Writers’ Gardens

In these the dull, grey February days it’s been a great pleasure for me to read two coffee table-style books back-to-back with glorious photographs but also very informative text. VW's Garden The first was Virginia Woolf’s Garden by Caroline Zoob. There’s lots of nice background information about Leonard and Virginia Woolf but also about the author. Caroline Zoob and her husband were the National Trust tenants in the house for about 10 years. They also took responsibility for the garden. Endpaper VW's

Endpaper Collage

Really the book should be called Leonard Woolf’s Garden since it was almost entirely his creation and Virginia admits to doing little more than a bit of dead-heading and, of course, being inspired by gardens in general for her writing.

VW Bedroom Garden
VW bedroom garden
Virginia Woolf’s Bedroom Garden May 2014
Reading it and studying the lovely photos I was reminded of my visit to Monk’s House last May. I preferred it to Charleston as it had a very much more relaxed atmosphere. I’ve written here already about my visit to Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s home and garden at Rodmell in East Sussex.
The writer's garden
The Writer’s Garden : how gardens inspired our best-loved authors is by Jackie Bennett.
Writer's garden
Title Page – Near Sawrey in the Lake District with Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top in the Bottom Left Corner
Contents Page
Contents Page
Many of the gardens mentioned I have already visited – Jane Austen’s in Chawton in Hampshire long before the digital photography; same goes for Ruskin’s Brantwood which we approached from Lake Coniston by Gondola; Agatha Christie’s Greenway in 2009; Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top in 2005 or 2006; Laurence Sterne’s Shandy Hall the topic of one my first posts here and, of course, Virginia Woolf’s garden mentioned above.  I do hope I can get to the ones I haven’t visited some time as all were inspiring, not to say, beautiful.
Agatha Christie’s Greenway overlooking the Dart Estuary in Devon
I borrowed both books from the library but also by coincidence my current audio listen is Christina Hardyment’s The Pleasures of the Garden: an anthology. It’s selected and introduced by Christina and includes passages by Pliny The Younger, Francis Bacon, Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden, of course), Thomas Jeffereson, Jane Austen and Gertrude Jekyll.
Having said all this – I am not, myself, a gardener! I love to visit gardens and read about them but I know nothing at all about plants and their care.
My title for this photo on Flickr is “You won’t catch me gardening!”

Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Bronte’s Grave

What a title! It’s the title of the book I have just finished reading. It was written by Simon Goldhill. He’s Professor of Greek Literature and Culture and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics at King’s College, Cambridge and in addition he is Director of the Cambridge Victorian Studies Group.

But despite all his academic qualifications the book is very readable and very personal to him. His premise is to visit the homes of authors to discover what it is that attracts pilgrims to want to visit these houses and to try to find out just what they get from such visits.

Encouraged by his publisher to “do something Victorian” he plumped for visiting writers’ houses but is extremely sceptical about his proposed ‘pilgrimage’.  Apparently, such a tour was a very Victorian pastime and in the first chapter, “The Golden Ticket”, he tells of his intention to travel in as near a Victorian manner as possible and that unlike pilgrims he doesn’t wish to travel alone but with his wife and friends. Finally he lists which properties he’ll visit. He chose Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders; Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, William Wordsworth’s homes in the Lake District; the Bronte Parsonage at Haworth, here in West Yorkshire; William Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford upon Avon; and finally, Freud’s House in Hampstead.

My impression after reading this book was that SG felt justified in his initial reaction that visiting writers’ homes was a pointless exercise and that the house/writer that got it most ‘right’ was Sir Walter Scott who built the house and decorated it intentionally in order to promote himself and his novels. His description of the visit to Abbotsford (and that of A. N. Wilson in my copy of Writers and their Homes) has encouraged me add it to my ‘list’.

“Abbotsford!” so writes A. N. Wilson “There is perhaps no writer’s house more expressive of its occupant’s literary personality. Indeed, one could say that Abbotsford was an extension of Scott’s oeuvre –an architectural Waverley novel, or a poem in stone of Border life and history.”

I love to visit authors’ homes but I never before thought of myself as a pilgrim. I suppose I like to visit houses full stop and the added attraction of it being an author’s home is that I can experience the atmosphere and see the surroundings that may (or may not) have influenced his or her work.

I have several books to help me in my choice of ‘pilgrimage’ to writers’ houses!

I would make quite a different choice for my own tour: Lamb House in Rye (Henry James); The Boat House at Laugharne (Dylan Thomas); Monk’s House at Rodmell in East Sussex; Kipling’s Bateman’s also in East Sussex; Thomas Hardy’s Higher Bockhampton and Max Gate, Dorchester.

Here are five that I have visited in the last few years :

Shandy Hall, Coxwold, North Yorkshire (Tristram Shandy)

Keats House, Hampstead, London (John Keats)

Greenway, River Dart, Devon (Agatha Christie)

Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire (Lord Byron)

Johnson’s House, City of London (Dr Samuel Johnson)

A River Runs Through It

We have a print hanging on our sitting room wall called River Dart by Terence Millington.

The River Dart at Holne

Devon is one of our favourite holiday destinations and this week we’re staying near the lovely Stannary town of Ashburton. Our cottage is on an estate that borders the beautiful River Dart. There’s a path from our cottage that takes you right down to the swift-flowing river which borders the Holne Chase estate.

The River Dart near New Bridge

This 42 mile long river rises as 2 branches – East and West Dart – in the Okehampton area of Dartmoor.  The two branches join on Dartmoor at Dartmeet and from then on the single river slips past our cottage ‘home’, flows swiftly down under Holne Bridge and then runs parallel with the road and the railway line towards Totnes, from where for the final 8 miles the river is navigable.

At Steamer Quay, Totnes

It was  at Totnes, on a beautiful November morning, that I boarded the Dart Venturer for a gentle cruise down the river to Dartmouth.

Sharpham Vineyard

Not far from Totnes is the Sharpham Estate, an award-winning vineyard that hugs the right-hand bank of the river for about two and a half miles.

We passed three villages: Duncannon, Stoke Gabriel and Dittisham, Agatha Christie’s former home Greenway (above) and Sir Walter Raleigh’s boat-house. As the boat glided through the still waters it was fascinating to look out for wildlife along the banks – we even spotted a seal bobbing in the water. Bird life included egrets, herons, swans, a cormorant, a buzzard and masses of Canada geese.

As we neared Dartmouth (and its opposite neighbour, Kingswear) the river broadens and we watched naval cadets (above) from the nearby Britannia Royal Naval College for Officer Training (below),

and saw empty and forlorn looking boat building yards that had supplied the nation with over 400 craft during the Second World War. Have a hanky ready if you want to watch the following video about the demise of Philip’s.

At Dartmouth we disembarked from the cruise an hour and a quarter later at the only railway station in Britain that has never been served by a railway line. It was built in anticipation of the railway reaching the town but local efforts to prevent it crossing the Dart were successful and in the end the line had to terminate at Kingswear.

The Dart Estuary at Dartmouth