The little girl in the red flamenco dress began to wail as the beast whipped his legs into a fervour. His black curls thrashed on his head like furious riders. The Baroque stone courtyard dimmed as candles expired under the wind of his violent kicks and spins. The drums magnified their sound until nothing else could be heard, even the shaking girl. I cried in frustration, my Spanish lost under the furore.
The wooden clips of hooves drove the Bull’s own to stomp holes in the ground. A heartbroken gypsy dressed in red roses chanted in the corner, her voice wavering to match his temperament. Melancholy guitars sang without instruction, finishing each phrase with spitting staccatos. The top half of the Bull’s body transformed into a matador before our eyes, his arms twisting into fast bows that circled his scarlet silk waistcoat. His hands clapped and his head snapped as the rhythm reached a crescendo. His heavy breath was visible in the air and we could all taste his madness.
Where were the frilly flamenco ladies of Spain armed with painted maracas? The crowd formed a horseshoe around the band, and we watched each other through the flailing limbs. The beast continued his solo escapade until his skin bled with sweat. Marble busts stared on as our despondent eyes scoured the darkness for the women – but it was over. Heavy oak doors released the Bull from the arena, his stance victorious amidst the groans of his audience.
1) Crabbing in Walberswick Every summer, hundreds of people descend on the sleepy little town of Walberswick armed with smoky bacon, fish bait, weighted strings, nets and buckets. During August, the town holds the British Open Crabbing Championships which has been an annual tradition since 1981. The wooden footbridges and muddy banks of the Dunwich river teem with hopeful competitors dangling bait into the water and impatiently reeling in their string. Once the surface of the water is breached, there is a limited amount of time to scoop up the monster catch, or sweep the five scrabbling miniature crabs into your net. Some crabs, savvy after years in the game, take one last bite of bacon before launching gloriously backwards into the sludgy water. Hungry seagulls gather on the banks, swooping and pecking at hard shells whilst avoiding the quick snap of claws. The record catch was back in 1981, with the prize winning crab weighing in at an impressive 7.25ozs!
2) Southwold beach One of the best walks in Southwold is along the promenade, taking in the coast from the restored Victorian pier down to the sandy beach near the harbour. Early in the morning the sun rises out at sea, turning the water into melted silver and enticing swimmers. The colourful beach huts are lovingly decorated in bright shades, with portholes, stained glass windows, decked porches and bunting. Others feature the handiwork of local artists, with pastel beachscapes and underwater worlds. Families spill out over the promenade to the sand below, playing cricket and frisbee and building sand fortresses. Up top, you can visit the Sailor’s Reading Room, sit on the cannons at Gun Hill and spy on ships far out at sea. On the way, stop at Suzie’s Beach Café and enjoy breakfast tea, a grilled panini and slice of lemon drizzle cake. Dog walkers can let their pooches off at the harbour end where the promenade and beach huts finish.
3) Latitude Festival This festival, now in its seventh year, offers an eclectic mix of popular folk and world music, film, literature, comedy, dance and cabaret. Based at Henham Park in Suffolk, it has grown to hold 35,000 which puts it on par with Bestival. In homage to the Tour de France that is racing at the same time, Latitude teamed up with M&S to raise money for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, by encouraging festival goers to cycle from London. This year’s music line-up includes Bloc Party, the Foals, Kraftwerk, Hot Chip and the Maccabees. In other tents, Eddie Izzard, Sean Lock, Dylan Moran, Carol Ann Duffy, Robin Ince and Germaine Greer are let loose. Look out for rainbow sheep, enjoy a refreshing Pimms by the lake, dance in the woodland raves and watch psychedelic light shows over the water. Last time I was there, I saw Phil Jupitus dj’ing ska in his pyjamas in a cabaret tent in the early hours. That said, Latitude is extremely family friendly, with a special section for camping and play area just for kids. The festival has also gained the reputation of being ‘supremely middle-class’, find ticket prices here.
4) Boating at Thorpeness This small town was built with summer tourism at its heart, with the Ogilvie family designing a fun place to spend their summer months back in 1910. The unique ‘House in the Clouds’ and the Tudor beams on the buildings make this a unique gem on the Suffolk coast, just inland from Aldeburgh. The large artificial lake is filled with gaggles of tame swans and bright bobbing boats which are named after the men who dug out the meare a century ago. The lake was designed with J. M. Barrie’sPeter Pan in mind, with a treasure island and pirate’s lair to explore – but watch out for the resident crocodile! Visitors can rent out rowing boats, kayaks, canoes, dinghies, sailing boats and punts, and you can find the prices here.This year’s Regatta on 18th August will celebrate the centenary of the lake.
