Time flies when you are having fun….

27 May 2019
Ben Pentreath

At the end of every weekend for the last month I’ve been saying “oh golly I’ve got to write a blog”. And at the end of every weekend either something is happening, we’re going out, we’re doing this or that or the other, or I’m completely zonked and in bed before nine, and yet another blog goes unwritten. And now – a month has gone by. So, if you’ve just come back to work after a lovely late May bank holiday… I hope you can sneak an extra ten minutes during your coffee break reading this weeks’ blog….  because there’s a lot to get through.


We had Will and Brandon staying at the beginning of the month…. that magical moment when the garden is bursting with spring….

In smart gardening worlds, copper beech trees are EVER so slightly looked down on (did you know that?).  Various of my landscape architect friends will slightly cruelly refer to a copper beech as an ink blot in the landscape.  Who came up with the description first?  It’s hard to know exactly, as I’ve heard it ascribed to more than one originator.  Whoever the cause, copper beeches are not quite “U” these days.  But I’ve got to admit, I love ours, at that moment in early May when the leaves just unfurl and the colour is like claret.

Tulip time hasn’t been quite so mental this year, because Charlie planted just a few rows, not several thousand. But still enough to make us go crazy. Is there anything more beautiful in early May than a bunch of tulips in a mocha ware mug, gently drooping?

One day, Charlie will have a greenhouse… but until then, the dining room bay window will have to do. The contents of this trestle table will be revealed in the summer (under strict embargo until then). 

Will and Brandon have a famous dog called Lewis the Airedale.   Who makes Sibyl and Enid look rather small.  Sibyl, on the left, has now been overtaken rather dramatically in size by Enid, who is only 5 months old…. but they all get on so happily, minor arguments only.  Even with Henry, the cat, most of the time. 

The green of the early May landscape.  There really is nothing more beautiful.


And the next day, fields of cowslips on the hills on the edge of the village.  This is what farming without chemicals looks like…. old chalk hills, for grazing the Bride Valley Longhorn herd. 

Sunday lunch that day was at Bettiscombe, dreamily perfect as always.  That was why we rolled home too late to blog. 


Two days later I was down in Cornwall, working on the romantic castle on the South coast where we are breathing new life in to some ancient bones. We arrived in the late afternoon on a dreamy evening, walking in the woods – the first of a series of azalea and rhododendron gardens that will be featuring this month.  Literally – the dream.

And, back to London the next day, by rather special transport. 

We flew right over the Old Parsonage, though I’ve got to confess I couldn’t quite see Charlie waving furiously below, the dogs rushing around the garden to see us passing…. But there is the Parsonage, with the copper beech directly in the middle of the photograph, and the little church, and our neighbouring cottages and houses….

I don’t think I’d go this way every day, but it was spectacular.

Two days later, we were on the train to Scotland.

We arrived in Glasgow, had a fry-up, and picked up a rental car to head to the bothy for a night. NOT that we can actually stay there yet – as you will see. But we were meeting Duncan, our builder.

We stopped on route at Ardkinglas, and the dreamy Edwardian woodland gardens – at peak perfection in this mid-May sunshine…. 

(the tallest tree in Britain is here:)

Afterwards, calling in to Kilmorich church….

Past Inveraray, my favourite town in the whole of Scotland I suppose…

And calling at at Crarae Garden, also owned by the National Trust, looking spectacular.  I think five years ago if you’d asked me if I liked coral azaelas, I’d have said no. Now, I can’t get enough. Is that the Charlie McCormick effect, thinking about his grandfather Hamish’s beautiful garden in New Zealand? Or is it a softening of that whole idea of “GOOD TASTE” in gardens, which suddenly becomes rather… dull?   The drama of both Ardkinglas and Crarae was breathtaking… especially in the warm, sparkling air of the most beautiful Scottish morning either of us had seen in a long time.

We arrived at the bothy after lunch at the pub. We had a good meeting with Duncan, and Ross, our neighbour… and the had the dreamiest time, day dreaming about the future.

