During our recent boating trip on the Norfolk Broads, we spent some time exploring Beccles, a pretty Suffolk market town in East Anglia. And I’m so glad we did.
Beccles is a historic town with a rich heritage that is still evident today in its town centre. Imagine a place with winding streets and market squares overflowing with ancient buildings. All this, plus a picturesque riverside backdrop and an abundance of independent shops and lively places to eat and drink. What more could you want?
A brief history of Beccles
In Medieval times, the monks of the Benedictine abbey in Bury St Edmunds owned Beccles. At that time, the River Waveney was a wide stretch of water reaching as far as Great Yarmouth and Beccles became an important fishing village. Consequently, the local fisherman had to supply the monks with thousands of herrings.
Over the years the waters became shallower, and the area was gradually redeveloped and drained. As the area became marshland, the herring trade came to an end.
Beccles Quay was built in the 1800s and the town became an important port for trading ships. However, the later arrival of railways meant most cargo went by train and Beccles lost its role as a port.
Today the River Waveney at Beccles is a venue for pleasure and recreation. It’s a great place to moor if you are on a boating holiday as there are so many facilities. If you are not, you can still enjoy marvellous views of the river or take some riverside walks.
Things to do in Beccles
As we arrived by boat, we started our visit to Beccles at the Quayside. This is a picturesque area overlooking the River Waveney.
Beccles Quay is the perfect location to moor if you’re on a boating holiday in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. It offers several quayside facilities, including a shower block with tumble dryers.
If you’re visiting with kids, there is a small playground to one side and an open play area where you can play ball.
For water-lovers, the quay is an ideal spot for paddles boards and dinghies. However, you must supervise children and be aware of incoming and outgoing boats. If you haven’t arrived by boat, you can hire a boat for a scenic day trip on the Broads.
Beccle’s picturesque location by the River Waveney also provides a choice of easy way-marked walks. From the Quay you have a choice of several trails that lead along Beccles Marshes and through the Fens. This area is a wildlife reserve, so keep a look out for wildlife and birds along the way.
If you enjoy history and heritage, head in the direction of Beccles town centre. Winding streets lead to a lively market square, where you’ll find half-timbered houses and historic buildings. We found plenty of significant properties, including the site of the first Co-op shop from 1879 and the early 18th Century Montagu home.
Probably the most prominant historic building in Beccles is the free-standing, Bell Tower. Built in 1515, the Gothic tower is now a Grade-I listed building and is associated with the adjacent St Michael’s Church. However, it is the only UK church with a tower separate from the main church.
At 97ft the tower commands a great view over Beccles, and visitors can climb the 122 steps to the roof. Nowadays the tower also homes Beccle’s Tourist Information Centre, so is a good place to go for new visitors.
Another important historic building is Beccles Town Hall, which was built several years later in 1765. It was formerly the Shire Hall and Courthouse and stands on the site of the old Market Cross.
If shopping is more your thing, leave plenty of time to wander round, as the town is just oozing with independent shops. Try the Marmalade Tree for home accessories and gifts or Keith Steels, Eccentricities for stylish interiors. You’ll also find several antique shops and vintage boutiques.
I was really happy to see such as wide choice of retailers. This is very refreshing when most High Streets are in decline and towns are struggling to survive.
If you are mooring in Beccles, you’ll also find a large Lidl, where you can stock up on groceries.
One of the best things to do with kids in Beccles on a sunny day is a visit to the Lido. They have three heated pools, including a toddler pool and a splash pool. The main pool has a springboard and slide, so makes for an exciting day out with kids.
Beccles Market Square
Beccles is a vibrant town and has plenty of options if you are looking for something to eat. In the market square you’ll find a choice of traditional pubs, such as the Bear and Bells or the Kings Head Hotel. Or you could opt for one of the restaurants and offering al fresco dining.
Getting to Beccles
Beccles is on the Suffolk/Norfolk border in East England. It is about 8 miles inland from the coastal town of Lowestoft and 18 miles from Norwich.
It is on the River Waveney, so it’s easy to access if your travelling by boat.
A replica of the original milestone outside the town hall informs visitors that it is 109 miles from London. If you are driving from London, you can take the M25/A12.
If you’re using public transport, there are direct train services with Greater Anglia Travel to Lowestoft and Ipswich from London Liverpool Street and Cambridge.
Have you been to the pretty market town of Beccles in Suffolk? We’d love to hear your comments below.
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