We had never visited Felixstowe until a few weeks ago. Never even thought about visiting it (Im now a little ashamed to say). My knowledge of the town was based soley on the 80’s soap opera Triangle, set aboard a north sea ferry between Felixstowe and Gothenberg and starring the gorgeous Larry Lamb (check it out – it, or maybe he, was glamorous and addictive!). I confess, since the series ended, I have remained ignorant of Felixstowe’s considerable charms…
Given that Felixstowe is only 1 ½ hours drive from Bedford, this overlooked (by us) town must surely be our closest coastal destination. As confirmed sea lovers, it was high time to address this and eschew some of its better known Suffolk neighbours…
Felixstowe, Old Felixstowe, Felixstowe Ferry. We were more than a little confused about the 3 quite distinct areas of the town and plumped for a room at the centrally located, Hotel Orwell. This turned out to be a good base to embark on a (long) walking route that would encompass all areas.
Our exploration started at what is perhaps the most charming part of Felixstowe; the hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry. With its sun bleached, wooden fisherman’s shacks on stilts, the little ferry across the mouth of the river Deben, small clusters of kids crabbing from the pier and the jazz quartet on the Green.
You can also stop a while at the “Ferry Café”, a 1950s style diner, or “Winkles at the Ferry” shack, for seafood and fish and chips.
There’s a surf shack style fishmonger “James Hunt” where you can pick up something for dinner and of course, the 15th century “Ferry Boat Inn” for a nice pint, or two of Adnams Ale.
We spent a happy couple of hours at “The Ferry”, keeping ourselves sustained with beer and fish & chips, in order to continue on our route. On the long walk along the seafront, from “The Ferry” to the Port, try counting the faded pastel coloured beach huts; numbering over 1000 and marvel at the creative names. All whilst enjoying an old fashioned ice cream from the charming little “Peter’s Ice Creams”. (You would be forgiven for thinking you had been transported back to the 50s).
Well maintained leafy gardens line the seafront and some really impressive properties stand proud on the cliff above. Reminders of a grand, victorian past when bathing in the sea and coastal holidays were all the rage.
History lovers will also note that Wallis Simpson hid out in Felixstowe awaiting her divorce (a lady called Beryl, a fellow customer at Ruby’s cafe told me this).
There is also a small plaque commemorating the 2 suffragettes who burnt down the Bath Hotel, causing thousands of pounds of damage (having set alight to Great Yarmouth Pier the previous week). They went on to spend several years in prison…
Felixstowe town centre is certainly not trendy or chi chi (a pet hate!). You will find the usual high street shops such as Argos, Iceland, Poundland as well as an impressive variety of charity shops. Alongside there is a really eclectic mix of old and new independent shops, including; several Antiques shops, independent bookshops, a shop selling movie memorabilia, a wine shop, gift shops and several galleries.
There’s a lovely bakery, a deli, a greengrocer and my personal favourite, an old fashioned hardware shop, where you can buy just about anything.
There are several shops selling what I believe is called “ephemera”; difficult to pin down, but loved by some, for sure… It’s refreshing to see so many independent businesses, many with beautifully preserved wooden heritage shopfronts.
There are many cafes and coffee shops. There are several chains, but also reassuringly traditional cafes such as Ruby’s on Bent Hill, or the Café on the Corner. There is also a plant based café and a café that doubles as a wool shop.
Seaside traditionalists and thrill seekers need not be disappointed as there is a huge amusement arcade on the pier, where we gambled a pound, or two on the machines. Further along the front you will also find Mannings Amusements, which specialises in family fun; amusements, fun fair and mini golf. A market is also held here every Sunday.
The art deco style Spa Pavillion is a seafront theatre, bar and restaurant which has just reopened for meals and they are planning to reopen in November for shows, and live entertainment. So fingers crossed for that…
There are several impressive martello towers on the seafront; part of the coastal defences against potential dutch invaders.
Continue past them and eventuallly you arrive at a shingle spit known as the Landguard nature reserve, 81 acres of flora and fauna.
Then you come to the imposing Landguard Fort, which guarded the harbour entrance from attack. The Fort and the museum were closed at our time of visiting, but maybe next time…
Finally, you reach Viewpoint Café, a popular spot after a walk in the nature reserve. From here, you can wile away some considerable time; observing the fascinating workings of UK’s busiest port and marvelling at the sheer size of the container ships. People come to the café for the substantial breakfasts and brunches (though I was slightly disappointed to find the much anticipated Fishermans breakfast was a fry up, as opposed to the fish based melange of my imagination!).
There is so much to Felixstowe. When I read this back I realise that there really is something for everyone; from those wanting a traditional bucket and spade holiday to history and nature lovers, golfers and everyone who loves a slice of yesteryear.
One of my abiding impressions was left by the friendly locals. Everywhere we went, everyone was up for a chat. This was so refreshing and welcoming. Whilst I would never wish to be disparaging about other, perhaps more celebrated Suffolk seaside destinations (that I have consistently visited for over 20 years) where I can say, hand on heart, that noone has ever tried to strike up a conversation with me – Felixstowe is super friendly and welcoming to visitors….
So yes, Felixstowe, we have been remiss not to visit sooner, but we will be back again and soon….in the meantime, don’t go changing!
Where we ate/drank!
We ate a relaxed and very satisfying Sunday roast in the lovely, exposed brick and wood bar at Fludyers hotel, with a beautiful view overlooking the sea.
Breakfast at Blue & Berry had something for each of us (from substantial fried egg sarnie to crumpets), was very friendly and thus, highly recommended.
It would be very difficult to pass by a coffee shop with a piano…thus, we liked Scribble for good coffee and tunes (Kate Bush was artist of the week, when we visited) We also noted many people calling in for the indulgent looking traybakes to take out…
“Winkles at the Ferry” shack was good for and fish and chips and sandwiches, overlooking the mouth of the river and the ferry point. (Winkles recently featured in a Guardian article about favourite beach shacks).
The traditional 15th century “Ferry Boat Inn” for a nice pint, or two of quality Adnams Ale.
The Grosvenor, an airy, well managed Greene King pub just behind the main street, with some impressive floral displays.
The contemporary Alex Café and Brasserie on the seafront for a G & T, watching the sun go down.