Over years of driving into East Anglia I have only associated Felixstowe with processions of container trucks hammering down the A14.
When I stayed at the Woodbridge Station Guest House I took the train to Ipswich and then on to Felixstowe to a happy surprise. “Felix” is, after all, Latin for “happy”.
The mouth of the River Orwell has been strategically important, both for trade and defence, since Roman times at least, and grew markedly after the arrival of the railway in 1877 and the opening of the port in 1886.
The passenger train-service now terminates at the latest of the town’s three stations, Felixstowe Town (1898), which was built in response to an upturn in tourism after the 1891 visit of Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein (1858-1921), Queen Victoria’s great-niece and the wife of Germany’s last Kaiser, Wilhelm II.
The walk down Hamilton Road, now partly pedestrianised, leads to a clifftop view of the Pier (1905; rebuilt 2017) [http://www.felixstowe-pier.co.uk], with the cranes of the distant docks to the right, and the promenade to the left.
On the way, you pass the former Ritz Cinema (1937; still operating as the Palace) [http://www.palacecinemafelixstowe.com].
The seafront is dotted with opulent former hotels, of which the Felix Hotel (1903) is the most prominent. This is where Princess Victoria and her family stayed in 1901 and, coincidentally, where Wallis Simpson took rooms while her divorce took place in nearby Ipswich in 1936. (This was the occasion of the legendary American newspaper headline “KING’S MOLL RENO’D IN WOLSEY’S HOME TOWN.”) The Felix closed in 1952 and became the headquarters of the fertiliser company Fisons Ltd for thirty years. It is now, predictably, converted to apartments.
Landguard Fort [http://www.landguard.com] introduces visitors to the long history of Felixstowe’s defences. This was the location of the last opposed invasion of England in 1677, and four of the original seven Martello towers in the town survive.
I had a typical seaside lunch, fish and chips at Fish Dish [http://www.myfishdish.co.uk]. When I told the guy behind the till that the place reminded me of Whitby he smiled and said he’d trained and worked at Whitby for thirteen years before setting up in Essex.
The pleasures of Felixstowe are simple. On a sunny day you can sit on a promenade bench and watch vast container ships, loaded to capacity, making their way out of the port at surprising speed.
And, because Ipswich is a significant rail hub, you can visit Felixstowe from far afield without using a car.