A tale of two lives

26 March 2012
Ben Pentreath

One of the things which makes me happiest, I think, is being able to combine life in the country and in London. From time to time I get worried about headlines like “SECOND HOMES CRISIS HITS DORSET” and wonder if it’s really practical, or for that matter fair, for me to be running the Parsonage down there and my little flat up here in London all at the same time. But what I do know is this. If I lived in London full time, I’d go mad, and if I lived in Dorset full time, I’d probably go mad, but for different reasons. Life is all about contrast. I guess I work pretty hard to keep it all together, and perhaps it would be nicer not to spend quite as much time as I do on the M3 motorway or savouring the delights of the slowest railway journey ever from London to Dorchester South.

I think it’s all worth it when I see the tulips coming up, or—very excitingly—the first stem of asparagus (I know what we’ll have for supper in a couple of weeks when my Mum and Dad come to stay over Easter).

A weekend like the one just past emphasised to me, though, how much I love both places. I went to a concert on Saturday evening with my friend George, in Winchester – Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in the Cathedral. If you don’t know this piece of music may I recommend it? It is something I return to again and again, but this was the first time I had heard it performed live. As the choir sang their great set-piece chorus, a wall of sound rolled down the nave of the cathedral, reverberating off great stone pillars and around high dark fan vaults. Extraordinary, and spine-tingling.

But because I was half way back to London, yesterday morning I carried on up. I went for a walk with my friend Will in the afternoon. London sparkled, nowhere more so than the great vaulted arches of Kings Cross station, beautifully restored and reopening at the moment.  The countryside had shone in equal measure. Spring in Dorset, spring in London. At the risk of this blog getting a little repetitive, it would be hard to pick between the two. Which do you prefer?


20 comments on this post

Sharon Marchsays:

Think I agree with most of the others and am seduced by your wonderful London photos, so much character and atmosphere. Think London is the most fabulous city (you will see what I mean when you hear that I am from Birmingham) and love your quirky photos but the garden in Dorset is delightful.

Love the site, only came across it because I’m writing a blogpost on Ed Kluz. I’ll mention your upcoming exhibiton too. Keep up the amazing photography. Thanks Craig

The photos in this post capture the true feeling of both city and countryside. I too had homes in London and Kent up until 2 years ago. I am amazed you are able to keep both residences in such beautiful order! Congratulations! I don’t miss the hassle of commuting every Monday and Friday and love the peace and tranquility of the countryside as well as the clean air!

Hello Ben, This is the first time i have read your blog,I love it! I wonder though how you keep your garden looking like that working in London during the week, mine still looks bare except one star magnolia just opening its first blossoms.
I live in Dorset and work in London 2 days a week and know what you are talking about with the slowest journey ever on the train, generally i cannot muster the patience and just jump in the car..
I lived in London for 13 years and when I now sit in traffic over the bridges and slowly approach London it almost seems like a giant film set, so far removed from what it used to be for me, the center of my universe, a very strange feeling. I would definetely choose Dorset now for so many reasons, but it is great to occasionally get a glimpse of the glamor and rush of big city life! lucky you! Have a lovely Easter!

you’re not really choosing, are you?

i would choose london + then wish i’d kept both.

Darren Buttsays:

Hello i am Darren Butt

I enjoy reading your articles

I am looking forward to read more..


I do the opposite – I live in the country and come to London about twice a month on weekends. I love to catch the 18.34 on Friday evenings and observe the changes in the landscape with each stop towards London. I stick my head out of the little windows between carriages and sniff the air like dogs do, although I’m sure I don’t look as noble; foliage, manure, river and then on to diesel, dust and chip oil. For some reason a little wander through Boots on the London side helps me adjust to the pace of the city.


the crazy mis-matching doors, the elegant curves of crescents and fanlights, the entrancing shopfronts and the mad cherry blossom lined streets of London get my vote !

I would have to pick London, yet Dorset looks beautiful. Nothing can compare to the big city buzz of London, the atmosphere, and those photos look amazingly peaceful and bright for London, probably because of the amazing Spring weather!

I can empathise! London/airports/hotels when I’m working, tranquil little village north of Dorchester when I need to get some balance. I’m absolutely a country girl at heart and couldn’t be ‘me’ without my life in Dorset. Even though I spend most of my city-time dreaming of my next visit West, I still get a buzz from striding across one of the Thames bridges, suited and booted, admiring the view down the river and feeling part of it all – I know I’d miss it if I gave it up completely.


I do the same – North London during the week, Islington for work, Lyme Regis whenever we can for sanity salvation. And, just like you, mad work to try and make it all add up. I need the spark of the city to make me tick but I need the peace and space of the countryside to slow down and appreciate it all. Long may it continue. I just wish I had a deer-proof garden as you appear to do so that I could grow something apart from sodding hydrangeas.

Ah the country! Always the country. With perhaps 2 weekends a month in London. Having never been to London or Dorset, both seem magical to me and I enjoy your delightful blog for both of these glorious “worlds” you inhabit. Thanks for the great pleasure.

I love London with all of my heart but your country house in Dorset with its garden is beautiful!!
I live in Florence and I have a little garden where I try to farm some bulbs… not so many like yours!
Many compliments for your blog and for your shop full of lovely things and sorry for my poor english…

It is a tough one.. I grew up in Devon, now live in London and I love them both for very different reasons but I don’t think I could choose. As you say, life is about contrast and what better contrast than the westcountry and London!

I am completely simpatico with you on this. My husband and I divide time between the city of Toronto and a tiny village a 2hr drive away called Tweed. Our decision to do this was definitely sanity-driven. But in Canada this is not as common. For most Canadians, a second home is a lakeside cabin in the woods. Ours is an Edwardian 3-bed in the village. Most just don’t understand why we would want to get in a car every weekend and make the trip and are astonished that we do it almost every single weekend. It is a nomadic existence to be sure — We miss out on plenty of weekend fun in the city. But we know what we gain: peace and a larger historic home to bring back to life and decorate (which we could never afford in the city). So worth it. To answer your question: of these two I would take London.


My favorite is your picture of the asparagus…..made me chuckle!


Dear Ben, thank you for more ravishing pictures of Dorset and London. I would choose London (with a slightly bigger garden?) for all year round living, the countryside can be grim in winter. However, if I could afford it, I would love your house and garden in Dorset as well!

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