The Back and Front of Beyond

Kessingland may sound like it’s a theme park, but it’s a sprawling village on the Suffolk coast between Lowestoft and Southwold.

We arrived to our first site, located at the ‘top’ end of the village next to a zoo. i’ve no complaints, but to access the very best part of Kessingland, the bit at the ‘bottom’, by the sea entailed a long, boring walk down a street in which the immaculate allotments provided the only interest. During a wild, windy walk along Kessingland’s unspoilt, shingle beach we discovered another, beachfront site and, feeling a little treacherous for having booked 4 nights at the top end site, we moved.

On the new pitch we faced the iron grey North Sea and a wide shingle beach dotted only with clumps of hardy vegetation and a few dog walkers, miniature tankers and container ships making stately progress towards Harwich broke the horizon, lit up like decorations at night.

Kessingland is devoid of massed terraces of gift shops or coffee shops, boasting only 2 pubs and a tiny Tardis of a shop, ‘The Beach Hut’, in which a customer must vacate before another can enter [and this, even before the advent of the dastardly virus!].

Too windy for cycling, we opted for a long walk along the broad beach and dunes, almost to Lowestoft, meeting few others. Back at Kessingland we ‘helped out’ by eating at the pub, ‘The Sailors’ Home’, where the meals are a triumph of economy over gourmet dining.

Next day we took a bus into Southwold, Kessingland’s opposite; tourist Mecca, with gifts, galleries, bakeries, coffee shops, a pier, a market, rows of colourful beach huts, amusements and thousands of visitors, few of whom seem able to observe the pedestrian one-way system. There are some tenuous links to George Orwell, a dedication to whom is splattered over a large wall on the pier.

Following our 4 nights in Kessingland, we headed inland, first to Oulton Broad, a large lake and a marginal draw for visitors, although the neglected pleasure boats languishing at their moorings tell a Covid story of their own. Some access to the lake is restricted due to private homes but we could see the old ‘wherries’, flat, barge-like vessels that were once used for freight. In the afternoon we struck off into the marsh, following paths through the reed beds.

Then it was off to our next destination, a pub site in an inland village near Diss, Norfolk. The weather was turning gloomy and rain threatened as we turned into the entrance. Here a few pitches had been carved out of the land behind the pub and a shower shed constructed for the half dozen units. We adopted a ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ mentality as the rain closed in. The pub is clearly in difficulties, offering some meals and entertainment but attracting few revellers.

Next day rain was firmly established and we set off to Norwich, using the ‘park and ride’ system and well prepared with raincoats and umbrellas. Norwich is a beautiful and historic city, which compensates, perhaps for some of Norfolk’s less gorgeous attributes. There is a magnificent cathedral, a renowned market, numerous museums [closed], a castle [closed] and ‘the lanes’, a series of narrow, cobbled streets flanked by old buildings. Having met friends for lunch we wandered for as long as we could manage in the rain.

Though dry, the next day was cold and having cast around for a nearby sightseeing tour we decided on Diss and Bury St Edmunds, Diss being a smallish but not unattractive place with a ‘mere’ and Bury St Edmunds a well-to-do town with an abbey and immaculate gardens.

I was not sorry to leave the pub site. We were to head back out to the coast and the sun was shining…

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