Explore Thorpeness

Just 3 miles south-east of Leiston, the ‘fairytale’ Suffolk coast village of Thorpeness is not just magical, but a real land of make-believe. With its vast landscaped boating lake, golf course and tennis courts; a quirky House-in-the-Clouds, picture-postcard ‘Tudor’ cottages, club houses and garden cafés, it has been delighting visitors for generations – or at least ever since eccentric Edwardian, Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, conjured up his ‘Merrie Olde England’ showcase from a tiny fishing hamlet on the smugglers’ coast…

Thorpeness meare and boathouse Suffolk

Thorpeness Meare

Enjoy Leiston’s near neighbour where you can literally push the boat, or just let your imagination run away with you! Hire a rowing boat, punt or canoe and get a taste for adventure. With 64 watery acres of shallow artificial lake to explore, it’s fun for kids of all ages. But then this playground of a lake was designed to be a Peter Pan world where boys never grow up, inspired by the work of Ogilvie’s author friend, J.M. Barrie.

Whether you take to the water, wander by the boathouse, follow  footpaths past the golf club to join the Sandlings Walk path or to explore Aldringham Walks, keep an eye out for Peter Pan’s islands, the Pirates’ Lair, Wendy’s House and … the Thorpeness crocodile!

Don’t miss the hugely popular mid-August Thorpeness Regatta – an annual tradition loved by locals and visitors alike.

What’s this? A House in the Clouds?

When Thorpeness was taking shape around 1910-15, its gentleman creator was determined to provide state of the art comforts for all his visiting holiday makers. Pumps and water tanks would be unsightly and break the spell of this ‘historic’ setting.

Cue yet more clever disguises – the water tower was magically transformed into a ‘house’ perched above the roof tops. It is now a five-storey holiday let with stunning meare, golf course, village and sea views, incorporating the former tank as a communal space. But how was the pump to be disguised?

Thorpeness House in the Clouds
Aldringham windmill at Thorpeness

Thorpeness Mill

Originally a corn mill built in 1802, the mill at Thorpeness once stood in the nearby village of Aldringham behind the smugglers’ inn, The Parrot & Punchbowl. By the 1890s, it was in the ownership of the Ogilvie family.

In a nifty bit of upcycling,  Ogilvie dismantled the windmill in 1922/3 and re-erected it on the heath by the Meare. Wind driven until 1940, it was repurposed to pump water to feed the adjacent water tower (House in the Clouds). 

Beautifully restored, the white postmill is now in private hands, but can be viewed from the footpath. It is occasionally open  to the public.

Thorpeness Beach

Just metres down the boardwalk from the Meare, Heritage Hut and tearooms, this is one wide, mainly shingle beach where you can walk for miles (to Aldeburgh) and even feel the sand between your toes at low tide.

Go wild in the sheltered dunes to the north and get a real sense of being somewhere special amidst the rare vegetated shingle to the south.

For a wonderful circular walk, combine the beach with the inland North Warren and Haven Nature Reserves, areas owned and managed by RSPB. 

The whole beach is dog friendly from October to the end of April; restrictions apply to certain areas during the summer months.

Thorpeness beach Christmas tree sculpture Suffolk

Did you know? 

The building of Thorpeness was one of the first enterprises in Britain to harness the potential of concrete! A concrete brick-making machine, imported from Australia, was used to make blocks from the beach shingle. Look out for the evidence as you explore the village – it’s everywhere!


What’s the story behind Thorpeness?

Once upon a time there was a little fishing village called Thorpe. To its south and west was an area of water – a natural mere on the River Hundred which acted as a safe haven for ships. But over the centuries it silted up, so the land was drained and used for pasture.

In 1910, extensive flooding created a spectacular area of water at Thorpe, to the north of the old mere site. When the landowner came to survey the ‘damage’, he recognised an unprecedented opportunity – “Let’s keep it, and build a holiday village around it!” he declared. And the rest is Thorpeness history.

From fishing village…

From a little row of flint cottages and a few scattered dwellings and farm buildings near the sea, Thorpe blossomed into ‘Thorpeness’, a purpose-built holiday village with all mod cons.

First came the creation and consolidation of the artificial lake, the boathouse and ‘Barrie’s Walk’, then one by one, the houses, each totally individual.

Thorpeness Halt on the then Saxmundham to Aldeburgh railway line opened in 1914, encouraging the claim that the new seaside holiday grounds were only 2.5 hours travel from Hyde Park in London.

To refined resort

As soon as the resort opened in 1919, the new village name won the stamp of approval from the post office. The 1920s saw the mill and watertower arrive and plots of land by ‘The Meare’, some with private moorings, sold off to raise money for maintenance.

The new village boasted a Country Club, golf course, reading/assembly room, a Kursaal Casino and all the trimmings. St Mary’s Church with its Romanesque feel was the last piece of the puzzle. Never fully consecrated, it later became a private residence, but some of its stained glass found a new home in St Andrew’s Church, Aldringham.

Created for the good

But Thorpeness was not just a holiday playground. From the outset, it was a place created with wellbeing in mind.

The beautiful style and sense of history and belonging of traditional English buildings; social amenities and activities; a healthy environment with fresh air, plus room to move and live in harmony with nature – Stuart Glencairn Ogilvie, the Scottish barrister founder of Thorpeness, believed that all these things had the power to reshape the individual. Like England’s garden cities, this was an opportunity to help people reconnect and recharge, to reappraise their values and rediscover what life was really all about. Thorpeness is still working this much-needed magic today.

Interested in finding out more?

Look out for information storyboards dotted around Thorpeness village. Find them all on a 1.25 mile heritage trail along paths, roads and tracks and don’t miss the Heritage Hut mini-museum and information point (limited summer opening only) by the beach and Meare car park .