Walk 98: Thorpeness Circular: Walking with our heads (house) in the clouds

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 4.64 miles (7.46km)

Time to walk: Just over a couple of hours, but there’s opportunities to sit & watch the wildlife on the marshes, or maybe just chill on one of the many benches

Difficulty: Very easy & flat on a mixture of hard surfaces & well-draining

Parking: In the public pay & display car park opposite The Meare

Public toilets: The Meare Cafe at the start & end, but nothing in-between

Map of the route:

This is the second of our walks on the beautiful Suffolk coast that we did in the summer of 2017, the other being around Southwold

Thorpeness was originally a small fishing hamlet in the late 19th century, with folklore stories of it being a route for smugglers into East Anglia. However in 1910, Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, a Scottish barrister who had made his money designing railways around the world, bought the entire area from north of Aldeburgh to past Sizewell, up the coast & inland to Aldringham & Leiston

Most of this land was used for farming, but Ogilvie developed Thorpeness into a private fantasy holiday village, to which he invited his friends’ & colleagues’ families during the summer months. A country club with tennis courts, a swimming pool, a golf course & clubhouse, & many holiday homes, were built in Jacobean & Tudor Revival styles. Thorpeness railway station, provided by the Great Eastern Railway to serve what was expected to be an expanding resort, was opened a few days before the outbreak of World War I. It was little used, except by golfers, & closed in 1966

For three generations Thorpeness remained mostly in the private ownership of the Ogilvie family, with houses only being sold from the estate to friends as holiday homes. In 1972, Alexander Stuart Ogilvie, Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie’s grandson, died on the Thorpeness Golf Course & many of the houses & the golf course & country club were sold to pay death duties

Thorpeness is a quiet village of about 400 people in the winter, swelling to over 1,600 people in the summer holidays, with the highlight being a regatta on the Meare at the end of August & a huge fireworks display. It is also a popular day trippers destination with its beach & Meare, amenities & sights such as the House in the Clouds

The Ogilvies still have a strong presence in the village & many of the families coming there for their holidays have been doing so for generations. Also many of the families of the craftsmen who helped build the village are still there

Thorpeness was listed as the ‘Weirdest Village in England’ by ‘Bizarre’ magazine in 2003

Shall we go & explore?

Let’s Walk!

1. Today’s walk starts right in the middle of the village at the place inspired by the story of Peter Pan by JM Barrie, who was a personal family friend…The Meare

Walk round the back of the tearooms to the lake which is man-made. Besides a large main pond, there are several channels with landings marked with names of the Peter Pan theme. Tiny islands on the Meare contain locations found in JM Barrie’s novel such as the “pirates lair”, “Wendy’s home”, & many others which children are encouraged to play on. The Meare was dug to a shallow depth for increased safety

A variety of boats may be rented to enjoy the facility, many of which are original boats dating from the first creation of the Meare, & were named by the local workmen who dug out the lake

In August the Meare serves as the location for the Thorpeness Regatta which usually takes place around the same time as the carnival in neighbouring Aldeburgh & attracts many visitors. During the day boat races are held & at night boats that have been decorated are paraded around the Meare followed by a grand fireworks display

We can highly recommend the Meare Tearooms – especially the superb home-made sausage rolls & quiches!

2. Drag yourselves away from the tearoom & turn left along the road passing the very attractive village sign – we’ll see both of these landmarks shortly…

Cross straight over the village road ahead up the rough surfaced lane…

…& then left along the lane which runs between some very attractive properties

3. Look to the right to see a very large gatehouse style property which is known as West Bar. This is a converted water tower

4. Continue through the trees to the end of the lane & turning left, walk down to the green. On the right’s some beautiful almshouses

Margaret Ogilvie Almshouses were erected in 1926, originally for workmen by Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie as part of his fantasy holiday village

5. Also on the green’s the charming Dolphin Inn which was originally known as The Crown. It was also two buildings that were basically stables & shed dating back to the 1800s

In 1913 the two properties were converted into a hotel, but in 1995 it was destroyed by a fire & rebuilt to how it is today in 1998

6. Facing the pub, turn right along the road & then cross over it up the lane…

Everywhere you look in this village there’s eccentricity & it’s plain that many of the houses along here are second homes

