Move to...Aldeburgh

Illustration by Tom Jay

It may be famous for its art festival, but this pretty town on East Anglia's Amber Coast has more than just music to offer everyone who visits. Words: Lesley Gillilan

Aldeburgh is one of Suffolk’s little gems: a crooked line of pastel-coloured houses on a beach pebbled with raw amber stones washed up from the North Sea. Clinker-built fishing boats rest on the shingle beside black-tarred shacks where fishermen sell lobster and fresh-caught Dover sole. On the seafront, the red herringbone brick of the 16th-century Moot Hall reminds us of the town’s medieval roots. It’s hard to think of a prettier place. 

Between Southwold and Orford Ness, the setting is beguiling, too. Wildlife thrives on the marshy wetlands of the Alde Estuary. Gentle meadows melt into woodland. And, in nearby Thorpeness – a whimsical holiday village created in 1910 by landowner Glencairn Ogilvie – there are quaint, mock-Tudor houses, an artificial boating lake and the House in the Clouds (like a cottage on a stick, it was originally built as a water tower). 

The area is best known as the heart of ‘Benjamin Britten Country’ and for the music festival he founded in the 1940s, but it was weekend walks on the beaches around Snape and Orford that inspired former civil servant Naomi Tarry’s move from London to Suffolk. She and her husband Alex run Best of Suffolk, a holiday cottage company which they started after buying a bolthole in Aldeburgh. When they bought a second lettings property, they decided they should try it out. ‘We planned to stay for a weekend, but ended up living there for two years!’

They are now settled permanently in Aldeburgh. ‘I fell in love with the coastal scenery,’ says Naomi.  She also likes the pace of life and friendly people. ‘Everyone seems to be in a relaxed mood, and although there are a lot of second homes, there is a big community of people who have lived here all their lives.’ 

Aldeburgh’s prime properties are among the colour-washed fishermen’s cottages, converted boathouses and period houses in the High Street conservation area within three streets of the sea (Crabbe Street, Market Cross Place and Wentworth Road among others). Best for sea views is the shoreline Crag Path, almost touching the beach. Expect to pay around £400,000 for the smallest of cottages almost anywhere in town; more for larger houses (£675,000 for a three-bedroom detached property, close to the shops); good buys are those few, rare homes still in need of renovation. Best addresses in Thorpeness are the Tudor-style cottages in the dunes by the sea or houses overlooking The Meare.

Aside from watersports, sailing, golf, and a long stretch of shingle beach that runs more or less continuously from Felixstowe to Lowestoft, Aldeburgh boasts a range of independent shops and galleries, a community-run cinema – a quirky little picture house founded in 1919 – and the Concert Hall at nearby Snape Maltings (the multi-use conversion of a sprawling 19th-century maltings on the Alde Estuary). A year-long programme of music and literary events culminates with the Aldeburgh Festival in June ( Good walks include the 12-mile Sailors’ Path route to Snape, taking in wildlife habitats at Snape Marshes. Great places to eat include the Dolphin Inn at Thorpeness and the Cragg Sisters Tea Room or The Lighthouse on Aldeburgh High Street.

Two-and-a-half hours north of London, via the A12, Aldeburgh is a little too far off the beaten track for a daily commute to the city. The closest station is at Saxmundham, where you can travel to London’s Liverpool Street via Woodbridge. Some travel to jobs in Ipswich (the 25-mile journey takes 45 minutes by car) but many choose to stay close to Aldeburgh, setting up local businesses or working from home. The nearest international airport is Norwich. 

There is a good primary school in Aldeburgh, but older kids will need to travel to Seckford Foundation’s Free School in Saxmundham (rated Good by Ofsted), or Thomas Mills High School, 14 miles away in Framlingham (rated Outstanding).

House prices in this corner of Suffolk-on-Sea are almost twice the national average – hence budget-buyers might consider moving inland to Saxmundham, which is not only cheaper but also has a station and schools. Prices in Thorpeness (the highest in the area) seem unaffected by the close proximity to Sizewell’s two nuclear power stations. Sizewell A, five miles north of Aldeburgh, was decommissioned in 2006, but its twin is still active.

New-build developments are rare in this conservative region of the Suffolk Heritage Coast, but in once old-fashioned Thorpeness, the newly constructed Barn Hall offers loft-style holiday studios and, on the beach, the extraordinarily modern Dune House – the Norwegian import created for the holiday home rental company Living Architecture – looks like a spaceship that has landed in fairyland.

Originally published in the January 2015 issue of Coast.

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