Travel: Stay on the UK's first floating glamping pod...in Beccles
- Credit: David Kirkham
It’s 5.30pm on a Friday. I’m pulling along a festival-style trolley filled with luggage. It’s hot. It’s humid. I’m a bit fed-up after a long drive. And then I reach my destination...Secret Water. Instant calm.
I don’t know about you, but there’s something about being close to water (be it lake, river or sea) that soothes my soul. I read a study recently which said walking near water is incredibly beneficial for our mental health – thanks to some scientific reason I can scarcely remember.
I certainly think there’s some truth in it, because from the moment I stepped foot on Secret Water – the first floating glamping pod of its kind in the UK – I was in the bliss zone.
The cute, curvy, wood-cladded pod is one of the jewels in Hippersons Boatyard’s crown, and almost certainly helped the family business at Gillingham Dam, just over the bridge from Beccles, clinch the East of England Tourism Awards gong for Best Small Visitor Attraction of 2021-22.
Secret Water is one of several bespoke accommodations Hippersons has to offer on this part of the Broads. Others include Secret Garden (behind its own gate with fruit trees and a flourishing allotment), and cabin-style lodges suspended over the river.
The family also hire out day boats for cruising, kayaks and paddleboards (with lessons available) and even a unique pedal boat (more on that later).
It’s not a huge yard, Hippersons, but it is a friendly one. Inhabited by the family themselves, holidaymakers, private boat owners making the most of the quiet moorings, and (on our visit) a pair of nesting swans. Nature is everywhere, with signs posted across the site pointing to rewilding, as the family seek to encourage birdlife and insects into the grassy banks, hedges and trees.
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Our first point of action (if you can call it that) for the weekend was leaning over the railings of Secret Water, admiring the view from her deck, which is complete with juicy-coloured rocking chairs. The pod glances towards Beccles in one direction, and over to the entrance of the marsh trail in the other. Daytrippers waved as they passed by, amused and intrigued by our almost Hobbit Hole-style home. We felt, I have to say, quite smug.
Inside, Secret Water is dainty in size, but perfectly ample for a family of four (I’d suggest it’s too small for four adults, but they have other accommodation to suit). A Scandi/nautical theme carries through, with bright colours and kooky finishing touches, such as whale tail hooks on the walls. The living/dining/kitchen space has a squishy leather couch and TV, and is equipped with all the essentials, plus a hob, microwave and small fridge.
The shower/toilet is more generous in proportion than anything we’ve found on a regular boating holiday.
And the bedrooms (a double and a bunk bed set-up) have been crafted to include giant port hole windows for spying on nature.
We liked the various little touches Hippersons had added. A pair of binoculars in the wardrobe. Books in the cupboards. Extra blankets for nippy evenings. And an awesome welcome basket filled with goodies from local shops – how could we resist a pick ‘n’ mix, or thickly coated chocolate biscuits from local chocolatier H&J?
It’s tempting to go out on the first night of a break, but I much prefer chilling with a takeaway. After getting all sweaty and het-up travelling, the last thing I fancy is having to ‘do’ my face, or sort my hair out. Holidays are about relaxing. So let someone else do the hard work for you.
The lovely Sandip from The Pink Tiffin in Bungay dropped off a huge package of authentic homemade Indian food to the yard for us. Deliveries are available every Friday, pre-ordering through the business’s Facebook page.
Every single dish was a taste sensation, from Sandip’s mum’s savoury crackers, to the homemade lemon, carrot and chilli pickles, slightly sweet and headily fragranced samosas, and a plethora of curries.
If curry’s not your thing, there are loads of other options in the town, with locals recommending The Cod House, for example, for good old fish and chips.
After stuffing ourselves silly, we crossed the river to find the start of the Beccles Marsh Trail Walk.
The circular route of about four miles, with easier access and shorter options, is just lovely. Pack your insect repellent though, as bugs thrive here. We made do with a lavender scented perfume roller I found at the bottom of my bag, which seemed to do the trick.
The trail is crisscrossed by dykes, and hugged by the river Waveney for most of its duration, offering views out to tranquil riverside homes (now on our Lotto wishlist) and inland to the marshes, with cattle grazing in some fields.
