New friends

This is another blog a little bit about books. You will see why. But then again, can there be too many?

I wrote last week about the wonderful world of Rena Gardiner and the beautiful monograph now published on her work by my friends Gracie & Adrian over at Little Toller Books. So, a little while ago, on a Thursday night, Charlie and I had been at a rather strange, lovely evening at beautiful St. Giles House, now being bravely restored by the new Earl of Shaftesbury. Lovely, because it was a fine concert being played by a superb pianist in the beautiful library at St. Giles, recently put together again by my friend Edward Hurst… strange, because it was one of those evenings where Charlie and I didn’t know a soul and there is only so much looking at fireplaces and peering through windows at serene landscapes that you can do before you begin to look a bit odd, in a room crowded with concert-going folk.  Unknown

So during the interval we were standing mumbling quietly to each other over our glasses of champagne commenting on this and that and wondering if we should consider making a dash to the pub for fish and chips instead of staying for the three course dinner… when a very very lovely, smiley, friendly woman walked up and said…. ‘hello, I am pretty certain you’re ben and you know my daughter Gracie, and you MUST be Charlie’.Never was it so welcome to bump into completely new friends.  It was indeed Gracie’s mum, about whom I’d heard so much, and there, in the corner, her lovely dad David. David and Sarah in their own way are part of the history of Dorset, because some forty years ago now they arrived just to the north of Wimborne, and David set up the remarkable Dovecot Press. Anyone who has ever lived in Dorset will doubtless be familiar with their countless, beautiful, modest volumes, nearly all with a fine olive-green dust jacket with quietly distinctive golden yellow and white titles and intriguing images on the cover. When I was growing up in Dorset, everything there was to learn about the county – nature, geology, history and architecture, was contained in books printed by the Dovecot Press. My favourite of all, I think, is David Cecil’s beautifully written Some Dorset Country Houses, which I think you can only buy secondhand. These days, I probably refer to Una Russell & Audrey Grindrod’s Manor Houses of Dorset almost weekly.

Well, anyway – we made a plan to meet up and today, on our way to lunch, we called in to see David and Sarah at home.

Tucked into a range of old outbuildings, the press is housed in a beautiful, airy barn of a building whose door is announced by a beautiful Crambe Cordefolia.


Inside it is airy and serene. ‘oh god’ said David, when I asked if I could pop back to the car and get my camera, ‘I had better tidy up!’.  ‘No don’t’, I replied, ‘please’…. I hate a place that is tidied for photographs and I am sure you do too.

It’s a very beautiful room. Straightforward, practical, but calm and with purpose.
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One wall is lined with rows of the beautiful olive-green book spines that I already mentioned.P1080324 P1080325 P1080326

Everything was needless to say in perfect order. No tidying necessary.

David’s desk overlooks the garden:P1080328P1080332

A vast collection of Dorset books lines the rest of the shelves:P1080330

And in the opposite corner of the barn, boxes of stock are neatly stacked in place:P1080334

Lovely Shell posters in one corner:P1080339

A comfortable sofa for editorial meetings and snoozes:P1080343

On a table, I spied a copy of the recently re-issued Ashcombe, which tells the beautiful story of Cecil Beaton’s wonderful house on Cranborne Chase. It is one of my favourite books of all time; a breathless, tragic-happy tale of the remarkable life Beaton created in this legendary place and which came to a bitter end after the war. This is another book you must have on your shelf or your bedside table. Original copies are rarer than hen’s teeth. What I love about it is that it takes a very short time to read.  I suspect that if Cecil had been alive today, he would have been a very great instagrammer indeed.P1080345 P1080346

We stepped outside. Rosa Mundi:P1080349

The orchard:P1080350

One of David and Sarah’s many beautiful, exuberant, softly-coloured borders.P1080351

Sarah’s workroom overlooks this meadow:

This beautiful studio is where Sarah Burnett created her famous collections of hand-dyed, hand-knitted knitwear – 40 years before her time, really.P1080310

Sarah showed us her copy of the coolest book I’ve seen in a while, Passion for Colour. I’ve checked, and there are copies out there for the knitting community amongst you (Deby, you know who I am talking about).P1080313

Look at these beautiful photographs from the book:P1080318

Colours of the landscape:P1080317

Totally cool:P1080314

Even more cool. New decoration studio outfits over at Ben Pentreath towers, Luke and Lucy?P1080315A rack of Sarah’s stunning archive collection:P1080311

A beautiful children’s sweater. I love these colours and pattern so much. In fact this sweater is very very decoration studio outfit.

Dyed yarns and recipe labels:

There is incredible knowledge and skill is wrapped up in these labels.

Inside the house, which is beautiful, look at these wonderful shelves of more books, P1080363

A top shelf of treasures:P1080364

Reluctantly, running late, we pulled ourselves away but i couldn’t help but snap this corner of the downstairs loo.P1080366

And this of the kitchen.  A dream room:P1080368Lunch was an extraordinary, stunning affair, at the remarkable house and garden near Berwick St John created over the last 12 years by Claudia Rothemere. I’m afraid that just just for once, for the purposes of the blog, I most firmly left my camera in the car. But the memory of this place will last for a very long time. It is really beautiful, and really amazing.

We drove down to Salisbury where I was taking the train back to London. We stopped for tea with another new friend, with another dreamy house and garden, at Reddish House in the Chalke Valley. Reddish was the house that Beaton moved to when he had to leave Ashcombe. I have snapped only recently a photo of its happy, dreamy, dolls-house facade on the blog, as regular readers will remember. We found our friend Sophie deep in the garden that she is creating (with advice from the plantswoman and designer Tania Compton) – it was looking incredible in the late afternoon heat of Sunday in Wiltshire, on the longest day of the year.P1080369 P1080370 P1080371 P1080372 P1080373Sophie spends much of her time with arms pointing upwards and outwards explaining great plans and her wonderful vision for this extraordinary special place.  Here she is with Charlie who has just been given armloads of peonies to take home back to Dorset.P1080380 P1080386

The Kiftsgate rose was spectacular:P1080383 P1080386

The whole garden is filled with amazing white foxgloves:P1080388 P1080389 P1080392 A blowsy border of roses, foxgloves and geraniums, in one corner of the vegetable gardenP1080396 P1080393

The cutting patch:P1080405 P1080407 P1080408

I love this ancient apple tree in the peony garden:P1080413 P1080419

Billowing box bushes:P1080420 P1080421 The view back across the garden to the house:
P1080429And lastly I climbed the great steep hill above the house, which Sophie has turned into a wonderful meadow. The back of the house is like another charming dollhouse. It is perfect.P1080434 P1080439It was time to tear ourselves away and return back to the real world. ‘Don’t you dare put a photo of me on the blog’ said Charlie, as I snapped away again. But luckily, it was just the bunch of peonies I’d photographed.P1080443So… Happy midsummers’ day – or to Charlie’s New Zealand friends and relatives, muffled under blankets of snow – happy winter solstice. It seems so strange that we are on the tipping point of the year…. about to softly, slowly, gently tumble towards autumn already. How on earth was that possible? But for now, can we stop the clock, pause for a moment, and reflect on one of the most beautiful, longest, most English of days imaginable?

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