In the four months I’ve spent in Oulton Broad, I’ve found plenty of places I’ll miss now I’m back in the Smoke. Please go and spend lots of money, especially in the bookshops. I want them to be here when I come back.
Book lovers in this part of the world have to seek out their bookshops, but they are there – and all the more charming for their rarity. Here are a few I’ve visited and liked:
Beccles Books in Beccles, Suffolk. Beccles is a lovely little town on the river Waveney, with lots of good food shops and a great Friday market. The bookshop is small but perfectly formed, with a good selection of books about the local area as well as a decent smattering of everything you’d expect. They also sell rather nice cards, including nostalgic reproductions of 1930s East Coast railway posters that manage to make Lowestoft look glamorous.
Besleys Books, an antiquarian bookshop also in Beccles, drew me in with an irresistible display of vintage hardback Arthur Ransome books, each open at a page with an evocative illustration. Inside was even better – most of my treasured childhood library seemed to be inside, including the same red cloth-bound edition of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. I didn’t just know the feel and smell of those books – I can remember how the paper tasted, thanks to a bad habit of breaking off the corners to chew. (Please note, I no longer do this). As well as children’s books, there is a wonderful collection of Norfolk and Suffolk interest books, plenty of maritime and sailing, gardening and natural history. I had to be dragged out (with one of the Ransome books under my arm).
The Book Hive in Norwich. This is a real gem, worth seeking out on a trip to the city. The stock is eclectic, surprising and clearly the personal selection of a book lover with great taste. There’s plenty of fiction, although not necessarily the names you expect to see, but also a great poetry section, lots of art and design, and a cookery section that made my mouth water. I lingered my way around the shelves, finding books I’d never heard of, books I’d heard of but never seen, books that whispered ‘Buy me, you’ll not regret it’. Eventually I begged the friendly proprietor to save me from myself and take the money for the three books that had found their way into my hands, before I bankrupted myself.
Old Town Clothing, Holt, Norfolk. There’s only one place to go for stylish, well-made clothes that will last you a lifetime, and that’s Old Town Clothing. Browse the website first so that Miss Willey, who runs the shop with a calm and terrifying efficiency, can guide you to the styles you favour, and inform you of the sizing and fabric that are appropriate for your choice. Not cheap, but the clothes are made on the premises, from sturdy English fabrics, and will make you irresistible to any right-thinking person of your preferred gender.
Tea and cake
Twyfords Cafe, Beccles, Suffolk. Patisserie heaven, this little cafe in the centre of Beccles is the best place to sit and contemplate your purchases from Beccles books, maybe over a chocolate eclair or an almond tart. It used to be a gentleman’s outfitters, and the decor from the era remains with plenty of dark wood and mirrors. You can also buy cakes and chocolates to take away, should you run out of room.
The Waterfront Cafe, Woodbridge, Suffolk. There are lots of nice-looking cafes in this cheerful little town on the river Deben. The Waterfront is sweet, with friendly staff and good food, including great seafood at lunchtime. The cakes are of the feed-a-family variety – I manfully ate my way through an entire piece of ginger fruitcake, but it was a close thing. If the weather is nice, you can sit outside and enjoy the lovely view of the river and the yachts. It’s licensed with food, but not open during the evening.
I was disappointed that Oulton Broad doesn’t seem to have a decent real ale pub. There are pubs, sure, but none with that comfortable, settle in for the evening feel. I don’t like being negative so I won’t name names, but surely there must be room for one decent pub in this little town? None of the current ones feel like they’re even trying. In the meantime, here are a couple I’ve enjoyed in the wider area.
The Locks Inn, Geldeston. The Locks Inn is a firm favourite, and rightly so. On a Friday evening, when the kitchen is dispensing delicious, spicy curries and the sun is shining in the garden, there is no finer place to be. The pub is owned by Green Jack brewery, which means the tasty Trawlerboys bitter, zesty Orange wheat beer, and delicate Summer Dream ale are on tap. There’s usually a good selection of other local beers, too.
The Oddfellows at Pakefield, is a nice local pub with a good selection of ales. Adnams is the mainstay, but there are usually a couple of Green Jack or Woodforde ales on tap too. The killer bonus for me is that you can take your beer out onto the cliff tops, where there are a few tables overlooking beautiful Pakefield beach and the North Sea. Which means you can eat your fish’n’chips from Pakefield Plaice chippy along with your beer.
I’ll be honest. If there’s one thing that London does way better than Suffolk, it’s restaurants. We’ve eaten out a few times, finding a couple of decent steak houses, but very little that would pass muster in London. There’s a bit of a time warp – restaurants have a mid-90s feel, the sort of food you could get away with 15 or 20 years ago, before we all became foodies.
There’s one honourable exception, and it’s in Beccles again. Upstairs at Bailey’s is an authentic, excellent Spanish restaurant, perched incongruously above a delicatessen. I went with a friend, expecting a run-of-the-mill cafe, and was amazed to find this absolute gem, dispensing delicate Ajo Blanco soup and deeply savoury paella. I once lived in Spain, co-incidentally along with the visiting friend, and we felt we’d been transported back to our favourite haunts in Madrid.