Broads

For someone hefted to the hills it’s a rare treat to set foot in the relative flat lands of Norfolk. But for two days this week I was enhanced by water and big skies; from living in a lighthouse to cruising in a pleasure boat on the Broads. A lovely few days holiday with the extended family opened my eyes to the quiet delights of coast and inland waterways.

The promise of 125 miles of navigable lock free rivers allows most of us untested travellers to confidently set sail on inland waters during the easy months of summer. We hired our motor cruiser for the day, complete with sink, fridge, toilet & overhead retractable covers. Embarking from the boatyards at Potter Heigham we soon joined the sedate River Bure which has been fully navigable since 1685. In the old days the seven rivers that make up the Broads had locks in strategic places and the extensive waterborne trade on wherries and skiffs made this a prosperous rural area. The coming of the railways and better roads, combined with a disasterous flood in 1912 all helped put an end to this phase of industry. Sail boats still ply the waters but now purely for pleasure. Engine gives way to sail on the water road and in pausing our progress we witnessed them skillfully tacking cross the current, bank to bank, to catch the wind. Was put in mind of all those genre paintings of sails under huge skies with complex lighting effects skillfully captured in oil or water colours.

Our principal destination, where we came ashore, was Ranworth Staithes. Once a centre for maltings and brewing and now a popular port of call for boaters and boats of all descriptions. After a convivial lunch in the pub we walked up to the village church of St Helen on the heave of land which passes for a peak in these parts. My only regret on leaving was not taking the opportunity to climb its tall tower via ancient steps and ladders to take in the view it would offer of the wider wetlands. Never mind. Just viewing close up the outstanding 15th century rood screen and wood panel paintings of saints was reward enough. How this luminous and exquisite example of late medieval art survived the reformation is a miracle in itself.

One of the reasons I chose not to delay our party in ascending the open door to belfry and roof was that I was sleeping for two nights at the top of the lighthouse the family had rented for the week at Winterton by the Sea, so already had my happy fill of heights and views. Lovingly restored by architect wife and publicist husband, this was their idylic country retreat from London along with their two children. A host of magazines featured the building and its location. My bedtime eyrie was 75 steps up. The last two floors being pitched very steeply, requiring all who passed to practice backward descent. The 360 degree view from this ultimate mezzanine, complete with sunken mattress and arty lamps, provided a view to another lighthouse northwards and the suburbs of Great Yarmouth southwards. East, an expanse of grey north sea stretched to the horizon beyond marram grassed dunes (a protected S.S.S.I.) A seemingly endless strip of sandy beach gave way steeply to crashing waves. Further down the coast a line of wind turbines pointed in the direction of Holland. At one point lightning flashes told us of storms over that country. The next night, gathered in our circular viewing platform from 10 – 10.10 pm, we were treated to a firework display over Great Yarmouth. To the west golden stubble cut cornfields, mature trees in hedges, churches, hints of the inland water world of the Broads beyond.

Fascinated to discover the history of evolution that produced these intensively plied rural waterways. Rich religious houses, like Saint Benet’s abbey, whose ruins we passed on the River Bure, were behind exploitation of the land they owned or rented and which consequently brought the Broads we know today into being. Their extensive turbary activity in the middle ages resulted in the removal of some 900 million cubic feet of peat around the seven rivers of the sub region. Combined with gradually rising sea levels this resulted in flooding of the low lying river valleys, leaving inland promontaries in between. All this further further accelerated water borne import/export of agricultural produce, coal, bricks, tiles, timber etc to towns even further inland and increased the importance of Norwich as the regional centre. St Benet’s strikes the eye with its hulk of an 18th century brick windmill dominating the remains of its medieval stone gatehouse.

