This week I took a trip to the Suffolk coast to enjoy a day of traditional seaside fun and, more importantly, to hunt out Southwold Pier. This hidden gem is a classic seaside attraction and I really can’t think of anywhere better to spend the day when the weather is as glorious as it has been over the past week. In fact, the pier itself is like a little micro-climate with the sea breezes keeping us cool on the hottest day of the year so it’s ideal for a summer trip. Let’s start off by saying that I really, really like a good attraction map. I actually enjoy being handed a visitor’s guide when I arrive at a theme park, event, museum or visitor attraction. They are usually hand-drawn and often feature cute little comic characters and in-jokes that make me giggle. I picked up the map of Southwold pier at a tourist information centre and immediately knew that I would enjoy visiting the attraction – it looked like lots of fun, with traditional penny arcades, tearooms and even a micro bandstand!
The original pier at Southwold was built in 1900 and was 810ft long but it was struck by a sea-mine during World War II and its weakened state caused it to be washed away by storms over subsequent years, reducing it to a length of only 60ft. Thankfully, the pier was rescued and rebuilt in 2001 as Britain’s only 21st Century Pier. It now boasts 623ft of leisure, food and entertainment facilities. When you arrive at Southwold pier you’ll find plenty of parking to the left of the entrance. The huge carpark is pay-and-display but isn’t extortionate prices. Alternatively, there are lots of free parking spaces along the seafront but these get filled up pretty quickly in the morning and visitors tend to stay all day. Public toilets are available in the car park area and a couple of loos can be found on the pier inside the arcade too. But that’s enough housekeeping – on to the fun! The attraction that I enjoyed the most was The Under The Pier Show. Despite it’s name, it is above deck and contains a host of weird and wacky penny arcade machines. The ‘show’ allows you to step into the mind of automaton artist Tim Hunkin, where you can experience the world through the eyes of a fly, take a holiday in your vintage armchair and check out what’s lurking beneath the Southwold sea in the diving machine. Some of the games are as little as 20p a go, and often provide a souvenir such as a deranged doctor’s prescription, a psychic prediction or even a nuclear sweet. The machines on display are regularly are rotated and new games are added all the time so you can never be sure that you’ll find there, but they range from walking a zimmer-frame across a busy road to shooting artwork in a gallery, from having your feet checked by a crazy chiropodist to an instant solar eclipse. What you’ll see on the day is totally pot-luck but you can guarantee it’ll be fun, weird and wonderful.
The next stop on my tour of the pier was The Clockhouse café, serving barista coffee and an amazing hot chocolate (which I thoroughly enjoyed!). Again the prices are not too steep and definitely compare favourably to coffee chain prices! The Waterclock on the pier outside the café is another Tim Hunkin invention which ‘performs’ every 30 minutes so be sure to hang around for this, it’s worth a watch! The clock was designed as a feature about water recycling and all the copper on the clock has been reclaimed from old hot water cylinders so it’s a great lesson in recycling for the little ones too. With the school summer holiday’s coming up, it’s a great place to entertain the children without spending a fortune on a day out. For a start, the arcades still have 2p machines! As a child, I remember saving all my 2 pence pieces in a jar throughout the year to play on the arcade machines during our summer holiday. It made the build-up to the trip so exciting and, even though we only ever won more 2ps back, it was great fun and we could spend hours playing on the machines! Perhaps you too could encourage your little ones to save some change over the next few weeks to take with them to the pier? There are lots of different versions of 2p games on the pier and the larger games are not too pricey either.
Of course, a trip to the seaside wouldn’t be complete without fish and chips! There are a few different options if you wish to eat on the pier; The Boardwalk restaurant serves proper restaurant food with fresh fish and platters, while The Beach Cafe dishes up traditional fish and chips in cute little newpaper-print trays. Preferring to eat on the beach rather than the pier, Hubby and I picked up some scampi, fishcake and chips from a nearby chip shop and enjoyed it with the view of the pier in the background. After dinner, we went for a stroll along the promenade to view the gorgeous – and highly priced! – beach huts at Southwold and picked up an ice-cream from the Sweet Treats store at the front of the pier for our dessert. The day was so hot that my whippy ice-cream (£2 with a flake, £1.70 without) quickly started to melt down my hand so I took a quick snap of it before tucking in.
The promenade at Southwold is ideal for an after-dinner stroll and the beautiful views make me really want to own a beach hut and spend days painting and writing by the sea. Even on a bad-weather day the views along the coast are spectacular and Southwold’s lighthouse is a gorgeous feature on the horizon. There are even more attractions on the pier that I’ve not mentioned, including quaint little shops selling homewares, postcards, toys and traditional bucket-and-spade items, and another interesting Hunkin invention at the very end of the pier; the “Quantum Tunnelling Telescope” but I’ll let you investigate these other attractions for yourself!
I really enjoyed the day out at Southwold and would definitely recommend it for fun day out at the coast. My guide to Southwold Pier has been included in the ThinkMoney UK travel guide – check it out to find lots of other ‘hidden gem’ destinations for a low-cost day out in the UK. With the ice cream, fish & chips, cups of coffee, souvenir shopping and fun on the arcades, my day out cost only £40 in total! And please let me know if you take a trip to Southwold yourself this summer – get in touch with your photos, I’d love to see what you got up to so tweet me a pic to @Cassiefairy.