East Anglia is home to some glorious stretches of sand and shingle. From Hunstanton’s pinky-red cliffs and Blakeney Point’s grey seal colony (if you want to see oodles of adorable seal pups, now’s the time to go) to Cromer’s sandy shores and the colourful beach huts of Southwold, there’s a beach for everyone and every season.
At the tail end of summer, Laurence and I took our bikes over to Norwich for a long weekend. We spent a day recharging our batteries in Cromer: pottering down the pier – bucket, bait and crab lines in hand – for a few hours’ crabbing; wolfing down fish and chips (an essential component of any seaside trip, in my opinion); and divvying up two pence coins for the slots.
Sunday turned out to be a scorcher, and was the day we’d set aside for a two-wheeled adventure. We caught the train to Lowestoft – a traditional if slightly faded seaside resort – and then picked up minor roads heading south towards Wrentham.
We made a little detour to Covehithe, in the Benacre National Nature Reserve, on our way down to Southwold. Covehithe is steadily being reclaimed by the sea, with between four and five metres of land being lost each year. The Church of St. Andrew looks almost as though it fell victim to an air raid during one of the wars, but it was in fact dismantled in the seventeenth century when it became too expensive for the parish to maintain; a smaller church was subsequently built within the ruins. Beyond the church, the road continues for a hundred metres or so before falling away; within decades, what remains of the village is likely to follow suit.
Southwold’s calling. Or, more accurately, lunch is calling – and since we’d already decided we’d scout out the bakeries in Southwold and have lunch on the beach, it’s time to get back in the saddle.
We park the bikes round the side of Two Magpies Bakery – making sure others’ more expensive bikes are nearer to the road than ours, as we forgot the lock – and go on a food-hunt. Two Magpies Bakery comes up with the goods: delicious, golden sausage rolls and a slice of cake apiece. We pick up a punnet of strawberries from the supermarket, and wheel the bikes to the seafront.
Lining the front are beach huts in every shade of the rainbow: lime green; baby blue; ruby red. On the sands, picnic blankets have been spread out, sandcastles are under construction and a few (brave) folk are taking the plunge and venturing into the sea. (Much too cold for me!)
Sated, we set off in search of an ice. We’d heard good things about Harris & James, and it certainly lived up to them! I opted for a scoop of pink grapefruit gelato, while Laurence went for stracciatella (at least, judging by the photo I have that’s what it was – I can’t be entirely sure as I forgot to make a note at the time!).
Conscious we still had a fair way to go and the day wasn’t getting any younger, we hopped back on our bikes. Before long, we crossed the River Blyth at Walberswick (a good spot for crabbing, if you’re so inclined) and picked up a gravel track heading south. I was a bit worried I’d end up with a puncture – the stones we were bouncing over didn’t seem all that forgiving – but fortunately my bike made it through the ordeal in one piece.
Under the Anglo-Saxons, Dunwich was the capital of the Kingdom of the Eastern Angles and a sizeable international port. Several storms and many centuries’ worth of coastal erosion later, and Dunwich is but a pinprick on the map; a tiny village inundated by beach-goers in the height of summer. The traffic jams on Beach Road (which leads to the car park and, obviously, the beach) were insane, so we ended up walking the last stretch and wheeling our bikes alongside. We picked up fridge-fresh cans of pop from Flora Tearooms, and headed onto the shingle for a rest.
Our route back to Lowestoft took us past pig farms (cue much squealing from me and the piglets) and quaint rural churches and chapels. Sotterley Chapel was, without doubt, my favourite of those we passed, owing to its unique octagonal shape and the table laden with homemade jams on the grass outside. (We bought a pot of the gooseberry jam, which was delicious.) 70-odd kilometres later, and we were back where we’d started – and with time to spare before our train, we wandered along the front before picking up a drink and making our way to the station.
Monday was spent recovering from a day in the saddle (one of these days I’ll invest in a pair of shorts with thicker cushioning!) and ambling round Norwich. Elm Hill, with its pastel-coloured, half-timbered buildings, wouldn’t look out of place in a fairy tale.
Whilst in town, we bumped into one of Laurence’s old school-friends, who introduced us to Café Gelato (6 Opie Street). I went for grapefruit and mango, but could happily have worked my way through their entire range – it was seriously scoff-able. As has become tradition, we wrapped up our weekend in Norwich with a trip to No. 33 (31/33 Exchange Street) for a doorstop-sized wedge of cake. Bliss.