The rain has cleared and the ragged pillows of December clouds have taken on hues of pink and blue. The air is fresh and the senses sharpened by December’s bareness. Pockets of puddles are left in the golden pea gravel around the Castle. They are of course perfect for children to jump into and splash around or for the Labradors to lie down in.
When stillness returns, you can see reflections of the Castle and sky in them. The depths are obscure and imaginary, the reflected world and sky tranquil and unbounded. However, the water reflections are all a mirage, a work of fiction, as the puddles are not deep and it is only part of the sky and not all in proportion.
Highclere is built from beautiful Bath stone which has been wrapped around earlier buildings, earlier homes. After Geordie’s father died we began to pick up the reins. It is now some some fifteen years ago, that we would wake up, unable to sleep, and over mugs of tea, would talk through what role a Stately Home has in today’s world.
We set off to develop a number of ideas, from holding weddings, to creating and curating an Egyptian Exhibition, to telling stories through books, there were earlier films before “Downton Abbey”, park events, different themed tours and all the while seeking to ground Highclere through making friends with local and national charities and local communities.
Highclere’s world today is one of reality and one of fiction. Reflecting on it at the end of 2018, it has been a busy year. At the heart of our year, we looked back to remember, given the various centenaries, which brought history and the lives and deaths of our forebears to the front of our minds. Above all, it was a year to say thank you and to stand together.
Every year I ask all the team here to help me with various charity events and this year I certainly asked a lot from them. They have been extraordinary and we have all worked hard. Some of the events were relatively straightforward, from an Easter egg hunt for the NPSCC to a clay pigeon shoot for Starlight.
There were concerts in the garden for the Newbury Spring Festival and a talk in Highclere Church to raise money for it, SSAFA joined the Battle Proms Concert, whilst in September, we welcomed eight different charities from the Royal British Legion, the RAF 100 Appeal, SSAFA, Combat Stress, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Sepsis Trust and TAPS, an excellent US charity which supports military families, to our “Heroes at Highclere” event. There have been lunches and teas, charity auction prizes to organize and donors to thank.
Behind the scenes,we helped the charities from the Heroes weekend raise their engagement so that they have more social media content for future fund raising efforts. December continued apace as we welcomed the Thames Valley Air Ambulance, MSF (who support families in the most terrible circumstances) and, as a last hurrah just before Christmas, the RAF 100 Appeal. Equally I go out from Highclere to give talks for charities – I so often leave late and get lost on the way, but it is usually alright on the night!
Looking back, I feel proud of what Highclere has contributed to others; the spirit of cooperation and the importance of listening, whilst feeling nervous about the current shouted and unreflective politics. Looking ahead, I hope we will be busy – life is about what you do: “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart”.
There should be a balance to what we all do, I hope that Highclere offers a world apart, a time to stand and stare:
“it is sad if we do not take the time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night..”
Thus I hope that friends will continue to enjoy some of our events in the coming year: the experience of days out and tours and tea of course…we are very much looking forward to the concerts and, of course, the Downton Abbey film.
A very Happy New Year and may 2019 bring peace and prosperity to all.