About a month ago I stood up from my rather messy desk and hurried out of the office into the Castle courtyard because I had heard the muffled noise of hammer against stone. I found Trevor, in shorts and no shirt, replacing some broken paving stones in the sunshine. It was a beautiful noise, somebody doing something after so many strange weeks of silence.

Luis’s Gin and Cocktail Bar

I went and found Sally in her cupboard (gift shop stock room) to suggest a cup of coffee to celebrate. Like other businesses, we thought it was time to begin to look forwards. From then on the lists of things that I keep writing in large notebooks became all about re-building towards a starting position. We needed temporary marquees for takeway food, a bar for Luis and an outside gift shop. We had long-standing relations with a marvellous marquee company ‘Covered Occasions‘ and hoped they were still there. They were.

New awning for takeaway food

We had already ordered hand sanitisers, posts on which to fix them, thousands of masks for banqueting and the kitchens, visors for guides, markers for one way systems, UV sanitisers, plexi-glass, and information boards to courteously remind visitors to allow space between each other. Then there were health and safety meetings and meetings with heads of our departments as they returned. It is planning, it is about process, it is about gathering supplies, doing what is required and then checking it. The lists are long but being ticked off.

Last Wednesday we met for a sandwich lunch under the awning of a marquee which is now up and nearly decorated, to go through lists. Sally from the gift shop leads the decoration plan with Paul the Gardener hoping to mow the lawns before the large terracottoa pots, separated out by half size hazel hurdles to mark areas for the takeaway food, are filled with plants and then so much harder to move.

Leaflets, pricelists, fun facts, garden trail leaflets for July 18thare all being printed. Hannah and Cat are liaising and ahead of their deadlines. Then Geordie and I realised that the posts to mark queueing systems had lasted well but had been made by Pat and her team for his parents in 1988 when the Castle first opened. They needed a bit of sanding and varnish and TLC and were then fine but in fact we simply did not have enough of them. The wonders of Google one evening led me to a company in Northampton and a hurried order to Richard at Brandline. It was all a bit late but luckily Richards’s wife Tracey likes Downton Abbey so amazingly two weeks later they all arrived, beautifully made in oak and very smart. Obviously I then got ideas and wished for a red carpet as well but it is probably a trip hazard so better not.

Paul, our head chef, has begun to find out where he can place food orders – not all our suppliers are back but he is sure the supply lines will  begin to knit together again soon. Sally is in the same position and hopes the china factories will come alive as we have back orders for tea sets.

We have built a little gift shop marquee in the courtyard to offer outside space for visitors to browse and buy. At the moment it is just a platform which John our castle manager believes is perfect as a stage and thus encourages anyone to leap on and declaim some famous lines. John’s own efforts tend to run to no more than two lines before he begins to make them up to much laughter.

Josh the joiner has made a great set which will I think give much pleasure in the servery behind the Dining Room. This is part of our revised tour which I actually think it is a better one than before anyway: it is entirely one way and an improvement.

Like other businesses we are applying common sense to create a responsibly organised visitor experience. We are all going to have to learn to live in a more modest and careful way for the foreseeable future but we can do it. We hope we are producing a day out with moments of happiness and good memories to look back on alongside a little bit of confidence, laughter and courage. If you have not listened to Neil Diamond’s a beautiful noise – do look it up.

What a beautiful noise
Comin’ up from the street,
Got a beautiful sound
It’s got a beautiful beat…

It’s a beautiful noise
Made of joy and of strife
Like a symphony played
By a passing parade
It’s the music of life