Bawdsey beach – huge sky, river, sand… and, mercifully, nothing else.
Golden bales of straw in a Suffolk field.
Reader, forgive me, it has been more than four weeks since my last blog post…
A terrible sin in the blogging world, I know – my excuses are: travel, family, being abroad and getting mercilessly harassed by my children to play with them.
We’re back in Blighty at the moment (that’s Britain, for anyone who doesn’t know) where we’ve just spent 10 days house-sitting for my brother, who lives in one of the country’s most improbably picturesque areas – all pretty thatched cottages with roses around the door, thick woodlands, small village shops, wild beaches, and scenery unchanged in centuries. “My kind of place”, as one Twitter (and real-life, honest) friend said to me.
Not only that, but his house is three times the size of ours, and has things like a grill, a hob that works, a kitchen with a table which seats more than three, and – behold! – a breakfast bar, which became my work station. Conveniently – dangerously – close to the fridge (supermarkets here are heaving with tempting treats) and the biscuit tin. I wonder if he’d notice if I swapped our shambolic, tatty bungalow with his gorgeous four-bed Victorian red-brick detached house? His solar panel for hot water would come in handy back home in Seville…
Sunny Suffolk, as it mostly was while we were there, is full of fun family things to do, so here are a few of our favourites. Apologies to foodies, as we ate at friends’ houses or took picnics, so I can’t offer recommendations for where to eat.
This part of England’s east coast is famous for its light: huge, open skies, with a luminous quality that you can see in these photos of Bawdsey, Orford and Walberswick. The beaches are rarely built up, and no crowds, even in August – just rows of picturesque beach huts, dogs and families.
Rendlesham is a great place for family bike rides.
Balancing act at the adventure playground.
Moving on up.
Anywhere with a wide open space for kids to run around safely gets the thumbs up. A wood is good, providing shade and all-important branches for den-making. This one has an adventure playground (do they still call them that?) where they walk, swing and climb a series of obstacles in a circuit, while you quietly calculate how many limbs will be broken if they fall, and think where the nearest A&E department is.
Den-building is a perfect forest pastime.
Teamwork for carrying logs.
No accidents this time, although my friend’s daughter nearly took my eye out with a large branch, destined for a den. Rendlesham has a large climbing thing, a plane-boat with wings, which attracted frenzied pole-descending activity until they decided that a nearby den needed finishing. The zipwire was popular, as was the horizontal circular swing, like a tyre you lie down in. The older children loved the cycling trail, with its steep hills and deep dips. My friend, who’s a regular, told me there’s more children’s stuff on the other side of the car park – next time. There’s also a campsite, which is a plan for next summer.
Running along by the river at Orford.
Boats on the river, with the Ness in the distance.
View across the fields to Orford castle.
Like many of the Suffolk coastal towns, Orford is at the end of the road – a good half hour’s drive from the nearest major highway, so you don’t get much passing traffic. It’s a pretty village of brick houses, with a castle and a quay on the river Alde estuary, and a spit of land, Orford Ness, opposite. This was used for military exercises, but is now owned by the National Trust. You can take a boat out there, as well as other river trips. The quay is a popular crabbing spot.
The hut where we bought our dinner.
The bakery and General Stores, next door, are ideal for picnic supplies.
If you’re lucky enough to be there when Pinney’s is open, you can buy the locally-smoked trout, prawns, mackerel and cod’s roe, and other fishy delights served at the famed Butley Oysterage restaurant in the village. For all crabbing equipment, and other local produce, the General Store, and bakery next door, are Suffolk small town at their best. You can also buy freshly-caught fish from the huts along the shore – we bought some cod, which we cooked that night, baked in the oven – it was delicious.
Walberswick: over the dunes to the beach.
Shallow water, perfect for shell hunting and safe splashing.
Shingle, sand, dunes, grass.
When I was growing up, this was one of my favourite beaches. You walk over sand dunes to a shingly-sandy beach, with shallow water ideal for small children. By car it is reached along a narrow track and a bridge, another favourite spot for catching crabs (a line with a little net bag containing bacon does the trick).
Yes, it did rain…
but there was sun too!
The dunes are perfect for burrowing holes and hiding out. Bring a windbreak – handy for sheltering from the gusty, sandy blasts which whip along the beach. We brought a tent, which proved handy to put all the bags of clothes and food in when it started to rain. My (Spanish) husband was utterly dumbfounded by the concept of staying on a beach when it started to rain, but changed his tune when the sun subsequently came out. In the village are cute tea rooms and cafes with gardens, shops offering low-key beach chic, and a green with swings.
The river beach at Bawdsey.
Crabbing at Bawdsey – Dad shows them the technique.
One of our catch, still clinging onto the bait (bacon).
Barnacled shells of the crabs.
Zac lets the crabs back into the river.
Crabs scuttle back to the water.
At the end of another long road through rolling fields and thick forests, is this hamlet, on the estuary of the river Deben. The beach is sandy and narrow, almost entirely swallowed up at high tide, and muddy at low tide, but perfect in between. Good crabbing opportunities on the small pier from which boats to Felixstowe, over the other side of the estuary, depart. Other than that, there are some houses and a sailing club with cafe. All very relaxed and uncommercial – neither plastic crap (gasp – this is genteel Suffolk), nor ubiquitous nautical-themed clothing, nor trendy housewares.
Zac tries out his uncle’s canoe.
We made two visits, crabbing on both occasions. On the second, my brother, who loves his wild swimming and other wet sports, brought his canoe and weaved in and out of the sailboats moored off the shore. There was an ice-cream van selling home-made stuff in flavours like caramel and rum’n'raisin in old-fashioned cones. No Walls or Mr Whippy.
Easton Farm Park
Who’s cuter, bunny or blondie?
Feeding the goats.
Getting into the spirit, with this huge, rather beautiful grey chicken.
Zac with a storybook bunny.
Children and animals are a wonderful combination. When they actually get to meet up close, it’s even better. We spent the whole day at Easton Farm Park, where children can hold all sorts of creatures – we went to all three “hug a bunny” sessions, and as well as rabbits, Lola met guinea pigs, birds and a baby goat. There’s lots of information on the wall about their feeding and breeding, which is just as well as the girls who look after the animals, teenagers in hotpants on holiday jobs, aren’t exactly bursting with facts.
Every little girl loves a pony ride.
One of the rides at Easton.
Pony rides, feeding the animals, little trailers pulled in a line, and a playground, as well as a soft play area for inevitable rainy days with air cannons which pop out harmless, soft balls … and best of all, it’s very compact, and children can ride little pedal tractors all around the farm yard and down to the shady picnic area by the pond.
We were lucky with the weather – every summer we spend time in this part of the world, and the sun had his hat for more days than many years – although inevitably it rained too. It’s a delightfully unspoiled part of England, with landscapes straight out of paintings; lots of fresh seafood; and beautiful, spotlessly clean, beaches. Holiday heaven.
Have you ever been to Suffolk? What did you do there?
I’m linking up with Gretta from Mums Do Travel for her #FamilyDays linky.