Over the past centuries all those who have lived here at Highclere have planted trees. You can walk under them, shelter under them, gaze up into them, listen to the birds and then try to spot them. If you walk in the woods you can sense the whispers of the trees and the leaves , they are beautiful and give us a sense of peace. You can kick through the leaves, use the fir cones and collect the firewood, whilst fruits and seeds like hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds support our health.
You can trace the furrows of time in the depth in the bark with your hands, or link arms around a tree with friends. Their roots stretch further than you think and through their roots and leaves they anticipate the future weather and prepare for it.
When we harvest it, wood provides our doors, windows, structural beams, furniture and fittings; wood carvings are in every room and on every door of the Castle. The wood was carefully chosen by Pierre Langlois to create and craft a bureau 250 years ago. Jacobs Frere used mahogany to create Napoleons’ desk which now sits in the Music Room.
Pierre Langlois bureau
There is the stump of an old cedar tree near the entrance to Highclere Castle and, if you sit and count the rings, you would find as I did that it must have been planted in about 1780. Jane Austen was five years old; the French revolution was still nine years in the future, as was the unanimous election of George Washington as the first President of the USA. As this tree grew, it saw the Age of Reason turn into an unprecedented era of industrialization.
Napoleon’s Mahogany Desk
Highclere has a long history of forestry going back to Bishop William of Wykeham who built a palace at Highclere, planted an orchard and felled oaks from the Estate to build two educational colleges: what is now the school Winchester College and then New College, Oxford University. During their tenure here, the Earls of Carnarvon have collected trees from all over the world and brought them back to wonder and admire. In recent times, Geordie and I have created an arboretum and planted a walnut walk.
We have now been given a very special tree. On John A. Macdonald Day, January 11th, the High Commissioner of Canada Janice Charette, joined us to give and plant a red maple tree on the lawns in front of the Castle to celebrate Highclere’s connection with Canada. It is on both Canada’s coat of arms and flag, suggesting strength and endurance, in fact we flew their flag above the Castle. Naturally we then retired inside for afternoon tea.
I had found this story of the creation of the constitution of the Dominion of Canada whilst researching my last book “At Home at Highclere”. Looking through the old visitors books, I will never know what made me choose that page with the founding fathers of Canada‘s signatures on. It was the start of an amazing journey and I find it hard to explain quite how much it means to me to be a small part of this history. The High Commissioner and my husband both said a few words. Chaplain Tim Novis blessed the tree and thus the friendship and then I tried to say a few words in French (my accent aided in advance by my number six sister and her husband).
Je suis tres honorée de vous accueillir ici et je suis ravie de ce magnifique erable. Merci beaucoup pour ce cadeau. Highclere est un lieu d amitié et de convivialité. John A. Macdonald, Georges Etienne Cartier, ainsi que d autres pères fondateurs, avaient senti qu’ils avaient trouvé en Lord Carnarvon un veritable ami et j’espere que tous les Canadiens aujourd’hui sentiront qu’ils vont trouver une maison heureuse de les accueillir une fois de plus et de célèbrer la naissance de leur pays.
“If you plant a tree, you plant a hope”