19 February 2017
Apologies for not posting last weekend. I hope you didn’t miss it. I arrived in London early on Monday morning to find I’d left my camera in Dorset. So the pictures of our adventures would have to wait. The week tumbled away and in the blink of an eye it is Sunday evening again. And, so, here’s a blog in three parts.
P A R T O N E : I N S O M E R S E T
“What’s the new thing this weekend, Ben” Charlie asked me while we had coffee at Soulshine. “Nothing, I replied. I’m knackered… let’s just spend the day on the sofa watching films and doing nothing”. But when we got home, we rallied. Seeing the verges filled with snowdrops, we thought we’d make an early spring excursion to a garden I’d read about, but we had never visited – the famous garden of Margery Fish, developed during the 40s, 50s and 60s, at East Lambrook Manor in Somerset.
It was a quick drive north on a bitterly freezing morning. We arrived to find the garden deserted, and one very friendly attendant in the old barn that serves as a ticket office, bookshop and cafe. It’s all perfectly done.
The garden is small, and revolves around the ancient stone manor house that Margery and her husband made home on the eve of the Second World War, in 1938. Here, she created a whole new way of gardening—expounded in many books, magazines and articles—in which she led people away from grand, high-maintenance gardening of the Victorian and Edwardian era towards a softer, more informal approach, ideal for the smaller suburban garden; a style ideal for the explosion of gardening as the national British pastime, and for gardening without hundreds of staff.
East Lambrook is famous for its snowdrops, which is why the garden is open so early in February.
The walls of the cafe are lined with copies of Margery’s writings.
Here is her photograph, in the midst of the garden she created.
The village, meanwhile, has some beautiful, plain buildings:
And on the way is this fine sign. (Did no-one stop to think for a second before commissioning and installing the sign to the Recreation Ground? Somerset County Council, could you possibly fix that?).
On the way home we called at Montacute, austere and stately in the freezing north wind.
But the new part for us was a visit to the interior. Can you believe it, every other time we have ever been, the house has been shut (which has always suited us just fine, being in more of a garden mood). But this afternoon, on the coldest day of the year, it was open. I hadn’t been inside for years. But I could remember with crystal clarity the extraordinary long gallery, a serene space.
I love the hangings on this tall fourposter bed.
And the stack of Bridie’s and mine favourite plastic chairs in the kitchen:
P A R T T W O : N O R T H U M B E R L A N D
On Tuesday and Wednesday I was in Northumberland, where I am starting work on an incredible new town project. We spent a long day visiting modern housing estates, which you would think was a deeply depressing task, and in parts, but not entirely, it was. We were looking for the house builders with whom the landowners could partner to deliver the exceptional scheme they wish to achieve. My eyes did begin to glaze over a little as the minibus drew into the 10th housing estate of the day. But on our way back to Newcastle, we called in for five minutes to extraordinary Whalton, one of the most beautiful small places I had been for a long time.
Our visit took on a surreal turn when the owner of the sublime Manor House, seeing a bunch of suspicious looking people wandering around at dusk, pottered out to ask what we were up to. Within two minutes he was giving us an incredible tour of his amazing building, designed by Lutyens and Lorimer, and with extraordinary gardens by Gertrude Jekyll, all astonishingly intact. I hope you don’t mind, but politeness dictated that I put my camera away for a bit.
We spent the night in Newcastle, Valentine’s night as it happened. We went to dinner in a restaurant filled with hundreds of couples of all ages, dressed to the nines in true Newcastle style, staring wistfully into each others’ eyes and holding hands silently across their respective tables – exchanging shy whispers. The room was full, but nearly silent. A sight to behold.
P A R T T H R E E : T R A F A L G A R
And so to this weekend. Yesterday, we were having lunch with old friends at their amazing house, Trafalgar Park. Despite making a few attempts at a plan, we’d never been over before. Oh, and the house is for sale, should anyone reading the blog this morning be in the mood for a new project. Especially wealthy Americans, please apply.
The building is incredible; early Georgian with dashes of neo-classical and Greek Revival. And though large, it is not too large, I would say. It is a house you arrive at and fall in love with instantly.
Before lunch we went for a long walk.
From the high hills above the park we spied the spire Salisbury Cathedral through the clearing mist…
And watched skylarks dance in this field, pointed out by our friend Tania, as I was not quite sure until now what a skylark sounded or looked like.
When we arrived back at the house, warm sunshine had broken through the clouds, and it felt like the first day of spring.
The west front is more welcoming, less austere, than the grand east entrance facade.
Amazing views over the Wiltshire countryside beyond.
After lunch, my friend Rupert gave us a tour of the remarkable north wing, semi-derelict since the war, where he has had his painting studio for these last few years. An amazing experience to see these beautiful rooms.
And as the afternoon began to turn, we had to tear ourselves away from this magical, generous place, and stop dreaming.
Although, I can’t help thinking, it is good to dream – it is, after all, the dreamers of this world who make things happen.