Burnham: Hop in, I know the way

By Richard Burton, September 17, 2009
Seeing the light: Burnham

Seeing the light: Burnham

It took an open-top car snug enough for two, a healthy breeze and miles of unbroken road to get this Mr Toad out of Toad Hall and off to Chelsea-on-Sea. And with a poop-poop and glassy-eyed visions of million-pound designer beach huts, he was on his way up the A1 to the Fens, planning the perfect day in a perfect town where Orwell once lived and the seagulls sound just a little posher than those over Southend.

So Southwold it was; all smart, smiley Suffolk folk and rambling streets complete with lighthouse and a wide, sand-and-shingle beach. It was spring but it should have been autumn so I could don a Toad cap and a set of goggles.

Even so, I went to the pier and strolled all 810ft of aged planks. The lady at the chip shop told me it had won an award and I put coins in the novelty machines and marvelled at the intriguing water clock.

Beach huts all the colours of candy floss were there. And it felt so very English. I even promised myself I’d write about it and not use the word “quintessential”. I was thinking that at the counter of the fudge shop, when I asked the owner: “So, what’s it like to live in Chelsea-on-Sea?”

“I wouldn’t know,” she replied. “I’ve never been to Burnham Market.”

Seeing the lighthouse: Southwold

Seeing the lighthouse: Southwold

“Burnham what?” I said. And went back to the car. And the Blackberry. And Google.

OK, for a crow, it’s 58 miles from Southwold to Burnham — 72 by road. Not a trip to make if you want to see anything in daylight.

Luckily, bang in the middle was a smart, stately hotel called Sprowston Manor, a few miles from Norwich, set in a quiet slice of 18-hole countryside.

So Mr Toad holed up for the night, took a dip in the pool and treated his date to a facial before they enjoyed a spot of fine dining where he bored a waiter silly with a tale of how not to trust Google when planning a trip. Next morning, the sat nav took him an easy, breezy, 70 minutes along open roads towards Kings Lynne and the fabled village they really do call Chelsea-on-Sea.

And how it suited the name: all Ferraris and BMWs flanking a village so green it looked Photoshopped. There was a bijou book store, a twee interiors place, a labyrinth of a hat-shop, more beach huts and the Hoste Arms for lunch. Twee or what?

Back at Sprowston, I was now insisting I had known all along that Southwold wasn’t Burnham. After all, blokes don’t get lost. And besides, how perfectly it turned out: two iconic British resorts an hour either side of an idyllic country hotel.

Quite fancy another run...

Last updated: 12:07pm, September 17 2009