We left without fanfare, a couple pulling out of the drive without a fuss. The ado was all within me, here an orchestra was in mid-flow, a crescendo of excitement, a flurry of violins, the brass instruments joining in! As we turned down the road did I spot a bagpiper wishing us farewell?!
Our first trip away for nearly two years already felt surreal and mirrored my many dreams of this moment. Days earlier it was with disbelief that the suitcases found their way down from the loft, the cool box washed and aired! My packing list was referred to repeatedly (yet how did I forget my Kindle which later resulted in a magical time surrounded by books in the local W H Smith’s!)
From afar the cathedral of Ely dominated the skyline, a glorious breathtaking sight, an architectural wonder! A constant as we approached the city and how it must have seemed a miraculous creation to the citizens nearly a thousand year ago.
Along with the cathedral the River Great Ouse is the heart of Ely and it was here we headed upon our arrival. We took a gentle stroll along the promenade of canal boats and pubs, through the park to the fields beyond. To one side the river, beauty of the natural world, to the right the regular rumble of trains, in between we walked a parallel path. The honks of swans and the hoots of trains became the backdrop to our stay. Our stay on a canal boat.
Yet time tick tocked by and now my husband picked up the pace, a short cut through the woods became a long lost way past shops and houses. Ahh … there was the Jubilee Park and its famous Eel statue. There was the goal … The Riverside Restaurant!
Masks donned we confirmed our booking and registered our arrival before being shown to our table. With only outside dining permitted we happily took a seat overlooking the river and path, safely distanced from other souls.
I picked up a menu yet found myself unable to read! A skill learned from young abandoned to this momentous occasion, the first meal from home for over a year. As my drink arrived I teared up when the food came, I cried! With joy and sadness. A joy that this was possible again with confidence, trust (& jabs!). Sadness for what we have all endured, are enduring and for some countries still overwhelmed by horrors. More than aware of the fragile nature of all our lives.
At last, it was time to check out our canal boat and even gaining entrance was an adventure, through a boatyard, along a metal walkway and across another boat. Already the front of the canal boat beckoned me to unfold the seats and table, to just absorb the peace of the water.
Inside the spaciousness was a welcome surprise, as were the chocolates and wine!
We were set!
Finally, under current restrictions, the cathedral was not open but I have visited this glorious building previously including the stunning Stained Glass Museum. You can read my post about it, An Illuminating Art, here.
For the trainspotter fans, a couple of videos of the railway traffic through Ely are available on my YouTube channel here and here.
The old and the new sit easily side by side in this beautiful town on the east coast of England. Established as a borough in 1529, Aldeburgh was formerly a Roman settlement, then a small fishing village before prospering when the coastline opened up and brought trade and shipbuilding to the town. The North Sea connects across time, lapping now, as then, along the undulating shingle shoreline.
I was here with my family for a quick break during school half-term and we were blessed with unexpectedly warm sunny days. It was heavenly and rejuvenating to enjoy this blissful weather, to feel so alive.
Aldeburgh is famed for its music, literature and arts and it is the birthplace of the composer Benjamin Britten. He founded the famous Snape Maltings, ‘- a place of energy and inspiration, one of the world’s leading centres of music’ – which is located nearby but we couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away from the sea views!
No fears, there was more than enough to enjoy along this unique coastline. The hotel was a few steps from the beach, and it was fun to slip-slide along the shingles as we explored the area! From the waters edge we had a tantalising view of the picturesque houses in all their various colours. Two-thirds are now holiday homes for private or rental use which must have an impact on the town as a whole.
‘The Mill Inn’ is a local pub dating back centuries and its dark beams and low ceiling provided an atmospheric setting for lunch. I sat back and imagined the shenanigans of the smugglers who frequented this establishment!
Opposite the pub is the striking and historic Moot Hall, which now stands proudly near the beach but at the time of being built would have been a mile from the coast. This wonderfully striking 16th-century building was the town hall and amazingly this is still its main purpose, as well as housing the town’s museum.
Set to one side is a stone seat, perfect for reclining and enjoying the view. My husband noticed the rusty sign above; the alcove was a place for people in the stocks to take a break before activities resumed! Luckily I could enjoy the long distance views in the knowledge that a calm and peaceful day lay ahead of me!
The unusual clock on the building is actually a sundial and the motto translates as ‘I count only the sunny hours.’ Sounds ideal to me!
Two incredible landmarks flag the most northerly and southerly points of Aldeburgh; one a magnificent historic relic from the Napoleonic era (1799-1815), the other very much of the modern world.
The Martello Tower marks the southern point of Aldeburgh beach and is one of 18 towers built along the Suffolk and Essex coastline to keep Napoleon out. This is not the first such tower I’ve encountered from visits to the coast and they are always an awesome sight, sitting by themselves, standing forty feet high with thick walls and wide roofs. I am sure they would have been an impressive sight to any potential invader.
In sharp contrast is the gleaming white dome just north of Aldeburgh. The dome is a nuclear reactor – named Sizewell after the village nearby – and is one of 15 nuclear reactors in the UK. I am in equal measure awed and unnerved whilst looking at the power station!
In between are the coastline and its treacherous waters. Here the sea harbours miles of sandbanks which are often swept by fierce gales which present a real danger to shipping and particularly so during the town’s heyday of its busy seaways in the 19th and 20th-centuries.
Therefore it’s no surprise a lifeboat station has existed on the shore for over 150 years and its existence still plays a major part in the lives of the inhabitants. It was awe-inspiring to learn about the brave deeds of the men and women (all volunteers) of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). In the early years the wooden boats were powered by sail and oars and in 1899 one such rescue ship was overturned by a giant wave soon after being pushed out to sea. Tragically seven out of the eighteen crew died as they were fatally trapped beneath the hull.
The modern-day lifeboat is an All-Weather Lifeboat (ALB) named ‘Freddie Cooper’. This remarkable boat has been launched out to emergency situations seventeen times in the past two years whilst the inflatable lifeboat has been on thirteen missions. The courage required cannot be underestimated as the weather is often appalling and the crew face massive waves, reaching an incredible and daunting ten metres (thirty foot). Since its inception the lifeboat crews have saved the lives of nearly 700 people!
No travel post would be complete without a mention of the replenishments along the way and we treated ourselves to several culinary delights throughout our break. As well as the pub, we enjoyed the first ice-cream of the year outside. Resting against the edge of a small wooden boat we enjoyed the delicious and rather large small scoop of maple and walnut ice-cream. The evening meal at the hotel was sublime; a delectable feast and we savoured every morsel. For dessert I could not resist the Crêpes suzettes with Grand Marnier, oranges and vanilla ice-cream
There are of course always gulls by the seaside and Aldeburgh was no exception; their evocative call creating a rush of happiness within me. I felt at home! At exactly the place I was meant to be!
Beaches are a haven of discarded objects, and the nautical theme from the array of boats around us continued as we came across this huge anchor resting on the shingle; the red and golden hues of its rusty exterior blended in perfectly with the coloured pebbles.
Thank you very much for joining me on this brief tour of my visit to Aldeburgh and I hope you found it enticing and enthralling; as you can tell I was, and am, thoroughly smitten with the town and outstanding coast! I will be back!