Surreal Southwold

After a decade of travel blogging, today feels strange in all kinds of ways. Yes, during the Covid pandemic I’ve been lucky enough to at least get some travel in – notably to Pisa and Tuscany last September.

But since then it’s all been about lockdown, or the gradual lifting of lockdown. International travel seems, at best, a distant memory – or something to plan for long into the future. So for now, it’s a staycation. And I’ve chosen to do it at the seaside during half term. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything about panning a holiday during Covid restrictions takes on an extra air of “faff”. Although step one – hiring a car and driving from Nottingham to Suffollk – is relatively simple. The only thing is, I’ve forgotten how tedious domestic holiday journeys can be. Having given up my own car three years ago, I’ve become accustomed to not having to worry about everyday driving, the monotony of UK service stations, the general fuckery of caravans choosing to use two of the three lanes available.

But presently (after four hours) the Suffolk town of Southwold appears. Aside from the holiday traffic it appears to have been preserved in a bygone era. My acccommodation, The Sail Loft, may have an air of gastro-surf pub about it, but all around are single track roads, undeveloped coastline and rather pretty surroundings.

Even towards the end of a busy day during half term, thee are long stretches of sandy beaches, unspoilt by motorised jetskis or speedboats. This appears to be mainly because Southwold’s harbour lies up the River Blyth, a mile and a half out of town, and nobody has yet decided to commercialise it.

I haven’t done a seaside holiday like this since I was about 12, and back then I wasn’t really involved in the intracies of the planning. For us, it was Skegness – sharing the same North Sea vista as Southwold but with a somewhat extended beach, where sea views were generally only possible with binoculars. And while Skegness is so bracing (according to the tourist slogan), we spent our time in the confines of the Derbyshire Miners Holiday Centre, a kind of Butlins but for families whose men worked down the pit. I once won a snooker cue as third prize in the talent show, doing impersonations of The Young Ones – the 1980s sitcom about hapless students. I can see why it went down well among the audience, whose industry was slowly being destroyed by Margaret Thatcher.

But I digress, because here in Southwold the spirit of Conservative enterprise is alive and well, in the image of The Little Chip Shop. The smell/of chips being fried in beef dripping hits you as you walk up the High Street. And then you turn the corner and see the queues.

I thought I’d arrive early evening as it might get busy later on. But here’s the thing – and perhaps it’s a Covid thing or not – but this fine enstablishment closes at around 8pm. No chance of late night chips after a few pints. `

Instead of queuing with this lot, I consult the map of Google, which takes me to/another chippy where there’s only a 20 minutes wait for service. Seriously, people are desperate for their chippy tea tonight. The inconvenience is worth it, though, as I’m able to enjoy my meal by St Edmund’s church, on the pretty Bartholomew Green – deserted in the early evening sunshine.

Just around the corner is the other holy grail which brings many people to Southwold – the Adnams Brewery. It’s good to see a relatively small company thriving these days, not selling out to one of the big brewing companies. Although in this town, Adnams is pretty much the mafia.

Every pub in town is owned by Adnams. I imagine the day that a disruptor comes to play, opening a pub under another brewery’s name. But it’s not going to happen. Which is as much a part of the charm as it is the frustration of actually trying to get a pint.

Again, this could be a Covid thing, or a seasonal thing. Whatever it is, it’s annoying, The charming Sole Bay Inn appears to have limited indoor capacity. I can’t tell because none of the staff bother to ask why I’m standing at the door. Down the road, the Lord Nelson – with its views of the sea – is closed from 6pm. Even the Red Lion – arguably the centrepiece pub in town – will only serve in plastic glasses outdoors.

I eventually end up at the Swan Hotel, an althogether swankier establishment, yet still owned by Adnams. It’s not quite the traditional venue I’d hoped for, but the Ghost Ship tastes good.

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