Lowestoft: a faded Suffolk star is rebornLowestoft
t’s about trying to get people to think about Lowestoft in a different way: to look at the beautiful beach as part of the fantastic east coast and not as the end of the line, or a place that has lost industry. It’s actually got a lot of potential.” Genevieve Christie is passionate about the UK’s easternmost town – what she calls “the most unsung location in Suffolk”. As CEO of the First Light festival (17-18 June), a free annual beachside event celebrating midsummer, she and her team also run the live music, film nights and performances at the new seafront East Point Pavilion, where we now sit eating burritos.
Spruced up and reopened last summer by HemingwayDesign, the faux Victorian structure – actually built in 1993 – is the initial, very prominent beneficiary of Lowestoft’s recently secured £24.9m levelling up Towns Fund. Once home to a soft play area and tourist office, it now buzzes with streetfood stalls, artisan coffee and craft beer. “People held this building in great affection,” she says. “And it’s become a real hub, with hundreds of families enjoying this space.”
Regeneration in Lowestoft is a big story. North of the station quarter – itself undergoing a transformation – is the imposing Grade II-listed old post office. Set to become arts hub Messums East, it’ll be part of an organisation based in London and Wiltshire. “The entire facade has been restored and is looking wonderful,” says director Johnny Messum. “And a series of curated exhibitions in its windows, which launches on 22 June as part of the First Light Festival, will be the start.” based in St James’s London and Wiltshire When it opens fully in 2025, as well as housing multiple exhibition spaces, a screening room and cafe, it will provide a studio for the local sculptor Laurence Edwards.
And that’s not all. Improvements are coming thick and fast, from the new Gull Wing Bridge and the rebooted fountains on Royal Plain to beach boardwalks and increased biodiversity. The 60-metre tip of Claremont Pier is to be restored and reopened for the first time in 40 years, while overlooking the golden sands are 72 new architect-designed aquamarine beach huts – available to hire, or to buy at £30,000 a pop. Elsewhere, the proposed Cultural Quarter will see an upgrade to the Marina theatre, and a former multistorey car park demolished to create a performing arts centre.
Happily, indie arts venues are thriving too, including the volunteer-run Lowestoft Arts Centre, multi-use space The Grit, community theatre The Seagull, and contemporary galleries such as 303 Projects on London Road South. And who knows where the next Banksy will pop up?
After lunch we climb the historic high street, admiring 15th-century cottages and grand Georgian houses in various states of repair, as well as the boarded-up town hall, soon to be reborn as a “multifunctional and inclusive centre”. With all eyes on Lowestoft’s giddy future, its past is a more typical coastal yarn: prosperity from fishing was followed by Victorian development – civil engineer Samuel Morton Peto’s dream being for Lowestoft to rival Brighton – and postwar decline (it was one of England’s most bombed towns per capita).
Plaques brim with tales of John Wesley, Cromwell and Dickens – and quirky shops sell everything from bric-a-brac to ceramics (don’t miss RE Morris General Store). Steep alleyways known as “scores” (from the Old Norse “skor”, meaning notch) link the clifftop town to the beach, and can be explored via the Red Herring Trail.
A hearty stroll is also key to understanding the sprawling food scene. As well as local faves such as Gibbs Fish & Chips (4A Carlton Road), Jojo’s, Raj Mahal and Lowestoft Tandoori, a recommended new arrival is Well Well Well the Bathhouse (so named after the Victorian saltwater well in its centre), where, the following lunchtime, we devour well-priced tapas. Another is Flint, housed in a 1586 building, which serves Portuguese small plates and pizza: in warm weather “people queue for hours” to sit in the walled courtyard, confides our waiter, over garlicky pica pau (marinated pork) with patatas (tip: house wine is only £8 a 500ml carafe.) And we discover the finest espresso in town at new vegan cafe Door to the Cosmos on London Road South, itself home to an eclectic range of shops.
The foodie trailblazer, however, is chef-patron Mark G in former pub The Old Blue Anchor. This atmospheric dining room, with its elegant panelling and open kitchen, is busy on a midweek night: we tuck into Cromer crab with pickled cucumber, just-opaque pan-fried hake with wild garlic pesto, and tandoori lobster with buttery samphire. A must is a bowl of salted cockle popcorn while you wait. It’s such a success the team have taken over the adjoining building for a new wine bar to open this summer. “The future looks very bright,” Mark tells me afterwards.
It makes sense to walk the food off on an impromptu pub crawl. At Pakefield, Lowestoft’s southernmost point, The Jolly Sailors boasts panoramic coastal views (or try its central sister The Harbour), while in the old town, the pared back Triangle Tavern (on St Peter’s Street) is a haven of craft beer and ale. We also enjoy friendly neighbourhood boozer The Welcome (on London Road North) and “safe space” Marilyn’s, fronted by a young team shaking things up with drag nights. Local people rave about subterranean seafront cocktail bar The Kraken, although it’s not open on our visit
Prices are keen everywhere – and no more so than for accommodation. Our boutique B&B, The Corner House, run by affable couple Derek and Mark, has stylish rooms with period features and chic objects from just £70. Better still, that price includes levelled-up breakfast choices, especially a toastie dripping with oozy camembert and cheddar, stuffed with sauteed mushrooms and topped with exploding poached egg.
On our last afternoon, we snake down a wooded path towards Lowestoft Ness, the most easterly point in the UK, and centre of the town’s sustainable energy industry. In the shadow of a wind turbine – known locally as Blowy Lowie, we hover on a circular artwork marking the spot, waves crashing against the rocks. “One thing has remained constant,” reads a plaque in the adjoining new park, “Lowestoft’s spirit. This is a town defined by its people. Resilience and grit have ensured that, through changing fortunes, Lowestoft continues to thrive.”
Having been a visitor on and off for 15 years, I’d be inclined to agree. Or as my partner, an expert in historic restoration, puts it: “She’s just a faded movie star. She’s got good bones.”
sourced by The Guardian
Ness Point. Photograph: Stephen Emms
The First Light festival celebrates midsummer. Photograph: Malachy Luckie