Mark Bibby Jackson returns to the East of England for a UK Staycation, visiting the seaside resort of Aldeburgh Suffolk and nearby Orford for a local experience.

It seems somehow appropriate in this crazy world that my 2020 travels finish where they started in the county of Suffolk. Back in February when COVID was still called coronavirus and a lockdown was reserved to prison dramas, I visited Bury St Edmunds, fast forward to October, and as a second lockdown is about to be imposed upon England, I retrace my steps slightly further up the coast to Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

In the meantime so much has changed. UK holiday makers have neglected the fields of France, towns of Italy and beaches of Spain to discover their own green fields. But, the surge in UK staycations has not necessarily led to an increase in local travel. Products can still be homogenised and produce imported. Still, the Covid pandemic has afforded people the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint while on holiday, not just in the manner in which they travel but in the extent of local produce they purchase while at their chosen destination.

Fishers Gin – a Local Experience

Fishers Distillery
Fishers Distillery – reputedly the only gin distillery by the sea in the UK

Which is why I am pleasantly surprised upon entering Fishers Gin Distillery on Aldeburgh’s seafront. Initially, I feel as though we have entered a Channel 4 programme on modern design classics. However, there is nothing designed about our welcome, as we are immediately offered a gin and tonic and take our seats on the comfortable sofas while we await our tour to commence. This is how experiences should begin.

Fishers Gin was started by Andrew Heald in 2016. However youthful the distillery, the bond its creator has for the surrounding area is lifelong, as Andrew is Suffolk born and bred. He conveys his passion for the estuary close to Aldeburgh while showing us drone footage from Orford Castle to the distillery, which is located on the seafront at Aldeburgh next to the Brudenell Hotel.

The video could easily be used by the tourism department to promote the area, but it also reveals how Andrew and his distiller Ben harvest the botanicals used to create Fishers Gin from the surrounding countryside. This really is a local product.

Fishers tin and tonic
Fishers tin and tonic –  the perfect combination

After the video, our gin tins – that is how Andrew prefers to serve the natonal tipple – are replenished before we attempt to concoct our own gin tea from a selection of botanicals. Letting it brew, we are shown the small still which churns out all the local gin before returning upstairs.

I am not left to drink my own tea – which I believe could be used as a cure for Covid – as Andrew presents us with three gins to taste; Fishers Original (44%), Limited Edition Fifty (50%) and Smoked Gin (60%). The last is still in its final throws of production and is likely to be slightly less potent by the time it is released to the public around Christmas time. It is inspired by the local Pinney’s Smokery, located in Orford, but more of that later.

Brudenell Hotel and a True Local

Fortunately, considering the generous quantity of gin I had ‘tasted’, I do not have too far to stagger, as we are staying at the Brudenell Hotel next door, where I have already stowed my car, safe in the knowledge that I shall not be driving anywhere this evening.

White Hart Aldeburgh Suffolk, a true local
White Hart Inn, Aldeburgh Suffolk, a true local

Arguably, Suffolk has some of the best beer in the UK. On my trip to Bury St Edmunds I tasted the Greene King bitter brewed there. The other main Suffolk brewery, Adnams, is located just along the coast in Southwold – and Aldeburgh is very much an Adnams rather than a Greene King town.

Before dinner, I decide to brave the wind that is rising to a gale, and stroll into town settling on the White Hart Inn for my pre-prandial pint – well two.

Sadly, the typical British local was something of an endangered species even before Covid struck. As we trepidatiously tread inside the White Hart we are fortunate to discover two guests are leaving, otherwise there would have been no room for us, such has been the impact of Covid on the British local’s compact space.

The White Hart is a great example of an English boozer. The wood panelling on the walls and the red cushioned seating invite us to stay almost as much as the great beer. As I sip my pint and endeavour to engage in a conversation with the landlord, I wonder how many places such as this will survive the pandemic, especially when, like with the White Hart, no food is served. Here at least you can sit in the heated garden and eat take out from Aldeburgh Fish and Chip Shop next door, which judging by the queues the next day, is well worth the visit.