As dedicated readers will know, we have actually bought two houses. The one on the left has two rooms and will be a tiny bedroom and sitting room. The bothy on the right is just one room. It was totally derelict; we’re not doing too much to start, but just getting new windows in, a new roof on, and leaving it at that. It will be our field kitchen to start.  I say “field kitchen” because there’s no running water…. just for starters.  It will be BASIC.

But it is the dream. 

We spent the night at Crinan…. a beautiful sunset…

Giving way to the most crystal clear, still morning. Extraordinary.

Driving back down to the cottages. 

There is nothing, I mean nothing, more beautiful that Scotland on a beautiful day. 

Here is the inside of the cottage, with its perfectly untouched 19th century pitch pine interior. No, for the record, we are not painting it white or pale pink. Do you know how rare these original interiors are? 

Slowly being cleared and tidied up, although we are doing nothing at at, as such.  no heating, just re-wiring, and sweeping the chimney (as you can see).

That Sunday morning the air was warm and the sunshine was bright.  We simply cannot WAIT until it’s ready to move in. 

Also, just for the record, because a few people have asked…. we really are not leaving Dorset.  Scotland is a different place, a tiny bolt hole, that really only the two of us and the dogs will get to I think.  But it is the dream.  WATCH THIS SPACE!!!!

From Glasgow, Charlie took the train home and I took the train to Inverness – a spectacular journey, which I would recommend for those who haven’t done it.  I was at Tornagrain, our Scottish New Town, for two days of visits and site meetings.  The town will be familiar to regular readers – an entirely new settlement that will one day contain thousands of houses, shops, businesses, a new high street, schools and hospitals…. a thriving new town. The whole place is the vision of my client, the Earl of Moray.  The initial masterplan was produced by DPZ of Miami; our role is to take it all forward, and to design, so far, about half of the houses…. some of which you can see in a few glimpses below. It’s really taking shape now.

About 150 houses are now occupied, and the emerging town is looking so beautiful – I cannot tell you how thrilling it was to be there after 6 months and have such a great sense of progress.


I arrived back in London….. and the next day, Charlie and I were at Greenwich for a dinner to celebrate the re-opening of the incredible Painted Hall after its restoration.  Such contrasts.  We arrived by boat.  The view of the buildings is always breathtaking.

The evening was brilliant and lavish. Here is the Royal Marine Band, playing in front of the Princess Royal.  Too much, but just right. 

And here is the ceiling of the Painted Hall – one of the truly great Baroque buildings of England…

It was a curious trip down memory lane. Years before, as you will know if you are a very, very loyal reader of the blog (see here), we used to live at Greenwich, in the old Naval Hospital…. it was amazing to be back.


We were in Dorset briefly, for a night. Then back to London. Charlie was doing a planting at our friends Will and Charlotte Fisher’s shop, Jamb, on Pimlico Road, for the Chelsea Flower show…  I arrived in Dorset on a Friday evening and on Saturday afternoon, we tore ourselves away.

But it was a fun week nonetheless.  Chelsea Flower Show week saw the unveiling of one of our buildings, the restaurant at Chelsea Barracks. 

An exciting moment. I went for a small celebratory lunch – only just making it over to meet Charlie at a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace that afternoon (along with a mere 8000 other people). 

The next evening, Charlie and I were at a dinner at the Soane Museum for the Institute of Classical Architecture visit to London.  The group had come for tea at our flat and a tour of the Art Workers’ Guild. Then it was the Soane that evening. I’ve been a million times before, but never such fun. 

The museum had brought out the collection of Syon Park drawings, by Robert Adam.  Stunningly beautiful. 

We had a tour of the museum by candlelight.

If you have never been, do try and make a visit… and you can now, of course, visit Pitzhanger Manor, Soane’s country house, too – beautifully restored and hauntingly empty of contents.

Conversation flowed in these esteemed rooms. 

So, you can imagine what a relief it was to get down to Dorset on Thursday evening.  Henry was happy to see me.  Charlie and the dogs were still in London for a night, but I had a site visit down here the next morning.

The Dorset evening was warm and still, totally silent except for evening birdsong, Quite a contrast to the evenings before. 

