Thorpeness, hugging its bit of coastline between Aldeburgh and Leiston, is a mixture of the fascinating and ever-so-slightly twee, rescued from the latter by its wholehearted and unaffected efforts to cater for the innocent enjoyment of leisure time and the strong pull it exercises on the affections of the people who visit, as well as those who live there.
Thorpeness is a ‘garden village’ by the sea, between the purple heathlands of the Sandlings and the golden sands of some the best beaches on the East coast.
Rather like Port Meirion and Port Sunlight, Thorpeness is the result of one man’s vision.
G. Stuart Ogilvie, a Scottish barrister, was born in 1858 and by 1910 had made his money investing on the Russian Railways. He bought the entire area from north of Aldeburgh to past Sizewell, up the coast and inland to Aldringham and Leiston. When he stuck his spade in the earth to begin the excavation of the Meare, in 1910, his plan for a village designed for happy family holidays was fully formed and some of the characteristic, half-timbered houses were already built, either for letting or more permanent occupation.
Read the fascinating history of how the fairytale village of Thorpeness came to be here.
The Meare opens up on your left hand side as you enter Thorpeness on the road from Aldeburgh.
It is shallow, dotted with islands, and today is still ideally suited to innocent boating adventures. Due to Ogilvie’s friendship with J. M. Barrie, it is possible to row or paddle across “The Blue Lagoon”, round Peter Pan’s Property and through the “North West Passage”, while deciding whether or not to brave the “Dragon’s Den” before spotting a lurking crocodile. All these treasures and more are shown on the original hand-drawn map, copies of which are distributed by the cheery minder of boats.
It is a wonderful playground for children who ‘may yet strive to explore the world of make believe’ without constant parental supervision and is illuminated annually by the Thorpeness firework display, a genuine highlight.
Ogilvie needed a water supply for the village, so he built “The Gazebo”, a tower with a water tank on top, the tank cunningly disguised as a house. Then he bought the Aldringham windmill and set it up in rather curious juxtaposition to pump water to the tank. The Gazebo, however, was not just a tower with a water tank at the top. Beneath the water tank lay a seven bedroom house designed for holiday makers. Its first occupant was a lady of creative inclination who wrote stories and poems for children. She re-christened the Gazebo “The House In The Clouds”, and so it remains today, a famous landmark, though the water tank has long since been removed.
Both the windmill and the House in the Clouds can be seen north of the Meare, backing onto the golf course.
Two World Wars and straitened circumstances took their toll on the project that was Thorpeness. Only Ogilvie’s determination kept things moving forward and part of that determination focused on the golf course. The first ten holes were designed in 1922 by the five times Open Champion, James Braid, who also designed the Kings and Queens Courses at Gleneagles.
Braid was credited with the invention of the dog leg, of which there are several at Thorpeness, though a couple were introduced long after Braid had gone, perhaps in deference to his memory. The course was eventually extended to the present eighteen hole course and it is ideal for a golfing break. Neither too difficult nor yet too easy, it is built on heathland with fine-grassed, generous fairways which are pleasant to walk on. Sandy, free-draining soil allows for year-round play and temporary greens are unheard of.
It is a tranquil area of birdsong, gorse, heather and delicate silver birch, not to mention the enlivening sight of the occasional adder, or the myriad of toads running the gauntlet of the nearby road to their preferred mating site in the pool just in front of the seventeenth tee.
Like much of the Thorpeness architecture, first sight of the clubhouse emphasises its individual aspect. Haciendas with a turret at each corner are not seen every day. Behind it lies a modern and comfortable dormi house. The restaurant overlooks the third tee and, for those with a more leisurely bent, a tempting garden with foxgloves and water loving plants leads down to the Meare.
To the east of the golf course and in the centre of the village one can find the Country Club, opened by Sir William Bull MP on May 6th 1912. It is the thriving social centre of the village. Tennis players love it, It occupies a prominent position with the finest sea views and a handful of tennis courts; business away days and dates for any special occasion can be booked and it’s a delightfully unrushed place for weddings as the sea rolls onto the shore just across the narrow, little used road.
The village has a very good village store with loads of local produce, homemade cakes and meals and all the necessary groceries for a self-catering holiday; run by Sue Allen it is a must place to shop. There is a tea shop and Italian restaurant; the Dolphin Hotel, burned down some years ago, has been rebuilt and reopened as the excellent Dolphin Inn, with rooms to let. With Aldeburgh just a couple of miles walk down the coast there are plenty of places to go for fine evening meals whether you are a group of adults or a family with children.