had a spire. It is known that Dickens purchased a copy of Suffolk Words and Phrases when
he came to write the book, because he wanted to set a sequence on its borders, in Yarmouth,
and it is tempting to think he had read Crabbe’s description of a fisherman’s shed when he
came to describe old Mr Peggotty’s house on the beach.
PENELOPE FITZGERALD used Southwold as Hardborough when she wrote The
Bookshop. ‘The town itself was an island between sea and river, muttering and drawing into
itself as soon as it felt the cold … a rowing boat was the only way to get across the Laze …’
Walkers and cyclists can use the old railway bridge to cross the River Blyth, motorists must
drive the long way round the estuary to Walberswick.
JULIE MYERSON set Something Might Happen in Southwold, describing the pier, the
shingle, the beach huts and the sea, and the sense of a small town surrounded by marshes in
which something terrible happens. ‘If you walk along past Blackshore and the ferry to the
marshes, something strange happens … despite the crackle of insects in the gorse, the cry of
the bittern, the brown gleam of the saltings, the eerie mauve light that creeps in just before
rain, you shiver.’
MAGGIE HEMINGWAY placed The Bridge in Walberswick for her fictional account of
the background to Philip Wilson Steer’s painting of the same title. It is certainly true that
he stayed in the village to paint.
ESTHER FREUD’s heroine Lily, in The Sea House, comes to Walberswick and Freud
describes a close-knit community, bounded by sea, dunes, marsh and river. Not long after her
arrival, Lily seeks the sea and walks to ‘a flat, slow river, crossed by a wooden bridge, and
then the path struck upwards through white dunes … And there it was. Vast and blue and
breathless, stretching to the edges of the world.’ One of the characters in the book appears to
be based on John Doman Turner who painted a panoramic view of the village known as the
Walberswick Scroll. The Scroll can be still be seen in the Village Hall but only at certain
times of the year, so it is as well to check before you go.
Finally, A Distant Cry, stories from East Anglia chosen by Peter Tolhurst, provides a
treasure trove of short stories by some of our leading writers. Many are set in Suffolk:
Penelope Lively and Ruth Rendell both use Aldeburgh; Roald Dahl’s ‘The Mildenhall
Treasure’ is based on a true account; Rose Tremain writes of a wintry, rural Suffolk where
‘the fields and hedgerows are icy, silent, glittering’.