7. Remember the village sign with the windmill & the “House in the Clouds”? Well here they are – the windmill is ahead on the left…

…& the “House in the Clouds” peeps through the trees on the right

This unusual structure was once a cleverly disguised 30,000 gallon water tank. It served the village of Thorpeness, north of Aldeburgh before it had a mains water supply. Originally called ‘The Gazebo’, the clapboarded structure was built in 1923

The windmill was built as a corn mill at Aldringham in 1803. In the 1890s the Ogilvy family were the millers. In the winter of 1922, Aldringham Mill was dismantled by Messrs Whitmore’s, millwrights of Wickham Market & was rebuilt at Thorpeness to supply water to the “House in the Clouds”, which was then a water tower

The mill was used to supply the House in the clouds until 1940, when an engine was installed to do the job. During the war some children blocked the tramway that the winding wheels driven by the fantail run on, with the result that the steps lifted up & the mill tilted forward, leaving the steps in the air. Although a number of men sat on the steps of the mill, it would not return to its natural state. Millwright Ted Friend, of Whitmore’s was called in & soon restored the mill to normal with deft use of a sledge hammer

In 1972, the fantail was blown off in a storm & in September 1973 the mill was damaged by a fire on the heath where it stands. One sail & stock were destroyed. In 1975, Suffolk Coastal District Council, Thorpeness Estate & the Countryside Commission granted money to enable the mill to be restored. The mill was restored in 1977 & subsequently purchased from the Thorpeness Estate by Suffolk County Council. In 2010 the Windmill was sold for £72,100

8. Continue up the lane, walking across the crossroads in the paths…

We now need to be careful as we’re walking across Thorpeness Golf Club, the clubhouse of which is on the left

Mr Ogilvie first approached English architect Harry Colt to design a golf course in 1911, but the outbreak of The First World War interrupted his plans. In 1922 he secured the services of a five-time Open Champion, Scotsman James Braid, to layout his course

9. The path narrows now as it winds its way through the golf course…

On the left’s a rather beautiful river…

Some of the tree roots appear to be pulling the bank up in a rather strange way…

10. After wandering through the bushes we finally arrive at a T-junction which is an old railway track – the old station is straight ahead

Turn left to follow the railway track…

11. The bikes in the picture above were owned by some people we met who were sat looking across the nature reserve. This is the magnificent North Warren RSPB. It’s noted for its populations of Eurasian bittern, European nightjar & other bird species. We saw several birds of prey whilst sitting there

12. Carry on through some magnificent woodland…

…& after roughly 1 mile, look for a footpath sign leading up the bank on the left

13. This is now our path that’s going to take across the marshes directly to the North Sea. The weather forecast when we set off was for possible heavy showers around this time so it was best foot forward…

Across to the right are fine views of the windmill, the “House in the Clouds” & Sizewell B

Sizewell B is the UK’s only commercial pressurised water reactor (PWR) power station. Its single reactor was built & commissioned between 1987 & 1995, & first synchronised with the national grid on 14 Feb 1995. The main civil engineering contractor was John Laing plc. The power station is operated by EDF Energy

EDF’s strategic target is for 20 year life extension for Sizewell B PWR, beyond the current accounting closure date of 2035

14. There’s some lovely placed benches along this path & most of them have been donated…

…but we haven’t got time to sit as that storm’s getting closer! Eventually the path crosses the Aldeburgh road &…we’re on the path along the beach!

Wondered where we’d left those sandals…

15. There’s no time to sit & rest though as that storm’s coming & we’re still a good 15 minutes walk from Thorpeness which can be seen ahead

There’s some fenced off vegetation on the stony beach which is Sea Pea, a rare plant & in decline. It’s protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981) & must not be picked without permission from the landowner

16. Our final picture, below, was taken about 200 yards from the end of this walk…

To finish the walk pass about four of the beach houses & the followed the marked boardwalk back to the car park

Why didn’t we take any more photos? Well because we got absolutely drenched by the cloudburst we got caught in & had to change in the car!

So that’s the end of our lovely walk around the fantasy village of Thorpeness. If you’re in this part of Suffolk we can really recommend here & Southwold so go & you won’t be disappointed

Now onto Aldeburgh for some well deserved fish ‘n’ chips…

Go Walk!