Masses of masking reeds, isolated ancient oaks, woods of water loving willows and alder masking silted wharves and inlets…I think of the ghost story I will be reading this autumn on tour in Northumberland & Dumfries; ‘Three Miles Up’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1951). Inspired by living on a canal longboat just after WW2 and her role in founding the Inland Waterways Association, her beguiling tale really is the most disturbing of fictions, combining on board love triangle with exploration of unchartered waterways. Quite brilliant and chilling. Having this chance to be on the water has given me experience of a dream like setting to play with in my head and project into the reading.

Poppies Plus

One benefit of the County Council upgrading our C Road was that they appear to have re-seeded the verges with wildflower and grass mix. Seeing patches of poppies and harebells at the passing places is a joy. I’m also convinced that poppies are becoming a common sight in cornfields again in recent years, being tolerated or encouraged where once they would have been chemically eliminated. The raising of consciousness about the dead of World War One and the symbolism of this distinctive flower has elevated it from from common weed to timely icon. And that must be a good thing.

Old friend and Demi-paradise associate Richard Sails was our guest last week; a first in arriving on foot from the south bearing a heavy rucksack. He is walking from Land’s End to John’o’Groats and we would be his last stop in England before crossing the border into Scotland. Richard was game enough to play my guerrilla version of croquet round the lawns and do a spot of shooting tin cans off the gateposts with my old BSA Meteor air rifle. He also made himself very useful undertaking a meticulous job prepping the blackcurrants from the garden which I then made into jam. Richard has passed through some of the best of English countryside this summer and his interest in flora and fauna has grown with it. A real pleasure to host and support such a genial, resourceful and determined man on his epic trek. (Richard’s progress can be followed on Facebook)

A small herd of Southridge’s stabilisers has been let loose on cornerhouse field. Apparently there’s danger in letting cattle graze too early on land where hay or silage has been cut and fresh lush pasture pushes through. They can get a type of pneumonia commonly called ‘fog fever’ and the grass everywhere, in field and garden, is profuse in growing during these damp warm days. The bullocks are wary but curious so I converse with them over the wall to gain trust and some come in close enough to lick my hand. I do a spot of pruning and later feed them branches of alder, willow and ash which they curl their tongues around to deftly strip the branches of fresh leaves.

Delighted to discover that pipits (tree or meadow) are most definitely back. There’s a lovely cone of a small nest in the fork of a birch tree in the copse that I’d like to think was to do with them but the book tell me both species nest on or near the ground, so who knows? It’s been a great season for insects in general and butterflies in particular. Lots of tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral and veined whites aflutter round the garden but have also logged ringlet and painted lady. The latter has been present in great numbers this year apparently, having moved up from North Africa through Europe and across the channel into all parts of the country.

High Summer

Both Kim & I resolve to sit quietly and enjoy the garden without feeling compelled to do anything therein. Reading helps in my case (Checking out potential ghost stories for future touring, so it’s still work related. Oh dear.) Ears gradually open to the natural world around us. Standoffish blackbirds skirting the boundaries with warning cries. They are sampling the blackcurrants (That prompts me to gather the fruit today for jam making) The parent birds seen with their beaks full of worms and insects so assume their brood in whole or part have safely fledged. (There was no sign of eggshells under the empty nest discovered in the spinney wall (pictured) so I wondered what had passed). Our pair of resident pied wagtails quarter gravel and grass bobbing up and down as they go and I saw one the other day remorselessly bash a moth in its beak until it ceased to flutter. Their nest is hidden in the deep folds of the prolific Clematis Montana on the west end corner of the house. The swallow family now sometimes skate the skies in company with others. Planning migration in a month or so I wonder?

Neighbours sheep are all shorn and the handful of tups in our field spend a lot of time sleeping so you forget they are there beyond the fierce chomping of eating or creaking of gate as they rub their itches bare. Other distant flocks raise occasional bleats. One day a Hercules transport plane wheeled and turned at the forest’s edge with more agility than you might expect of such a large military craft and with only a whisper of engine noise; quite ghostly, flying low over the land in the exercise of radar evasion before gliding out of sight. Later we do not see, but clearly hear, tawny owls calling one to the other, very close by. One day a male sparrowhawk flew by, just inches off the ground, gone in an instant.

