Reflection time

We were staying with our friends Luke and Duncan this weekend, but were in Scotland the week before that. We popped up for the shortest time to put the cottage to bed for the winter, just in case the rules change and we can’t make it up for a while. We’ll see – hopefully not, but either way it was amazing to see that autumn moment of late October. It was a year ago almost to the week that we first moved in to the cottage and bothy. What a year it has been….

We left the girls down in Dorset, took the train (our own carriage all the way – it is so weird) and rented a car in Glasgow for the journey west. Actually one of the easiest ways to travel that you can imagine.  And on the way, just below Inveraray, we swung into Crarae Gardens to see what the leaves were up to.

The gardens are truly astonishing, no more so that in azalea and rhododendron time… but they were looking particularly beautiful that afternoon.  We were completely alone. The visitor centre is shut – you leave your money in the honesty box. I can’t recommend a visit too much. 

When we got closer to home the water was incredible, mirror flat. We had never, ever seen it this still.

Amazing patterns emerge the more you focus. 

And then we were home. We went for a walk over to the Sound of Jura.

The sky was extraordinary, other-worldly. 

And then suddenly, the most vivid sunset imaginable, like fire in the sky.

The sun was out early the next morning, but not much around during the day. The little bothy and cottage were in good form, safe and sound. 

We had a day of errands and lunch in the pub (outdoors, it was actually fairly chilly so one of the shortest lunches ever).  Golden sunset that evening too, on mirror-flat waters.  The whole trip felt, how can I say – reflective.

We drove back to Dorset the following day arriving in time for a late afternoon walk with the dogs… The beach trees in the woods looking at their autumnal best. It was around about this time, almost to the day, a decade ago, that I heard that my dear friend Cat had died of cancer, as I was walking through these woods.  

She loved those trees so much. Rest in Peace, Catriona.



Then, on Friday, we arrived with Luke and Duncan.  They live near the little village of Cornwell, with its famous manor – one of the most beautiful of Georgian houses, but I must admit I had no idea it lived in such a beautiful position. 

The village has many works by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis of Portmeirion fame, including this beautiful Estate office. 

Merlin, Luke and Duncan’s dog, poses next to his stone friends. 

The edge of the walled garden.

Later that morning we went to Snowshill Manor, the extraordinary garden created by Charles Paget Wade in the early twentieth century. Heavenly.

The house is a dream.

Although sadly the idea of the queue in the rain defeated us this time! Lunch was calling.

I couldn’t quite get over how patronising the National Trust is these days. 

But back to the garden.

Incredible.  On the way to our next stop we screeched to a halt driving past this beauty, the sort of house that is everywhere in these parts and which you do not find ever in Dorset.

Then to the incredible church at St. Nicholas, Oddington.  This sign tells the story better than I can.

It is a dream. Visit if you can.

The graveyard is filled with beautiful gravestones.

Back to the cottage for a quiet evening, supper, catching up. The following day the skies were bright and clear. After breakfast at the Straw Cafe at Whichford, we went to Hidcote in sparkling sunshine.

The entire garden was peppered with blackboards bearing many mottos of which this was one of the most annoying, but there were several contenders.  There can be no doubt that the National Trust has been taken over by well-meaning but misled primary school teachers who wish to infantilise their entire audience. The irony is that despite all these blackboards there were no children in sight. 

The garden was spectacular, in its way, but somehow strange, less pleasing by far than beautiful Snowshill – it was restless, and has strange structure, and felt curiously – and appropriately, as Lawrence Johnson, its creator, had an American mother – as you if were in the huge New England garden of a wealthy American industrialist. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is.

It is beautiful nonetheless, no more so than in its autumn clothes.

Somehow the nicest moments in this entire garden are when you get to the edge, overlooking fields…. Or apple orchards, laden with an astonishing crop (it’s one of the heaviest apple and nut crops in years I believe…)

Or parkland-like meadows.

A last avenue of trees, in the middle of a dense beechwood, had huge power.

On the way home we saw this front garden. Perhaps our favourite garden of all.

It feels as if the earth is settling into winter soon – the last of the dahlias, the change of clocks.  Charlie headed down to Dorset with the dogs – and I returned to London, as I had a busy week starting. Always an unpleasant back to school feeling.

As lockdowns encroach in Wales and the north, it felt as if this was stolen time, a last gasp before we hunker down. On a positive note, the office remains incredibly busy despite our moving increasingly to remote working again; the shop, too, continues to have fantastic support from our many loyal customers – for which Emily, Kinga, Bridie and I are very grateful. There’s no doubt whatsoever that beautiful Lambs Conduit and Rugby Streets are feeling quieter this week and last, and are going to need our support this autumn; but I’m conscious too, that so many people who thought that they might be through the worst are realising that things are bad again; the virus is here and we have to learn to adapt and live.

For me, I suppose I somehow always take comfort in the very old places – the church of St. Nicholas, Oddington, for instance – ancient walls that have witnessed every human and natural trial and tribulation – and which remain, permanent, watching gently; or you think how many men and women have witnessed beautiful October sunsets over the Isle of Jura, for thousands and thousands of years now, since that land was first settled… and in so reflecting, I somehow find the ups and downs and trials of the day by day and the week by week less crazy.  Reflection time.


I’m surprised you didn’t visit Kiftsgate while you were at Hidcote as it’s literally just down the road?

Adam Hughes

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“Well-meaning but misled primary school teachers”……. really, Ben? And you call the NT patronising?? I’ve never noticed that tone in your immaculate writing before.

Sheila Williams

Wow Ben what a wonderful post your photos are amazing they just keep getting better.
I love how you capture nature and the changing seasons.
The photos of Scotland are really breathtaking how lucky you are to have cottage there.
Thank you for lifting our spirits in a very unsettled time.Take care of yourselves and your lovely animals.

Debra Moor

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