PETER and ANN FROST spend an artistic weekend in this gem of a town on the Suffolk coast.
Aldeburgh is perhaps best known for its internationally renowned music festival held every June. But even if the music of Benjamin Britten is not for you the town still has much to offer.
Walk along the Crag Path, just behind the miles of shingle beach and you’ll find a spectacular lifeboat station, a summer theatre in the Jubilee hall, pretty pink cottages and fishing boats that still bring home the harvest of the sea.
As we have said Benjamin Britten made his home in Aldeburgh and is buried in the Churchyard here. His name lives on in the Festival and music school at nearby Snape.
His home in the town – The Red House – is open to the public and is now a museum of his life and music. Guided tours are available but booking is essential.
Britain’s first woman doctor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson spent her childhood in Aldeburgh and returned to the town in her later years. She was one of the first women to get a university degree.
Walk south high on the sea wall. Out in the North Sea are dozens of huge ships and tankers, anchored here until they are needed again when the shipping economy perks up.
Or look inland over the sparkling waters of the river past the yacht clubs and towards Snape. You can just see the outline of the magnificent Maltings on the horizon.
At the end of the sea wall walk you come to the Redoubt; an amazing Martello tower with a plan in the shape of a four leaf clover. Behind the tower the huge expanse of Orford Ness is visible but not accessible. It’s the biggest shingle spit in Europe.
If you walk the coast in the other direction it’s just a mile and a half to the fairytale holiday village of Thorpeness. Along the way you’ll pass the Maggi Hambling scallop sculpture – a tribute to Benjamin Britten – as well as two excellent nature reserves.
At Thorpeness don’t miss the perfectly preserved windmill. Actually it is a water pump and it is used to pump water into the amazing House in the Clouds, which was once the resort’s water tower.
Hire a punt, canoe or rowing boat and explore the huge but shallow Meare. The waters are alive with swans, geese, ducks and a hundred more species of wildlife.
The Meare at Thorpeness has twenty small islands are all named after characters in Peter Pan. Author J M Barrie was a great friend of Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie who built the amazing Edwardian resort.
Even if you aren’t going to a concert no visit to Aldeburgh would be complete without a visit to Snape Maltings. As well as a award winning concert hall Snape has shops, bars, restaurants, boat-trips and walks. Don’t miss the impressive sculptures in the grounds.
Back in Aldeburgh there is always something going on. Artists love the town and its surroundings and as well as the many galleries you’ll often find exhibitions in the halls and churches of the town.
Now we are off to the town’s museum in the pretty timber framed five hundred year old Moot Hall.
Aldeburgh received its Charter in 1529 and the town built its Moot Hall in the centre of the town for the town elders to meet. Over nearly half a century half the town has been washed away and today the pretty building is almost on the shingle beach.
Nowadays it is the town’s fascinating museum but also still the Town Hall. Before we climb the stairs we’ll pause to watch the children of the town and the many young visitors racing their toy sailboats on the purpose built model yachting pond.
From model boats we moved on to the real thing. There is still a busy inshore fishing fleet that still works off the shingle beach.
Black sheds are surrounded with the picturesque debris of the fisherman’s art. There are nets, floats, oily winches and some old boats that look like they will never go to sea again.
Look for the small crowd at a shed door, they are buying fish that has just been landed from that boat that is being winched across the beach.
Where to eat when in Aldeburgh
The Aldeburgh Fish and Chip Shop.
Why is there always a queue outside this ordinary looking fish and chip shop at the end of the High Street? Join the queue and buy some fresh Aldeburgh fish cooked in a light batter and some perfect chips wrapped in paper. Take the short walk to sit on the sea wall and eat them and you will know the answer to why there is always a queue. 226 High Street. 01728 454685.
The White Lion.
Superb local produce including oysters and other local fish are the speciality of this well known local hotel restaurant. Meat and vegetables too come from local producers. The hotel is right opposite the many sheds that sell local fish from the boats pulled up on the beach. Tel; 01728 452720 http://www.whitelion.co.uk
There is no shortage of excellent restaurants in Aldeburgh but one of our favourites is the Lighthouse. Local fish, superb shellfish and other local produce is used to produce a varied and imaginative menu. No wonder the restaurant used to have its own cookery school. Today it concentrates on providing a great choice of inexpensive lunches and more luxurious dinners.
77 High Street IP15 5AV Tel; 01728 453377 http://www.lighthouserestaurant.co.uk
This article was syndicated in various Times Warner magazines in 2010