The studio border is a virtual firework display of colour and texture. The white & grey livery of Lychnis, lime green of Nicotiana, the floating finery of yellow Ridolfia intertwined with white Ammi Majus; Crocosmia Lucifer an erupting volcano, Eryngium and Alium with their brilliant spikey heads; showy delights of purple Phlox; Echinops and Leucanthemum too, with Sanguisorba about to flower…The contrasting, competing, coasting forms at their most fabulous. The presence of Ragwort, a beggar amid the beauties, does not distract. Quite the opposite. Insects are everywhere; from harvestman, winged beetles and flying ants to all manner of bees, wasps and hoverflies feasting on the flowers.

Our much cherished new greenhouse has courgettes and cucumbers on ground level with shelves presenting a riot of flowering tomatoes. A sight never seen here before, so very exciting. Have to make sure we are not away on holiday when all the fruits start to arrive, probably all at once!

City Country

St. Dunstan’s -in-the-East with the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ building in the background

This family visit to London centered on an all day excursion to the original settlement. The famous square mile since deregulation in the 1980’s has since sprouted a gaggle of ‘iconic’ office buildings, each vying with the other to dominate and define the skyline. Threading between these glass and concrete monoliths are narrow ancient thoroughfares which give clues that help understand the city’s development as a global hub of finance and commerce.

We immersed ourselves in the well curated foundation story at the Museum of London. Lots of fascinating scale models recreating Londinium, and we finished with a look down at a fragment of city wall from that era still surviving, now defining a boundary of open space at the edge of the post war Barbican residential development. After lunch we made our way south along the course of the former Walbrook river – now a drainage tunnel beneath our feet – to its junction with Lower Thames Street. In following the wide highway east we diverted up little cobbled lanes, free of traffic, for a nose about. Discovered a fine Georgian vestry, now a private business address, with a flower filled formal garden bordered by mature plane trees hanging over its iron railings and brick walls. The three ancient city parish churches we came across provided respite, quiet reflective havens in the canyons of Mammon. Most poignant and blissfully redemptive was St Dunstan’s-in-the-East. Of Saxon foundation, built by St Dunstan in 950 AD, destroyed in the great fire of 1666 and rebuilt again as a Wren church. Today only the impressive tower from the last reincarnation of 1697 remains. Badly damaged by enemy bombing in the blitz it was formally re-dedicated as a garden and open space in 1967. Cool, calm and restorative; children playing, people sunbathing or sitting on the grass, in quiet conversation, picnicking, playing guitar, reading…

Later we double backed at the Tower of London, becoming part of the steady flow of visitors and office workers on the Thames Pathway. Stopped at one point to enjoy wide views across the sunlit river with its crisscrossing multi-decked boats full of tourists and commuters riding the high tide. The seats we sat on were comfortable wraparound wooden ones and the planting scheme behind us a softly verdant linear companion to a wide elevated section of walkway zig-zagging between institutional buildings.