It’s been the quietest weekend. We’ve had Dad staying fora couple of days, giving him a change of scene from the flat… Fun times last night with our neighbours Glen and Mandy.  We were feeling slightly the worse for wear this morning, but nothing that a good walk can’t cure.  The hills are green and vital.

If you’ve made it to the end, you’ve got more stamina than me.  That’s what happens when you have four very busy weeks in a row. Time has been flying.

29 comments on this post


Now I’m properly caught up with you gents! Always suspicious of those who declare something a bit naff – they’re often the same ones who declare something “posh”. Ahem. As always cheers to you,Charlie & your brood- I’m glad Henry got a bit of screen time as well.


Just caught up with you in one sitting. Although it’s probably too late to comment, I loved the brickwork of the Chelsea Barracks restaurant and I am also a convert to the brighter azaleas and rhodos – some of them are even nicely scented. Nice to see Henry too – the dogs get all the attention! Best wishes and may the dream continue on all fronts. Nicola

Tracy Goodingsays:

So so beautiful. Copper beeches glow in the fading light, and love the coral azaleas, warm and soft against the green of Scotland. Thank you for sharing your new bolthole with us, waiting with bated breath to see the final results. Your company is doing an amazing job with the development, the town feels old and settled, and yet modern and edgy at the same time. I wish developers here in Vancouver would follow your example. Charlie and the dogs all look so happy. Lovely post, thank you.

Deby (in Canada)says:

Oh Ben … some of the best images ever! Who are these strange people who frown on Copper Beech
one of my favourite things at Perrycroft is the copper beech hedge. Love seeing your hide away in Scotland take shape and delighted to see more pictures of Tornagrain – shared the insta posts with Phil and he is full of praise and says wants to talk about with you. I am always delights to see the pups but must say fav picture of this group is Charlie at The Palace
xx Deby

Charlotte Ksays:

The copper beech will always be a favorite of mine. There are some splendid ones on the New England campus where I work, and I they lift up my heart not only with the beauty of their color but those silver great trunks.


Oh what a lovely blog and well worth the wait. The photos of the gardens and scenes from Scotland are amazing but I love the photo of the dogs the best! It will be fun to follow your new adventure in Scotland restoring the cottages. Thank you for sharing it with us.


Thank you Ben for so generously sharing the beauty you see and the beauty you create.

Janey Pughsays:

An enchanting story. I could hear your voice!

Darlene Chandlersays:

It was a long lovely blog. I just love all of your wonderful pictures of Scotland, Dorset, Greenwich and Chelsea Barack restaurant. Your cottage looks so enchanting in Scotland and I can’t wait to see what you do to in and the walls with the original wood amazing. The beautiful gardens you visited and the lovely dinner with friends and that new town. Thank you again for making my day with your wonderful pictures and blog. I think everything is just amazing. I so look forward to my visit to London in June.

Dana Mooreheadsays:

Hi Ben- you beautiful, lovely writer. I adore your blog and feel so grateful for your words and incredible images. I live in Santa Monica and have been a life-long Anglophile, since my earliest years! Question, why is it so hard for me to see the glory of your new home in Scotland?! I look at the wild land and have a hard time seeing the beauty as it certainly must be. Xo Dana


Honestly Ben, that you write this blog is such an act of generosity, it means a great deal to me and many others. To share the access to the rare, staggering beauty that you have is wildly exceptional. Thank you.


Bonjour Ben,
First met with your book in John DERIAN shop and since, like others, wait for your blogs and photos, thanks for that moments.
Hope one of these days I will l be in London. Meanwhile , I continue to visit Great Britain and all places You share with us.
The n’est fr you and Charlie

John L Hurstsays:

Your comments about your copper beech tree reminded me of what
Hugh Bonneville once said on the subject – as well as his reference to a loss; calling to mind that you experienced such not long ago…

“I’m raging against the dying of the light in my own way by buying a convertible and planting a copper beech tree. Why the tree? There was one in the garden of the first house I ever lived in and I’ve been thinking about it for years. Then I recently lost two people close to me and realised, what is the point of always thinking about this tree? Plant it now and enjoy it.”

The above was in the Sat 4 Nov Guardian

My husband and I are blissfully exhausted by all the lovely images and stories of your last four weeks.


