Snape Maltings & Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England
I grew up playing the piano in the U.S., adding clarinet and cello in school band and orchestra, respectively. It was only on my first trip to Suffolk with Clive a few years ago that I learned it was the home of Benjamin Britten, composer of an early favourite, “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”
Britten was born in Lowestoft and grew up in Aldeburgh, a medieval fishing and shipbuilding port less than an hour north of Felixstowe, where Clive was raised. During WWII, Britten went to the U.S. as a conscientious objector. He later returned to Suffolk, where he lived with his partner, Peter Pears, and in 1948 co-founded the Aldeburgh Festival.
Snape and Its Restored Barley Maltings
Some of Britten’s works were first performed in local churches and halls in Aldeburgh. In the late 1960’s, the Festival moved to Snape, a nearby riverside village. We had a great day walking in Snape and Aldeburgh with Clive’s cousin and his wife.
What makes Snape unique is the old barley maltings, a seven-acre complex of Victorian buildings currently being restored and converted into a cultural center for music and art. The maltings business ceased in 1965, and now pride of place goes to the large Concert Hall, known for its red bricks, high arches, and excellent acoustics.
You could easily spend an entire day at Snape Maltings, without attending a concert. We mostly liked just wandering around, admiring the old buildings, watching a few boats on the River Alde, and soaking in the views across the fields surrounding the maltings.
Aldeburgh — Food, Drink (Beer), and Shingle Beaches.
In Australia we are fortunate to have world class wine readily available, and we enjoy attending food and wine festivals, which Aussies love as as much as anyone. The day we walked in Snape and Aldeburgh coincided with the final day of the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival, held at Snape Maltings.
We lucked out with the English weather, and the only noticeable difference from Australia was the preponderance of beer and ale, which seemed appropriate given we were on the grounds of the old maltings. I quickly realized that’s why it’s called a Food and Drink Festival here.
A Word about Shingle Beaches
Aldeburgh has mile after mile of what the English call a clean shingle beach. On the warm, sunny day we walked along the seafront, we saw families sitting together and children playing in the water.
To my untrained eyes and more importantly, feet, the word “shingles” is a pleasant cover for what are actually deep piles of rocks and pebbles, billions of them, which vary in size and colour but are all still rocks. I asked Clive, “How do you put a towel on this and get comfortable?” He said, “It’s easy. You just move around a little and the shingles (ed. note: rocks) conform to your body.”
Clive’s cousin, a lifelong Suffolk resident and world traveler who has visited many beaches, said, “Shingle is best. Sand rather gets into everything, doesn’t it?”
He has a point. I guess it comes down to what you’re used to. As one who grew up near the (New) Jersey shore, and currently lives in Australia, a country with endless sandy beaches, I stand by my love of the soft, white stuff (even if it does get into everything).
It’s difficult, at least for me, to walk very far on a shingle beach. Aldeburgh has a concrete Esplanade that makes it easy for walkers of all ages.
Blending Old and New
I’ve written previously about my ever-increasing affection for Suffolk’s coast, medieval villages and churches, and rural landscapes. I know modern life is being lived all around us here, but because my childhood and adult years so far have been spent in cities and suburbs, when we visit and walk in the unspoiled countryside, I feel a sense of timelessness.
Aldeburgh, and especially Snape, blend old and new in an interesting way. On one hand, there are modern cultural offerings, honouring and showcasing a native son who became world-famous, and of whom Suffolk is justifiably proud. On the other hand, the development of the maltings seems to blend well into the landscape and to preserve Suffolk’s timeless feel. The old granary buildings are still surrounded by miles of peaceful fields and meadows along the River Alde, but if you want concerts, classes, shops, and galleries, they’re there, too.
Benjamin Britten composed some pieces that are known for reflecting his Suffolk roots, with sounds of wind on the water and waves breaking as they roll into the shore. And I’d love to see “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” performed in the Snape Maltings Concert Hall. We’ll definitely try to catch a concert here on a future trip.
And for anyone visiting in December, we read that you can watch Father Christmas arrive by Thames Sailing Barge. Now that would really be something to look forward to.