Hydrangea Danger

My trips to London these days are inevitably more about leisure than business. For me that’s a bonus of quality time with the members of the family that live there. I’m happy to be in their company witnessing the urban environment slowly changing for the better. Much of this of course is due to increased awareness of climate change and a new wave of urban community activism that it has fostered. Such things help people cope with the stresses and strains of city life. In South London for instance, my cousin Quetta and like minded souls in the Forest Hill Society (FHS) have been engaged in putting a bit of the forest back on the hill. Centrepiece of their ongoing environmental improvement campaign is the railway station, through which thousands of commuters pass each day. It stands on a twisting elbow of the traffic chocked South Circular Road. Sadly the dignified Victorian station was demolished and rebuilt in the wake of WW2. it presents today as a soulless set of bare utilitarian platforms defined by boundaries of high spiked railings. Gradually its harsh metallic outlines and public furniture have been softened and enhanced by the green fingered FHS volunteers. The set back mini garden they created next the waiting room on platform one has bushes, an apple tree and shrubs that trail over the open section of the bleak brick lined underpass beneath. Back on the platforms purple petunias and orange marigolds in tubs under station signs mirror the corporate colours of Transport for London (TfL). Outside the ticket office hanging baskets add a welcome to the busy scene while the mature trees in the cramped concourse car park have been under planted with a range of seasonal bulbs. People still stub their fags out in the tubs and beds they take for ash trays, drop litter right next to the litter bin and even steal herbs and other plants, but nothing quite matches occasional outbreaks of officially generated vandalism. A couple of weeks ago, Quetta tells me, a visiting TfL official had a hydrangea in full flower in the little platform garden ruthlessly cut back. The reason? Nefarious human activity could be screened by such luxuriant growth. I was glad to see the hacked hydrangea sprouting new shoots. Like the determined foot soldiers of the FHS it remained bowed but unbeaten, alive to another day.

Summer Strands

Get out the stepladder to cut the best flower heads from our two big elders in order to make cordial. So enjoy the simple sticky fun of it. We freeze some and use the rest. This year the swallows have nested under the porch, above the wood shed. My office affords a good view of the parents comings and goings to feed the chicks and last Thursday, working at my desk, was rewarded with the sight of the fledglings bursting from confinement to launch themselves onto the wood partitions between wood and coal stores and later to roost on the porch lamp. The air full of excited activity as the parents returned, flapping wildly, to feed the three youngsters. Within days flying school was in full flight with the single power cable from house to garage their landing line and family mess.

At the pond red damselflies team up. The male standing sentinel on the neck of the female who bends her abdomen to oviposit her eggs on the lily leaf edges. I count three pairs at one time. Spot the odd dragon fly larva in the water, although the number seems down on last year. Still no sign of the newts. I get close up to one of the two adult frogs I know to be inhabiting the pond to take this photo.

Our neighbours are busy cutting, woofling (turning) and baling their hay. The large round bales lying askew all over the fresh yellow fields strike me as where art and agriculture meet. It’s a satisfying sight to see. Most of the sheep are finally shorn. There is muckspreading on the new cut fields once the bales have been taken off to barns. Sheep and their fat lambs about their endless grazing, suckler cattle herds with calves wade through lush green pastures in between.

Our domestic use of dried grasses is an infinitely more modest affair. I strew barley straw between strawberry plants ready to receive and cushion the ripening fruit. Soon we must net the raised beds to stop birds and mice getting too much of the crop. Returning to water I discover Pip our old cat gratefully snoozing on the improved bedding I’ve kindly provided her with!

Kim & I take a casual walk up the river from our main village here in the valley. Lovely old woods and flat pasture boundaries. We meet no-one once past the elegant late Georgian road bridge. Out of the oak trees blackcaps surprise us with their loud and confident singing. Further on maple keys present with a curious bright pink and cobwebs encase shrubs. Sand martins swoop over a wide bend of quiet water. A south facing steep riverbank full of meadow flowers; hawk weed, salad burnet, birds foot trefoil, spent pods of yellow rattle and many others. In the warm shallows shoals of agile trout fry move as one, forming scattering and reforming. This pasture a small part part of the 1,000 acre tenanted hill farm Kim & her family worked for 20 years and she had set a part of one of her stories, ‘One Summer Day’, at this idyllic spot.

