It is nearly the end of another year and, each and every month, every day seems to have flown by faster than the previous one. It is odd really, because I remember Latin lessons at school where every five minutes seemed slower than the last. As an alternative scenario, we all waited impatiently for the “Downton Abbey” film to be made, whilst sitting watching it, it seemed to pass in a flash. Thus time is undoubtedly relative, so there is no need for further theories of Einstein at this point.
On December 30th I can’t help looking back at the busy cycle of this past year which includes not just the events we have held here in the Castle, but what has happened on the farm and in our personal life as well. For my husband the year will always be remembered with sadness for the death of his mother.
She always took a great interest in the farm and the gardens, walking with Geordie in the arboretum and around the Monks’ Garden in the summer. Looking forwards, however, she loved new ideas and I hope, she might look down with spiritual encouragement on the new vineyard we have planted in the old mellowed brick walled kitchen garden and it will be fascinating to see how it develops. A new purpose for a beautiful space
Perhaps there is a theme, given we launched Highclere Castle Gin using and inspired by botanicals from the gardens and estate. The bottle is a work of art and the gin has won awards and amazing reviews.
Apart from the ongoing traditional farm crops, wild flowers and sheep, we have continued to support the survival of British Lop Eared pigs. Thelma and Louise had piglets (we kept three more girls) and will soon farrow again. We have planted more trees, shrubs and and wild flowers and, to my husband’s enormous pleasure, we’ve had one more bonny foal and three more expected this Spring.
For me the year was marked by the loss of my beloved Labrador Bella but also by one of the busiest events calendars the Castle has yet seen. We have had tours, talks and concerts galore, an Easter egg hunt, Santa’s Grotto and a Costume exhibition and supported a fair number of charities along the way.
When Geordie and I first began to explore our stewardship of Highclere in 2003, we knew from the start that we wanted to use some events each year to help those less fortunate. So this year we supported, among others, Kings College Hospital London, the Murray Parish Trust (and thus Southampton Hospital), Starlight, Combat Stress, the Thames Valley Air Ambulance and Médecins Sans Frontières, along with a number of smaller ones from Launchpad (Homeless charity) to fund raising for community halls. Separately over 10,000 school children came to visit the Egyptian exhibition, whilst others come to learn about the countryside. All these events are supported by all of you as much as us so a huge thank you to you too.
Next year I have various schemes afoot. Going forwards into 2020, I am turning all my thoughts to VE Day on May 8th, to the dreams of our parents and grandparents, to what it meant to them and practically to help those who serve and save today, from charities such as SSAFA (UK), RAF Benevolent Fund, MSF which I mentioned above and TAPS (USA families of the fallen) amongst others. Our grandparents would have recognised that reconciliation happens in time, with hope and patience, with small steps together whether past enemy or friend.
The B-17, Fort Worth Jailhouse, crashed into the hills here on May 5th 1945 thus I am asking the last remaining B-17 in the UK to fly over Highclere that day and will be looking for sponsorship to help make it happen.
Through friends we have found the US descendants of the airmen who died here but would welcome any help to try to find the UK descendants of the men who died in the other 7 plane crashes here during WW2. I hope you will all come and sing and dance here like they did on VE Day, inspect the vintage jeeps, reenactments and planes as well as listening to our special speakers, tour the castle and learn about its history during WW2.
From May the cycle of the year continues with public opening but pauses for a relatively new thought in the autumn. In October 10th and 11th I thought we should organise a small history festival here, an off shoot of the outstanding Chalke valley history Festival and focus on heritage and hope, taking their advice on some themes and great speakers but also including talks about the world around – the history of trees for example.
Our Cedar of Lebanon trees are one of the most recognisable features of Highclere’s landscape and we live in an era when the world’s great forests are under increasing threat so it seems an appropriate thread. Perhaps 2020 should be the year where we all plant a tree whether it is at home or further afield.
I loved writing my latest book ‘Christmas at Highclere’ it was a real journey in time and through Highclere’s landscapes. It is understanding the heritage and always with hope,to look after it for generations to come.
I also so enjoy the experience of sharing with the Highclere family every Monday via this blog. It is a valuable pausing point in a busy life to sit and reflect on the week just past and the week ahead.
Certainly each new year should bring an element of hope and growth to it and on that note I would like to wish you all a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.