a bucketful, they would take the crabs to the sand and let them out, chasing them into the water.

Cromer is a lovely town, such a change from Great Yarmouth. The cliffs of the waterfront are lined by stately houses, which were built as summer homes for the rich Norwich bankers. Narrow, cobbled streets run behind the waterfront.

The Cromer Church is typical of many buildings in the area, constructed mainly of knapped flint. The church boasts the highest tower in Norfolk and it was used as a fire-spotting point during World War II.

We continued our drive along the A149 coastal road, passing small villages such as Weybourne with its Millpeace Windmill. Weybourne may have been the scene of German espionage during the war.

We arrived in Norwich on Sunday evening and found the Unthank Arms, a local pub for a great meal.