Dyfi

The north of England/west Wales trek is a long one but it offers tempting diversions and when traversed over decades, as in my case, you get to witness key developments and social change. Two such positive and welcoming projects can be visited within a short distance of each other…

It must have been around five years ago that the old service station on the A487 north of Aberystwyth in the village of Tre’r-ddol closed and was taken into community ownership. The locals made such a success of the old premises, proving their case, that a successful funding bid secured a brand new cheerful eco-building – christened ‘Cletwr’ – to house the cafe, shop, facilities and meeting room. Locally sourced food, art & craft work, Welsh & English language publications all feature. The forecourt says ‘welcome’ in any language with a wealth of beautifully blended floral beds and shrubs. The volunteer teams here should be proud of their achievement. A tribute to their vision, hard work and co-ordination. Encouragement for other rural communities to bring their community facilities into the 21st century.

Pushing on north towards Machynlleth the banner sign for the Dyfi Osprey Project appears like the great raptor itself; in vision for a wide winged swooping moment then gone. I’ve been wanting to stop here for a while so on this unhurried sojourn home I did…

What a wonderful place! 15 years ago Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust (MWT) bought and started the process of clearing some 40 acres of commercial spruce plantation. To help they drafted in a herd of water buffalo and replanted with native alder, birch, willow and hazel alongside wet scrub plants like bog myrtle and swathes of reed (now more than head height). I diverted from the fully accessible wooden boardwalk to check out the hides and read information boards. Glimpses of ragged robin, brooklime and orchids; caterpillars crawling and lizards basking on the slate like edge boarding. The meandering walkway brought me after a third of a mile to the towering timber edifice of the 360 observatory. Here I enjoyed a mesmerising close up view through the centre’s mounted telescope of the nesting osprey parents and brace of chicks on their platform nest of sticks edging the tidal Dyfi estuary. A century ago these magnificent fish eating birds were hunted to virtual extinction in the UK but today they are beginning to thrive – thanks to sites like this and those at Rutland Water, Dumfries & Galloway, Bassenthwaite Lake and Kielder Water. Ospreys may be the star name on the bill to pull the punters but also in the huge cast are otters, reed warblers & white fronted geese, darters & dragonflies, toads and frogs and many other native and migrant creatures. Both Cletwr and Cors Dyfi are great examples of what can be done at a grass roots level where there’s sufficient will to make change happen.

Pembrokeshire Trail

‘Little England beyond Wales’ this part of Wales to me is my beloved west country by other means. Geographically this deeply rural land sits in a parallel place and the light is blessed by its peninsular positioning. Britain’s only coastal national park and the long distance path is rated one of the best long distance walking trails in the world. I’ve been visiting since 1985 & know certain spots well, while others remain a mystery. Had just been to see eldest son Tom at his home outside Pembroke Dock and was driving back with youngest son Patrick to the old holiday house we share with friends on the rugged north coast on the parrog at Newport. With time to spare on this midsummer Friday we were up for a bit of diverting, some creative idling, rather than just pushing on to our ultimate destination.

Blackpool Mill was erected in 1813 on the banks of the River Eastern Cleddau. It ceased commercial operation in the 1950’s. The multi-story Grade II* building is situated at the top of the river’s tidal reach, lost in a thickly wooded valley. I remember visiting years back when the mill was open as an historic attraction with a cafe; the 19th century flour processing equipment and machinery still in place. Standing on the late Georgian bridge which arches the river, we view the mill’s high walls grimy and tearful sad, perimeters secured by metal fencing. In 2017 the local leisure park – Bluestone – proposed a £2.5 restoration that would give employment to 60 people. It envisaged a working ‘Victorian themed’ attraction plus a narrow gauge railway with station. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park turned the plans down but invited a revised application more suited to the quiet rural location…We will have to return in a few years to see what, if anything, has happened.

