The Suffolk coast feels detached from the rest of the county: the road and rail lines from Ipswich to the seaport of Lowestoft funnel traffic a few miles inland for most of the way, and patches of marsh and woodland make the separation still more complete. The coast has long been plagued by erosion and this has contributed to the virtual extinction of the local fishing industry, and, in the case of Dunwich, almost destroyed the whole town. What is left, however, is undoubtedly one of the most unspoilt shorelines in the country – if, that is, you set aside the Sizewell nuclear power station. Highlights include the sleepy isolation of minuscule Orford and several genteel resorts, most notably Southwold and Aldeburgh, which have both evaded the lurid fate of so many English seaside towns. There are scores of delightful walks around here too, easy routes along the coast that are best followed with either the appropriate OS Explorer Map or the simplified footpath maps available at most tourist offices. The Suffolk coast is also host to East Anglia’s most compelling cultural gathering, the three-week-long Aldeburgh Festival, which takes place every June.
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Some twenty miles from Ipswich, on the far side of Tunstall Forest, two medieval buildings dominate the tiny, eminently appealing village of ORFORD. The more impressive is the twelfth-century castle, built on high ground by Henry II, and under siege within months of its completion from Henry’s rebellious sons. Most of the castle disappeared centuries ago, but the lofty keep remains, its striking stature hinting at the scale of the original fortifications. Orford’s other medieval edifice is St Bartholomew’s church, where Benjamin Britten premiered his most successful children’s work, Noye’s Fludde, as part of the 1958 Aldeburgh Festival.
Perched on robust cliffs just to the north of the River Blyth, SOUTHWOLD had become, by the sixteenth century, Suffolk’s busiest fishing port. Eventually, however, it lost most of its fishery to neighbouring Lowestoft and today, although a small fleet still brings in herring, sprats and cod, the town is primarily a seaside resort, a genteel and eminently appealing little place with none of the crassness of many of its competitors. There are fine Georgian buildings, a long sandy beach, open heathland, a dinky harbour and even a little industry – in the shape of the Adnams brewery – but no burger bars and certainly no amusement arcades. This gentility was not to the liking of George Orwell, who lived for a time at his parents’ house at 36 High St (a plaque marks the spot); who knows what he might have made of Southwold’s major music festival, Latitude, which spreads over four days in the middle of July with happy campers grubbing down in Henham Park beside the A12 about five miles west of town.