Driving through the gates and into the park, the road curves round and down, offering distant glimpses of the Castle. After a mile or so, a sign directs you to the left where the road leads up a slope between some great cedars and oak trees, some younger, some older.
The cedars are vulnerable in stormy weather as they are almost too greenly magnificent. Sometimes we lose boughs and occasionally the entire tree. Six months ago, in another storm, one of the enormous cedars on the left cracked in half. Most of it was condemned by the tree surgeon and we could only save the trunk, now an approximately 18ft high stump.
Looking at the wreckage, I then had “a bright idea”, the thought of which always causes concern for my husband, although only if he knows of course. In 2018, the wood sculptor Simon O’Rouke carved the Cedar Airman Memorial which sits in the Wild Flower Meadow from the remains of another earlier fallen cedar. My new idea was to ask Simon to come back and sculpt the face of a huge Green Man into the trunk of the cedar, over which and around I can then grow roses and honeysuckle up.
If you look about an ancient church, at the carved stonework on either the inside or the outside of the building, or at the detail of the decorative wooden carvings tucked around corners, you can often see the representation of a face surrounded by leaves, vines, flowers, fruit or branches.
Sometimes these carvings are more obvious and at other times partly disguised but they are found everywhere. For example, over one hundred Green Men are carved into the 15th-century Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.
The Green Man is a legendary figure symbolising rebirth and represents the cycle of new growth that occurs every spring. Whilst often incorporated into ecclesiastical buildings, he also suggests a much older pagan heritage essential to the intrinsic connection of our ancestors to the land and woodland. Green men were woven into Roman mosaics and the Egyptian God Osiris regarded as a “grain” deity, is depicted with a green face representing the annual inundation of the Nile which bought growth and fertility to the fields of Egypt.
The Green Man is often cast as Earth’s spiritual protector and is part of common folklore.
Following the heavy industrialisation of the 18th and 19th centuries, his story and status was revived as part of a romanticised traditional past. In a Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens describes Christmas Present who “wore deep green robe, or mantle” “a holly wreath, set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free”. He did seem quite jolly but he was also intimidating.
It was fascinating to watch Simon work, his ability to look at something fallen and, whilst respecting the beauty of the tree at this stage of its life, to create a sculpture such as this. I hope the Green Man will bring a smile to visitors as they pass by en route up to visitor reception.
Now that Simon has woven his magic, I need to plant around the sculpture and then perhaps we will need a drink to celebrate. An enormous number of pubs in England are named for the Green Man so perhaps I shall ask Luis to develop a new Highclere Castle Gin cocktail with a green theme and sprigs of trailing herbs.