Howard Croft column: Calm and civility enjoyed on two-day Suffolk break

Church of St Edmund, Southwold.
Church of St Edmund, Southwold.

Mrs Croft and I decided to take a bit of a holiday, which is unusual for us because we’re not very good at taking holidays and have form for returning home early, sometimes very early. It is generally assumed among our friends that my impatience and irascibility are behind this, but when I tell you that Mrs Croft’s parents had such a history of bolting early from hotels that they invented a word for it – puntilating – you may want to consider the possibility of locating the problem elsewhere.

Anyway, as it was to be only a two-day holiday we thought we might get through it to the end, and were right. We booked a hotel room in Southwold, in Suffolk for what I hoped would be a lively weekend, and occupied it for both nights. We explored the Church of St Edmund, King and Martyr, visited Adnam’s, the Maltings at Snape and of course did a great deal of rooting about in Southwold itself.

Southwold is a charming town, as you will know if you have been there, and it has some unusual characteristics. It is the most dog-friendly place I think I have ever visited. Dogs are welcome in most shops and pubs, and outside almost every shop you will find water bowls for their refreshment. Although our flat-coat was not with us, we fell into conversation with many dog owners and met some enchanting animals. One local couple we met on the pier were obviously keen to find out about our origins but, confused by our accents, mine smoothed out by decades of living among barbarians and Mrs Croft’s Hampshire burr modified into a Kensington number by London life, they felt bold enough to ask. “Do you,” he said, “have the pleasure of living locally?” I responded, “No, we have the privilege of living in North Yorkshire”, which it turned out to be a favourite destination of theirs when taking a break.

Southwold is also expensive. A small two bedroom house there will cost you more than twice what you would have to pay in Old Malton where there is in any case a premium because the neighbours there are so classy. Or so they will tell you. I wonder why this is, and how people manage. The reason why, I was told, is that it is a popular retirement destination for wealthy public sector pensioners. How ordinary people manage is that they go to live in Ipswich.

A particularly striking feature of the town is its calm and civility. As we wandered about the town looking for a suitable place to tie on our bibs, and again later, after we had eaten, as we wandered about again trying to find our hotel I sensed that something was missing. Eventually, I realised what it was: there were no testosterone-fuelled young men shouting at each other, no dippy girls tottering admiringly around them on high heels, and no wash of blue light from police cars. An unusual situation in towns at the weekend. I wanted to ask a police officer to explain it to me, but I didn’t see one the whole time we were there. Perhaps, who knows, there were van loads of rapid reaction snatch squads hiding in back streets whose very presence deterred trouble makers.

When I lived in London the short walk to the newsagents on a Sunday morning took me past the premises of a night club where almost invariably, on the pavement outside, I would see blood that had been spilled the night before. But it was not all bad. Also nearby was a Waterstone bookshop where, at a few minutes to twelve on a Sunday morning, a knot of people would be found waiting for it to open, rather as they used to do outside pubs in more regulated times, or outside post offices on a Monday morning. As one of my visitors said, there’s not much wrong with a country or its education system where people queue outside bookshops waiting for opening time.

We enjoyed our holiday, and we may try another next year, but perhaps a shorter one.