A month in the country

29 August 2016
Ben Pentreath

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.P1030817

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.P1030822 P1030826 P1030830 P1030836 P1030843

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. P1030849 P1030850

The serene west front of Cranborne remains one of the most beautiful things in architecture I have ever seen.P1030861 P1030871 P1030882 P1030887 P1030901

There were several mornings when warm, dense sea mist rolled into the valley.P1030930 P1030933 P1030936 P1030940 P1030951

And hints of autumn began to show their signs in the hedgerows.P1030954 P1030960 P1030962 P1030964 P1030970 P1030971

It would always clear by mid-morning. Days in the garden. Mavis is growing up.P1030973 P1030977 P1030987We went over to Corfe, and the Isle of Purbeck, which we long to explore more but without the summer crowds.P1040043Evenings at home were always nicest.P1040067 P1040068 P1040090 P1040092 P1040093 P1040095

And morning walks, every morning, with Mavis, through the woods or up over the hills.P1040099 P1040109 P1040111 P1040116 P1040119 P1040125 P1040128 P1040129

With the help of our great neighbour Mike we revived the Morris for trips out and about. P1040136

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.P1040142 P1040148

Mavis got sick and tired of me taking photos, when it was far more fun to play.  P1040150 P1040152 P1040153 P1040156 P1040160 P1040165 P1040167 P1040172 P1040231

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.P1040241 P1040242 P1040243 P1040245 P1040252 P1040258 P1040262

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.P1040674

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.P1040678

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.P1040680

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.P1040681

On the first world war memorial, Edwin Pentreath.P1040684

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….P1040698

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, P1040707

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).P1040708 P1040710 P1040711 P1040714

More fine memorials.P1040715 P1040716

We visited the cairn overlooking a shining Lands End, where my camera battery died.P1040718 P1040719

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.P1040720 P1040724 P1040727 P1040731 P1040735

More touring the next day, with Ruth as our brilliant guide.P1040739 P1040741 P1040745

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.P1040748

Even Mavis found her sea feet, almost, playing around with Ruth’s lurcher Bunny in the waves.P1040752 P1040757

More slate lettering in the Methodist churchyard in St. Just. P1040759 P1040767 P1040776

Half way down a street of simplest two storey terraced cottages is this lovely building.P1040782 P1040783

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.  P1040789

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.P1040799

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,P1040805 P1040818

And from a certain high viewpoint, the whole of the valley unfolds and stretches away as far as the eye can see.P1040810And 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.

39 comments on this post

Andrew Madensays:

I keep reading about RTP’s portraits,especially those of the London gentry. Presumably they include the attorney-general for whom the artist served as art tutor. However, I have not seen an actual portrait in a gallery or at auction. Who are the sitters that paid for the house in Moore Street, Chelsea, and where are they ? Why have their descendants not put one or two on to the market ? I have one, that of Judge Sir James Taylor Ingham, the Chief Magistrate of England which hangs in the chambers of the present CME, Lady Emma Arbuthnot, but there must be others. Can you provide guidance in this amtter ?

Best wishes,


My big sister turned me onto your blog! Probably thought I’d dig it because of our mutual addiction to all things UK…and our live iof To The Lighthouse….Just wanted to thank you for turning me onto Eric Ravilious thru your shop site….his work is BEAUTIFUL! Thank you!


Perfection in every way! Thank you for sharing.

Elizabeth Cornwellsays:

I love your blogs,Why dont you turn them into a book( like the old Shell Books of the 50s)Your writing & photographs are a hymn to the Englich countryside,so refreshing after all the gloom & doom!Im seriously jealous of your dahlias!


So happy to hear that you had a wonderful month in Dorset. This is the first summer that I have not worked in more than 30 years. Time slips by ever so quickly. Now that I am retired I hope to travel to some of the beautiful countryside in England. Your photos are spectacular, reminding me of my home on the east coast of Canada, near the Bay of Fundy.


Perfectly beautiful, as always, although maybe even more than usual! So glad you had a month in Dorset. Thank you!

mrs hsays:

bliss to look and read. how happy you two are. please blog about the flower show and the kittens if you get the chance, am longing to hear more.

