It was likely about half a century since I had even paused at the bend of that place. It was created as a playground in the 1920s by Ogilvie, a Scottish barrister, this watery wonderland boating lake, which was inspired by his friend JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. The 60-acre lake — allegedly dug out by hand — is a fantasyland of little creeks and waterways with “islands” where you can rest your rowing boat that boast names like Wendy’s Home, Pirate’s Lair and the Blue Lagoon.
We just called it the Thorpeness Meare (not a familiar American term, I’m sure) and, as kids, our parents would drop us off so that we could row in 2 feet of water to our heart’s delight and play Swallows and Amazons or pirates and torment the boys. We had loved the freedom this afforded our young selves with huge imaginations and large appetites for mischief. It was only a skip from the beach, but truly miles away.
Thorpeness has always been a bit of a strange burg, just down the road from Aldeburgh in Suffolk where I was born, but sporting largely anonymous white clapboard houses with black crisscrossed beams throughout, a tiny village store, a country club and this fantasy lake. It was never considered a real place to live in our minds and we had no friends there. It was almost as if Peter Pan himself resided there with a host of other imaginary characters.
“What do you want to do for your 60th birthday?” Friends were gathering in Aldeburgh in various cottages, and we surely needed to do something to mark the day the “baby” of the group turned a big number, so a trip to the Meare was sprung upon the unsuspecting visitors, most of whom had last visited the lake decades before. Since my oldest friend and I were working on the story of our childhood in Aldeburgh together, it seemed apt that we should revisit the Meare, one of the chapters in our story.
I was delighted to see that the boats were literally the same ones from our childhood — old wooden rowing boats painted in all colors of the rainbow and named Rose Bud, Lizzie, Sally, Mavis … they were just as rocky to get in as they ever were and equally uncomfortable with wooden board seats and no cushions.
There were three boats and two dogs that took off from the side this Sunday and rowed steady-ish through the mossy water toward the fantasyland, howling with laughter. I’m not sure exactly what we were expecting, but nothing in those watery lands had changed. The passing of time had been suspended in this place.
Even the marauding swans were just as rude as they were 50 years ago, one leaning his hawky beak into our boat and scaring me silly. Even the “islands” were the same, but we didn’t feel the need to jump out of the boats this go-around, lest we rock the proverbial boat too much and end up with cell phones in the water and ruined shoes. I don’t remember ever caring about that years ago and we never had electronics on board in any case.
“I see a snake!” someone yelled and, sure enough, there were water snakes in the mossy waters — quite the eco system, I’m sure, for all the swans, geese, ducks and apparently snakes. The sunshine was glorious and fantastic shots were captured of my special day with blue skies, white swans and green mossy lake in the background.
After our boating expedition, it was time for more cake. One chocolate cake had already been consumed, so it was undoubtedly time for another that my very busy friend had somehow found the time to bake before she came down for birthday weekend. Oh, and a cheesecake that another friend had bought — plus the case of lovely wines and bubblies that father had sent over for another friend to bring with. This celebrating stuff is heavy on the waistline, but certainly light on the heart.
Following boating and cake part two, it was time for champagne. Then, with ourselves over full of birthday lusciousness, the conversation turned to more serious topics that we should ponder when we are of a certain age. Living trusts, wills, how much money we won’t be leaving to our children, poor health and the super tricky subjects of who is in the unfortunate position of an adjustable mortgage that will be resetting next year. These were sobering convos that led us back around to a little more wine, certainly more cake and further reminders of the fragility of life.
The following day I was a bit under the weather with the snuffles and a sore throat — perhaps the result of too much excess over the previous days, too many late nights and the extra gift of a friend who came to visit with a cough. All further plans were immediately canceled and 60-year-old self was put to bed with Lemsip, hot tea and her book. After some extra hours of sleep, she was nearly back to normal, save the sore throat, and able to bask a little on the beach, which was superbly sunny and kind.
Sometimes it’s fun to go backwards in life and forget a bit about adulting, mortgages and living trusts. On occasion, it’s freeing to go boating and have a laugh, drink champagne and eat too much cake. We did all of that this weekend and, I’m proud to say, we all survived, and no one fell in the water.