Sitting down to collect and read through the diaries of the 4th Earl of Carnarvon looking for small details about his everyday life rather than global political references, I have been drawn into unexpected minutiae: a reference to asking an expert to value the marble mantelshelf in the drawing room or Victorian exercise regimes inside the Castle. If the weather was inclement, Lord and Lady Carnarvon would link arms and walk around the dining room for half an hour or more. Like many of their contemporaries, they considered it essential to take exercise, “mens sana in corpore sano”.
When guests arrived for the weekend, part of each day was devoted to a walk in the gardens, or to riding or to setting off on foot for a summer picnic. It was woven into their lifestyle, one of course without cars. It was inevitable that everyone walked more but they also acknowledged the benefits and actively sought out opportunities.
Even today at Highclere we all walk all the time: across the courtyard, from building to building, up and down stairs and often round in circles as well. Lifts have never been installed at Highclere so stairs remain a part of daily life and there are a great many of them.
Pushing through the green baize door from the Saloon, you find the stone stairs which twist around up three floors and down one floor to what used to be the staff dining room, log room and a staff entrance. They played a role in Downton Abbey: you might have seen O’Brien or Barrow walking up them, sometimes in haste, depending on the latest drama. Re -watching series 6 on Sunday on ITV, I think I even spied Mrs Patmore and Mrs Hughes using them. Certainly, getting the right camera angle on them is always an interesting exercise.
At the top of these stairs is a door leading to top floor bedrooms and then another set which leads to the roof. From time to time there is a real drama, usually an overflowing hopper, and I and others set off, trying to keep a sharp pace all the way to the top. Out of breath, and trying not to admit to it, we gather ourselves half way up before carrying on. It does feel like good exercise!
During the months of lockdown, whether here or in other countries, when space and time outside were both limited, a few fitness leaders helped inspire many to exercise and not sink into sofas. It is clear that too many of us don’t move enough during the day and we would all be healthier if we did. I hope that in between sitting at desks the team here take some time to go for a walk. I certainly prefer to walk and talk rather than sit at a meeting table.
Last year, through a full calendar of events, there were competitions amongst some of the staff to see how far each person walked in a day. One of my bright ideas (or possibly not in retrospect), was to have a “Music in the Gardens” event in three separate locations to celebrate and raise money for the Newbury Spring Festival. Each group of musicians played two sets and there were seats and afternoon tea. In my mind it seemed charming. On paper, discussing it with the team, it seemed ok. On the day, the team were running a marathon, topping up teas, moving chairs, replenishing food and, by the end of it, utterly exhausted. Early on, possibly being older and wiser but then again, I live here, I had gone and got my bicycle which made my travel faster and less tiring. Charlotte, from our office team, said she had walked 27,000 steps (at speed) whilst John the Castle Manager, ever ready with the “mot juste”, congratulated me on an epic keep fit schedule.
I hope the guests and performers had a more swan like impression of the organisation and day. It was very special and listening to the music utterly magical. Learning from the keep fit structure, I was planning to welcome “Mozart in the Gardens” this past summer, which has now been postponed until June next year. Young musicians will, I hope, play Mozarts’ Gran Partita by the Etruscan Temple. This looks out over one of my favourite views, across the park and the landscape created by Capability Brown and on up to the folly “Heaven’s Gate” and the skies, a fitting setting for a piece which, in Salieri’s words:
“ …was a music I’d never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.”