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Loving Suffolk beaches

PUBLISHED: 16:00 14 August 2018

Sea-siders at Felixstowe  enjoy the 2018 heatwave  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Sea-siders at Felixstowe enjoy the 2018 heatwave Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Lynne Mortimer looks back at her memories of the Suffolk coast, its myths and legends; its amusements and ice-creams.

Shingle Street, steeped in history and mystery. Picture: Peter BashShingle Street, steeped in history and mystery. Picture: Peter Bash

The Suffolk coast inspires poets, artists, sand castle builders and 99-ice-cream eaters, probably in equal measure.

For me, Felixstowe is about nestling into the shingle − you can make your own, tailored, buttock-shaped dip to sit in − and then sifting through handfuls of stones to find interesting ones. There is the sea-smoothed glass in green and blue, the dull, red carnelians that promise a flame of colour if polished. The very black, shiny stones; pieces of granite, shards of quartz and, one day perhaps, the elusive and desirable lump of amber... the beginnings of life in Jurassic Park.

Felixstowe or The Last of Her Order by John Betjeman

With one consuming roar along the shingle

Maggi Hambling's scallop at Aldeburgh. Picture: Sue RusackMaggi Hambling's scallop at Aldeburgh. Picture: Sue Rusack

The long wave claws and rakes the pebbles down

To where its backwash and the next wave mingle,

A mounting arch of water weedy-brown

Against the tide the off-shore breezes blow.

British open crabbing championship at Walberswick. Picture: ASHLEY PICKERINGBritish open crabbing championship at Walberswick. Picture: ASHLEY PICKERING

Oh wind and water, this is Felixstowe.

Heading north, Bawdsey Manor was the home of Britain’s first operational radar station − vital to our defences in the Second World War. Its shingly beach is a home to shells, plants and transient starfish. A seasonal ferry runs across the River Deben from Felixstowe to Bawdsey Quay.

It is difficult to believe anything happened much could have happened at Shingle Street and yet it is most mysterious. A huge expanse of beach sweeps out to the sea from a small row of dwellings. Its remoteness was key to the stories of what did, or more likely, didn’t happen there in the Second World War. Was it the site of a failed German invasion? Were burnt bodies strewn on the beach? The civilian population had been evacuated in 1940 so there were no witnesses but theories abound, from the gruesome to the prosaic.

At first glance, Orford Ness, with its abandoned top secret defence buildings and structures looks like a barren landscape, until you notice the animals, plants and birds that have claimed it for their own.

Lynne Mortimer enjoys a 99 on the beach at Southwold. Picture: Andy AbbottLynne Mortimer enjoys a 99 on the beach at Southwold. Picture: Andy Abbott

The Field of Mirrors by Andrew Motion (an extract)

For a million years one life simply turns into the next -

the spider hangs between driftwood and sea holly,

the kestrel balances exactly over a shrew,

Covehithe beach Picture: Nick ButcherCovehithe beach Picture: Nick Butcher

the hare sits bolt upright and urgent, all ears:

there is no reason why any of this should change.

But a new thought arrives and the island is invaded -

a radio mast stands up and starts cleaning its whiskers,

On a walk at Kessingland. Photo: Hayley King.On a walk at Kessingland. Photo: Hayley King.

a field of mirrors learns to see clear beyond the Alps,

a set of ordinary headphones discovers the gift of tongues:

there is no reason why any of this should change.

And on to melodic Aldeburgh, home of composer Benjamin Britten and his opera Peter Grimes. Here the beach and the sea has a harsh beauty, eloquently expressed in Britten’s opera and Maggi Hambling’s scallop. On the beach, you set down your towel, or plant your chair and sit unsteadily, perched atop the flint stones. At low tide, reaching the sea requires a slither down the stones which are big and good to hold... a nice flat one might skim, bouncing once, twice or, if you are accomplished in the art, three times.

The Suffolk tourist mecca of Lowestoft. Picture: ADRIAN JUDDThe Suffolk tourist mecca of Lowestoft. Picture: ADRIAN JUDD

An extract from The Borough Letter XXII (Peter Grimes) by George Crabbe

The bounding marsh-bank and the blighted tree;

The water only, when the tides were high,

When low, the mud half-cover’d and half-dry;

The sun-burnt tar that blisters on the planks,

And bank-side stakes in their uneven ranks;

Heaps of entangled weeds that slowly float,

As the tide rolls by the impeded boat.

The holiday village of Thorpeness was designed to enchant. It is full-up in summer with rental folk who have fun boating on the meare with its families of swans; who visit the second-hand store attached to the cafe; eat at the pub; swim in the sea and seek out the swathes of sand through the shingle where the kids can dig. From here, you can see the intriguing dome of Sizewell power station, silent and white. I hear the water is warmer there and the beach cafe is the place to go.

Dunwich, once a city was blighted by the sea, lost under the waves to survive as a parliamentary rotten borough until the Reform Act of 1832. But it still has a bishop. As a child, I always expected to see human bones in the cliffs as I walked on the beach but never did.

The history of Dunwich is the history of the Suffolk coast, a constant battle between the sea and the land which has fired the imaginations of generations who speak darkly of the sound of church bells coming from the drowned bell tower.

It’s jollier at Walberswick with its resident celebrity A-listers and crabs. Sitting next to the teenager with bacon rinds for bait, I know my crust of bread won’t attract crustacea, not even the tiny three-grammers that no one bothers to weigh.

And on to Southwold, home to Adnams beer, a fishing village that has evolved into a gentrified seaside town with a summer theatre it shares with Aldeburgh, a fine-dining pier with amusements that take old pennies, high-priced beach huts and stretches of perfect golden sand. Surfers are in the sea, awaiting a wave to ride. When Gordon Brown was Prime Minister he holidayed here with his family... did he go in for a swim?

Maybe he went up the coast to Covehithe to bamboozle the paparazzi. The beach is a hidden gem but the sea wants it as badly as we do and the cliffs are being whisked away by the tides. Then comes Kessingland, protected from erosion by shingle and maram grass. Apparently, the grass was planted by author Rider Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines), who spent his summers there.

Lowestoft is the tourist mecca of the Suffolk Coast. Half a century ago my auntie Millie would take me there for the day. We watched the women in big plastic aprons gut fish on the quayside and, on the sea front, the smell of sugar was overpowering from the shop where they made seaside rock. There were guesthouses with cards in the window “vacancies” or “no vacancies” and hotels where you could get a good lunch for a few bob.

But if you brought your own picnic, the sand was an extra condiment in your ham and mustard sandwich.

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