It’s a wild habitat, and an immersive one. It’s hard NOT to feel part of nature when you’re 5ft 4ins, surrounded by reeds and towering grasses.
Look out, on your return, for a poem posted to the ‘poetree’ by the enigmatic Edric.
Refreshing walk completed, and it was time to grab a few bevvies for the wind down section of the evening. Beccles is well served by both independent shops and supermarkets for your essentials.
Lidl is a five-minute walk from Hippersons and is the biggest branch of the discount store we’ve ever visited. It was quiet too. So quiet that at one point my daughter asked if we were in a zombie apocalypse movie! This is the place to go if you want to grab a bargain on beer, or (as we did) giant bars of Ritter Sport.
After an evening of chocolate, late night telly and peaceful slumber, the morning should have included a row over to the Quay Deli, which you can spy from Secret Water’s deck. The pod comes with its own little boat, and the idea of pootling over the way for a bacon roll, warm pastries and coffee seemed quite a romantic notion.
It was, however, not meant to be. The heavens opened, lashing down until near lunchtime.
Not to worry though as this foodie had other plans afoot. A 10-minute drive from the boatyard is The Old Heliport at Ellough, home for the past 20 years to Beccles Farmers’ Market, held undercover in an old hangar.
A couple of dozen traders convene here on the first and third Saturday of the month from 9am to 1pm, selling food, drink and crafts, and with refreshments, from homemade cakes to local burgers, available if you’re feeling peckish.
We had a brilliant time talking to stallholders about their wares, and loaded ourselves down with bundles of stuff. A rib joint of beef from Hundred River, locally reared lamb shanks, tiramisu, almond praline, rum and coffee flavoured chocolates from Just Truffles, and stunning preserves (including lemon and vanilla marmalade, and cherry and kirsch preserve), from Season’s Bounty.
Once everything was neatly Jenga’d into Secret Garden’s fridge (along with leftover curry) it was time for lunch. There are too many places to eat well in Beccles. A survey amongst locals before I set off on this trip gathered nearly 250 comments, with all kinds of suggestions, from quaint country pubs in nearby villages, to spots in the town itself – from Graze or The Wine Vaults for dinner, to The Waveney House Hotel, Relish café, or Bailey’s Delicatessen for lunch.
As this was a family trip, it was kids’ choice, which usually entails chocolate in some form, making the decision a no-brainer. Twyfords.
The smart, elegantly-fronted café, is where the H&J coffee, gelato and chocolate empires began. You’ll now find H&J products across the east, with outlets in Norwich, Southwold and Aldeburgh.
Inside, counters burst with chocolates, patisserie, slices of cake, packages of their own roasted ethical coffee and so much more. It’s worth noting there are special deals on takeaway boxes of cake and dessert (around £10 per box) and that free local delivery is available within two miles of the café if you spend over £15.
The dining area has an Art Deco vibe, but as the sun had picked up, we ventured into the garden - a little oasis. Set over two levels, largely under canvas, the south-facing walled courtyard is filled in every nook and cranny with broad-leafed jungle-style plants – and even a water feature.
We found it so hard to choose from the menu, which brings together a host of local ingredients in ever creative ways. I was going to plump for a simple cheese scone (I wasn’t even that hungry) but the Welsh rarebit caught my eye. Two crisp slices of Penny Bun bread, slathered with a cheesy beer and mustard sauce, with an upgrade to include Suffolk ham too. Arriving with a large dressed side salad filled with good things, it was more than generous.
My daughter recommends the chicken and bacon burger. A behemoth ciabatta bread absolutely loaded with chunky chargrilled chicken, crisp bacon and barbecue sauce, served with chips and salad. She couldn’t finish it. I’m not sure I’d have been able to either!
We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring Beccles’ historic streets and alleyways, where high street favourites (New Look, Boots, M & Co) mingle with a raft of independents. There’s a superb book shop. The Marmalade Tree and Eccentricities burst with gift ideas. Baileys is a trove of deliciousness. And Vintage Mischief is well worth a look-in for Mid-Century cool.
