Following the signs from the A12 brought me into Aldeburgh on the road which ran by the shore; on one side were private houses and gardens and on the other side a well-mown grass verge and a footpath running along by the long shingle beach. A bit further on wooden fishing shacks were situated at intervals along the edge of the shingle and further on still was a pleasant area with a model boating pool, the timber-framed 16th century Moot Hall and a war memorial surrounded by a pretty little garden. Just past there was a small car park with just one vacant space so I pulled in, got a ticket from the machine and set off with the dogs for a look round. I knew from memory that the town centre - if you could call it that - was just one street away from the seafront so I thought I'd start there. It consisted of one long street which widened out in the centre, with various shops on both sides - and my memory of the lack of cafes was correct. The only places to get something to eat and drink seemed to be either a fish and chip shop - which was closed - or a couple of tea rooms. Now I always say that if a place is called a tea room I know darned well it's going to be expensive and these were. £6.50 for a scone with jam and cream and a pot of tea for one - somehow I don't think so! But then I suppose Aldeburgh is a place more suited to the genteel, Benjamin Britten, opera-loving types, or elderly ladies with blue-rinsed hair and twinset and pearls rather than a down-to-earth camper in cycling shorts, t-shirt and trainers and with a liking for rave and club music!
So deciding that I wouldn't be having coffee and cake just then I made my way back to the seafront and had a wander along there. The beach was nothing to write home about, just a vast expanse of shingle sloping down to the sea, with various fishing boats and paraphernalia dotted here and there, though I found one of the fishing shacks to be rather quaint. Appropriately called The Fish Shack it had been extended at one side by a timber-framed canopy which was draped with old fishing net and other bits and pieces, and was decorated at ground level by colourful plants in long tubs and a plethora of blackboards advertising all the different fresh fish for sale.
There seemed to be nothing much beyond The Fish Shack except rows of private houses facing the beach, so having seen all there was to see (or so I thought)* I made my way back to the van and set off for stop no.4, Thorpeness. This was another place I'd previously seen a picture of and there was one particular thing there which I wanted to seek out and see for myself - the House in the Clouds. Thorpeness was only a mile or so from Aldeburgh, directly along the seafront road, and just on the outskirts of the town I came across something so unusual and unexpected that I just had to stop and take a photo. It was The Scallop, a 13ft high stainless steel sculpture dedicated to Benjamin Britten and situated right on the beach. At first sight it looked rather out of place on the vast and empty expanse of shingle but the more I looked at it the more it seemed to be in keeping with its surroundings, and though I'm not a lover of art in any way, shape or form I actually thought it was quite beautiful in its own way.
As I arrived in Thorpeness itself I came to a large car park conveniently situated between the road and the beach so I found a shady spot in there and with a ticket for a couple of hours I set off to explore. The beach was first as it was so close, and though it was shingle and just a continuation of Aldeburgh beach the nearby row of houses and bungalows which overlooked it made it look quite attractive. Back through the car park and across the road I came to what I suppose you could call the village green, complete with a small duck pond and a pony and carriage which took visitors on a tour of the village, and in the distance, poking its head above the treetops, was the House in the Clouds. There was also a timber-clad building which housed a cafe and gift shop, and looking at the menu just outside the door told me that this was no tea shop, it was a proper cafe with reasonably priced coffee and cake - definitely a place to be visited later.
Behind the cafe and gift shop was The Meare, a large and attractive-looking lake with lots of colourful rowing boats for hire, though no-one seemed to be out on the water just then. The boats at the water's edge made a lovely splash of colour and I got several good photos before I moved on to explore more of the village and look for the House in the Clouds. Now although I had seen this place across the fields as I was driving into the village and it could also be seen from the village green actually finding it wasn't easy. I knew roughly which direction I should be looking in but there were no signs pointing the way to it and as it was surrounded by trees it wasn't visible from anywhere at ground level. I wandered round the village for a while with no luck and ended up asking an elderly gentleman pottering about in his garden; he told me where to find it and a few minutes walk along a rough unadopted lane eventually took me to it, and I have to say that as houses go it was certainly unusual.
Originally built as a water tower in the early 1920s the water tank at the top was disguised as a weatherboarded building to look more in keeping with the rest of the village. The water tower was eventually made redundant in the late 1970s and in 1979 the tank was removed and the building fully converted into a house. It's now used as family holiday accommodation, though I can imagine it must only be those families with plenty of money who stay there as it certainly isn't cheap - £3,200 per week in high season. Sheesh, I'd want to rent the whole village for that amount!
With my curiosity satified and three photos of the house taken I went back to the main part of the village for another wander round. Many of the houses and cottages, although not thatched, were chocolate-box-pretty, with well-mown lawns and roses or other flowers growing near the doors; there were rows of half-timbered almshouses and the Westgate, a building which looked like it was probably apartments but had at one time been another disguised water tower. Altogether it was a very quaint and unusual place, and must be one of the nicest villages I've ever been to. With the last of the day's photos taken I made my way back to the car park and after giving the dogs a drink I put them in the back of the van while I went back across to the cafe to sample their coffee and cake before I set off back to California. And very nice it was too - the slice of Victoria sponge was a decent size, the coffee was good, and the cost was much less than down the road in Aldeburgh.
As I headed north back up the A12 I thought about the village I'd just left behind; I'd gone on a whim not knowing what to expect and had been more than pleasantly surprised, in fact I was very impressed. Although it wasn't a big place I knew I hadn't seen everything so I would certainly make a return journey in the near future - more than likely next year - and when I did I would stay for much longer. And Aldeburgh? Well, I'd been, I'd seen it, and though it seemed to be nicer than the first time I went I wasn't likely to go back again.
*After arriving home, and needing to check something about Aldeburgh on the internet, I looked it up on Google Earth and realised that there was more to the place than I originally thought. Although I didn't know it at the time I was there, if I'd got back in the van and followed the main street south it would have taken me past some lovely little colourful cottages and right to the mouth of the River Alde at the end of the beach, where there would be lots of boats and water for me to photograph. So far from being unlikely to go back there again I've now revised my thinking and will be making a return visit next time I'm staying at California.