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.

36 comments on this post

  • Adam Hughes

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

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  • Sheila Williams

    “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.

  • Debra Moor

    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.

  • Patricia Taylor

    That was worth the wait! Suddenly I’m “out and about”. This posting was just what the doctor
    ordered – thank you so much.

  • Karen B.

    Your incredible photographs always transport me to England. I am so thankful for that since I know it may be a while before I’m able to visit your beautiful country again.
    Stay well.

  • Annie T

    The reflections are beautiful. We have some photos taken years ago at Talla in the Scottish Borders and it looks as if an arrow has been shot between earth and water – the more you look, the stranger it becomes. Our autumn has been beautiful this year, we’ve been able to enjoy it close to home, we’re very lucky.

  • Jane Kaula

    I have a picture by John Lowrie Morrison (Jolomo) looking towards Jura. I had always assumed that his interpretation of the colours was exaggerated until I saw your wonderful pictures of the sunset. Stunning.
    Thank you for taking the NT to task: their politicising and mindblowing correctness is diluting the impact of the wonderful sites, gardens and houses for which they are only custodians.

  • Catherine S

    Hidcote and Snowshill in one weekend – super jealous, particularly as we had hoped to visit this weekend – no tickets! Can highly recommend reading Sylvia Crowe’s thoughts on Hidcote in her 1958 “Garden Design” book. Love your photos showing Wade’s blue paint. Really lifted the spirits and makes me want to take a brush to a gate or two here. Thank you.

  • Darlene Chandler

    Absolutely beautiful picture of the autumn colours and just a wonderful sunset in Scotland and the water is just so calm and beautiful. So lovely to see that nature has no constraints at this time with all the lockdowns and restrictions in place; and so lovely to see it flourishing. We always have the beautiful nature to give us positive thoughts for the future.

  • MIke

    As always your photos were an absolute delight and I thank you for sharing them & your thoughts. Don’t be too hard on the NT for the warning sign- if a gust of wind brought down a branch or god forbid a tree on an unsuspecting punter they would be liable. Can’t be too careful in today’s litigious society,especially when COVID means there’s little spare cash.

  • Angela Stewart

    Such beauty such bliss.

  • Jane

    Your pictures and reflection are such a welcome distraction from the Election concerns here in the US. You are so right about history giving some solace as we face the worldwide challenges of the virus and here in our country, the hope and uncertainty of what next Tuesday will bring.

  • Janet Daniels

    Thank you for these wonderful photographs – truly an escape for the armchair traveller.

  • Bindy Barclay

    Back on heartwarming form with this one. Thx from NZ spring where we feel lucky, of course, but yearning for such sojourns that are a long, long way off in time, as well as place, now.

  • Sue Hanna

    Ben right place right time, amazing photos, thank you for blogging.
    Once a day you must make time to revisit the Jura photos and reflect.
    Great for the soul in 2020.

  • Deborah Black

    Such beautiful photos and a lovely article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

  • Frances

    Beautiful pictures as usual – always so cheering and lovely to look at! But I do beg you to give the NT people a break, especially on the signs for children. It’s so nice for children to have something to do/look at in places like this – really makes a difference to them and to their parents. They’re not meant for adults, so no need to feel infantilised. It’s easy not to focus on them if they’re not aimed at you, and really, it’s too much to expect the few staff at each site to go around taking them in and out just in case there might/might not be children in the garden that day.

  • Jagnan

    Stunning photos from Scotland. Thank you!

  • Sophie

    I totally agree with you. It is the permanent and the unchanging which anchor us in times of unrest. Beautiful blog.

  • Helen Anderson

    Absolute joy as always thank you. The photograph of the Michaelmas daisies on the church windowsill is heaven.

  • Bo Parrsih

    First year in over 25 years with no trip to England.The Hidcote snaps reminded me of many good times.It made my morning.Thanks!

  • Marguerite Neuhaus

    Oh Ben, thank you for this beauty and your reflective thoughts. I agree the recognition of natures ever continuing cycle of beauty and the permanence of structures there to witness human joy and frailty do bring comfort. Every view you shared was gorgeous (esp the sunsets). I found the ribbon of teal/blue architectural accents in running through Snowshill Manor so pleasing, I may try to implement its lesson in my garden. Thank you from Connecticut USA for being a beacon of beauty and reason in this unsettling time.May you, Charlie, the girls and all you love be blessed with health, joy and Peace in the coming seasons.

  • Frances Elmore

    Seven days before Election Day in the USA. We are all so exhausted. Thank you for such lovely pictures. Scrolling through them was a nice little escape from the craziness over here. A reminder that nature and time are better at dealing with stress than we are was just what we need.

  • Tom

    Thank you for the beautiful photos. The woods, the sunsets, the gardens and architecture. It is a wonderful view to start my day.

  • Teresa Person

    These are beautiful pictures… thanks for sharing… when I can travel internationally again…. Great Britain will be my destination…

  • Sarah McHarry

    Thanks so much for sharing your amazing photos, news and great tips of where to visit etc, lovely to read during the times we’re living through. Couldnt agree more re the National Trust – I remember being the last visitor one late winter afternoon at Hardy’s Cottage, one of a few frustrating NT visits – after a mood-setting walk through the woods with the light fading, I anticipated an atmospheric quiet mooch around the cottage, only to be greated by two jolly chattering dressed up am-dram style guides plus curator, who followed me around each tiny room or wanting to show me how to make cream of artichoke soup (I doubt ever made in Hardy’s time) – I felt rather curmudgeonly but the magic disappeared in an instant.

  • Jacqui Grainger

    Keep the despatches coming, along with the Persephone Post and DigDelve, tier 2 is much more bearable as I break my bank balance with houseplant buying for our move to a first floor flat in Battersea!

  • Jonathon Hudson-Evans

    One of your best missives – fabulous photographs, all be it the second half of your trip being in my backyard – North Cotswolds. And not a mention of Daylesford or Soho Farmhouse !!!

  • Justin French-Brooks

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and photos with us. What a beautiful whistlestop tour of Britain. I agree with you completely about the National Trust. It’s going down the wrong road – too corporate, too unthinking, too compliance-led. It’s suffocating the specialness of the places in its care. Death by institutional groupthink.

  • Cynthia Malm

    Reflection time indeed. A Pentreath-Hall blog post arrives in my inbox like a present on Christmas morning – a gift of armchair travel. Thank you!
    Your photos of Dorset are lovely, and remind me of times visiting my aunt and uncle who lived there, at Broomhill, Wimborne. No matter the season, there is beauty in the landscape of the Dorset countryside, right down to the lichen blotches and leaf patterns captured by your lens.
    The photos of Scotland in this post are stunningly beautiful: windswept and spare, rich colors more muted this time of year, except for the Drama of a fiery sunset. As we are mostly home these days, your photos and posts are a lovely way to get away and have a look at places we dream of one day experiencing. /Cynthia, Boston MA USA.

  • A Strachan

    just what I needed for a calm start to the morning. Thanks for the beautiful photos,


    I just read this beautiful entry. Because of Covid , most of us are not travelling. This morning, I travelled with you. Thank you!
    You live in a beautiful place.

  • MAureen

    Thank you for this, so needed during these times.

  • ELaine

    Such beautiful photographs reflecting wondrOus nature. Lockdown again in Wales for no real reason in out rural backwater.
    Reflection is so good for the soul.

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