Famed Victorian architect Samuel Peto’s dream was for Lowestoft, the most easterly town in the UK, to rival Brighton, and it’s not hard to see why. Stretching from the golden sands and elegant squares of South Beach right up to the historical conservation area perched on the cliffs, Lowestoft possesses an undeniable beauty, yet, unlike its upscale southern rival, is still an understated place.
Its story is the classic coastal yarn of prosperity from fishing, followed by Victorian development and post-war decline: the most bombed town per capita in the UK, it was lifted a decade ago by a £14 million ‘Sunrise Scheme’, all public art and European-style piazzas, and again last year by a £3.5million coastal protection complete with scrubbed-up promenade and rock clusters. Insta-gold, indeed.
An Old Town strollExplore the historic high street, with its 15th century cottages, grand Georgian merchant houses and Triangle Marketplace, although it’s a shame the 160-year-old Town Hall is currently boarded-up. Well-placed plaques dotted at regular intervals fill you in on some remarkable history – including tales of John Wesley, Cromwell, and Dickens – and there are independent shops selling everything from bric-a-brac and stamp collections to haberdashery and jewellery.
The ‘scores’ (from the Norse ‘skor’, meaning notch) link the historic town to the beach area; explore them with the Red Herring trail. After visiting Lowestoft Arts Centre in the Triangle, at the bottom of the old town, try Flax Cafe for a coffee, or cross over and head down the main high street, noticeably smarter and home to chains from Waterstone’s to M&S.
And don’t miss the oldest smokehouse in the UK: established in 1760, Raglan (35 Raglan Street (01502 581 929) sells superior herring, mackerel, and haddock.
A note on South BeachHead through town to the the Royal Plain, a Europeanized piazza with interactive fountain. At South Pier, take a detour to gawp at the boats of various sizes along the marina, then wander along the refurbished groined seafront, golden sand to your left, Peto’s elegant Wellington Esplanade to your right, to Claremont pier, where Captain Nemo’s restaurant (01502 563799) serves the best fish and chips in town.
RefuelThe chains are here, if Starbucks or Costa are your thing, but indies exist too. 303 Eaterie (303 London Road) came highly rated by locals but was closed on our midweek January visit. My brother-in-law instead suggested we try Desmond’s (221b London Road) in the Kirkley area, parallel to the seafront, with its own atmosphere and independent shops.
The café is a charming place: comics and tabloid pages pasted on ceiling, candles in baskets, fake vine leaves dangling from a parapet, the toilets housed outside in a characterful covered alley. With arts, comedy quiz nights aplenty, as well as a pizza oven, it attracts a lively crowd. We certainly rated the coffee, a blend of fairtrade and rainforest alliance Toscana beans slowly roasted. My ristretto had a smooth crema and real bite.
Continue to PakefieldIf you battle the wall of wind along the esplanade, past colourful huts, tufts of hairy dunes, and the manicured Kensington Gardens, you reach Pakefield (a mile or so from Claremont Pier). Pause at the shrubland beach with a bracing pint at the Jolly Sailors, before heading to the Ferini Art Gallery (27 All Saints Road, 01502 562 222) where artists display work over two floors.
Eating & drinkingLowestoft has enjoyed a handful of new openings recently. There’s the contemporary dining room at the Hotel Victoria, which is recommended by locals, and the smart Rocksalt Brasseie on Claremont Pier, which boasts sharing plates, a seafood-focused menu and probably the best views in town. We tried Mark Gee at The Tramway Hotel (1 London Road), a relaxed gastropub-with-rooms up towards Pakefield.
Hake ‘club’ sandwiches came packed with firm white fish with added pancetta and a floury, light ciabatta. A frittatta attractively stuffed with goats cheese spinach and walnuts was arguably tastier still. Desserts were stylish affairs: a slice of rich custard tart with nutmeg ice cream, a choc Guinness cake with espresso marscapone.
For a post-prandial seaview drink, try The Hatfield on the Esplanade, which, if the weather is fine, has a verandah overlooking the water. It does a tasty toastie, too, if you’re looking for a cheaper lunch.
A beauty spotPoint is Britain’s most easterly outcrop, and it’s satisfyingly bleak. Or try Oulton Broad, a couple of miles west, with its boats, rattling masts, and craft shops.
Accommodation: Baytree HouseLocated a few minutes’ stroll from the old high street is this restored Victorian pile just a moment from the cliff-top and its shimmering horizon. There are stripped boards, some eclectic pieces of period furniture, and chandeliers across several rambling floors. Owner Liz Goldspink has spent a decade restoring it: and, as well as daytime cafe that’s popular with locals (with most plates under a tenner) there’s a vintage clothes concession too.
Each day she bakes a different bread – on our visit a tasty cheese and parsley – and, in the summer you can enjoy her garden terrace and dine alfresco.
Breakfast is included in the room price, a perfect combination of locally-sourced or grown ingredients: we sweved grilled kipper fillets for a huge plate of scrambled eggs with bacon. Home-made marmalade is also deliciously tangy.
And there’s even a full bar with log fire, cosy after a blast on the cliffs.