Once a thriving fishing village and port, the small village of Walberswick lies at mouth of the river Blythe. It is somewhat overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, Southwold; known for its candy striped beach huts, a pier, lighthouse and busy harbour. Walberswick offers instead a quiet charm, first greeting you with its half ruined church of St Andrews, mostly demolished after Henry VIII stripped it of its tithes. Inside the grand ruins, sits a more modest church built in the 17th century. Just beyond is the heart of the village, a collection of charming cottages and houses drawing you down to the beach. One with a particularly impressive gaggle of hollyhocks…
It is here that you feel the salty wind of the North Sea, the coarse sand and the rugged dunes that make this such a special place. With the sea in front of you, the landscape to your right is a nature reserve, stretching for miles along the shore and through the wetlands.
We’d come for a walk, and so we set off on a circular route that would take us through the nature reserve. It is one of the most diverse sites in the United Kingdom, a mixture of grassland, salt marsh, heathland and woodland and home to numerous different species. This made for interestingly varied terrain, some moments brushing against wild plums, others walking along precariously wooden gangways surrounded by masses of reeds; still harvested for thatch.
There is a remoteness to this landscape that I haven’t often experienced in England. For long stretches, you can see only land and sea, no interruptions from buildings and people, even in the summer holidays! When you do reach civilisation again, it is the village of Dunwich. Once Capital of the Eastern Angles, it was once the most important medieval town in the region. In 1086 the population was topping 3000, yet the town had already lost ground to the sea. Exactly two hundred years later, a catastrophic storm took much of the town, followed by others, slowly dragging the heart of the town into the waves. This had another disastrous consequence. The storms were so severe that it silted up the river and harbour, stripping Dunwich of the ability to act as an international port. The sea had taken the town, and the storm had claimed its industry. In 1906, this was all that was left of the thriving town:
Now the town is more of a small village, far busier than Walberswick, and undoubtedly benefiting from the tourists who come to see what remains.
It was back to Walberswick for lunch. Well technically Southwold, although I would argue that the only way to visit this restaurant is by approaching it from Walberswick, as you will otherwise to deny yourself perhaps the most charming journey you can enjoy for £1. The Sole Bay Fish Co is on the other side of the river Blythe, and the easiest way to reach it is by waiting at a small jetty for an even smaller rowing boat to spot you and welcome you aboard, making the small journey back across the river to the Southwold side. Once we were back on dry land, there was only a short stroll to the restaurant, which is in fact a shack of modest proportions, with a fantastic fishmongers at the front of the building – complete with fishtank!
I am almost reluctant to relay just how fantastic this restaurant is. It could hardly be a well-kept secret locally, as it was still absolutely packed to the rafters at 4pm on a Sunday. Each plate was executed with enthusiasm and generosity and everything exuded freshness, from the fish down to the homemade bread. Even the ale was from brewery on their doorstep, a mere minute away!
Now both as full as the restaurant – the portions aren’t for the faint hearted – we finished the day off with a swim. The bracing wind makes North Sea more inviting than you would expect, the waves it throws at you leaves no chance to just dip your big toe in…