AldeburghAldeburgh
Suffolk  IP15 5BD

 

 

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky…” These immortal words by poet John Masefield could have been written about the pristine shingle beaches of Suffolk in east England.

Aldeburgh is a charming little town sandwiched between the meandering River Alde and a long shingle beach where fishermen sell freshly caught fish. There is no harbour and the shingle is littered with fishing paraphernalia and boats hauled up on the pebbles; even the lifeboat is beach launched by a caterpillar tractor.

Quaint houses, some with high balconies for watching the weather, line the shingle bank. Behind the seafront is an old High Street filled with attractive independent shops, art galleries, pubs and excellent restaurants. Look out for the lighthouse painted on the side of one building.

Seafood
In 2002 The Guardian newspaper named the ‘Aldeburgh Fish and Chip Shop’ in the High Street the best ‘chippie’ in Britain. This claim may be a bit far-fetched but if you want to sample Britain’s most iconic food, check it out. A good guide to form is the length of the customer queue!
 
On the other hand you might like to buy your fresh seafood from the Aldeburgh Fishermen on the shingle beach. You can’t buy fresher than that!
 
Parish Church
This is a seafaring community who depend on the bounty of the sea for their livelihoods but who at the same time are well aware of how capricious the sea can be. Even the ancient parish church of St Peter & St Paul Aldeburgh faces the sea, its 14th century tower acting as a landmark for returning sailors.
 
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The Lifeboat Station
In 1936 a terrible storm washed away half the town and a nearby village to the south leaving the extensive shingle beach that now fronts Aldeburgh.
 
At the rear of the main beach is Aldeburgh Lifeboat Station. In its time, Aldeburgh has had many lifeboats, making many daring rescues. Today a hi-tec Mersey Class lifeboat is housed in a modern lifeboat house, with the lifeboat launched down the beach. The station is open to the public and is a popular attraction to visitors.
 
Aldeburgh Martello Tower
Along the seafront are several interesting buildings including the Aldeburgh Martello Tower and the 18th century Fort Green Windmill which used to grind flour for the town. The two Lookout Towers were once owned by rival pilotage groups that provided shipping information via telegraph to Lloyds of London and the Admiralty.
 
The little cottage at the foot of the Aldeburgh South Beach Lookout Tower has been converted into an exclusive art gallery known as the Art House.
 
The Scallop
To the north, a splendid modern stainless steel sculpture, The Scallop, sits atop the shingle bank commemorating Aldeburgh’s most famous resident, Benjamin Britten. This fantastic piece of work is just as arresting and beautiful as is this famous composer’s music.
 
The Moot Hall
Just behind the seafront in Market Cross Place is a superb medieval building from the town’s prosperous past, Aldeburgh Moot Hall. It now houses the town’s Museum and is well worth a visit.

Beside the Moot Hall is the Model Yacht pond where grown-ups and youngsters can sail their model boats.

Snooks
Overlooking the pond is a much loved bronze sculpture of a dog named Snooks. Snooks belonged to the local doctor and his wife who worked in the town from 1939. Although Snooks was a rather scruffy individual; he was a familiar sight around town for many years and much loved by the residents. His owner erected the memorial and he is very popular with visitors to the seafront (evidenced by the polished patch of bronze from being patted on the nose!)
 
The locals have a really quirky sense of humour and this is reflected by the names given to local streets and the decoration on buildings. For example, a slightly raised piece of land reached by a short flight of steps off the High Street is referred to as “a cliff”. Certainly, a lovely view over the red rooftops to the sea can be obtained from the top of the Town Steps.
 
A very pleasant walk can be taken along the top of the low sea wall euphemistically called the ‘Crag’ Path. Many of the houses are painted in fresh pastel colours with crisp white trim and colourful flowers in hanging baskets decorate the streets.
 
Aldeburgh Festival of Music and Arts
Aldeburgh is known for being the home of famous English composer Benjamin Britten and his lifetime partner, singer Peter Pears. Together they founded the internationally famous Aldeburgh Festival of Music and Arts. In June visitors flock to the town and the Snape Maltings to attend this festival.
 
Aldeburgh Documentary Film Festival
The town is now an artistic hub and runs several extremely successful festivals as well as a Street Carnival. Aldeburgh Cinema is a delight in its own right and regularly shows contemporary, children’s and arts films. Annually in November they present an excellent Documentary Film Festival.
 
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History
Aldeburgh has been shaped by its rivers and the River Alde has been the town’s main source of prosperity.
 
In the 16th century the town was a flourishing port and sent four of its ships to fight the Spanish Armada. Ship builders, merchantmen and fishermen crowded the banks of the River Alde where the Yacht Club now stands. The standard of shipbuilding was so high that Sir Francis Drake chose Aldeburgh to build his famous ships Greyhound and Pelican (later renamed Golden Hinde).
 
Unfortunately when the river silted up and could no longer accommodate larger ships, the area declined. It survived as a fishing village until the 19th century when it became a popular seaside resort and the railway was built.
 
Although the railway no longer runs to the town, visitors still come to enjoy the peace and quiet of this remote seaside spot.
 
Countryside
The River Alde bounds the town to the south. The surrounding countryside is flat with river meadows and salt marsh. The old river winds gently through feathery reed beds and is now home to the popular Aldeburgh Yacht Club. The Club is a keen promoter of sailing as a sport - teaching youngsters to sail, and holding races for all boats, regattas of size. Check out their website Web:  Aldeburgh Yacht Club
 
Boat Trips
A lovely way to explore the river is to take a trip with Waveney River Tours. There are trips to Oulton Broad as well as the Oulton Broad Circular Tour, the River Waveney Marshlands Cruise, the Victorian Heritage Cruise and the River Alde Estuary cruise.
 
Nature Reserves
Aldeburgh lies within the Suffolk Coast and Heathlands Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is surrounded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) wildlife nature reserves where migratory birds come in to rest and feed. The largest is Minismere RSPB Reserve. To the south is fascinating Orford Ness Nature Reserve owned by the National Trust – a shingle nature reserve and the site of a lighthouse and important relics from the Second World War.
 
Other nearby coastal places of interest are Southwold, Walberswick and Blythburgh. From the point of view of the overseas visitor Aldeburgh is a bit of a hidden gem. It is off the beaten track and although only 104 miles (168 km) from London it is not adjacent to a motorway or on a railway line - nevertheless it is worth a visit.
 
This unusual little town is just as interesting whatever the weather – serene and pretty basking in the sunshine, or mysterious and moody when the sea mists roll in.
 
Getting There
- By Car
Aldeburgh is signposted down the A1094, off the A12 North of Norwich. There is plentiful parking.  
 
Google Maps - Aldeburgh