Name: Harwich Harbor
Address: The Quay, Harwich, Essex CO12 3HH
Phone: 01255 243030
Harwich is the most northerly of the major cruise ports on the UK’s east coast, and is perfectly placed for Scandinavian and Baltic cruises, as well as around-Britain and other European destinations.
It is a one hour, 23 minute ride by rail from downtown London and there is regular bus service from London Heathrow to Harwich, with buses departing every hour from both Heathrow Terminal 4 and the Central Bus Station (which serves Terminals 1-3). The journey takes approximately 2.5 hours, depending on traffic.
The port is actually two towns in one with Harwich and Dovercourt virtually merging into one large community along the water’s edge. North is the town of Ipswich, itself an important historical community.
While there are several small hotels in Harwich, near the terminal, many cruise passengers will likely stay in nearby Cambridge and in London. But, Harwich and Dovercourt have several wonderful small hotels with others in nearby Ipswich. The Hotel Continental in the heart of Harwich has 14 boutique, non-smoking rooms in a prime location overlooking Dovercourt Bay’s Blue Flag beach and is within a short distance from the cruise ship terminal.
The Pier at Harwich is on the quay in the heart of old Harwich and offers a choice of two quality restaurants and 14 comfortable bedrooms. The hotel has a nautical flavor throughout and the kitchen – which specializes in seafood – is the heart of the operation, serving two in-house restaurants.
The Tower Hotel, built in 1885 in the Italian style as a private residence has a wealth of ornamental ceilings, cornices, beautiful architraves and is crowned by an impressive balustrade. Set in its own pleasant leafy grounds, it retains an air of bygone elegance.
Harwich is more than just a place to board a cruise ship. It is also one of the east coast’s major resort areas, attracting tourists during the summer months to frolic on the beaches.
In 1340 it was the point of departure for Edward III’s fleet that defeated the French at Sluys, the first of the sea battles of the Hundred Years War. The town also has associations with the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed from Plymouth in 1630. Their ship, the Mayflower, was an east coast trading vessel that had previously sailed from Harwich.
Two of the town’s most colorful buildings are the old high and low lighthouses. Today the front at Harwich is one of the best places for ship-spotting; from here you can witness a wealth of vessels from fishing boats to large modern ocean liners destined for Europe and other parts of the world.
The old part of Harwich is a conservation area containing several notable historic buildings. The neighboring area of Dovercourt is a modern resort town. It has a Blue Flag beach indicating it is entirely safe for swimming. It is also a good place to relax in a deck chair with a book or for children to involve themselves at the art of sand castle design.
It is also in the heart of the East Anglia countryside where you can experience the landscapes immortalized by painter John Constable.
Located on the estuary of the rivers Stour and Orwell, the town’s port has provided a sheltered anchorage for shipping through the ages. Harwich and nearby Dovercourt are almost seamlessly joined but it hasn’t always been that way.
Dovercourt, the outwardly modern town, is actually older than Harwich and its archeological evidence stretches from prehistory through the Roman occupation and on almost continuously to the modern day. Dovercourt was essentially a small farming community until new building began to expand the town in the middle of the 19th century.
Harwich, on the other hand, appeared on the scene around 1150, but it quickly became a thriving port. Harwich’s importance as a port is a result of its location; protruding out as it does into the estuary of the rivers Orwell and Stour. It commands the only safe anchorage between the Thames and the Humber.
Among the attractions worth visiting include the Redoubt Fort, a circular fort built in 1808 to protect the harbor from a Napoleonic invasion, the Electric Palace Cinema, the oldest unaltered purpose built cinema in Britain and still going strong, and the Mayflower exhibition, housed in the old ticket office on the Pier.
The neighboring town of Dovercourt offers a small but varied shopping center, and the town boasts a Blue Flag Award for its beaches with boating lake, putting green, roller skating rink and amusement arcade along the seafront.
In Harwich, the National Museum of Wireless and Television in the High Lighthouse, has displays of radio and televisions through the ages, and views from the Lantern Room at the very top. Redoubt Fort, on Main Road, is one of the Napoleonic forts that are scattered around this coast.
Built in the early 1800’s, of a circular shape and approximately 200 feet in diameter, it is now an Ancient Monument, the restoration of which began in July 1969 and has continued until the present day. The original guns are on display. Exhibitions include a large number of replica firearms. Battle re-enactments and other events are held during the summer months.
Things to do:
Nearby Cambridge is just 100 km – about one and-a-half hours driving time – and is well worth the drive. Cambridge is a vibrant university city with bustling shopping areas, beautiful green spaces and unspoiled historic buildings dating back to early medieval times. Settlements have existed in the area for around 3,000 years. The Romans had a fort here, guarding the river Cam at its first ford, and one of their roads (the Via Devana) is still in use today. Saxons, Vikings and Normans all passed through the town.
The University was founded along the banks of the river Cam in the early 13th century. Its 31 colleges and 17,000 students explain much about the city center today, from the magnificence of the architecture to the predominance of bicycles and cheap places to eat.
By all means take a punt on the river known as The Backs. The Backs provides an excellent space for strolling and relaxing, and walkers along the river can view the often comical efforts of neophytes attempting to pole a punt along the water. No one should visit Cambridge without trying their hand at punting – the boats can be rented cheaply.
Framlingham Castle, northeast of Ipswich, is the 12th-century castle where Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen. It was built by Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and at the time it was the most modern type of defensive castle known. Its style of continuous curtain walls with strong projecting 13 square towers replaced the romantic keep and bailey style fortress.
Elizabeth I seized the castle when she took the throne and kept it as a prison for Catholic priests. Over the centuries it was used as a poor house and as a place of rest for victims of the plague. Other uses found for the building have been its use as a courthouse, meeting hall, a workhouse, drill hall, and finally it was a fire station.
Much of what was left of the castle has been restored and although little remains of its once grand interior, it still rings in one’s imagination with the cries of the poor priests imprisoned in the time of Elizabeth I and with the happy laughter of the young Princess Mary. The castle, its architecture and colorful historic residents form an important piece of English history.
– By Ray Chatelain