Booking a short holiday in Aldeburgh was based on wanting to explore Suffolk, which I don’t know, and staying right by the sea. I love being by the sea. By the time I’d looked at what was on offer via Booking.com from Southwold southwards, I found The Cross Keys and decided that looked like a perfect place to stay.
The Cross Keys is a pub with restaurant and three rooms. I received a warm, friendly welcome and my room is simple but very nice with thoughtful things like a big carafe of water, packets of Clipper organic tea with the kettle and luxurious toiletries as well as a separate dressing area leading to the bathroom. And I also have a view of the sea, which the pub backs on to.
I couldn’t check in until 3pm but I left London early enough to get here in time for lunch and make the most of my first day of holiday. After parking I went off in search of lunch – by this time it was close to 1pm. I saw people carrying bags of fish and chips from the Aldeburgh Fish & Chips Shop so decided to head there.
With my bag of cod & chips (£5.90), I headed back to the beach and sat down to eat.
It’s a very long time since I’ve eaten fish & chips like this. In fact, it took me back to my childhood when instead of the smart paper bag I was holding, the fish came in newspaper. I’m sure Health & Safety don’t allow that now! It was brilliant. The cod fantastic – and so fresh of course – coated in a thin and crispy batter. The chips were great too. I did the traditional thing and sprinkled salt and vinegar over it all. What a perfect lunch! They were perhaps the best fish & chips I’ve ever had.
I walked along the beach. It’s just beautiful, the long stretch of shingle, the pastel coloured houses fronting it. I eventually came to Libardi’s Ice Cream Kiosk offering authentic Italian gelato. Well, as I’ve made obvious in these pages over the years, Travel Gourmet can never resist a good gelato.
I chose a Rhubarb & Custard waffle cone (£3) and ordered a macchiato too (£2).
The gelato was excellent but the macchiato was exceptionally good – without doubt the best I’ve had in a long time. I shall be back for that every afternoon.
After a while I knew I could check in at The Cross Keys and so settled myself into my room. I was then keen to make the short walk to see the Maggi Hambling Scallop sculpture on the beach, a memorial to Benjamin Britten. It wasn’t until after I’d booked my stay here that I started to find out more about Aldeburgh and learnt of the connection to Britten, who lived here with his lifelong partner, Peter Pears. Hambling’s sculpture, unveiled in 2003, has been a highly controversial addition to the town and disliked by many. I was excited to see it though. It’s only a 12-minute walk from the pub – so I got walking.
The sculpture is 13 feet high and you can get an idea of its size from the photo above because of the man walking away from it.
Up close, it is magnificent. I love it! I was awed by it. I think art of this kind really has to be experienced; photos just don’t do it justice. I remember how I never ‘got’ Tracey Emin until – many years ago – I went to a retrospective of her work in Edinburgh and was bowled over; I completely changed my mind about her work. I saw her famous bed – was even alone with it in a room for a while – and I was deeply moved, almost to tears. And now Emin is one of my favourite artists. Maggi Hambling’s Scallop was a similar experience and I know I’ll want to walk down the beach – in the direction away from the town – to see it again before I leave.
I made my way back to the pub for an afternoon rest. I’d driven three hours from London and walked a lot. But I sat on one of the many benches on the seafront for a while and contemplated this new place I was visiting. It’s very different to English seaside towns I’m used to on the South Coast – Kent and Sussex – or Devon and Cornwall. The huge stretch of shingle, going for miles and miles, has a kind of magical quality, so different to anywhere else I’ve been before. And there is a great sense of calm here. It feels like a place to slow down – and just be.
I reserved a table at The Cross Keys for supper. (They only let people staying here reserve.) I sat in an area where some others were just drinking. It’s a cosy old pub with little nooks and crannies. The staff are wonderfully friendly and efficient. A menu came and I was asked to place my order at the bar. I ordered a glass of white Burgundy wine and some olives and homemade pickles (£4.50) to have first and then a Fish Pie (£15.50) – a cheese and potato topped pie with salmon, smoked haddock, prawns and seasonal vegetables.
I wished I had the little grandsons with me to share all those olives. They were good olives and excellent pickles, clearly homemade as described so crunchy and fresh and not too much vinegar – excellent.
The pie was excellent too. Nice chunks of fish and the vegetables were delicious – a fantastic selection and perfectly cooked. It was a generous portion and – especially since I’d had ice cream earlier – I decided against pudding. The meal was great but much enhanced by a lovely couple sitting nearby – Cheryl and Robbie – striking up a conversation with me. Well I had admired their Sprocker (a cross between a working Cocker Spaniel and Springer Spaniel) telling them my son had one too. It was so nice to enjoy their company and pick up a few hints of what to do here.
It was still light enough to go for a post prandial walk along the beach before settling down for the night. What a lovely first day and so wonderful to discover Aldeburgh.