A month in the country
29 August 2016
I’m back in London for the first time tonight in a month. I realised, when I was chatting with Charlie this morning, at the end of our wonderful month in Dorset, that I can’t think of the last time – it honestly must be years and years – that I’ve spent so many nights in a row sleeping in the same bed. Partly the effect of the good fortune of renting a house in Dorset, and a flat in London; partly travelling for work; partly the general restlessness of life. In a world where we seem to move faster and faster and further and further, there is a lot to be said for staying still.
We’ve been incredibly lucky, too, with the weather – evening after evening of warm, still summer nights, and misty early mornings. Even tonight, back in London, this incredible August drifts on and the city basks in heat that feels a little alien to our old sooty bricks. I’m noticing, all of a sudden, the early evenings drawing in, which I didn’t three or four weeks ago at the start of the month. So late summer gently slips into a benign early autumn, and like all the best moments in the year, we are balanced on the cusp of change.
One day, Charlie being brilliant Charlie, we pulled armchairs out into the garden and C sat in the shade while I baked in the heat. The dahlia border exploded after weeks of waiting. The garden was a beautiful sight that evening.
We made little trips; we drove over to Cranborne, perhaps one of the most beautiful houses in Dorset, although if I am honest the gardens were no longer those of my memory from perhaps 20 or 25 years ago, when I first visited this incredible ancient place. That is what happens when a garden made by an incredible gardener is passed on to those who still love it, but perhaps the magic always fades.
The serene west front of Cranborne remains one of the most beautiful things in architecture I have ever seen.
There were several mornings when warm, dense sea mist rolled into the valley.
And hints of autumn began to show their signs in the hedgerows.
It would always clear by mid-morning. Days in the garden. Mavis is growing up. We went over to Corfe, and the Isle of Purbeck, which we long to explore more but without the summer crowds.Evenings at home were always nicest.
And morning walks, every morning, with Mavis, through the woods or up over the hills.
With the help of our great neighbour Mike we revived the Morris for trips out and about.
And Charlie revived the washing line that reminded me of the Parsonage, a very long time ago, in this blog, and in the days when the blogs were much shorter and the garden was much emptier.
Mavis got sick and tired of me taking photos, when it was far more fun to play.
The dahlias have been amazing. No wonder at all that Charlie had tremendous success at the Melplash Show, but that will be a story for another blog. It needs a whole story of its own.
Days drifted by. We put off, and put off again a weekend in London, and the gentle pace of Dorset got deep into our bones. And then last weekend we visited our friends Ruth and Andrew down in Cornwall, for a bracing change of scene. West west west, down below Penzance.
We visited the gravestone of my ancestress Dolly, the famous last speaker of Cornish as her mother tongue, to whom this stone was erected by Louis Lucien Bonaparte in the wall of the church in the village of Paul.
Again and again, gravestone looking, I was amazed by the beauty of Cornish letter cutting in simple, thin, slate headstones – a beauty that I had forgotten.
A rather more solemn Victorian plaque to my great great (great?) grandfather, R. T. Pentreath, artist of Penzance and Newlyn before these places became famous for art.
On the first world war memorial, Edwin Pentreath.
The churchyard of Paul was a lovely place, and I spent a little while communing with the ancestors before Ruth, Charlie and I downed delicious watery pints in the pub next door.
We spun through Penzance, still one of my favourite towns in all of Britain, snapping the fireworks of the Egyptian House (now owned by the Landmark Trust) on the way….
Before heading out to the National Dahlia Collection just to the east of Penzance. Ruth was a faultless tour guide. The perfect place to visit.
We went to strange standing stones which no-one else bothered with,
And went to the beautiful Parish Church of St. Buryan, to see the remarkable embroidered kneelers, which Ruth has written about eloquently on her lovely blog (which I know many of you read, The Bible of British Taste. Ruth apologises for intermittent service recently, but she has had terrible technical problems which, if you are a blogger, are enough to make your skin crawl).
More fine memorials.
We visited the cairn overlooking a shining Lands End, where my camera battery died.
And when we were home, Charlie, Mavis and I went for a precipitous walk along the cliffs above Lamorna, where the sea is such a luminescent blue that you cannot quite believe your eyes.
More touring the next day, with Ruth as our brilliant guide.
We walked to this beautiful swimming spot, where the sea was completely freezing, but wonderfully invigorating and we bounced around in the crystal clear water for longer than you would imagine.
Even Mavis found her sea feet, almost, playing around with Ruth’s lurcher Bunny in the waves.
More slate lettering in the Methodist churchyard in St. Just.
Half way down a street of simplest two storey terraced cottages is this lovely building.
One evening, we went for dinner with the incredible, indomitable Rose Hilton, 85 year old widow of the great painter Roger Hilton, herself a wonderful artist who is enjoying much success now – her next exhibition at Messum’s opens this autumn, and a fine new monograph published this week.
We flew through tiny lanes with Ruth at the wheel of her trusty car, the mirror dangling with every good luck charm known to taxi drivers of all cultures of the world.
As we arrived at Rose’s beautiful house, the sun was setting over the remains of tin mines on the coast. We ate a delicious dinner and chatted long into the evening, until it was time to go home.
We arrived back in Dorset to the sadness that is always the last day of holidays, and Charlie, Mavis and I had a walk in beautiful morning sunshine up and over the hills,
And from a certain high viewpoint, the whole of the valley unfolds and stretches away as far as the eye can see.And we blink, slightly, thinking ‘how has the year gone so quickly’, and September beckons – which is always, I think, really, the start of the New Year. A much better way of thinking about things – twelve months to go until next autumn. Time to get your new notebooks and sharpen the pencil for the first day of term; time to start ordering your daffodil bulbs, and to dream of spring.