A Week in Southwold, Suffolk
Part 1 - Easter 2008
Next: Part 2 - Easter 2009
One of the joys of photography is that you can take it almost anywhere with you. A small camera can go in your pocket to work, to town, on the train or in the car. A larger set of gear can travel with you on holiday or you can of course travel specifically for a photographic project or assignment. Whilst I do manage to get out to explore and photograph near home in the Derbyshire Peak District, I do not otherwise travel specifically for photography. So a short family break in the school holidays in April meant that I would combine family time with some photography - in this case a week spent in Southwold on the Suffolk coast of England.
Such a time provides ample opportunity to explore a different area of the country and identify what photographic opportunities it could provide if time allows. But in addition, providing the right priorities are set and the right balance achieved, some time can also be spent making photographs. What such a week does not provide is the opportunity to work a subject, to wait for the perfect light or to loose oneself in the image. It is important to take the moment as it arrives.
This article chronicles what I did manage to achieve during a week in Southwold, the images I like most, how and where I made them. While I didn’t set out to tell the story of the week, what I did set out to create was a short set of photographs that say “Southwold”, as a reminder of what the town says to me. Clearly this is a personal view, and I am sure that others would show a very different set of images. I should also add that I have two different views - one includes my children and the other is that displayed here. Whilst I am immensely proud of my family the pictures can never have the same meaning for a casual viewer, so they are excluded.
Today, Southwold is a pretty little seaside town along the Suffolk Heritage Coast. The beech swarms with families during good weather, the pubs and restaurants are always busy and the shops are bustling. The town and surrounding area gets much of its income from tourism - either visitors who, like us, rent a holiday cottage or those who have bought a second home. It has to be said that the town does now attract money and the property prices are disproportionately high for this part of the UK. But it always did attract the more affluent and/or bohemian and to my senses feels an extension of some parts of London. That said, it probably accounts for the town’s survival and progress means loosing some of the grocery stores to houses, a car park filled with relatively new cars and rather upmarket shops along the High Street that are now sources of employment rather than supplies for locals. But I digress - Southwold is still a beautiful little town which always brings me to my senses and allows me to relax for a few days...
Southwold is above all a place to unwind and enjoy the seaside - if the weather allows! It is famous for its beach huts that run all the way along the promenade from adjacent to Gun Hill along to the recently rebuilt pier. These can make a great picture and there are plenty of paintings, sketches and photographs inspired by these. The huts are highly sought after and I noticed one for sale at £35,000 in a local estate agent window. Even in the current economic climate with credit crunch, mortgage woes and falling house prices that is a lot of money. They can also be rented at more reasonable rates - but for not much less than a holiday cottage, especially during the summer months given the high demand. The beach huts and bathing have been synonymous with Southwold since Victorian times although bathing machines were once more prevalent, several of which exist today but now as stationary beach huts. Weather is clearly something that can and does play havoc with these huts and several are showing desperate need of repair or will face imminent collapse. But they are cheerfully painted in many different colours and some have complex decoration. Two near the southern (or Gun Hill) end have fantastic paintings of children enjoying the beach.
(2008-1481) Beach huts, Southwold
There are reminders all around the town of its maritime heritage, as if they were needed. The inscriptions on the headstones around St Edmunds Church tell of the misery of people being drowned at sea. There’s a small museum holding various records and named after the town’s old sailing lifeboat - the Alfred Corry that was in service for 25 years from 1893. Dominating the skyline, however, is the 101 feet tall lighthouse that was built in 1890. Once again, there are many pictures in a variety of media that are of, or inspired by, this lighthouse.
(2008-1987) Southwold Lighthouse
The next tallest structure in Southwold is the Adnams Brewery! This supplies all the pubs in Southwold and many further afield. Adnams Bitter and Broadside have been guest beers to pubs I have visited in Derbyshire and are always a nice reminder of Southwold. I have also seen them in London - but I know there are many other destinations, including the supermarket shelves for bottled and canned beers. Of the pubs in Southwold, however, the Lord Nelson on East Street is by far my favourite. It is a wonderful old, small, family run pub with no music or games machines. The beer, wine, food and service are all first class and I returned, as every time we visit Southwold, on more than one occasion...
(2008-1990) Lord Nelson, Southwold
After a meal and drink in the Lord Nelson a walk along the nearby promenade will bring anyone back to their senses, especially with the strong winds we had during our visit. This became a regular evening walk. Given that Southwold is on the east coast sunsets over the sea just do not happen here. Sunrise is different - but I was never awake early enough, shame on me! But with the right conditions it is possible to get a beautiful sunset that paints the sky and clouds with a warm light, and a walk along the beach or promenade is a perfect time to enjoy this.
(2008-1617) Southwold Beach, sunset
The sea defences along the beach have recently been rebuilt. The groynes are all new although weathering quickly with the relentless battering from the North Sea. The pebbles and sand along the beach have obviously been moved mechanically to restore things. It was interesting to see that a photograph in our holiday cottage dated 1996 showed pebbles almost up to the level of the promenade. The level is some 5 feet or so lower now.
(2008-1632) Groynes at dusk, Southwold
Not far from Southwold are many places of historic interest (Framlingham Castle being a favourite), culture (Snape Maltings), landscape (Dunwich) or wildlife (RSPB reserve at Minsmere). We visited several, all of which we have been to on previous visits but there is always something different or another walk to take.
(2008-1660) Waves breaking at Dunwich
(2008-1772) Avocet, The Scrape, Minsmere
(2008-1775) Aldeburgh Beach
(2008-1807) Walberswick Beach and dunes
(2008-1922) Walberswick - old pier
All photographs were taken with a Canon 1Ds Mk3, 24-105mm f4 IS L lens except the Avocet at Minsmere which was with a Canon 500mm f4 IS L lens plus 1.4x teleconverter.
Next: Part 2 - Easter 2009