5) Taking tea in Aldeburgh We love tea here in Britain, and this national constitution is not forgotten during the warmer months. The Cragg Sisters Tearoom is a dainty café serving loose leaf tea from all around the world, including exotic strains like Assam, Lapsang Souchong and elderflower white tea from China, and Japanese green tea Gyokuru. See here for their full list of drinks available. Each customer is served with bone china teapots, cups and saucers, each decorated in unique hand painted designs. Knitted cosies decorate the shelves and walls, and vintage wartime relics make you feel as if you’re having tea at Grandma’s. Fresh scones, iced coffee and walnut cake and a selection of soups and salads can be ordered to accompany your tea.
Crabbing in Walberswick, http://www.walberswick.ws/crabbing/
Southwold Beach Huts, http://www.bbc.co.uk/suffolk/content/articles/2005/07/02/coast05walks_stage4.shtml
The Cragg Sisters Tearoom, Aldeburgh, http://www.craggsisters.co.uk/
‘It will let me go soon…Just a little longer.’ I flew across the sea bed, the shingle becoming my skin and bubbles coating my eyes. The surface gleamed deceptively bright above me, but daylight was too far away. The salt rushed in past lips pressed white, shrivelling my sluggish tongue. There wasn’t any more time. My chest ached. My thoughts became water, slipping in and out. The beach did not come. I closed my eyes.
The Cornish coast had lodged itself in my head like a rusty hook. I felt drawn to the place although I’d never been because my great grandparents’ post-war love story was rooted there, along with my softly lilting surname. It was romantic, a place where people werebirds and everyone was ‘andsome. Black-market stockings were left forgotten on benches by lovers, town hall dances were filled with sailors from distant ports, and runaway milk carts escaped down rolling hills.
My sister and I were eight when we visited. We were enchanted by stories of witches, smuggling pirates, daring fisherman and vengeful mermaids.There was an old castle that the sea claimed for half the day, dark wooden shacks filled with navy webs of nets strewn with shells like stars, cliff tops running with wild horses and quiet crawling rock-pools. I found treasure, collecting dried starfish, spotted cowrie shells and glass vials of rainbow sand. A mystic ring could even tell me what mood I was in just by wearing it. Golden pasties filled with steaming beef and thick yellow clotted cream. Wrinkling eyes and thick bouncing syllables that cooed in my ears.
The beach was a cove protected by tall cliffs and dashed with shards of black glistening rock. A splintered rope tempted visitors to clamber down, skidding in the dust towards a grainy beach. The waves wearily collapsed on the shore from their journey across the Atlantic, kicking up white jets that sprayed out in fans before them. We jumped over the rising crests and timed our launches so that the waves picked up our bodies and carried us to safety. My sister dived head first into the curled lip of a breaking wave just as the white froth descended on top of her. She resurfaced further out, spluttering the salt from her lungs before licking the briny taste of her lips.
The spell of the sea evaporated like mist as the water turned from emerald to grey. The sun abandoned us as the ocean held its breath, and the drum commanding the rhythmic rise and fall of the waves held a prolonged pause as we turned to face the horizon. An invisible mouth deep out in the Atlantic began to suck the shoreline back, ripping up the beach in loud seething inhalations. Small stones danced excitedly around bare feet, jumping up in a feverish ritual that sliced into shins. The water impatiently pushed through us to reach cooler depths, coaxing our ankles out with it in persuasive whispers. There was no time to escape. The sky shrank away as a towering wave surged towards us.
I remember two things vividly before it struck. The first was seeing another swimmer bob over the top of the wave, impossibly high in the air before disappearing behind it. The second was my mother instinctively grabbing my hand, and my sister’s on the other side. We turned back towards the beach and away from the monster that was about to consume us.
The shells and stones and pebbles scraped us as we were thrown down by the heavy descent of the wave. A layer of whirling water crushed above us and stopped us from surfacing. The three of us were propelled forwards in perfect symmetry. I prayed my sister was still attached to the other hand. My eyes stung but I kept them open, seeing streams of water and sediment rushing over me. The water held us forever in its salty sore embrace. The beach was no longer there to receive us.
The strength of the wave was finally overcome by a bank of sand in the shallows, and three gasping bodies were slung unceremoniously face down in the sand. I still dream of the sea swallowing me, but I am not afraid as I never take that underwater passage alone. There is always the warmth of another hand in mine.