The Suffolk Heritage Coast is a corner of England stuffed with art galleries, antique stores and tea shoppes. For candyfloss, fairs and crazy golf head up the coast to Great Yarmouth. On this part of the Suffolk coast you’ll find upmarket restaurants, a shingle beach and windswept courses steeped in heritage.
Southwold’s answer to pitch and putt is the quality nine hole course on common land. James Braid was consulted about the course on several occasions and played an exhibition round in 1898. He was invited back in 1906 but when he asked for a fee of eight guineas he was told not to come. Anti-commercialism had set in.
The pace of life here is leisurely, although the meandering roads get busy in the summer with families seeking nostalgia. The area is excellent for bird watching and we have the Nazi’s to thanks for RSPB Minsmere, the UK’s largest bird sanctuary. The area was flooded to stop German tanks from landing, which created the reedbeds – the perfect environment for the bittern, the logo for the RSPB and one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds. There are a number of trails you can follow through woods and along the dunes which in summer are carpeted with southern marsh orchids. Binoculars can be hired from the visitor centre.
Pre-war, Southwold was adored by the Edwardian jet-set. George VI attended Southwold Summer Camp until 1938, rowed ashore from the Royal Yacht to be greeted by crowds of enraptured locals and visitors.
Southwold may be crammed with nostalgia but Thorpeness epitomizes 1930’s village idyll. The village has little more than a pub, green, pond, windmill and the House in the Clouds, a 1930’s folly. Thorpeness Hotel and Golf Club is approached down a quiet track and has some challenging holes lined with gorse and bunkers fortified with railway sleepers.
Despite the unwillingness of Southwold to pay James Braid his consultancy fee, the great architect was back over a decade later to lay out the 18 hole heathland course at Aldeburgh in the 1880’s.
Aldeburgh is the finest course on this part of the coast. In May the fairways are aflame with the flowering yellow gorse, but there’s no guarantee that the wind will be calmer as it blasts off the North Sea. The greens are outstanding and the bunkers tough, most being lined with sleepers so you need to be bold and confident to get your ball back onto the fairway.
Every hole presents a challenge such as the Par-3 15th measuring 201 yards for men and 188 yards for ladies. Straight into the wind, with a large bunker to the right makes this hole a challenge of mammoth proportions. The Par-3 4th has a horseshoe shaped bunker lined with sleepers, leaving no margin for error. If you want the course to yourself, on Sundays after 3pm the course is deserted after the tourists have headed back to the towns.
Those on the nostalgia path will enjoy the 1930’s clubhouse. Everything is exactly how it used to be. Leather arm chairs, big picture windows and a tigers head mounted on the wall. The guest book has entries scrawled from this era right through to today, and it will probably still be there in another century. This corner of Suffolk has certainly passed the test of time.
Where to Stay
The Swan (01502 722186; www.adnamshotels.co.uk) dominates the marketplace in Southwold and has great food, and superb afternoon tea.
Thorpeness (01728 452 176; www.thorpeness.co.uk) offers large rooms in a tranquil setting.
The Crown and Castle (01394 450 205; www.crownandcastle.co.uk) serves the best suppers in Suffolk. Make sure you drop by for a bite. Golf breaks available
Where to Play
Visit the official tourism website at www.visit-suffolk.org.uk