Harbours are often the business end of town, a place where a paint job is more likely to be given to the underside of a boat than to a few railings to make the place look prettier. Southwold is no different, and although it looks underdeveloped and slightly down at heel, this is a working community of boat builders and mariners.
The tarmaced road along the front gives way to a stoney track along the harbour itself – there are no obvious places to sit and enjoy the limited view, but it does sound and smell like a place of tradition.
But the peaceful surroundings hide an ongoing battle over who controls the harbour and the area around it. For years the District Council has been trying to come up with a solution which would, eventually, mean it takes charge.
The locals aren’t happy, and established a Stakeholder’s Group, arguing for the land and the water to remain under local control. The campaign cites an order dating back to 1933, stating that the Borough (of Southwold, not Waveney) should have the final and only say. The website appears to have gone quiet in 2019, but it’s probably safe to say that this battle is not yet over.
A daily battle takes place during the summer months for the absolute British right to have fish and chips at the seaside. Mrs T’s, and the neighbouring Sole Bay Fish Company, are technically in competition for custom – but with demand so high, neither is likely to lose out.
Harbours are also traditionally a place for departure, perhaps to a more exotic location many miles away. Things here are done on a smaller scale, with a boat optimistically named The Voyager taking visitors across the narrow waterway, a distance which most people could probably swim.
Today’s busy, so a motorised vessel is in operation. At other times they use a rowing boat. It doesn’t get any quainter than that.
At the mouth of the harbour is the Southwold Lifeboat. And the history of this lifesaving service is celebrated in the nearby Alfred Corry Museum, which contains the first lifeboat used in town, The bulk of the museum is actually the original shed from the Cromer Lifeboat just up the coast. It’s all run by volunteers, many of whom have personal connections with the RNLI, and are deeply knowledgable about the stories around Southwold.
At the other end of town the crowds have died down a bit, meaning I can at last get into the Pier’s famous amusement arcade. In today’s world of online gaming and streaming, it’s hard to imagine why children would get excited at the prospect of feeding 2p pieces into a sliding mechanism in the hope of winning more 2p pieces. But like any form of gambling, it’s strangely addictive. So much so that the concept has been turned into a big money TV game show, Tipping Point.
Just about nothing has changed from the seaside arcades I remember as a child, and it feels like – quite rightly – the same will be true in another forty years.
While the vast majority of visitor face seaward, Southwold also has a great view inland, with a series of ancient marshlands which are home to a Ric array of wildlife. Being so boggy, most of these can’t be developed, and are now protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Just a few steps from the beach takes you to a network of easy to follow footpaths, rich with the sounds of birds and insects, hidden somewhere in the long reed beds.
If it hadn’t been for Covid, I doubt I would have even considered a holiday like this. But it’s opened my eyes to what we have on our doorsteps, and I suspect that’s been the same experience for some of the many families I’ve seen here.
One of the consequences of this is that with demand, prices inevitably increase in line. Yet if your think about what you’d likely to be spending abroad, it soon evens out. You could even stay in a Suffolk Water Tower.