Dining at the Brudenell Hotel
Brudenell Hotel Aldeburgh Suffolk
Seafood & Grill restaurant, Brudenell Hotel Aldeburgh Suffolk (c) KenRockwell.com

My thirst stated I return to the Brudenell Hotel for dinner.

The original Brudenell was built by Newson Garrett in the early 1800s and opened as a hotel in 1868. The hotel has an interesting history – during the First World War it was used as a Belgian Refugee house for all children, with more than 100 children passed through the Children’s home.

Over the years, the hotel has been extended, and refurbished as recently as 2010, with the seafront terrace and restaurant modernised in spring 2014 when it was renamed as the Seafood & Grill. It is here that we are to dine.

The menu, created by Head Chef Darran Hazelton, focuses on sustainably sourced fish and seafood as well as local Suffolk produce. The interior has a coastal yet contemporary feel in keeping with the menu.

We start with a tasty crab tian, which I follow with a marvellous mackerel as the catch of the day while my companion opts for the partridge, which she claims is excellent. We conclude with a shared plate of Suffolk cheeses. They do not disappoint.

Our wonderful waiter, Rudy, who hails from Honduras, is keen to stress the restaurant’s policy is to source produce locally. Only the wine, a robust rioja seems imported.

A Stroll along Aldeburgh Beach

Scallop, a tribute to Britten by local sculptor Maggi Hambling
Scallop, a tribute to Britten by local sculptor Maggi Hambling

That evening I fall asleep to the sound of the waves rolling in along the coast beneath my seafront room. The following morning after a substantial breakfast I take advantage of a break in the weather to stroll along Aldeburgh’s beachfront.

The long, pebbly beach is great for strolling or watching kids skimming stones into the waves.

With its big skies, wide beaches and colourful cottages Aldeburgh has been a favourite holiday destination since Victorian times. It has also attracted musicians, artists and writers, including the composer Benjamin Britten.

At the far end of the beach lies Scallop, a tribute to Britten by local sculptor Maggi Hambling – she of Mary Wollstonecraft fame – , with the words, “I hear those voices that will not be drowned”, etched on it. Judging by my visit which coincided with half-term, the sculpture has proved extremely popular with children who view it as an impromptu adventure playground.

Aldeburgh’s fame predated its emergence as a Victorian tourist destination. In Tudor times it was a bustling port with ships regularly sailing from here to as far as the Faroe Isles. The Golden Hind, the ship that took Sir Francis Drake around the globe, was built in Aldeburgh in the 16th century.

The wonderful timber-framed Town Hall, renamed Moot Hall in Victorian times, dates back to the mid-1500s, and now houses the Aldeburgh Museum, which is open from 1pm to 4pm every day.

The Moot Hall now houses Aldeburgh Museum
The Moot Hall now houses Aldeburgh Museum

Although not as spectacular as the fish huts on Hastings Stade I visited late summer, small black-wooded stores sell fish along the beach near the Moot Hall, although if my visit is anything to go buy most visitors opt for the Aldeburgh fish and chips shops a couple of streets back in town.

One of the great things about Aldeburgh is the vast expanse of space along the beach. Even in these times of Covid, there is no sense of congestion.


Aldeburgh Suffolk Photo Gallery


Snape Maltings

Another attraction of a mini-break to Aldeburgh is the wealth of opportunities on your doorstep.

The walk from Aldeburgh to Snape Maltings through the Snape Marches near the River Alde is extremely pleasant and reassuringly flat. I had walked it on my previous visit a couple of years ago. This time we drive there.

