Tuesday. Michael’s birthday (age irrelevant) and we took off for the day, abandoning all our responsibilities. Bliss. Autumn is such a majestic season and Cumbria does it so well. When the sun shines (and it did) the scenery is due a sharp intake of breath as the fells stride across the horizon, grandiose and serene.
Mist cloaked the Eden plain as we set off, the landscape still holds memory of the long shallow lake that once lay between Penrith and Carlisle. Our first call was Sizergh Castle, a conglomerate of stone buildings dating from the Norman Conquest. The Strickland family were movers and shakers during the Border Wars but made their fortune (and extended their lands and power) through pertinent marriages. Since the 1950’s the house has been in the care of the National Trust.
We arrived to discover the house didn’t open until noon, because they were into their ‘winter’ programme, but there was a ‘tour’ at 11 so we explored the gardens while we waited. The famous lime-stone rockery was designed by Hayes of Ambleside in the 1930’s when Sizergh was undergoing renovations by the current lady of the house (reported to be the third richest woman in England). Volunteers were busy tidying the long borders still brimming with blousy blooms and a velvet-smooth croquet lawn steps down to the small lake which is surrounded by wild flower meadows. We discovered a traditional Maltese gondola laid-up in the great barn and during our tour of the house learned a Strickland was first Prime Minister to Malta. Unfortunately at the same time he was MP for Kendal and virtually dismissed from the House of Commons for putting Malta before matters more pertinent to his constituency. Perhaps our first MEP?
During their years of tenure the NT have re-established Sizergh’s unique interior – negotiating the return of its Elizabethan fixtures and fittings from the V & A Museum in London. Death duties forced the family to sell what is thought to be the best surviving example of domestic Tudor panelling, restored to its original setting in the master bedroom in 1999.
Almost noon and we crossed into the vale of Windermere. We rarely get a chance to visit this part of Cumbria because it’s clogged with tourists all summer, making the roads impassable. We took the opportunity to visit Blackwell, a property gifted to Kendal Museum of Art at the turn of the 20th century. Architect MH Baillie Scott was commissioned to design a summer residence for brewing magnate Sir Edward Holt of Manchester. It encapsulates all the innovations of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
When I went to Art College we were drilled with the achievements of Morris & Co and Blackwell House captures the spirit of that revolution in design. Every detail in the house is produced to work in harmony with the overall theme of nature. Worth a visit although very little of the original furnishings remain.
The weather still being kind we decided to forego lunch in order to visit Holehird Gardens, another long-held wish fulfilled. Originally the Lakeland Horticultural Society leased two acres of an abandoned rock garden above Holehird Mansion in 1971 but this has grown into a magnificent series of gardens which provide inspiration for anyone who loves gardens, but most particularly those north of Preston. And the views across the surrounding fells are breathtaking.
A study of Reuben, by me.
There has been much talk of late about raising the health of the nation, following the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio, and how we’ve all become couch potatoes. Now I don’t want to bang on about the pros and cons of physical fitness because I don’t see this as the issue. What I see lacking in our society is the conviction we should follow our dreams, whatever they might be.
My life is spent being creative and I find it really difficult to relate to any client who says she can’t visualise a piece of jewellery that I’ve drawn or described. That’s really sad. To me it seems a more serious flaw than not being able to run or jump or skip (although Delilah tells me only girls can skip). Not being able to see something in your head, not being able to imagine… that’s frightening.
Writing is my outlet but it isn’t my life, I’m surrounded by family, business and an unruly garden which I vindicate by saying it’s fashionably wild. Mother tells me all the things I should be doing like trimming the lavender and pruning the roses. Once I’d have obediently dropped everything in order to keep the borders contained but I need my writing more than I need tidy hedges. Mother comes from ‘chapel’ stock, where ‘play’ of any kind is seen as frivolous and may only be undertaken when ‘work’ is diligently completed. And that’s how I grew up, believing ‘frivolous’ activities such as drawing, painting and writing were for another breed, not mine.
A recent study of the mental health of our nation produced some very damning statistics. More young people than ever before are suffering mental breakdowns, a truly worrying reflection on our culture, on the constraints that fixate society. I’m not qualified to give reasons but I believe everyone has problems and life is complicated. Surely balancing the bad and the sad with doing something creative, even if it means imagining a dream world, is one way of coping. My way of coping.
Once upon a time… isn’t that the most enigmatic beginning? But it isn’t healthy to put the past before the present. Dreams are about tomorrow. Dream Big.
How did it get to be September 2016? I’ve not written a blog for months and feel ashamed of my lack of discipline. I could pile on the excuses and extrapolate sympathy but in all truth I just didn’t feel I had anything interesting to say.
However, I’ve just returned from The Festival of Writing at York University. Over the weekend I learned much about the publishing industry and that insight absolutely terrified me. If it hadn’t been for the lovely author Tracy Rees (writer of Times Best Seller – Amy Fox) describing the process of publication like building a bridge between the creative process of writing and the competitive world of publishing I would have left downhearted and more than a little afraid.
Often I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to study full-time but after listening to lectures all weekend realised I can’t sit still long enough. I’ve often regretted the fact that I didn’t have the opportunity to go to university when I left school (my family didn’t believe in further education for girls) and it was always my dream to study creative writing when I had time but now I’m not so sure. York University is like a small city and the grounds beautiful and I envy anyone who goes there but my life has moved on and I don’t have any hopes of being a literary writer. But still I absolutely love to write.
So I’ve written my first book and edited and edited and edited until I can’t see a way of making the words any better – what next? Attending the festival gave me a different education, a hard-nosed, money-toting, commercial education. Obviously if a publisher takes your book they want to make money BUT the sad truth is that hard copy book sales have been falling steadily while eBook sales are growing and latest figures seem to indicate that this trend will continue.
Over the Festival weekend I listened to many authors talking about their careers, about their ups and downs, and it struck me they all had one thing in common, even when their work was dissected, damned and destroyed they never ever gave up.