Mary Janesays:

It was a delight to read of your month in the English countryside. Today was the 51 day of 90+ degree weather in Washington, DC, USA. Summer is a torment here and sure to get even worse in the future.


Once again, just superb. Thank you. Best wishes to you both for the new term. Nicola


Well only in July I had been looking at the stone to Dolly Pentreath and had wondered if she was an ancestor of yours!!
I love Paul but don’t you find Lamorna Cove a little spooky?!


I’ve read your blog from early days and I’ve always found it to be highly amusing and yes,educational at times. Yet it wasn’t until you met Charlie that your writing hit its stride;previously it was always a bit whistful and suddenly there was great joy! ( Perhaps akin to one of Charlie’s dahlias bursting into its full glory.) It was obvious that someone had brought great happiness into your life and your writing reflected it. It’s lovely to see a couple that is obviously meant for one another and how you support each other’s passions. May it always be so.


many many thanks for this lovely post. but what about the cats?


I always read your blog and love the photos and writing. This one, for the first time, makes me moved to comment: I so agree with you about the change of season after the most lovely few weeks. It is more noticeable this year for me too and beautifully expressed by you, both in pictures and description. Thank you…..


So, so soothing. Thank you.


Ben and Charlie: Thank you both so much for allowing us a glimpse perhaps even more than a glimpse of your August in Dorset etc. Evocative memories recalled in such a deep sense of joy, love and most of all hope.


If you never write another blog then I would be quite content just to read this one each week. Perfection.


A masterpiece! Such a brilliant evocation of the mood of a languid summer holiday. Plus the Morris!!


Every post is a pleasure to read and views of the countryside, villages, etc are wonderful…

Diane Keanesays:

Oh Ben, there is so much beauty in this post, it almost brought tears. Gardens, architecture, ancestors, graceful carved lettering, the sea, sky, flora and fauna, it’s all here! Charlie’s dahlia extravaganza looks like a fairy-tale, I can almost see the pixies hovering. Are you familiar with the GAP Photos website? Great inspiration, and they name all the plants! Perhaps you could place some of your garden photos there, I’m not sure how that works, but there are many of private individuals’ gardens. Would love to see yours there.

I suspect that in the future, you will be as renowned as a photographer almost as much as an architect. Charlie and Mavis treading the narrow path against the background of craggy landscape is such a classic man-and-dog study. And I love the clever photo of evil eye charms dangling from the mirror reflecting Rose’s own elegant blue eye!

You have really captured the essence of late summer. Kudos, and thank you!


A perfect Tuesday lunchtime escape.

Julianna Vaughansays:

Ben, your blog and photos means so much to me. Reading it is the best part of beginning my work week. Thank you for sharing. I know you spend a lot of time posting.I imagine it’s a labor of love.

Lynn Rubinsays:

I’ve been reading for some time, but have never commented. I have to say, your blog is pure bliss. Thank you.


Thank you for another beautiful post Ben, such beautiful photos. When you’re next back in New Zealand with Charlie, if perhaps you should ever travel up to the Far North of the North Island, you should check out Christ Church in Russell, Bay of Islands, ( New Zealand’s oldest church), they have such a beautiful collection of tapestry kneelers there, portraying Russell’s rich seafaring history, plus local fauna and floral.
I’m leaving London, and am emigrating to the Bay of Islands, NZ next month, the Far North of New Zealand has so completely stolen my heart; but I will always appreciate your beautiful blog to remind me of England’s gracious beauty.


simple pleasures, always the best.

ditto above pp


What a wonderful start to my morning!! Thank you!!! If you and C ever venture to Rhode Island, we will show you the best paths to the sea here, with pups in tow. But we have precious few of your glorious hills.


So many wonderful things to delight in here: the dahlias (they remind me of my granny’s garden); the trees – I lived in pine-blessed Norway for several years, beautiful – but how I missed the dappled light under English trees;the blissful, seemingly unchanging landscape, and the morning mists that reminded me of my darling Dad who, as a young soldier melting in the heat of India, used to long for misty autumn mornings at home. And Mavis – what a picture of health and vitality she is! The gravestones too – I wrote a poem about Dolly Pentreath, moved at the thought of the loss of the Cornish language with her death.


