Traditionally Easter is about rebirth, spring flowers, chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies. Unfortunately, this year the weather has well and truly interrupted the more secular parts of the celebration. Very sadly we had to cancel our much loved Easter egg hunt in aid of the local hospice, Naomi House and now, instead of fluffy Easter chicks, this year’s Easter at Highclere is all about ducks.
There are, of course, some charming children’s stories about ducks and one of my favourites is “The Ugly Duckling” which is not really about a duck at all-the ugly ducking turns into a beautiful swan.
Unfortunately the story bears an uncomfortable allegorical resemblance to Highclere at the moment. Storm Katie managed to turn our beautiful park into a soggy waterworld and a few days later we still have not turned back into a swan. We lost a couple of trees and suffered a temporary loss of power but more seriously gained an alarming number of new water features which are not disappearing again as fast as we would like them to. We have new ponds and lakes in unexpected places and ducks swimming madly all over the park.
It’s not that we have anything against ducks, but perhaps we don’t need quite so many!
The result is that, for the first time since we first opened in 1988, we have had to close for two days. It was forlorn for visitors – whom we hope to accommodate on other days – and the staff at Highclere who worked so hard to get the Castle ready for our Easter guests. Highclere’s Park is an outstanding Capability Brown landscape noted for its “infinite variety” which, in this case, means undulating landscape. As a result, it has limited flat car parking which became completely waterlogged and every time we hoped for sun we had another thunderstorm on winter rain soaked land.
We had to reopen on a limited scale but those who came had a good time with fewer other people, just more ducks. Of course it cannot keep raining so those who have transferred tickets to the summer are very welcome, but on the condition they bring some sun!
Apart from ducks, Highclere has a tremendous amount of wild birds, from the lapwings to stone curlews, woodpeckers, fieldfares, a peregrine falcon and red kites. We do not have swans though. I have a photograph of one by a small lake leading into the larger Dunsmere Lake. We have now begun to restore the lake, clearing the water margins and opening it up again, so you never know – perhaps we will have swans by the summer!
As the park dries out we will also begin to work on the cricket ground. As anyone who plays cricket knows, if you score no runs and are out, you are “out for a duck” – I do hope that is not my husband’s fate at our first cricket match in May but it sounds horribly appropriate!