To the teen eye, the ‘best in show’ when it came to shopping was Sweeties (of course). The almost neon pink shop is a floor-to-ceiling confection, where every inch of wall space has been saturated with candy. The family who run the shop are wonderful, full of humour and patience, and made our visit a real experience. “This is the sweet shop of dreams,” my daughter whispered as she walked in.
A short walk from the shopping area is St Michael’s Church and, adjacent, the pretty Beccles Bell Tower. It’s open on Saturdays from 10.30am to 4pm, and some Wednesdays and Fridays through summer, with entry £2.50 for over 16s and £1.50 for over fours. Climbing the 100-plus steps will take you to the top for magnificent views over the town and the marshes beyond. My daughter and I are both terrified of heights, and no amount of egging one another on amounted to us going inside. If you aren’t a scaredy cat, I think this is probably a must-do on your visit to Beccles.
We did, though, walk through the churchyard, down the steps below and along the gorgeously named Puddingmoor for a swim at Beccles Lido.
Many of the UK’s outdoor pools (so fashionable in the middle of the 20th century) have closed, so for Beccles to have retained this space is quite special. Found in a sunny spot, right up against the river, the lido has a retro feel about it, with outdoor individual changing rooms, a small pool for younger tots, and a larger pool, complete with a little slide and diving board. There’s seating on both sides (ideal for catching some rays between lengths) and it attracts lots of families.
There are lane swimming and family sessions (from £5.20 for adults and £4 for four to 16-year-olds). If you want a quiet swim, I advise booking lane swimming only (7am to 10am and 5pm to 7pm) – otherwise, like us, you’ll spend the whole time ducking and diving between groups of boisterous teens and littlies with their floats and foam noodles.
Dinner came from the most heavily recommended place to eat in Beccles (according to my own survey in local Facebook groups) - Oakfired at The Royal Oak.
The pub was the third place in the UK to gain AVPN status – a high honour indeed, and one that tells diners they’re making pizza the ‘right’ way.
There’s the option to dine-in or take away (pre-order if you can), from a menu that includes calamari, Italian cured meats with burrata, authentic carbonara, meatballs, AVPN status pizzas (made to strict regulations) and their own pizza creations.
While the classic Neapolitan variety was lovely, I was totally won over by the Oakies special. On a crisp, puffy-edged base, with probably the nicest pizza sauce I’ve tasted outside of Italy, was mozzarella, crushed garlic, chilli flakes, salami, pancetta, Grana Padano and sundried tomatoes. I savoured every single bite.
Before we departed on Sunday morning, there was just time to take our turn in Hippersons’ superb pedal (not paddle) boat. One of the only vessels of its kind on the Broads, the hybrid canoe/row boat is fitted with facing leather seats and pedals. Once inside, it’s up to the two ‘drivers’ to make their own steam along the waterway, peddling forwards or backwards to move, using a tiller to direct the boat left or right. And that was my job!
To be honest, I haven’t got much common sense when it comes to these things, and having navigated a 50-point turn (slight exaggeration) to get out of the boat yard, I didn’t have a lot of confidence. But we soon got the hang of it, and the steering really was easy. Much quicker to turn than a motor boat. We flew up the Waveney, on one of its loveliest stretches, and caused quite a stir – it's not every day you see one of these beauties. We didn’t quite make it to The Locks pub at Geldeston...but if we’d had our Weetabix I’m confident we could probably have got there!
What a brilliant weekend.
I honestly do think Beccles is one of the best short break destinations in East Anglia. You’re on the cusp of the Broads. All the highlights of Suffolk and Norfolk are within easy reach, from the coast, to Norwich city (there’s a direct bus route). And it’s a cinch to get to on public transport. Did you know there’s a line from Ipswich Station into Beccles? I didn’t.
That’s all before you get to the friendly, independent shops, excellent places to eat, and nearby attractions – from Africa Alive and Pleasurewood Hills, to Bressingham.
A short break with Hippersons on Secret Water starts from £360. To find out more about this and their other accommodation, go to hippersons.co.uk