Snape Maltings
River beside Snape Maltings, photo provided by Snape Maltings

Sailors and smugglers used to moor on the River Alde at Snape Maltings to unload goods and, after finding their boats stranded at low tide, were forced to walk back home to their cottages in Aldeburgh. Now, it is an arts complex that includes a concert hall as well as galleries, studios and workshops for artists and musicians, several eateries, shops and a sculpture park with works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

Snape Maltings is also the host to the Aldeburgh Festival, which is scheduled for 11-27 June, 2021.

Orford Castle and Quay

A few miles from Snape Maltings lies the small town of Orford. Its main draw is Orford Castle, built, as was the town’s magnificent St Batholomews Church, in the 12th Century, when Orford used to be a major port. Unfortunately, Orford Castle is closed on our visit, as its opening days are restricted due to Covid measures, but we are able to walk around its tight grounds.

The estuary at Orford Quay
Boats stranded along the estuary at Orford Quay

With plenty of time before our dinner, we choose to visit Orford Quay a mile or so outside of town where we buy some smoked fish from Pinney’s of Orford, which had provided the inspiration for the smoked gin we tasted at Fishers distillery the previous day.

Afterwards we just have enough time, as the sun sets, to walk along the estuary, which possesses an eerie timeless quality especially with the occasional boat stranded in the mud.

The Crown and Castle Orford

For the final leg on our Suffolk staycation, we settle by the unlit fire in the restaurant section of the Crown and Castle, literally a stone’s throw from the castle. After ordering our food I admire the artwork including the mesmerising Lucrezia from 1503 by Swiss Italian graphic designer and photographer Christian Tagliavini, inspired by Renaissance artists particularly Agnolotti do Cision.

Excellent cuisine at the Crown and Castle Orford
Excellent cuisine at the Crown and Castle Orford, photo provided by Crown and Castle

Keeping with the theme of using sustainable and local produce wherever possible, the pub sources its bread from the Orford Pump Street Bakery on the town square. This is served with a couple of spreads, one a marmite butter that is quite astonishing. On the big question of the day, I have always found myself on the Marmite hating side of the divide, so I was amazed to discover the butter quite irresistible; I could have found my conversion on the road to Aldeburgh.

My starter is a plate of smoked fish and shellfish, which you might not be surprised to learn was from Pinney’s. The smoked mackerel and equally smokey taramasalata are wonderful, sufficiently so to make me regret not having purchased some of the latter when we visited the shop earlier in the afternoon.

I follow this with an excellent skate while my companion opts for the game pie. To conclude we both choose the 12 handcrafted chocolates for dessert. The decadent chocolates, from Gorvett & Stone in Henley-on-Thames, are served in a box. So, having tasted a couple I am able to take the rest home with me ensuring that the fantastic meal will stay in my memory for the next couple of days.

Our Suffolk mini-break complete, I reluctantly drive back home, narrowly avoiding a stag that poses for our headlights on the empty country road ahead. While the Covid pandemic remains with us, the current trend for UK staycations will flourish, my advice is to make your mini-break as genuiney local as possible. You will not regret it, and it will also help to reduce your travelling carbon footprint.


Orofrd and Snape Maltings Photo Gallery


Aldeburgh Suffolk Hotels

To make a reservation call The Brudenell Hotel on 01728 452071; details can also be found on www.brudenellhotel.co.uk.

Dining in Orford

To book dinner or a stay at The Crown and Castle in Orford call 01394 450205 or visit www.crownandcastle.co.uk. Rooms start from £140 per night for two sharing B&B.

Fishers Gin, Aldeburgh Suffolk

Fishers Gin tours cost £30 per person and are limited to a maximum of six people. They must be pre-booked online in advance via the Fishers’ website www.fishersgin.com or call 01728 454201. Tours are subject to current Government Covid-19 guidelines. Check the website for details.


Things to Do in Aldeburgh Suffolk

For information about things to see and do in Aldeburgh Suffolk and nearby, visit: www.thesuffolkcoast.co.uk. Photos by Mark Bibby Jackson unless stated.

Advertisement