How much fun can you have on your own boat without going too far, or spending too much money? This was what I wanted to find out. The weather looked perfect, Ranger’s fridge was stuffed with food, and we had 30 bottles of wine on board together with Gin, Brandy and Whisky. No ghastly airport hassle for us, no long sweaty car journeys, no disappointing, expensive meals out. We could go where we wanted, stay as long as we wished, and wine and dine like kings all the time, only ever setting foot in an establishment if it had a chef more proficient than myself. The only immovable prerequisite was that I had to be able to swim every day, preferably straight off the boat, or on a nice sandy beach nearby. Actually being able to sail, without motoring, would be a huge bonus.
Not being one of those people who enjoy close-quartered communal living, spending the night in a marina is always disappointing to me, and never conducive to a really good night’s sleep. A marina which is contained within a working port in a large town, as well being a port of entry for foreign yachts which often arrive in the middle of the night, and with all the goings on associated with a major holiday resort, would not, therefore, be my destination of choice for a couple of nights worth of my precious two weeks holiday. I am hopeless at hiding my true feelings at being woken up in the middle of the night when a latecomer wishes to raft up beside us, no matter how charming they would appear, likewise when at dawn, scarcely four hours later, two other foreign yachts arrive, noisily mooring just inches from the open hatches of the after cabin. Of course this disturbance is compounded by the ghastly racket made by the seagulls, and the fact that all our hatches and portholes are wide open on account of the current temperatures. In addition, in my experience of marinas, there is always someone who rattles up and down the pontoons with a trolley, usually around 6 am. As well as the workboats leaving for the wind farms, and the fishermen, who only ever seem to go out in the middle of the night.
And so it is with Lowestoft, where we find ourselves on the fifth night of our two week cruise around the East Coast of England. It is by no means the first time that we have visited the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club. Certainly a very pretty listed building on the outside, but in ghastly surroundings. It would seem that the golden age of the “Nobs and Snobs” may well have passed, when you had to wear a jacket and tie, or a dress for dinner in the very formal rooms in the clubhouse. However, the wonderful showers, laundry, water and electricity on the pontoons is the real attraction for me. Every few days it is nice to charge everything up, and get the boat shipshape again. Being able to hoover up the sand deposited over the last few days from numerous glorious trips to the beach, is a huge bonus.
I was not expecting to enjoy Lowestoft as a place very much at all. However after walking along the bustling promenade on a scorching day, followed by a most excellent seafood lunch at MarkG’s at the Tramways Hotel, Pakefield, with the added bonus of discovering the ancient thatched church that can be found there, and one of the longest and best sandy swimming beaches to be found on the East Coast of England, I was very pleasantly surprised. Not at all genteel like Walberswick or Southwold with its smattering of A list celebrities and their children trying to have a holiday away from the limelight, but good old -fashioned Best of British family fun. During the day time at least. Maybe after dark Lowestoft shows its much darker, poorer, more socially deprived side. I know the town has suffered a lot of unemployment and lack of investment in recent times. It looks like there may be a little improvement coming soon however. Probably also, Lowestoft appears much more attractive in brilliant sunshine, with brightly coloured beach huts stuffed with smiling faces and ice cream stalls everywhere.
I am not at all sure if anything will be able to compare to our previous blissful moorings in Orford and Southwold these last few days. Orford we have been to on many an outing. Although the entrance to the River Ore is quite memorable in its demands on one’s concentration and pilotage skills, once you get in, the rewards are huge. We have in the past either lain at anchor just off Havergate Island, or taken a visitors mooring for the princely sum of £10. As Ranger weighs around 10 and a half tons, we have to use one of the very few outer moorings which are actually very close by the anchorage, albeit rather a long dinghy ride from the heavenly town of Orford itself. The peace and quiet is breathtaking. The only time we have ever been disturbed, is when my husband left the radio on , and two voluble old men got rather excited about their impending dawn fishing trip, not sparing the accidental audience any details of their tackle, bait, last nights evening in the pub and everything else.
Southwold, or rather the quaint harbour on the River Blyth just South of the town, which separates it from neighbouring Walberswick, for us, was a splendid experience. A difficult entrance, actually quite treacherous in a stiff onshore breeze with wicked tidal streams at the entrance, was soon forgiven as the rewards once moored safely in the River Blyth were huge. The outgoing tide does run at 6 knots, and the somewhat rickety pontoons are without water or electricity- except for the visitors pontoon moorings ( against the piles ) near the Harbour Inn. But you could not find a more charming place.
Delighted by the utter tranquillity afforded by our berth on the Walberswick side of the river, and despite the fact that the facilities in the harbour master’s office could only be reached by dinghy, or after a long hike over the footbridge much farther upriver, there is nothing more that I could wish for as a place to berth Ranger for a few days summer holiday. The walk up to Southwold across the water meadows and golf course is stunning. Southwold Church is one of the finest in East Anglia, and a great example of the perpendicular style, and the town itself utterly charming.
Of course Adnams practically own the place, and certainly do own and run most of the splendid local eateries, and are the town’s largest employer.
Walberswick, although much smaller, is equally charming and quite unspoilt. I am afraid that probably most of the houses here are holiday homes, just like Orford, and neighbouring Southwold, but that can sometimes have its advantages. The voice from well -off second home owners can be particularly strident, and an attempt recently by Waveney District Council ( now the East Suffolk Council) to sell off the harbour at Southwold appears to be having some problems in overcoming fierce local opposition.
We had arrived here on the last night of Latitude Festival at Henham Hall. You could only just hear the dulcet tones blown in the wind of Lana del Rey et al in the distance.
Lunch in the Sail Loft the day after was great, although the place was packed with tired but happy festival goers. Lovely to walk straight out after lunch onto the sand dunes immediately opposite for a refreshing swim. Actually the swimming at Walberswick was a little nicer, and less crowded, and only a very short walk from Ranger’s berth. The real gastronomic highlight was the outstanding lunch of char-grilled crevettes and poached lobster with homemade chips at the Sole Bay Fish Company at the harbourside. It is only open at lunch, and you MUST book. I have never seen so many people desparate to get a place, and for good reason.
Rather surprisingly for Ranger, we have actually managed to turn off the engine and enjoy some lovely sailing too. Although it was horribly lumpy, and wind against spring tides on the way up to Orford, and then quite rough outside Southwold on Sunday. The best was the reach all the way down yesterday from Lowestoft to where we are now, Stone Point off Walton.
What a spot this is, and one which we regularly frequent for lunch when out for a day sail. A sandy beach unreachable except by boat, a bird reserve, exceptionally warm water, and panoramic views of the Walton Backwaters.
Alas, this morning the weather has broken. All that baking sunshine of the last six days was getting a bit wearing. Especially hard to sleep at night with temperatures not dropping much below 20 degrees. How grateful we are to be on a solid Rival which keeps beautifully cool down below with such a thick hull and solid wood fittings, compared to modern thin-skinned fibreglass boats.
Today’s challenge is to find something good to say about Brightlingsea. In the rain. It seems we have run out of red wine, and there is a supermarket there which could plug that gaping hole. This particular drought is caused by our son having elected to spend a couple of days with us on Ranger. He left us at Southwold, much refreshed by his time on board Ranger, and chose to return to London by public transport. I think it took him 9 hours. Parts of East Suffolk are still quite remote, and that is why they remain so charming.