The southern part of Pemrokeshire was settled and secured by Norman Marcher lords and this verdant country also proved a wealth creating prize for the church throughout the medieval period. The Bishops of St David’s were mighty powerful landowners who lived in grand style. I particularly love the remains of their fine palace next St David’s cathedral. They also had a Summer palace near Pembroke, now a charming ruin, quiet and peaceful. What surprised me to learn on this visit was that the bishop also had castles dotted around their west Wales fiefdom. We took a wrong turning at Bethesda but it was the right outcome as we twisted and turned along narrow lanes and over river bridges to emerge into the village of Llawdaren. We parked and discovered the impressive ruins of a castle built by Bishop Adam de Houghton in the 13th Century and abandoned at the Tudor reformation in the 16th. Robbed of stone for house building it remains a shell within the dry moat. CADW are the custodians and we arrived after closing but it mattered not. There was compelling dignity and distinctiveness in its arrested decay.

Once place everyone returns to at some time or other in north Pembrokeshire tends to be Pentre Ifan. A distinctive cluster of standing stones with a capstone it reminds me of a coffin with bearers. And indeed its purpose was funerial. Dating from 3,500 years ago, this burial chamber was enclosed within a long vanished burial mound of earth and stones. The structure was erected to hold the remains of some great personage and commands a wonderful view out over Newport Bay. I always seem to get lost finding the actual site in the skein of lanes hereabouts but I shan’t next time! Simply having time in the presence of such a harmonious structure, timeless in essence & perfect in balance, is balm for the soul. Being here at the midsummer solstice somehow made it even more so.

June Garden

Lots of trips away recently to far flung parts of the country. All of them full of interest and highly enjoyable. Nothing beats coming home though and given that Summer’s lease hath all too short a stay then we want to be here to enjoy it. Having two of us in residence since my move from Lancashire in 2017 mean we can spend more time caring for and expanding on what can be done within the purlieu of our happy acre of garden.

The field wall curves away westward along the ridge and its arc is the synchronicity of returning swallows on the wing. They grace the air around us each year and this season the parents have built their nest atop the beam on the house wall which sustains the long back porch, in the far section of which is our wood store. They are squeeky nervy of human presence so luckily trips to get wood and coal for the burner are minimal at this time of year. Usually the birds take up residence in the railway hut but for whatever reason they are ringing the changes this time around. Other residents nesting – though I’ve not spotted where yet – are dunnock, pied wagtail and blackbird. Nothing compares to the latter cock bird, the most melodious of songsmiths, and hearing him call from his high perch of a warm windless evening is pure delight.

In the pond (now in its third full year) the hierarchy has changed again. Bright yellow insurgent monkey flower predominates where last summer the surface hugging brooklime with its bright tiny flowers was top spreader. I love the miniature iris recently acquired and now in bloom. The delicate water crow’s foot too whose single flowers have debuted as little white stars hovering delicately over the deeper water. The miniature lilies have spread, which is a joy, and the water hawthorn still hangs on, despite being the food plant of many emergent water snails. The appearance of millweed is not welcome, but I’ll keep it in check. As I have with dropwort, monkeyflower and forget me not at the shallow end, scooping it out of the pebbles to allow birds and small mammals access. Frogs are at least two in number and large. I hope they have not driven out the palmate newt population, although I fear they might have. The last adult spotted was on June 1st. The oxygenating weeds are now well established so the newts might be as safe and secure as they can living amidst the tangle of hornwort and other green weeds which cool the still water and keep it fresh. No sign at all this year of the great crested newts we had last season so they may have abandoned us for less contested dwellings somewhere else in the area.

The other night we were delighted to catch sight of our semi-resident hedgehog. A large specimen, snortling around on the porch. Hopefully it’s the same creature who was, earlier this year, hibernating in leaves on the big circular bank and later in the railway hut in the mass of bags, wire, sacks and other gear in store. The cat gets older and thinner, more fussy in her eating habits so uneaten wet food is often put out on the deck when we retire of an evening. It’s always gone by the morning and the hog is the most obvious of night time visitors with a penchant for cat food.

