Speeding towards the Suffolk resort of Aldeburgh, you could be forgiven for driving straight past Thorpeness. Pass through on the coastal road and you might just note "nice pub, nice pond, pretty houses". But stop and take a closer look. After all, it isn't every day that you see a seven-storey Tudor cottage.
The House in the Clouds – as it has become known – is not, as it appears, a 16th-century folly, but, like the rest of the village, is pure mock-Tudor. Completed in 1923, the building conceals the village water tower behind its timbered façade and was the final piece in what was Britain's first purpose-built holiday village – a sort of Center Parcs for a gentler age.
Thorpeness was dreamt up in 1912 by the playwright and barrister G Stuart Ogilvie, who was inspired by the works of his friend J M Barrie, author of The Adventures of Peter Pan. Ogilvie wanted to create a perfect holiday environment that would be a cut above neighbouring Southwold, with its "vulgar pier", and set about planning his fantasy village, which to modern eyes resembles a Disneyesque version of an English idyll.
Many of the houses have black wooden beams and white rendering, while others imitate the half-timbered effect of the House in the Clouds. In between, some original fishing cottages still stand, a reminder of the hamlet of Thorpe, which Ogilvie's creation swallowed up.
For a holiday village, the place feels a bit like a ghost town. Yet this is part of its strange charm: the resort that time forgot. Had the railway reached the village, as early brochures proclaimed would happen "soon", the whole character of the place would have changed over the years. As it is, Thorpeness has stayed much as its creator envisaged and is protected by local planning regulations.
Central to the village is the Meare, a huge, hand-dug lake containing a network of islands which can be reached by rowing boat, a number of which are available for hire.
To fans of 1960s TV drama The Prisoner, Thorpeness may look strangely familiar, as it is thought to have been the inspiration for Clough William Ellis's Italian fantasy village of Portmeirion in Wales, where the cult series was filmed.
As well as its architectural oddities, Thorpeness boasts a great stretch of unspoilt shingle-and-sand beach. Take a seat, and give thanks for the fact that Thorpeness's train never came in.
Take the A12 to Farnham, turn right on to the A1094, left on to the B1069 and right on to the B1353. The nearest train station is at Saxmundham. Buses run from here to Thorpeness. For information contact the Suffolk Travel Line (08459 583358). For more details, contact Aldeburgh tourist centre (01728 453637).Reuse content