Weekend wanderings and unexpected pleasures
4 May 2015
Rain and mist swept across Dorset this weekend, but it didn’t seem to matter. We needed something to remind us it was a bank holiday, after all.
Charlie and I had our friends Lulu & (her) Charlie and Bunny and Xan staying. Lulu Lyttle runs the amazing shop Soane Britain on Pimlico Road. And, I suppose, even more importantly, she introduced Charlie and me to each other… it was at supper at Lulu’s flat on a warm evening last summer that we first met; so she is responsible, I suppose, for even more than the nicest chairs and wallpapers in London. Thank you Lulu.
On Saturday morning we decided to head to Lyme Regis. A grey sea-mist was blowing into the Parsonage garden.
But as we sped along the coast to Lyme, which regular readers will know is one of my favourite Dorset towns come rain or shine, but especially in a giant storm, the sunshine broke through.
Lyme was in the thick of general election fever.
I love the austere beauty of her grand Regency facades:
And gentle pink-and-turquoise, slate and gloss-white paint schemes in the town across the bay from the Cobb:
Fog rolled in to shore in one direction, but there was sparkling blue sky in the other:
And as the sun beamed down, it was the perfect moment to catch up on the news, or have a little nap.
Election campaign posters were everywhere, and one suspects the town is in a grip of a battle between Mr Oliver Letwin (Conservative) and Ms Ros Kayes (Liberal). Oliver’s haircut reminded me somewhat of Michael Heseltine in the glory days, or even, I began to wonder, of the Iron Lady herself. A remarkable bouffant.
The blog is delighted to give a shout out to Mr Daryl Turner, campaigning for the Lyme Regis Ward vote. Go, Daryl.
You will be relieved to hear it was time to move on.
At the far end of the beach we were thrilled to discover a huge marquee that turned out to house the FOSSIL FESTIVAL. Well, no one was more thrilled than Xan Lyttle (aged 10), but I confess I haven’t been somewhere so inspirational in a very long time.
It was packed:
The fossil-loving community is the nicest I think I’ve ever come across. People were getting very excited by some rare specimens for sale.
Lyme Regis museum had a brilliant stall, where you could polish your own fossil:
And then we hit the part of the tent with the Associations. WHO KNEW that all these groups existed?
The degree of specialisation in the world of Geology is remarkable; but as The Shipping Forecast is to weather, so are some of these titles to stones. There is a poetry, a deep emotive longing, in titles such as ‘Fossils of the Chalk‘ and ‘The Jurassic Flora of Yorkshire‘. These names speak to me of the whole of eternity, time and material wrapped into one.
Tantalising displays of geological maps (which have, of course, been a mainstay of the Pentreath & Hall offering for years) were set alongside actual stone specimens delineated by the colours.
A completely new discovery for me is the superb maps of early 19th century cartographer and Geologist William Smith, which were works not only of great erudition but tremendous beauty.
Charlie and Lulu, meanwhile, joined my obsession of the Natural History Museum ‘observing orchids’ campaign, presented by a really knowledgeable, enthusiastic and delightful specialist.
This is a massive crowd-sourced effort to digitise the entire collection of the museum’s orchid Herbarium specimens. Some original examples were on display. We could not get over their beauty and poignancy. If you are keen to take part you can visit their website here.
Reluctantly we tore ourselves away from the Fossil Festival and made our way back up the steep hill that creates such a dramatic relationship between Lyme and the sea:
At the top of the hill, almost revealed, the Landmark Trust’s beautiful restoration of Belmont – a superb, delicate late 18th century villa with beautiful Coade stone decoration. It will be a wonderful place to stay when it is finished.
Election fever was bubbling out of control as we left town.
We returned home for a dreamy, delicious dinner of salads and roast lamb cooked by Charlie in the new sky-blue dining room – St. Giles’s Blue, by Farrow & Ball (if you were wondering).
This morning, we awoke a little bleary-eyed and after breakfast made our way to Mapperton, perhaps the dreamiest house of all in Dorset, with its softest stone and leaded-light facades, superb stables… and the ultimate of all Edwardian gardens, elaborately constructed in the fold of a narrow valley below the ancient house.
The north front of Mapperton is Georgian and faces an enormous croquet lawn. It is beautiful… but does live permanently in the shade.
The first glimpse of the garden is breathtaking.
The orangery is a dream; we encountered a beautiful, ebullient white rose in full flower, with the most delicate scent.
The dramatic climax of the garden is a vast outdoor swimming pool, green and murky and filled with tadpoles.
And the formality gives way to the most beautiful, mossy, early May-green arboretum.
Mapperton is as close to perfection as you get in Dorset, I think; such a contrast to the seaside jauntiness of Lyme. Clouds rolled in from the west, and as we returned to the Parsonage more rain swept through the valley.
It is raining still; a drenching, wet rain, and the garden is hungrily sucking up the water and stretching luxuriously after the dryest April. The sky is grey, branches and soil are jet black, the last of the tulips droop under the weight of water, and soon we must return to London after the happiest week down here for a very long time.