Next time you are in Cornwall, go and see my friend Chris Insoll at The New Gallery in Portscatho, he knows Rose Hilton, and Eric Ward, who lives in St Ives and has painted Dolly Pentreath (the boat, not your ancestor!). Chris is a curator of people as much as a curator of art, you’ll love him.

Jacqui Reith, Dunedin, New Zealand.says:

Wonderfully atmospheric! Thankyou for sharing your delightful piece of England. As you slide into Autumn, here in NZ we’re seeing our garden come alive with beautiful spring bulbs, Snowdrops, Daffodils etc. Gardens, whatever the season, are so precious. Your Dahlias are absolutely zinging!


I’m a Brooklyn girl whose Dad was stationed in Launceston, Cornwall during the war. Years ago, I visited the area, hoping to find the boarding house he was lodged in. Years blurred the address, and all Dad provided for reference was “There’s a pub at the top of the hill.” !!! I managed to find it, and had an emotional meeting with the woman who managed it the time. The trip was lovely and the Cornish coast so dramatic and beautiful. I recall staying in Mousehole and being charmed by Land’s End. Your wonderful post stirred sweet memories. Thank you, Ben! Your posts always warm my little Anglophile heart.

Peter Hobbssays:

It all sounds and looks perfectly blissful…thank you for letting us share in your happiness, peace and joy.


Thank you so much for sharing your summer. Your writing is beautiful, so evocative of half-dreamed past summers. Enjoy the autumn too!

Isla Simpsonsays:

what an incredible treat to spend a month away from London, recharging the batteries for the new year – September is also my favourite month. Can’t believe how grown up Mavis looks already, proper dog!

sue costellosays:

Luv.luv.luv….Charlie’s dahlia border! Could we have some of the names? The big orange cactus? The lighter orange minion? The pinks? The deep red cactus? Fabulous combinations abound! Please post more! 🙂

southern galsays:

thanks for this today. when i needed it… 11 year anniv of Katrina and the possibility of a hurricane headed to Louisiana where they have 30 inches of rain this month and my mothers house is still flooded.

so good to gaze at the beautiful landscapes and sea and hills and flowers. to forget for a brief while


What a lovely post. And what a month you’ve had in the country. I know very well that reluctance to return to the city – it makes you wonder why you live there in the first place. Until, of course, you return and that slug of adrenaline hits you and you remember. Or at least, I do.

Thank you for all those shots of Dorset sliding into the softness of Autumn. We’re due to get on our plane on the 8th September and head back to Dorset (initially, but right now we are up to our nose pits in cardboard boxes and dust balls, and living in our house like feral things. Your pictures reminded me of what awaits and almost had me in tears.

I was noticing all the ‘we’s in this blog post and the warmth that accompanies them, and thinking how different things seem to a while ago when you were wondering whether you should buy a property abroad. It’s a bit of a personal thing to say and I hope you don’t mind, but I was so struck by your happiness, and warmed by it.


I rarely envy other people’s gardens, but I give up, that dahlia border is just splendid. Is there a chance Charlie could be bribed to share his list of cultivars?

Suzy Fanningsays:

What a wonderful month in the country. I loved the pictures of your ancestral grave stones in the village of Paul. I have an ancestral burial ground at Gilchrist up in the Scottish Highlands. The MacKenzie clan from my grandparents going back through the centuries are all laid to rest there. It is wonderful to see all who have paved the way before you. Charlie, I have never been a fan of Dahlias but you have changed my mind with your beautiful vibrant border. Thank you for sharing Ben

connie kennedysays:

Got to the end of your blog Ben and sighed and said, “Just beautiful!” Thank you for sharing your photographs and thank you for your wonderful writing which evokes into words our feelings at the beauty of this world we live in. Off to share in Facebook.


Sigh! Two of my favorites – dahlias and needlepoint kneelers. Thx for that! : )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.