I love your blog, no matter how often you write, it is nourishment for the soul; especially for those of us who long to return home.

Your bluebells will be my screensaver today.

Thanks from the western edge of Canada,


Whirlwind! Beautiful travelling with my mug of coffee. Glad to be out of Chicago’s unseasonable wet,wet spring (although the greening is glorious) and wander through landscapes and architecture. Thank you so much for sharing and the time involved is composing! Looking forward to news of progress in Scotland.

Hazel Lavellesays:

Thanks Ben , for an update on what you both are up two , it’s all ways nice to see you in my in box ,
like the other person who commented it’s all ways a joy to look at your photos

Thanks again and look forward to the blog from you
Hazel ( Manchester UK )


Thank you, Ben, for a deliciously long blog. I am particularly excited about the new cottages in Scotland (in part due to my Scottish heritage)! It amazes me how much you and Charlie can fit into a day.


not worth having.


It’s infuriating that anyone should think a copper beech is not “U” enough for them. I think any friend you have who thinks a copper beech is beneath them is not be work having.

Katherine Wellssays:

Amazing weather you got in Scotland! The whole post was lovely to read…must make a trip to Pitzhanger x

Deborah Wagnersays:

Darling, you are always worth the wait. The restaurant at the Barracks—I think I had lunch there last October, but if it just opened, I must be mistaken.

Agree wholeheartedly about the error of frowning on certain of Mother Nature’s botanical concoctions. And, while I’m on the subject, there are no weeds. Everything in the natural world is equal and worthy of admiration.


jean clappsays:

Hi Ben – I love your blog. I live in Vermont in an old farmhouse with a pond, a view of mountains and surrounded by a rocky meadow. It is a close as I can get to feeling like I live in northern England. Your photos are fabulous – I love your stone cottages in Scotland , what a magical place and I look forward to seeing the renovation progress.


Transporting stories and images – thank you for your generosity in sharing these impressions, thoughts, experiences – they give enormous pleasure and are enjoyed hungrily at first reading and many times more at leisure.

Virginia Vidonisays:

Thank you Ben for taking the time to write this in your crazy, busy schedule. I always react as if I have received a present, whenever I see your blog arrive in my email. I am always taken away from what ever business my day requires, for a few quiet moments of reading about your journey! Thank you so much!!

Sarah Barnessays:

Thank you for your always inspirational blog. I particularly like the photographs of the azaleas and rhodedenrons in Cornwall – reminds me of the novel “Rebecca”.


Dear Ben how lovely to read your blog you most certainly have had a busy extraordinary few months.I loved all your photos your life is interesting.Many of us would not get to do all that in a lifetime let alone a month.I think you and Charlie are amazing with your energy and vision and you still find time to enjoy life with your family and friends.Thank you for sharing some of your utopian life it really is so interesting and such a joy.Yours was the first blog l ever read and l have enjoyed all of them it is 3 years since l started following you and it has inspired me so much thank you and l am happy to say l met you very briefly last May and you are both even more friendly and exuberant in real life hope we meet again one day.

David Sanderssays:

Whenever I see images of rural Scotland – I’ve only ever visited once – it always looks so similar to parts of the South Island in New Zealand, which perhaps explains why so many Scots settled here. If only you could come down here and design some new villages here, as most new developments end up looking like nothing much in particular – a bit bland.

I like your new building at Chelsea Barracks – looks quite Lutyenesque from certain angles.


Dear Ben,
what a wonderful, colourful and interesting blog……. such beautiful photos, I love every single one ! Everything is incredibly great …….. love Scotland and your cottages, I also know Inveraray, it´s such a lovely small town. Your life is so wonderful, thank you for sharing it with us !
Have a lovely time dear Ben,
Yours Birgit from Germany 🙂


As always, thank you for these posts. What an amazing run of weather in the UK. The Scotland projects (professional and personal) look wonderful. Heading back to work tomorrow after a lovely, but quiet holiday weekend in the US – your blog caps the evening off. I know these are the handpicked, beautiful highlights over a month, but so beautiful…you and Charlie are living life to the fullest.

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