Review by Fiona Duncan, published 9th January 2012.
We were introduced to The Anchor by our friend Dave, who lives in the style of a beneficent prince. Only the finest things in life will do, he reckons, for himself and his friends; as for them, their job is to temper his bounteous generosity.
But it's not just about luxury. For Dave, a beautiful landscape or the sighting of a bearded reedling evoke just as much enthusiasm as a top vintage, and at The Anchor, he can enjoy all three of those. He and his wife Serena know that the good things in life can be found just as easily in a simple pub as in a five-star hotel.
And what a five-star find this simple pub turns out to be. And so is Walberswick. Not for nothing does the Suffolk coastal village, separated from Southwold by the River Blyth, shelter a slew of discreet film, media and arts A-listers, who mix naturally with the friendly locals. When Serena's whippet disappeared as we walked along the harbour, lined by fishing boats, fishmongers and quirky cafés in black wooden huts, a search party was immediately launched and the dog, when found, delivered to The Anchor.
Friendly, that's Walberswick, but enigmatic, too, thanks to the stunning marshes that surround it. Here we saw the reedling and marvelled at the subtle beauty of land and sea. The exceptional vintage we drank at dinner came from a "secret" list kept by The Anchor's splendid host for those who really care about their wine.
The hosts, as ever, are the reason this place is so special. Frankly, I'd like to move in. Mark and Sophie Dorber bought the clapped-out pub five years ago in Sophie's home village, having run the massively popular White Horse (fondly known as the Sloaney Pony) in Parsons Green, west London. He was the landlord, with a passion for wine and world beers, she the chef. They fell in love over a hot stove.
At The Anchor, they've created a haven of comfort and hospitality, where the staff are as sweet and funny (very funny in the case of diminutive Luke, whose quips are timely and razor-sharp) as the customers are relaxed. Sophie strives for food that's "well, terrible word, but 'tasty' " and hits the spot with ease, and Mark has done something really unusual and eye-catching by matching all the dishes with a suitable gourmet beer (plus suggestions for wine). Beer with breakfast? Mark knows the one.
The Dorbers sank their life savings into The Anchor, which needed much attention. The bedrooms (five upstairs, plus six spacious garden chalets, recently attractively clad in wood, with underfloor bathroom heating) lack the imaginative, colourful allure of the panelled bar and restaurant, but while they are a bit homespun, they remain agreeably inexpensive. Judicious upgrading of towels, toiletries, bedding and furnishings would bring them more into line with the expectations that the stylish public areas create, but as they stand, we can afford to go back. So can Dave, if we can stop him from buying us bottles of Vieux Télégraphe next time.
- Main Street, Walberswick, Suffolk IP18 6UA (01502 722112;anchoratwalberswick.com). Doubles from £100 per night, including breakfast; single £85. Adapted rooms for guests with disabilities.
Where to walk
There is wonderful walking from the door. On day one the owners gave us a lift to Blythburgh church and we walked from there to Southwold for lunch and back to Walberswick. On day two we walked and birdwatched to Dunwich via marshes (and lonely Westwood Marshes Mill) and beach and back, mushrooming through woods. To reach the Southwold side of the River Blyth, you can either walk across the bridge at Southwold Harbour or take the rowing-boat ferry that's been operated by the same family since the Twenties.
What to see
Some examples of Suffolk's many fine churches are on your doorstep: St Andrew's, Walberswick, part ruin; Blythburgh (climb up into the Priest's Room) and St Edmund's Southwold, with the finest rood screen in the country, are all superb examples of Perpendicular. Southwold has many diversions, including its pretty and enormously expensive beach huts and its Adnams Cellar and Kitchen Store. If you are granny, or with granny, then head for Adnams's 350-year-old Swan Hotel (yards from the Adnams Brewery, which offers tours) for lunch or tea; if you are a bit younger, or younger at heart, then head for the Crown, very popular for its good food, excellent wine list and convivial atmosphere.