Riding along the chalk downlands two miles to the south of where the Castle stands, it is easy to distinguish the prehistoric field lynchets and terraces which must have been part of an intensively settled and farmed landscape. Three thousand years later we still farm this part of the estate, although these ancient fields are just grazed by sheep to conserve the visible remains of the past.
There are crop marks, boundaries and platforms where small homes- huts- may have been built. They lie around the monumental remains of the fort on Beacon Hill and hence can be dated from Iron Age times (up to 2,000 BC). Later finds of brooches and coins date to the Roman period, so presumably the invaders cultivated the same south- facing fields with their clean chalk water. It is still a good place to live and thrive.
I always like to think that the terraces may have also grown vines- the soil and position would make it possible and it creates a rose tinted picture, in my imagination, of people feasting under the stars or celebrating the end of building projects, or harvest, or other ritual festivities. It might not have been quite that romantic, with overindulgence, no Anadin Extra (Tylenol/paracetamol etc.) and violent fights. The classical gods of wine, Dionysus and Bacchus, were associated with wine and madness, triumph and disorder. Feasting with wine nevertheless played a central part in Roman life – sometimes to excess- wine was part of their culture. However, at the end of the first century the Roman historian Tactitus declared that Britain’s climate was “objectionable”, and not at all suitable for growing vines. Most of our wine has been imported wine ever since.
Climates change over time: a thousand years later monasteries were able to introduce some vineyards, and now in the twenty first century vineyards are producing wines, including award winning sparkling wines, in southern England.
Thomas Aquinas, Italian priest and theologian wrote that “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.” Winston Churchill’s political life may have taken various swerves but his commitment to champagne was unwavering. Research and knowledge of wines leads to friendship and conversation although the ancient Greeks were right when they suggested everything in moderation or to quote Goethe “Aus Mäßigung entspringt reines Glück ” (Out of moderation a pure happiness springs).
Whatever they all say I think we shall all celebrate here with champagne and wine when our major Estate office restoration project comes to an end. We are very, very nearly there, and my husband in particular can’t wait…