Whenever we’re staying local and fancy a bit of seaside nostalgia, Southwold is the place we head to.
There’s great fun to be had on the pier, a beautiful sandy beach and the town has a variety of different shops and museums, not to mention one of the best fish and chip takeaways in Suffolk!
On top of that, the car park – right on the seafront – has allocated parking for motorhomes. A real bonus if you’re visiting in a 20+ foot RV.
So let’s find out more about what you can expect to see and do in Southwold, one of the most popular Suffolk seaside towns…
Getting to Southwold
Getting to Southwold is easy. Once you’re off the A12 and have entered the town via the A1095, the best thing to do is to follow the signs toward the seafront.
Sometimes you’ll be able to park for free along the roads close to the pier. But if you’re in a motorhome you’ll be lucky in busy periods to find a free space that’s big enough.
However, there are now 6 allocated spaces for motorhomes in the large pay and display car park to the left of the pier.
Once parked up, there’s so much to see and do here but let’s start by dipping into a little bit of Southwold’s history…
A brief history of Southwold
Southwold is mentioned as a fishing port as far back as the Domesday Book. Its wealth as a town increased when trade arrived after nearby Dunwich’s demise in the 14th century.
However, any hopes of Southwold being a major trading port soon faded when a shingle spit built up across the mouth of the river Blyth.
That’s the thing about this Suffolk coast; it is constantly reshaping.
Indeed, we’ve read that if Covehithe and Benacre – just a little further north – had made concerted efforts to prevent their own erosion, Southwold would have followed Dunwich into the sea by now.
Southwold’s survival is also partially due to the effects of a fire way back in the 17th century. Destroyed buildings were deliberately not replaced, leaving plenty of leafy green breathing spaces as fire breaks.
And now, surrounded by Reydon Marshes, the town cannot expand – thankfully – so it remains in its own time capsule.
Southwold’s pre-war nostalgia
Today, Southwold is a genteel seaside town which still has its feet paddling in the Victorian era. A visit here really is like stepping back into the past.
It has an award-winning sandy beach though most of it is covered by the sea at high tide so if you’re planning on some lazy sunbathing make sure you know when the tide is out so you can access the beach.
A trip to Southwold isn’t complete without a walk up and down the pier. Built in 1900, it was refurbished in 2001 though retains the feel of its heyday.
This is in no small part due to Tim Hunkin’s amazing water clock and coin operated amusement machines which bring Victoriana into the modern day. He could not have chosen a more fitting town for his creations!
The town, indeed, lends an inspirational backdrop for artists, with their work displayed in galleries and performed at theatres. How many towns still have an Electric Picture Palace, for instance?
We always spend a poignant moment reading some of the many small brass memorial plaques on the hand rails along the pier.
You’ll also see a large mural of George Orwell here. The author of ‘Nineteen Eighty Four‘ and ‘Animal Farm‘ – to name but two of his famous novels – lived in the town for several years.
Southwold lighthouse…and Zeppelin airships!
Strolling uphill toward the town, past the brightly painted beach huts, you wouldn’t be surprised to see parasols and voluminous skirts from yesteryear.
Unlike other seaside towns, Southwold has not been infected by the gaudy modern arcades screaming for your attention – and cash. It is like revisiting childhood for the over 50s.
The whitewashed 101 ft high lighthouse is a landmark visible for miles along this coast line. Constructed in 1890, it replaced three other local lighthouses which were threatened by erosion.
Originally fuelled by paraffin and suffering a fire soon after it was first used, the lighthouse was converted to electricity in 1938. Its light can now be seen up to 24 nautical miles away.
At Gun Hill you’ll see six impressive eighteen pounder cannons facing the sea, commemorating the Battle of Sole Bay, fought between an English and French fleet against the Dutch in 1672.
The cannons were concealed During WWI but only after the Germans had spotted the guns and attacked the town with their Zeppelin airships.
Sailors, museums, and beer making
Southwold hosts an amber museum and shop. Indeed, amber can be found along the beach here – if you’re lucky!
A maritime museum in the town gives first-hand accounts from the people who have lived here. And the Southwold Sailors’ Reading Room was created as an alternative to the pub for fishermen and mariners who would meet and share their stories.
Gav recalls sitting in here just a few years ago listening to the ‘old boys’ in deep discussion about the taste of cod and fishing quotas. With Brexit happening, we suspect this conversation will continue long into the nights to come!
The Alfred Corry Museum in Southwold Harbour is dedicated to lifeboats and their crews. The ‘Alfred Corry’ was the lifeboat in service between 1893 and 1918 and she has been painstakingly restored to her former glory.
The town centre itself has a full range of shops, several of ‘olde worlde’ style. Though it is a shame that many independents are being replaced by chains, a sad fact of today’s commercialism.
Adnams Brewery, an independent brewer here in Southwold, is the largest employer in the town. And what splendid beer they make! If you love your beer, book yourself a tour of the brewery.
Staying in Southwold
If you wish to visit Southwold for more than just a day trip, campsites abound. And like many Suffolk coastal towns and villages, around half of Southwold’s dwellings are holiday lets or second homes.
There is a large council run campsite that has all the facilities you would expect and although it isn’t the cheapest it is within walking distance from the town centre and beach.
We stayed here in our van for a night and our main memories are of a stunning sunset and watching the lighthouse’s beam shining our way every ten seconds.
We also remember leaving the next day, driving off without our little green hab-door step! Other campers waved wildly at us… “friendly lot” we thought…before looking in the wing mirror.
There it sat, forlorn and all alone in the middle of the field! We turned around and rescued it before driving away.
And like every time that we depart, leaving Southwold feels like saying goodbye to a time when life was slower, simpler and far less complicated. Just how we like it.
We guess that’s why we keep going back.
Have you been to Southwold? If you were in a motorhome, did you use the allocated parking spaces?
Did you have a go on Tim Hunkin’s crazy amusements?
Tell us of your experiences and ask any questions by contacting us here.
Make sure to check out other great places along the Suffolk Coast.
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