Weald & Downland

Kim on an intensive printmaking course at West Dean College near Chichester and me along for the train ride. West Dean is the former home of Edward James (1907 – 1984), the patron of surrealism in England and general lover of the arts. The estate, now a trust, retains hundreds of acres of prime farmland and the house, now West Dean College, where we are staying, is a very impressive late Georgian mansion. It’s currently enmeshed in scaffolding, getting a much needed new roof. The 100 acres of gardens and woodlands that stretch away all around us up to the South Downs are top quality and suitably awe inspiring. It’s peaceful, friendly and well run place to both relax and get truly creative. When Kim toils I set out to discover what this area of West Sussex has to offer….

On Monday I follow the main road a mile to the next village of Singleton. It’s a wee bit hairy as the pavement is half overgrown and neglected by the county council whose job it is to maintain it, and the A road traffic zips by at M way speeds. Not much chance of encouraging walking or cycling around here which is a pity because it would help bring two wonderful attractions together. I hope one day there will be a green alternative way linking West Dean Gardens with the Weald and Downland Living Museum that I’ve come to visit as the rain begins to fall…

The latter started life in 1970 as an environmental and conservation emergency, led by Dr J A Armstrong, a refuge for badly neglected or endangered historic buildings that could safely be dismantled and re-assembled here. It was Edward James, that great philanthropist, who gifted them the land, some 40 acres, part of the estate. There are some 50 buildings currently on the site. Big emphasis on education (Tudor kitchen cooking, study rooms, family spaces, indoor and outdoor creative play areas) while the making, mending, storage conservation takes place mainly in an amazing looking state of the art building using natural materials called the Downland Gridshell, but which I will call the very hungry caterpillar, as it reminds me of the picture book creature.

It’s a bit of a magical place, even on a grey and thoroughly wet day like this, taking one on a gentle dive through the centuries to reveal the continuity of the connected. The crafts, skills, occupations and needs of the people of these southern counties in village and countryside over a 1,000 year span.

Favourite spots for me included ‘Bayleaf Farmhouse’ from Chiddingstone in Kent – a prosperous late medieval hall house with its through passage & upstairs projecting privy, buttery, pantry, solar etc. The central plain hall with open windows imply but effectively furnished with reproduction pieces from the Tudor period, including hangings & triangular chairs, round a central fire pit. Also loved the watermill which was once in operation at Lurgashall in Sussex from the 17th – 20th century. The cast iron overshot wheel is fed from the site’s feature lake by the entrance. Seeing and hearing the resulting trundling transmission in wood and iron was happily mesmeric. Only wish I could have brought the flour being ground before my eyes. Attractively priced and packaged it was too. But the thought of getting anything as bulky and heavy in our bags for the train and long journey home stopped me going there.

And of course, the gardens. Five of them from different periods serving the various needs of different classes. Lots of information on herbs and their uses Wood is everywhere; coppiced from the site’s woods, used in fencing, hurdles, gates, firewood etc; fruit trees and many varieties of vegetables too. Shire horses, stabled on site, do the essential tasks they were bred for, pulling carts and hauling timber while oxen are also kept for ploughing; Southdown sheep busy grazing hedges in their small in-bye field while a flock of fine looking chickens – Sussex Whites – were pecking by the stables.

With my site specific drama hat on I fantasise about the possibilities for promenade education packages and summer evening entertainment here. Professional actors interacting not just with kids or public but with the volunteer re-enactors who work here. I see William Cobbett fact gathering on his ‘Rural Rides’ or Edward Thomas as the poet in the making observing life for his countryside books; The free spirit of Celia Fynes on her intrepid journeying; Daniel Defoe passing through as merchant/spy/reporter; Rudyard Kipling or H.V.Morton in their respective search for rural England…and so on. Would there be possibilities of adapting a Hardy novel like ‘The Woodlanders’ or ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ I wonder. R L Stevenson’s thrilling medieval tale ‘The Black Arrow’ would be just perfect. Not to mention Shakespeare of course: ‘Winter’s Tale’ or ‘As You Like It’ spring immediately to mind….Ah, if only I was younger and lived nearby!