Norfolk spectacles and Dorset storms
9 February 2020
W E E K O N E
It was a brilliant bright day as Charlie, Ruth (aka the Bible of British Taste – by the way, have you checked out her beautiful new website? ) and I were breezing up a deserted A11 to Norfolk for the weekend, early in the morning, last Saturday. Ruth, being Ruth, we stopped at a newly reopened highway pub for pints of local beer, well before midday. We pooled around the antique shops of Holt, and arrived at our destination, beautiful Wolterton Hall…. dreamy in the watery late January sunshine, just before late lunchtime.
We were staying with our friends Peter Sheppard and Keith Day, who bought the Hall and Park in 2016 and have been beginning its restoration since. Their energy is formidable. The task is huge, but if anyone has the stamina to pull it off, they do.
After lunch, in the lowering afternoon light, we had a fine walk through the outbuildings and walled gardens….
The gardens had been overgrown and deserted. Within minutes of their arrival, vegetable beds had been dug by Peter & Keith, the garden starting to be productive once more. There is masses to do, but the gardens are in that poise of beautiful melancholy and repair that I find more interesting than if the whole lot was done up and tickettyboo like a garden owned by English Heritage.
The chicken field…
out to the lake….
Looking back up to the hall in the last of the light.
That evening, the household swelled, Peter and Keith entertaining the wonderful Norfolk Churches Trust, followed by a superb dinner in the state dining room, long into the evening.
We all woke late – except for Charlie, who had crept out of the house at dawn to drive to Birmingham to sit his Rose Society Judging examinations.
A fine drizzle met us that day. I did a wet walk of the grounds before breakfast.
Apparently these arches, filled in by the Victorians, were originally designed to let the frost out of the garden.
Church, was followed by coffee, and a heavenly collection of coffee cups on the red gingham tablecloth.
Here are some glimpses of Peter and Keith’s extraordinary interiors.
And then it was a huge, long lunch… and the train back to London that evening. Heaven. Charlie was back home from the exams, which had gone very well it turned out.
The following morning, Charlie and the dogs headed to Dorset; I was on the 7am to Swindon, for a days’ work on site for one of our development projects in the Cotswolds. Not necessarily a great start for a Monday morning after a weekend in one of the eighteenth century power houses of Norfolk, but here is a random photograph of an allotment that day, which struck my mind as one of my favourite sorts of places on earth.
W E E K T W O
It’s been a busy, busy week, and a happy one – but no happier than when I arrived down in Dorset on Friday. Saturday morning was clear, sunny, almost spring-like – the calm before the storm. I’m writing now on Sunday evening – we are hunkered down, Storm Ciara passing through with a bang. It seems strange to think that we had such a beautiful day yesterday and such a grim one today….
Bridport Market early, followed by a walk with the dogs.
The lake sparkled in the sunshine…
Mavis, as you know, is never out of the water, our own version of a Scottish seal.
And then after lunch in our favourite pub, we drove over to Cerne Abbas. We have a vague new year’s resolution – a revival of a resolution I cast a few years ago – that we were going to do a new thing every week. And Charlie’s never been to the Cerne Abbas giant, that fantastic chalk figure cut into the hillside above the tiny village of Cerne. In fact, I’ve never walked right up to it. So it was a new thing for both of us.
Clear chalk streams flow all through the village…. water everywhere.
Oaks rising against blue sky…
We climbed the steep, steep hill overlooking the village…. where you are not at all able to read the mysterious chalk lines cut into the grass.
Then back down to the site of the old Abbey….
All that remains of the Abbey, now, is the old Medieval guest house to the left, and the beautiful Abbey farm… and ancient Abbey gateway – a lost fragment in the garden.
And then, on the way home, we called in to Nether Cerne… The beautiful little church that we have spied a million times from the road but have never called in to see. That’s two new things in a week… which felt good.
The church sits next to a fine stone and flint farm house.
An amazing spread of crocuses around the corner….
And in front of the farmhouse… And we headed home…. and had supper with our neighbour Anne, and rolled into bed early.
Today, the storm was furiously pummelling the valley – all plans, to see our friends Edward and Jane, and for me to then head up to London, were cancelled. No trains are running, so I will no longer be at my desk first thing as planned. Hooray. We’ve had the quietest day – doing absolutely nothing at all except catching up – with bits and pieces, and, I suppose, with ourselves. The best sort of Sunday at all: the calm right in the middle of the storm.
P O S T S C R I P T : A F R I E N D H A S F A L L E N
For twelve summers now, I’ve loved the old Lime tree at the boundary of our wall and the churchyard, casting shade when it was needed, home to 1000 bees in the summer, and with its beautiful lines drawn against the winter sky at this time of year. Today, at a little after 5pm, as a huge and terrifying gust of wind hurtled down the valley with ever increasing strength, in the closing hours of Storm Ciara, this mighty friend fell over with a terrible, brief crash. It feels like nothing less than a miracle that the church, and the beautifully repaired roof, was not harmed at all. But our view has changed forever.
Goodbye, old friend. Here you were just a few weeks ago…
And earlier in the winter…
And in the autumn:
Good bye old tree. We’ll remember you.