On a hot and sticky day, where humidity rests between the bricks our houses are built of, there is no better thing to do than to escape to the seaside. Compared to the stifling heat of landlocked counties, the coastal air feels fresher and clearer. Overcome by the muggy blanket of cloud pressing down on us at home, we checked for the sunniest beach resort and loaded up the car.
Whilst we hoped to find sunshine we made sure to bring clothes for all circumstances and yet, the further east we drove, the brighter the sky became. Sunglasses aloft our heads in perky optimism were soon lowered to their pride of place, on slightly pinkening noses. Further east still, the natural contours of the land stretched and flattened, as if they too were laying themselves down to bask in the sunlight. Wetlands and rivers grew into quaint villages, villages into a bustling town and then we knew we had arrived.
Fresh Catch of the Day
First stop is lunch, our stomachs are groaning from the journey and longing for food of the seaside. We chow down our fish and chips with rich tomato ketchup, a classic coastal feast from Mark's Fish Shop on the way into town. We all agree it was very good value for money. Up ahead are lines of independent home decor emporiums, clothing boutiques and beach supply stores. There are chains occasionally dotted between them, a Co-Op, a Tesco Express and best of British apparel brands like Joules, Seasalt and Jack Wills, but they are all neatly set in with storefronts that respect the authentic beachy aesthetic. You can try to locate the Southwold-exclusive Jack Wills t-shirt, but an overheard customer was not so lucky. Perhaps, though, the most charming shops of all are the butcher and the greengrocer sat arm-in-arm in antique blue and spritely green respectively, proudly overlooking the little market on the junction.
An obligatory visit to the Adnams Brewery shop results in a crate of beer being carried back down to the car, along with some Adnams tomato ketchup and, new to us, an intriguing bottle of gin. 'Must-have' souvenirs placed safely in the boot, it's time to head past the throngs of visitors emerging from the pub, delivering beers to their friends lazing on the green, and up the prettily-named Primrose Alley towards the seafront.
Sweet Ice Cream and Salty Sea Breeze
We take the steps down to the beach and set up camp in the shelter of a groyne yet to be buried by the plumes of sand that roll steadily up the beach day and night. Despite the light onshore wind, the warmth of the day is much the same. Around us, children are flying kites and frolicking bravely in the surf. Bravely, because the North Sea is notoriously cold. Lining the seafront are dozens of bright, candy coloured and embellished beach huts. Many of them are open, with their owners or rental guests lounging in deckchairs whilst leafing through a book. Some beach huts are lucky neighbours to an ice cream parlour and a seating area shrouded in shade by parasols. We meander up the mounds of pebbles on the beach and across the concrete a short way to Susie's Beach Cafe, for some of the best ice cream we've ever tasted. They will even offer you a chocolate Flake on top if you'd like. We overheard that Susie's manages the beach hut rentals, and very quickly learned of their high demand. If you want to book one, you will need to do it sharpish or you'll be waiting keenly for a cancellation!
Whilst polishing off my ice cream, I am moved by the sudden realisation that I am in a state of calm and balance. I lean back gently and watch the waves tumble in, breathing in the sea air, the pleasant dampness of salt and moisture enveloping my nostrils. My cotton shirt rustles, my hair is tousled in texture from the wind, and I think that this is truly what I was looking for.
Southwold Harbour: Masts, flagpoles and fishnets
As our day trip to Southwold nears its end, we come back to the car and take a brief detour down to the harbour while the sun is still high. On our way, we pass a line of pretty holiday properties and, my particular favourite, a Cape Cod-style house with colonial style wooden detailing. Its front door is wide open to let the air flow freely throughout the house. The view at the back, over the sand dunes and out to sea, I can only imagine.
Fond memories of sailing from these docks on the River Blyth are recalled as the sun shimmers on the water. There still remains a couple of fish and chip shops here, Mrs T's, and the Sole Bay Fish Company, whose shop is designed like a fisherman's beach shack with rope and fishnets embellishing the black cladding. Both of these shops I have eaten from in the past and have been very satisfied indeed. I step out from the car and look over longingly at the grassy dunes that lead to Walberswick across the river, and back again at the rooftops of Southwold with the grand and elegant lighthouse nestled in between, towering over the rest of the buildings it sits amongst. There, I gather my thoughts and take in a long, drawn-out breath of that clean, fresh, healthy sea air.
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