10 great reasons to visit Aldeburgh, one of the real jewels in East Anglia’s crown
PUBLISHED: 12:19 07 May 2017 | UPDATED: 13:31 07 May 2017
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Aldeburgh is a beautiful seaside town to visit regardless of the season, with its thriving high street, beautiful buildings, fresh-fish shacks and colourful boats on the shingle beach, this stretch of Suffolk’s heritage coastline is a treat for all the senses and is awash with things to see and do.
1) Find the freshest fish
The fish huts on Aldeburgh beach offer you the chance to buy the freshest fish imaginable from the fishermen who caught them just hours beforehand. Not only can you pick up the very best for your dinner table, you can also pick up a bargain. Look for cod, sea bass, skate, plaice, mackerel, whole or dressed crab, Dover sole and lobsters.
2) Sea shells on the seashore
Maggi Hambling’s Scallop sculpture is on Aldeburgh beach, a short walk from the centre of town and is made from two giant 15 foot stainless steel scallop shells which interlock. It met with a mixed reaction when it was unveiled in 2003 and has won not only the Marsh Award for the best public sculpture in Britain in 2006 but has also featured in art critic Jonathan Jones’ list of “six worst works of public art”. The sculpture was Hambling’s tribute to compose Benjamin Britten, who was born in nearby Lowestoft, who founded the Aldeburgh Festival and wrote one of his most famous operas, Peter Grimes, about the life of local fishermen.
3) Talking of the tower…
Owned and run by the Landmark Trust, Aldeburgh’s quatrefoil-shaped Martello Tower stands at the foot of the Orford Ness peninsula between the River Alde and the sea and was the largest and most northerly of the towers built to keep Napoleon at bay. A total of 18 towers were built along the Suffolk coastline between 1808 and 1812 and this is the showstopper of them all, built from more than a million bricks. The Ministry of Defence sold the tower in 1931 and it was used as a holiday home by, amongst countless other families, the Mitfords. In 1971, the tower was bought by the Landmark Trust which restored it and opened it as a unique holiday let that boasts a host of mod cons alongside some decidedly less modern, but arguably far more desirable, conveniences – a drawbridge, a moat, a cellar and a rooftop which was once shared by one of Antony Gormley’s famous figures. For more information, call 01628 825925 or visit www.landmarktrust.org.uk. And if you’re visiting Tate Britain, look out for John Constable’s painting of the tower.
4) Enjoy a bracing walk towards culture
If you park at the start of Sailor’s Path, just outside town, you can walk the almost-six miles to Snape and its famous Maltings in around an hour and a half. There are shops, galleries, a wonderful café and the jewel in the Maltings’ crown is its concert hall which offers a year-round programme and continues Britten’s Aldeburgh Music tradition in style. There are development opportunities for new artists, pioneering community engagement projects, open sessions and masterclasses and a series of wonderful concerts including the famous Aldeburgh Festival, which this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of music at the Maltings. The festival will be presenting Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Opera North’s concert staging of the composer’s Billy Budd, which has never been performed at Snape before.
5) Go to the pictures
Aldeburgh Cinema has been serving the people of the town since 1919 and is the antithesis of a high street chain, boasting beautiful art deco lights and a host of original features. A community enterprise and charity, it has a thriving Cinema Club and in addition to a rolling programme of films, also hosts live theatre, opera, art exhibition and ballet transmissions from the National Theatre, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, the National Gallery, the British Museum and Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet.
6) Indulge in the nation’s favourite dish
Any trip to the seaside is improved with fish and chips, but Aldeburgh in particular is famous for its version of the famous dish. Widely regarded as one of the best fish and chip shops in the UK – thanks to freshly-caught fish, locally-grown potatoes and their own way of frying – Aldeburgh Fish and Chip Shop is a landmark in the town and boasts two sister restaurants, The Golden Galleon and The Upper Deck, an eat-in restaurant above the Galleon.
7) Sun, sea and history
The Aldeburgh Museum is housed in Moot Hall, one of the most important timber-framed public buildings in England which dates from the first half of the 16th Century and originally contained six small shops on the ground floor and a spacious meeting chamber on the first floor. The Town Council still meets here today and there is, from April to October, a fascinating display about life in Aldeburgh through the ages, including Roman and Anglo-Saxon settlers in the area, shipbuilding, trade and fishing, the Martello Tower, the town’s tourism industry and the Aldeburgh witches. The latter were discovered by Widow Phillips, the search woman for Witch Finder General Matthew Hopkins – seven were imprisoned in the Moot Hall’s prison in the middle of one of the coldest winters on record, prevented from sleeping and watched for proof of their guilt. Tortured into confession, the women were hanged in February 1646. The museum has recently been awarded support from the Heritage Lottery Fund to begin a comprehensive redevelopment.
8) Visit Thorpeness
Just two miles from Aldeburgh, linked by a particularly scenic coast road, Thorpeness is a fairytale village with its own Meare complete with a boating lake with landings named after Peter Pan themes such as The Pirate’s Lair and Wendy’s Island. The lake is open for row boat hire in warmer months. In the late 19th century, the village was a tiny fishing hamlet that was home to only a handful of houses that had escaped the waves. But Alexander Ogilvie, a civil engineer from Scotland, fell in love with the area when he bought a holiday home in Suffolk, eventually expanding his estate to more than 6,000 acres that stretched from Dunwich to Thorpe, Leiston and Aldringham. Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie built the distinctive mock-Tudor homes after devastating floods in 1910, renaming Thorpe ‘Thorpeness’ to distinguish it from other Thorpes in the county. A concrete brick making machine was brought in from Australia which converted shingle from the beach into building material and by 1912 the village boasted a new country club with a golf course and later included holiday homes, ornamental gardens and a railway station. Today, visitors enjoy the annual sailing regatta in August – stay until the evening when the lake is lit by Chinese lanterns on boats and there’s a firework display – the wonderful places to shop, eat and drink, the beach, the glorious countryside that surrounds the village and marvelling at the House in the Clouds, the 70ft house on stilts built to disguise an ugly water tower and which can now be rented as a holiday let.
9) Little Britten
You can take a tour of the Red House where Britten and his partner, tenor Peter Pears, once lived and worked. The pair exchanged their home on the seafront for the Red House on the edge of Aldeburgh where they lived for 19 years. It was here that they received guests such as violinist Yehudi Menuhin, the cellist Rostropovich, the composer Shostakovich and the pianist Sviatoslav Richter and where they planed the annual Aldeburgh Festival. The Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh were royally entertained at the house before officially opening Snape Maltings Concert Hall on June 2 1967. In the lovingly-maintained house, you can spot Benjamin Britten-inscribed cutlery, bed linen and clothes bearing the pair’s name labels, a nationally important art collection of around 2,000 paintings, prints and drawings and souvenirs from their travels.
10) Marmalade cats
Forget Benjamin Britten, I have a feline that Aldeburgh has another contender for the ‘most famous resident’ crown – Orlando the Cat. In 1952, Orlando brought his wife Grace and their kittens to stay in ‘Owlbarrow’ where they stayed on a beached ship the Iona. Kathleen Hale’s books about Orlando, which include people known to Kathleen and well-known in the town when the books were written are beautiful souvenirs to take home and The Aldeburgh Book Shop offers an exclusive range of what it calls ‘Orlando-iana’, including prints, jigsaws, postcards and mugs. The Aldeburgh Bookshop , 01728 452389, 42 High Street