On Aldeburgh

A few weekends ago I went on a trip to Suffolk with TOH and his parents. Ostensibly, it was as a present from us to them for their 40th wedding anniversary – a night under ‘glampas’ at our favourite campsite, Alde Garden, somewhere near Southwold and Aldeburgh. We’d been there the year before for my birthday and had a really lovely time. In reality, however, it was an opportunity for us to return, without having to drag the tent over there, and following through on the promise that ‘next time, we’ll stay in one of the posh ones’.

So, we’d booked the bell tent for us and the tipi for them. So far, so good. There are so many reasons to love Alde Garden, and we were so pleased to find that, a year after it’s opening (we were some of the first campers in their first few weeks open last year), and six months after appearing in Cool Camping, not that much had changed. There was the addition of the compost loos and a few more ‘health and safety’ type signs, probably added after Mark and Marie realised that not everyone who stays with them is as free and easy as they are. It has to be said that you always get a warm and welcoming greeting at Alde Garden, not only from Mark and Marie of course, but also from all their various ‘family’ members. The cast of chickens and ducks hadn’t changed, the same old faces were there, but there was the notable addition of a few more ducks this time around. Joining the slightly arthritic Maud, a beautiful brown Indian runner duck, there was also Quickly, a rescued goose whose fate would have been the Christmas plate had it not been for her bow legs. The pigs had been replaced with more pigs (the originals now for sale in the main house in bacon and sausage form) and, in the next door pen, were two new goats, Bert and Ernie. All in all, the menagerie help Alde Garden to feel like a home away from home and allow ‘guests’ to live a little bit of the lifestyle they wish they could have were it not for the Tube and Boris ruling their roosts.

Food-wise, Alde Garden actually has a lot to offer. The provision of an outdoor kitchen, with running water and gas primer stoves, is much better than many other campsites who tend to provide nothing at all. It means you don’t have to worry about packing the kettle, the mugs and the kitchen sink, just to make a cup of tea in the morning. There’s always tea, coffee, milk, the staples, available by way of an honesty box system, which always seems to be rattling. When we went last year there were even jars of marshmallows to be toasted on the fire once you’d built it, but sadly those had disappeared this year.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!

On arriving at Alde Garden on the Saturday morning, we knew we were heading to Southwold and Aldeburgh, but we didn’t know what for and in what order. The good news for me was when Marie suggested a trip to the Aldeburgh Food Festival which just happened to be on that weekend. TOH’s Dad looked a little non-plussed – I don’t think his idea of a weekend camping was being dragged round a food festival – but, unfortunately for him, TOH’s Mother is not a woman to be reckoned with when it comes to food – so off to the food festival we went!

Well, what a turn up for the books! It was a mere £7 to get in, with a smashing free canvas tote thrown in to boot (all the better for storing all the goodies you’re going to purchase!). Comparing this with the £45 I paid for Harvest a few weeks ago was impossible.

Having been up for hours (the drive from Oxford to Aldeburgh not being the ‘only an hour’ TOH promised his parents), we were all very hungry and didn’t feel ready or able to cope with the cornucopia of food available on the stalls yet. We headed straight for Café 1885, the gastro-caff in the Snape Maltings complex. In a sort of nod to the delicious Cotswolds rarebit I had at Harvest, I snapped up the Welsh rarebit which was on offer along with a Suffolk cyder (the same as was available at Harvest, actually). The others all had veggie ploughman’s platters which were, so I’m told, excellent. Presentation was everything here, with the meals coming on either slates or wooden chopping boards and the homemade piccalilli in lovely ceramic topped kilner jars. The café itself was on a mezzanine level above an Alice’s wonderland of home and kitchen tat. Having feasted our bellies on the lovely food, we then feasted our eyes (and wallets) on the shop fare.

I managed not to buy too much – just some melamine forks and chocolate. It was one of those places which, on first encounter, is a veritable treasure trove but then when you get a bit closer, look a bit longer, it turns out to be a bit of a mirage. Everything that looked so enticing on an empty stomach, turned out to be just, well, a bit disappointing. I did stumble across a table of cakes though, apparently the entries for a baking competition, so we spent a short while deciding which one we thought should win. I wonder if we got it right?

Back to the tasting tents and TOH and I spent a good hour wandering around the sellers, some of whom we’d seen before at the Oxford Foodies Fesitval a few weeks previously, nibbling on the tasters, but not actually buying anything. It’s one criticism I have with these food festivals, there’s always so many sellers of sauces and condiments. I understand why; they have a good price point for a food festival. People can spend £5 and feel like they’ve bought something ‘unique’ which they couldn’t have bought otherwise, and they haven’t broken the bank. That’s all well and good, but my fridge is heaving with jars and bottles bought in just such a fit of madness. We managed to resist this time though, and we left perfectly content and empty-handed.

Back to the campsite we trolled, but not without a stop at the local Waitrose to pick up supplies for the evening. Yes, there’s the campsite kitchen, in which you could happily rustle up a quick and easy pasta dish of some sort, but why bother when you have a fantastic cob oven to hand? Mark has lovingly constructed this domed, clay creation next to the fire pit so that campers can stoke and tend to their oven before cooking pizzas on the stone base. It was another of the reasons for our return, as we’d had such delicious pizzas the year before. Somewhat shamefully, we bought ready-made pizzas (but they were Waitrose) as the kitchen might be ok for tea, but I’m not sure it’s up to kneading standards. The oven takes a good few hours to heat up and it needs to be monitored and prodded from time to time to make sure it behaves itself. Once it’s up to temperature, all you have to do is scoop out the ash and fling in the pizza. It seems like an awful lot of effort to go to, hours of stoking, when the pizza (which would take 15 minutes in a conventional oven) takes a mere two in the cob. The taste, however, is incomparable. The perfect crispy base which is created by the hot stone floor and the surround of heat allowing the toppings to melt to perfection. Ach, can I go back now please?

The next morning, we had breakfast to forage for. Last time, it was fried eggs laid by our hosts (the chickens, that is), but this time it was off to Southwold for brekkie by the sea. We found a little café which gave us a lovely full English and the fuel for a walk around the town and along the coast. Southwold itself is, like so many seaside towns, a town of two halves. Down near the pier it’s a bit run down, a bit grimey, and then the further south you walk, the smarter it gets.

It’s a shame as the pier itself is simply amazing and definitely ranks among my favourite places in the world (yes, high praise indeed). It’s a deco beauty, stretching out into the big-skied Suffolk coast. Half way down it has the Under the Pier Show which is a small room full of traditional homemade arcade machines. Not the penny drop or grabber hand for Southwold, oh no, this has more ‘individual’ machines. You can dodge traffic while zimmer framing your way across a busy road, or take the dog for a walk. It’s all harmless fun but much more entertaining than the brash, spangly machines found in other seaside towns these days.

And so ended a lovely weekend in Suffolk. Mid-afternoon and we decided it was time to fold ourselves back into the car and join the hoards on the M25. Two years running we’ve made it to Alde Garden, so maybe it won’t be so long til we’re back.

We’d left the cat at home this time, she’s not a big camper, you see, and thankfully Kate had offered to pop in to give her a cuddle and some food. By way of a small thank you, I’d baked her some gingerbread Koshkas and, luckily for us, she didn’t seem able to carry them all home with her. So, reflecting on our relaxing weekend, and before TOH’s parents started their trip even further south, we found time for a cup of tea and a gingerbread Koshka. She’s delicious, don’t you know.


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